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on January 10, 2006
As someone who is fascinated by North Korea, I am keenly interested in any book that comes out about the country. The literature is sparse and most of it is either dry as dust academic tomes, politically slanted tripe (mostly from the left but occasionally from the right), or hopelessly out of date.
This is a shame because North Korea is a country that the US might find itself coming to blows with some day, and if you don't know the enemy, as the saying goes...
Unfortunately, "Nuclear Showdown" falls in the category of superficial and breathtakingly naive. I base the superficial comment on the fact that the part dealing with North Korea amounts to about 160 pages of text. But the naive part is that Chang's solution is that the US abjure nuclear weapons.
From what I could gather, Chang seems to think that this will give the US the moral high ground and make it easier for the US to pressure and/or persuade aspiring nuclear powers not to obtain nuclear weapons. North Korea would be presumably the first target of this new "Concert of Vienna" approach.
I could write a book about why Chang's solution will never be implemented and if it was would not work (and in fact jeopardize US security). Here, I will simply repeat something that I learned while studying proliferation, arms control, and security issues in graduate school. The incentive to cheat and the reward for doing so goes up as the number of nuclear weapons in US and other countries' hands declines.
In other words, if the brave new world that Chang prescribed ever materialized, a country that was clever enough could reap substantial benefits from developing (or retaining) a clandestine arsenal of nuclear weapons. One such country might be North Korea. Something tells me that the Pyongyang regime could give any arms control verification mechanism a dance that would make what UNSCOM went through in Iraq look like the "hokey pokey" in comparison.
I have no doubt Mr. Chang is a very nice, well-meaning man, but his prescription makes me think of what the character played by the late Christopher Reeves said in the movie "the Remains of the Day" to a group of British apologists for Nazi Germany on the eve of World War II:
"You are, all of you, amateurs. And international affairs should never be run by gentlemen amateurs. Do you have any idea of what sort of place the world is becoming all around you? The days when you could just act out of your noble instincts, are over ... What you need is not gentlemen politicians, but real ones. You need professionals to run your affairs, or you're headed for disaster!"
Indeed. Mr. Chang ought to take note.