Shots were fired in the Korean DMZ yesterday. It's time to come up with a more effective response to recent events. It is critical that such a response be based on knowledge of Korea and not on posturing for Congressional elections.
In response to North Korea's nuclear gambit we should offer talks aimed at the reunification of Korea.
War is not an option. South Korean diplomats have long been quietly telling the Bush administration that they could live with a nuclear North Korea. As Kaplan points out in his article, China would not support war, not least because their memory of the last Korean wars are rather painful (as anybody will tell you, Mao Zedong's son died in Korea).
Bush's sabre-rattling is kabuki. It's similar to the gestures Kaus accuses him of making with regard to the border fence. Talking tough is for domestic consumption; the problem is that everybody else is listening as well. Some Korean analysts think that Bush's "axis of evil" speech is what caused this mess, because in Korea it was read not as cowboy bluster but as a declaration of intent to invade.
War is not an option, and severe sanctions, a blockade, etc would probably not work. It's unlikely China would go for it, and if they actually hurt the government Kim Jong-il would likely start a war.
Offering reunification talks would be a face-saving gesture for the North Korean government. They could not easily turn down such talks, as the juche propaganda they spew every which way is supposed to be about Korean nationalism. The nuclear issue could then be part of negotiations to create some sort of federated Korea, as could economic help from the South.
The Southern economy is so strong, the Kim regime so weak, that if one could stand down on military issues, the most likely long-term outcome would be that South Korea gains more say in the north, and that Koreans decide how their country could be run. Which only seems fair.
A response to articles in War Stories and Fraywatch.
War Stories | Korea
More on why China won't do anything: WaPo.
UPDATE: Monday WaPo seems to support my argument that the time for negotiations over weapons has passed, as no nuclear nation has ever given up the weapons. It's like if a mugger pulls a gun on you, you don't start negotiating about whether or not to give him your wallet. By giving him your wallet, are you giving into threats and encouraging crime? Perhaps. But you lost that battle when you turned into the dark alley; now's not the time for chat.
Proposing talks about a unified Korea would add more issues to the table. It might not work, but there's really not much we can do now on the nuclear front.
KICKING THE PRESIDENT WHILE HE'S DOWN: Three countries on the axis of evil, and he invaded the one without nuclear capabilities, thus inspiring the other two to develop weapons as quickly as possible. Does rank incompetence count as "high crimes and misdemeanors?" Put differently, if Bush were flying an airplane, would he be arrested or just fired?