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Opinion

Stumbling into another Korean war

Stumbling into another Korean war
U.S. Army soldiers conduct annual military drills in Yeoncheon, South Korea, near the border with North Korea, on Tuesday.
(Ahn Young-joon / Associated Press)

Shouldn’t we just nuke North Korea now and get it over with?

Or, to put it another way, was Douglas MacArthur right, after all?

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Well, no and no. (Although undoubtedly some will want to argue the MacArthur thing late into the night.)

Yes, the Hermit Kingdom is being even crabbier than usual these days. On Tuesday, for example, Pyongyang warned foreigners in South Korea to prepare evacuation plans in case of war. North Korea is also believed preparing to conduct a missile test soon, perhaps as early as Wednesday.

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Most analysts think this stuff is just business as usual, bravado-wise, from the country’s new and untested leader, Kim Jong Un. Negotiations remain the preferred path, they say: talks that will pressure the North to give up its nuclear ambitions in exchange for normal relations and aid from the West.

The problem is, the North doesn’t seem to want to play.  

So what happens if Kim isn’t kidding? Well, we might get an ugly repeat of the 1950s, only this time the wreckage would include a bustling South Korea economy. Would the strategy then be to nuke the North? And if so, how would that play -- hello, Gen. MacArthur -- with China?

This only ends two ways, and neither is really good for us: All-out war (unlikely), or a continuation of a belligerent and threatening -- and nuclear-armed -- country in a strategic part of the world.

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North Korea’s not a big country, but its behavior poses big problems. If Japan and South Korea decide the threat from Pyongyang is real enough, they might turn to nuclear weapons as well. And the more countries that have the nuclear genie, the harder it is to keep it in the bottle.

For now, U.S. officials say we have the technology to shoot down any North Korean missiles that threaten our assets and allies in the region. But that’s for now. The North has shown it intends to keep developing its nuclear and missile technology.

Appeasement didn’t work with Hitler and Mussolini. On the other hand, the strategy of preemptively attacking Iraq for its supposed weapons of mass destruction was a disaster for the United States.

So for now, diplomacy is all we have in dealing with North Korea. But as the world learned in 1914 -- and doesn’t history often repeat itself? -- sometimes you stumble into war.

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