kim's nuclear gamble
photo of a taepodong missile launchWhat are your thoughts on this report? How should the U.S. handle the current crisis with North Korea?Home
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As an undergraduate working on an honors thesis regarding the North Korean uranium enrichment program, I found this program to be an excellent resource. The interview material available on the PBS website proved to be a particularly valuable reference. Having spent part of my year traveling to South Korea and to Washington, D.C. to conduct interviews, I appreciated how the Frontline interviewer asked appropriate questions of different individuals and elicited frank opinions from many important players in the U.S.-DPRK relationship. Although I am part of an Internet generation that is extremely critical of websites in general, I have nothing but praise for this one.

Grace Lee
stanford, california


Full disclosure: I missed the show. I read only the interviews with Ambassadors Gallucci and Hubbard. I worked for both men, when they were Assistant Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs. I had and continue to have the greatest respect and admiration for both of them. Amb. Hubbard is a consummate diplomat and public servant; Amb. Gallucci is as incisive as he is gentlemanly. These qualities come through clearly in both interviews.

For those who wonder what the U.S. needs to do about North Korea, I highly recommend reading these two interviews, and then reading them again.

A shiver runs up my spine every time I hear another politician talk about "liberating the Iraqi people" as if that were the main reason we did what we just did. A colder shiver runs up my spine when I think that the relative ease with which we are so far accomplishing our objectives there might rashly lead us into similarly perilous military actions elsewhere in the world.

There is only one legitimate reason for a head of government to put a nation's entire international capital, its lives, its fortune and its honor at stake in the way President Bush just did in Iraq. That reason is an immediate, severe threat to the nation's security that can be dealt with in no other way short of all-out war.

I hope we do not come to such a pass in North Korea. Listening to the wise counsel of honorable, experienced men such as Ambassadors Gallucci and Hubbard, then acting decisively on that advice even if it is not politically fashionable, to my mind offers the only possible way out of the near-impossible situation this country finds itself in today. I hope our national leaders are taking the advice of those who know the North Korean situation best to heart as they formulate our policies. I fear for my country if they are not.

Douglas A. Gray
bloomington, mn


Wonderful program tonight, too bad it could not have 2 hours with more detail. I am disappointed to read the postings say that Bush is inciting the situation. Take a step back and look at the fact MULTI-Lateral talks have begun.

The people in the surrounding states- with a vested interest- are also part of the diplomatic discussions. I can not think of a more democratic thing to do then have all invested parties togethor.

Steve Wagner
snoqualmie, wa


As a Korean citizen, I am very disappointed by this program. You have no idea what dictators in Pyongyang intends by nuclear program.

They have never abandoned their insane goal; dominate the entire Korean peninsula and make unified dictatorial state. If the North only want their own safety, they must stop hostility against Seoul. In that case, Kim Jong Il has no reason to refuse Bush's demand.

This is not only matter of only US and DPRK. This is the matter of democratic and prosperous South Korea. If America allow what Kim Jong Il wants when they still insist hostility against Seoul, you'll see another Saigon April, 1975.

Jae Yeop Kim
seoul, republic of korea(rok)


First, my hat is off to the producers of this fine show and Website. The very fact that there is discussion on this most important topic is healthy and of profound import to the future.

Watching the Armageddon show on CPTV last night, I was struck by the two lessons the U.S. supposedly learned from the Cuban missile crisis:

1) Nuclear nations must be in dialogue, particularly during a crisis. Cutting off communication with the Soviet Union would have likely resulted in a nightmare scenario.

2) Nuclear nations must not be left with only two options a) Humiliation and/or b) War.

So I submit: How is Bush doing with these lessons?

1) It seems his favorite ploy is "Unless you are talking the way I want you to talk, I won't have anything to do with you." Sorry, but this runs counter to Lesson 1 learned in the Cuban missile crisis.

2) Bush also seems very strong on humiliating nations and/or making war a front option rather than a last resort ('preemptive strikes' being his New World Order). Again, here he fails.

I worked in South Korea for nearly 6 years (just arrived back in the U.S. 6 mos. ago). Over that time I became conversationally fluent in Korean and made my best efforts to understand a different way of thinking ... and a different way of life.

What I learned is that 'face' is of huge importance to Koreans (as it was to the Soviets), particularly to one with 'Prince (or God?) Syndrome' such as we see in the North. So Bush must ask himself:

Is it better to give a nuclear nation a bit of 'face' or to start a nuclear exchange? If you cut off dialogue and present humiliation as the only avenue, as Bush has done, the outcome is dangerously clear.

Thankfully we'll have a chance rather soon to elect somebody with far more international understanding.

Kelly McLaughlin
new haven, ct


Note that today (April 16) trilateral talks were announced that will include China, the United States, and the DPRK, to be held in Beijing.

Also note that today's Japan Times included an extensive op-ed strongly calling for ballistic missile defense for Japan, an option which China would clearly prefer to avoid.

As I had noted earlier, the Administration's current approach to North Korea is focused on generating regional conditions that make a non-nuclear Korean peninsula imperative for China's national security. Of all the nations involved, China is by far the best positioned to influence DPRK behavior. With todays news, the Administration should be commended for its success in reframing these regional security issues so that China has finally decided to engage the problem effectively. ...

Per Peterson
berkeley, ca


As I have been watching the events in the world unfold post-9/11 and especially since the march to war in Iraq and the revelation of N. Korea's uranium enrichment program I wonder if the war in Iraq might be remembered as Bush's greatest blunder during his term. Not that I was opposed to our current action; I actually believed that it was truly necessary, but one has to ask oneself if we weren't so laser focused carrying out war plans that were 12 years in the making that we failed to see the true danger that the US is faced with. To examine a few of the facts:

a) Almost anyone in the intelligence community will tell you that N. Korea is the greatest intellegence failure of the last decade, and that continues today. Other than a few photos we have no idea what is going on in that country.

b) N. Korea while living up to the 'text' of agreements does not honor their spirit. As early as 1995 they sent scientists to Pakistan to learn how to enrich uranium and to purchase equipment. And it bears reminding that such an isolated country is very good at re-engineering technologies and producing them domestically, and that uranium enrichment facilities are very easy to conceal.

c) This is a country that derives a large portion of their income from proliferating weapons to countries and entities that are incapable of producing them themselves. Currently they are producing the two most valuable weapons commodities on the planet, forget even putting them into a bomb. And because of intelligence failures we can not even begin to estimate how much production is really going on.

d) Even if we did get them to agree to stop production, it is likely that they would continue given the dire straits of their economy, and the value of the military items they can produce.

I agree with many of the posts to this site that a military conflict with the North would be nowhere near the conflict which we just experienced. It would be a bloody mess with millions of lives likely lost, even if no nuclear weapons were used.

It's for these reasons that I have to disagree wholeheardetly with the administration's current stance, even though it does appear the North is starting to soften a bit. If they want a non-agression pact with the US, we should give it to them, but at a very high price.

Turn over all nuclear materials and manufacturing equipment now in your possession.

Agree to free and unfettered access to ANY military or industrial complex for inspection by an agency of our choosing (not the IAEA), at any time for the duration of the agreement.

Any breach of these terms is a breach of the non-aggression pact!

This regime has shown that the only way to deal with them is to take a hardball stance and to not backdown from your principles. Plus the only way we can guarantee they live up to the terms of the agreement is for us to enforce it through inspections on an ongoing basis. Kim has shown that he is genuinely concerned that we pose a hazard to his regime, we need to use it to our advantage or soon nuclear materials will be spread to the highest bidder in a world full of them.

Let's hope the hawks get it right on this one.

sean mcguffie
mission, ks


I generally enjoyed your documentary "Kim's Nuclear Gamble", but I found the report to be too one-sided. The documentary obviously places the blame for the current crisis squarely on the United States, especially on the Republican Congress and Bush administration's hardline "attitude" and "Axis of Evil" speech.

The documentary neglected to highlight that North Korea had been violating its 1994 agreement by secretly continuing its nuclear weapons program well before the current Bush administration took office. The documentary also neglected to mention that international aid agencies had expressed deep frustration over the North Korean's refusal to allow them to monitor the distribution of the humanitarian aid sent by the international community. These agencies suspect that much (if not all) of the aid was going to Kim Jong Il's power base (i.e. the military) rather than the truly needy.

In addition, the documentary only briefly noted (in about a sentence or two) that key members of former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung's administration are currently under investigation for funneling money directly to Kim Jong-Il before the famous North-South Korea summit. At the very minimum, such covert dealings raises questions about Kim Jong-Il's motives for rapprochement.

Lastly, the documentary only briefly noted the Bush administration's call for multilateral talks with North Korea on nuclear disarmament. South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia have a much bigger stake in seeing a stable Korean peninsula than the United States does. Many of those who condemned the Bush administration for its unilateral tendencies seem to be the same ones also calling for the United States to deal directly with North Korea--a strange contradiction. The current U.S. administration is essentially trying to shift the burden of deterring North Korea's nuclear ambitions to those who really should be the ones doing it: North Korea's neighbors.

One could argue that the Bush administration was unwise to employ such heated rhetoric (nevermind North Korea's own bombastic language and its "Seoul will be in flames" threat), but it does not change the fact that the North Korean regime has steadily expanded its nuclear and missile program in the past decade while the country's economy is in shambles and its people starve.

berkeley, ca


While neither intending to rehash earlier comments nor dispute particular views, several contributions deserve note. Of the veterans and Korean-Americans who served, lived and remain emotionally tied to this topic, I believe their opinions are particularly relevant and valuable--primarily because of their first-hand experience. Too few policymakers grasp the uneasy situation on the ground: The numerous (and continuing) incursions over the DMZ and into coastal waters by armed DPRK forces; the forward-deployed US Army infantry soldiers who know two days of combat could pass before substantial reinforcements arrive to counter a DPRK attack; the known existence of North Korean gulags, a genociadal starvation that has killed 10 percent of the population and ongoing malnutrition and birth defects that will affect an entire generation; a generation of young Koreans that demands Korea unbridle itself from its US military yoke while an older generation understands the deterrent power of 37,000 US troops; Japan, a militarily impotent neighbor nation, relying on the US military resources for protection despite its enormous wealth; and the tepid, opportunistic diplomacy of North Korea's big brother nations Russia and China.

While the Galluccis Agreed Framework may have been, as he said, the best of a bad set of options, 50 years of North Korean duplicity were ignored in formulating it. The DPRK leadership only grasps and responds to force--in rhetoric and action. The Bush administration has met only half that requirement. The positioning of a carrier battle group or an additional infantry brigade in the region could serve as the visible arrows to complement the olive branch of overt or back-channel diplomacy. History provides those lessons-learned.

As a former infantryman who served along the 38th parallel and a current contributor to US national security policy, I would caution viewers and policymakers of any political persuasion against pontificating and generalizing. Unlike Ms. Maxwell wrote, Kim Jong Il cannot be dismissed as "mentally unstable," just as criticizing US/Korea policy for its Christian influence is far too simplistic. It IS, as Ms. Maxwell alluded to, about Empire--like it or not. If Americans enjoy the plethora of cheap products, from shoes to electronics, flooding in from the ROK, then they benefit from the sustainment of US troops and current security policy in Korea. Trade, democracy and security are inter-related, as unpalatable as it may be for some.

Just as the UN will not declare the Kim regime evil and enforce its human rights declarations, Amnesty International and other high-profile, low-capacity NGOs idly draft reports while torture and summary execution continue. What other institutions have the will or means to judge the oppressive regime and undo its obvious and unconscionable cruelty? This is not a clash of civilizations or cultural intolerance. This is 12th century barbarianism.

It is interesting to note that Gallucci, Albright and former Clinton National Security Advisor Tony Lake all hold faculty positions at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service, teaching courses on their experiences in the administration. But what do they have to pass on to the future leadership of this nation? That they were complicit in the shortsighted, stop-gap measures to head off nuclear proliferation with an unenforced, unofficial handshake agreement with one of recent history's most tyrannical and devious regimes?

William Perry's report outlining possible "landing" scenarios have failed to manifest. Gallucci's Agreed Framework, now in shambles, was unraveling from the start-- the DPRK maintaining the letter of the accord while repeatedly violating its spirit. Albright failed to reach any substantial headway in her 2000 meeting with Kim and was instead, by her own admission, awed by his personal attributes and grand displays.

The true arrogance of US policy is not in declaring North Korea a member of the Axis of Evil but in the patronizing, implicitly condescending presumption that America knows best and that everyone plays by our rules. The Clinton administration officials who faced the unenviable task of dealing with North Korea between 1993 and 2001 approached the Kim regime as they hoped it would be rather than as it truly was. As a result, the region is no more secure now than it was 10 years ago.

washington, dc


Not Since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 has America faced such nuclear threat. North Korea continues to violate all the norms of international conduct including kidnapping Japanese, South Koreans to teach North Korean spies for their international missions, which included various terrorist acts.

For the past decade, North Korea did not live up to the agreements signed in 1994 by continuing their nuclear weapons programs in secret.

As some one who does not necessarily agree with the hawks in the administration it is time to get tough with not only Pyonyang but it's main supporter Beijing on North Korea's weapons of mass destruction.

True, Taking a hardline is risky since North Korean forces coulddevastate South Korea and possibly Japan, but the recent attempts at diplomacy have provided little in the way of ending North Korea's development of weapons destruction. In any case, How can anyone trust a regime that endorses kidnapping, various terrorist acts, and deceptions of their intentions. Actions speak louder then words.

Doug Characky
saugus, california


I enjoy Frontline very much. It is thought provoking.

We Americans suffer from excessive peace. The symptoms are cloudy vision, unreasonable expecations, confusion about the nature of government and a loss of ability to distinguish between wishes and reality.

Most Americans do not think about the fact that the essence of government is raw power, the ability to apply physical force and violence to humans. Instead, we tend to think of government as a smiling faced moo cow which provides goodies like education, medical care, old age pensions, fat contracts and endless opportunities to get rich.

Wake up and remember that government comes out of the barrel of a gun. George Washington expressed that sentiment long before Mao Tse-tung. "Government is not reason, it is not eloquence - it is force." I hope Americans do not have to learn the nature of government by looking down the barrel of an AK-47.

George W. Bush knows it is more important to defeat the terrorists than to save the hostages. Do we want North Korea to hold us hostage to their demands?

Nick C.
griffith, in


First I get 40 minutes of the heroes of the Clinton era trying to reach out in peace to North Korea. Then I get 10 minutes of the Bush administration positioned as hardliners ruining all of that progress and leading to crisis. For 20 seconds somewhere in between there was the most important part of the broadcast. The North Koreans were cheating and progressing towards nuclear weapons the whole time they were making kissy face with the Clintonistas and the South Koreans!!!

Thank God I did not sneeze or I would have missed it. I am sadly dissapointed that so little was made of this important point. I guess in the mind of the producer the dilusional progress of the Clinton era was preferable to the reality of the situation.

Mark Frost
glen ellyn , il


Thank you for airing the excellent documentary last night. I think it certainly helped many people understand what has been happening.

I am a S.Korean and really worried about the possiblity of any military attack by the US on N.Korea, which will bring horrible consequences that I cannot even begin to think.

There are countries that already have neclear weapons. (well... the US has THE MOST !) No one can say that those countries will not use them against the US ever. N.Korea doesn't even have them yet.

There should be a peaceful solution to this crisis without meaningless deaths of soldiers and civilians as long as the US is willing to talk with N. Korea. Diplomacy is never appeasement.

Show the world what really makes the US great.

california, md


It is important to note that most reports concur that the DPRK had already separated sufficient plutonium for one to two weapons when their plutonium production program was halted in 1994.

Thus the debate is not about preventing the DPRK from acquiring nuclear weapons, but rather about controling the rate at which they might acquire more weapons.

Now that the DPRK has initiated a clandestine uranium enrichment program, it has become extremely difficult to verifiably stop their weapons program. Even under an IAEA Additional Protocol, technical measures are inadequate to detect clandestine enrichment facilities. For Iran an Additional Protocol could concievably work, because there is a demonstrated capability for dissident groups in that nation to identify and reveal clandestine activity, but the DPRK society is too tightly closed. Thus the 1994 solution is no longer workable.

Currently, China is the nation with the greatest leverage over the DPRK, because China supplies most of the DPRK's energy and a large amount of its food. The logical sequence that will follow current events over the next few years will include Japan acquiring ballistic missile defense capabilities, and then reconsidering their current abstinence from nuclear weapons, with South Korea and possibly Taiwan deciding to follow behind.

China has a strong motivation not to let this solution emerge, and thus to intervene more effectively with the DPRK than it has in the past. But this will only happen if the United States decides that at this stage, the best solution is to let the nations of the region, whose security interests are most directly involved, develop their own solution to their regional problem. In this case the Administrations approach is likely the best among the many dismal choices.

Per Peterson
berkeley, ca


I was in the US military in South Korea from 1999-2000. What I learned is that South Korea puts out just as much propaganda as the North. They have not taught their children about the war 50 years ago and the dangers of their neighbor to the north. Now they have a generation who is trying to befriend a ticking time bomb.

While in Korea I felt more threatened by this generation of South Koreans than I ever felt threatened by North Koreans. South Koreans were the ones protesting our bases, and threatening to kidnap our soldiers. They should be ashamed of themselves.

While in Korea I heard that North Korea has violated their agreements with America and South Korea thousands of times. They should not be trusted at all. I'm glad the Bush administration realizes that.

Someone on the program last night said the US president is responsible for protecting America first. That's absolutely right. South Korea doesn't deserve our protection. We need to take out North Korea's ICBM capabilities immediately before a major west coast US city gets nuked. If Seoul gets nailed that's their fault for not dealing with their enemy and not honoring their friends.

portland, or


Your program on the Korean problem was very well done and I thought hard questions were asked of both Clinton and Bush administration people who (together) have gotten us in one hell of a mess. Clinton should have not signed any document that did not include the removal of the spent fuel rods and Bush should stop acting like a cow boy from Texas and understand that Mr. Kim of N. Korea would rather see his country destroyed along with several million Koreans than go through the agony of losing face.

In any case it appears that Bush is talking himself into a corner again as he did in Iraq and a very bad conflict may indeed result in the near future.

David Boylan
tullahoma, tn


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