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“If we lose, I will destroy the world,” said Kim Jong Il, supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Kim’s regime insults all of us. Its very existence is an affront to humanity’s sense of decency and challenges accepted notions of politics, economics, and social theory. More important, North Korea threatens us.
The Great Leader, as Kim now calls himself, can change the course of history with an act of unimaginable devastation. He possesses an arsenal of nuclear weapons and the ballistic missiles to deliver them. Today he can hit most of the continent of Asia and even parts of the American homeland. In a few years–probably by the end of this decade–the diminutive despot will cast his shadow across the globe: He will be able to land a nuke on any point on the planet.
Even now, everyone is at risk. North Korea has said it might sell weapons to others, thereby making itself the first “nuclear Kmart.” Who wants to live in a world where anyone with enough cash and a pickup truck can incinerate a city?
For six decades, America has tried every tactic to stop Kim’s Korea, but it has failed each time. The current approach–providing aid and assurances of security in return for an end to weapons programs–mimics the failed diplomacy of the 1990s. Negotiations, sponsored by China, have yet to produce an enduring solution.
Unfortunately, Kim has paid no price for destabilizing the global order. In fact, many countries, including America, reward him for his fundamental challenge to the international system. Perhaps that is why the world is now further away from a solution to the Korean nuclear crisis than it was a decade ago.
In a contest that will be decided by finesse more than power, Kim is winning. If he ultimately prevails–and time is running out for Washington–his success will probably result in a quick erosion of American power. The world’s strongest nation does not have much of a future if it cannot defend its most vital interests against a reviled autocrat like Kim from a small country like North Korea.
The current conflict with Kim Jong Il is a crisis like no other, perhaps the twenty-first century’s moment of greatest consequence. This is where the world writes its history for the next hundred years. Nuclear Showdown is the first and only major study to look at all dimensions of this crisis. Gordon G. Chang proposes solutions that go beyond the conventional suggestions seen elsewhere.
We are now paying the price for ignoring the numerous provocations of North Korea's "totalitarian dynasty," Chang (The Coming Collapse of China) argues, and the cost of that strategic failure, he predicts, will be staggering. Though the book is littered with trite aphorisms and pop culture vocabulary, Chang's basic thesis—that "the success or failure in creating a lasting geopolitical order for this century begins with the world's response to Kim's blatant challenge"—is on target. Arguing against both Robert Kagan's idea of quasi-perpetual American global domination and Francis Fukuyama's famous "end of history" thesis, Chang points out that both America's pre-eminence and the universal appeal of democratic principles are increasingly questionable propositions. Just witness our inability to devise an effective response to North Korea's nuclear brinkmanship and to nondemocratic China's growing influence and power. In his final chapter, Chang suggests a way out of the madness: partial nuclear disarmament by the U.S. in order to kick-start an international mission to force Kim to abandon nuclear arms. The current administration, however, is doing exactly the opposite by attempting to win approval for a new generation of tactical "mini nukes." It's a strategy that has both eroded international sympathy and exposed the great hypocrisy behind America's nuclear nonproliferation initiatives. Chang goes way too far, however, in asserting that America needs to choose between keeping its nuclear arsenal and keeping New York. (Jan. 17)
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