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VINE VOICEon 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as dust academic tomes, politically slanted tripe (mostly from the left but occasionally from the right), or hopelessly out of date.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.
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on November 28, 2014
There are so many things that so many people need to know about North Korea. I have never found any writer who knows the turf better than Gordon Chang. This book will remain poignant and meaningful for years. I thank Mr. Chang for his integrity and understanding and for his willingness to share his vast knowledge.
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on February 5, 2014
Even though this book is several years old, the author really gives you a good insight on to how North Korea really is. It's amazing that in that country the more things change, the more things stay the same.
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on January 18, 2006
A perceptive book, especially on the complex relationship among the various countries that are involved in the nuclear negotiation: US, China, South Korea and Japan. It shows that the author has lived in that region for many years. I especialy find the chapter on South Korea very thoughtful provoking. He hear many people say that South Korea is no longer America's ally but this book shows that the changes in South Korea society are finally beginning to favor conservatives who still support a strong relationship with America. This books examines those countries one by one. I only wish that the chapter on South Korea is longer, especially how that society is changing. I also find the book really understand the motivations of the Chinese leaders and the changes in Beijing's foreign policy. The book also discusses and issue that is rarely mentioned: the problems between China and Japan and how they are affecting the nuclear crisis negotiation. I only hope that the Americans handling this crisis have such clear understanding as well. They don't seem to be doing a terribly good job at the moment.

There are so many things that people over here doesing know but need to know about that region which is becoming very important.
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on July 31, 2013
This book will assist the reader in understanding the complications involved with our relationship with North Korea, China, South Korea and other countries that have an interest in our nuclear safety. I'd recommend the book. It's an easy read. Some of our politicians and newscasters ought to read it.
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on February 21, 2006
Gordon G. Chang's "Nuclear Showdown", like his previous book ("The Coming Collapse of China"), allows you many different ways of reading it. Some might read it as an intriguing prescription to resolve the ongoing nuclear standoff among the member nations in the six-way framework, just to say that will, or won't, work when they are through with the 225-page book.

In fact I was impressed by Chang's propositions such as the one in which the author suggests that in the wake of the virtual bankruptcy of the Nonproliferation Treaty and other U.S.-led antiproliferation initiatives, America take a unilateral step to drastically reduce its nuclear arsenal so the American president, who could now "order to eliminate all human life on this planet several times over", can "kill everyone only once." I am not sure, though, if Chang really means it because he says this is an "extreme dream".

However, my way of reading "Nuclear Showdown" was quite different because I hadn't assumed the author was just bringing up a quick recommendation or two for Christopher Hill, head of the American delegation at the six-party talks, to convey to his North Korean counterparts next time he meets them in Beijing. True, Chang talks a lot about the threat being posed by the North Korean tyrant, but he does that only from a broader perspective far beyond the framework of six-way talks. Actually I read it as if I was reading a work by Arnold J. Toynbee, British historian who intensively scrutinized the rise and fall of civilizations. This is especially true with the last three chapters - "The End of American Primacy", "Civilization's Last Weapon" and "Last Exit before the Dark Ages".

This, coupled with Chang's readable, sometimes witty, writing style, makes "Nuclear Showdown" a real page-turner.
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VINE VOICEon October 19, 2006
This is an excellent overall summary of the crisis with North Korea over nukes. Chang packs a lot into this book. He gives a history of the Kimist regime in North Korea. The Kims are more totalitarian, than communist. He then relates the series of events which the father and son regime have taken in regard to the armed forces and specifically nukes. This regime has been using maximum deception on the west. It makes agreements, then breaks them. Kim doesn't even care about his people. He will let them starve if that means he can get nuclear weapons. His sole goal is to stay in power and if that means nuclear war, he is willing to risk it.

One fault I have with this book is that it gives a lot of possibilities on how to work with this regime. Then after it relates on how to do this, it tells the reader that some government tried this and got snuckered by the Kims. There are no definitive answers in this book. However it gives the reader a sense of fustration on how the North Koreans have used their allies and the west. A nice read.
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on May 16, 2013
The analysis was on point. Thought points were repeated too often, but it painted a pretty good picture. Names are tough to keep straight.
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North Korea is the only nation so far to withdraw from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. It possesses an estimated 7-10 nuclear weapons (believed to mostly have been created post-Bush II) and the missiles to deliver them. North Korea has also said it might sell nuclear weapons to others, and is helping Pakistan with its missiles. America has been reduced to relying on China, the DPRK's best friend. War could result in a million casualties in the first day. Kim is winning the contest so far - if he prevails, a quick erosion of American power will probably result.

This is not the first time North Korea has had the U.S. in a box. In Jan. '68 North Korea captured the USS Pueblo in the Sea of Japan and tortured the crew for 11 months - releasing them only after LBJ apologized. In April '69 it shot down an unarmed Navy reconnaissance plane, killing 31, with no response from Nixon and the U.S. Nineteen-ninety-four brought another confrontation - this time over its efforts to develop nuclear weapons via plutonium reprocessing. This time President Carter defused the situation, but the U.S. subsequently dallied on its end of the agreement (eg. reneged on a no-nuclear-attack pledge, promised reactors were delayed - partly due to the Republican takeover in 1994), while Pyongyang did not restart normalization talks with Seoul as promised.

Subsequently North Korea has started a uranium enrichment program, with assistance from Pakistan. (Pakistan is also believed to have taught the North Koreans how to "cold-test" their weapons. Regardless, uranium weapons are simpler - the U.S. didn't even bother to test its first.)

There is some basis for believing recent U.S. belligerence is part of the problem. The "Axis of Evil" statement and personal criticism of Kim Jong Il by President Bush certainly didn't help, nor did our invasion of Iraq and threats against Iran.

About 25% of N.K.'s GNP is devoted to the military, and Kim personally picked about 85% of its generals.

Chang does offer proposals - eg. the U.S. either disarm or considerably reduce its nuclear arms (neither likely, nor sensible), and attempt to get all nations to isolate N.K. The latter is being tried at this moment - we shall see. Chang's most disturbing prediction is that in the long run, America's fate is to become a second-ranked power as China rises to the top.
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on February 24, 2007
Besides being a thoughtful, informative chronicle of the current Democratic Peoples Republic of North Korea (DPRK), I believe this book is a must read for anyone interested in the security of the free world.

It not only summarizes the history of the Korean pennisula, and the evolution of North Korea's Kim regime and its nuclear weapons program; but describes the current politics involved in both North and South Korea as well as Japan and China.

It also dramatically describes the current "clear and present danger" that the North Korean nuclear weapons program poses to the world.
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