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Baby Kim's secret weapon

By John Dawson
web posted October 6, 2003

North Korea announced last week it is using plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel rods to make nuclear weapons. How could the United States let this happen?

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il salutes as he reviews a parade during the country's 55th anniversary celebration in Pyongyang, North Korea on September 9
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il salutes as he reviews a parade during the country's 55th anniversary celebration in Pyongyang, North Korea on September 9

In 1994, when North Korea was on the brink of economic collapse, its new leader Kim Jong Il, following in his father's footsteps, demanded the help of his reviled enemy, the United States of America. Then-President Bill Clinton agreed to supply food, oil and two light-water nuclear power reactors.

What did America receive in return? The withdrawal of a threat of nuclear war that North Korea had no capacity to wage, but which it might be able to wage some day, if it could keep itself fed, fuelled and powered long enough to develop its nuclear capacity. How could an aging dictator nicknamed "Baby Kim" extort protection money from a superpower, for no more than a promise to suspend development of nuclear weapons? Did he, like some fictional super-villain, hold some ace card? A special hostage?

Whatever Baby Kim's ace was, it worked so well that he decided to use it again.

In October 2002 Kim revealed that he had broken his promise and had resumed uranium enrichment. He demanded that America negotiate a new deal. George W. Bush refused. Kim threatened "merciless punishment" for the United States and a "sea of flames" for South Korea. Bush declared this was a "diplomatic" not a "military" issue. Kim withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and fast-tracked his development of nuclear weapons. Bush responded by offering to consider Baby Kim's new demands, provided North Korea's neighbours were included in the talks.

How can Kim be getting away with this again? Why doesn't Bush give an ultimatum to the regime he called evil, then work out the safest way to destroy its military capacity? Whatever the risks of an attack, the risks of continued appeasement are much greater, as the result of the 1994 deal, and history, prove. So, how is it that Baby Kim is the one who makes the threats, and Uncle Sam the one who does the conceding? What does the tyrant have up his sleeve?

Baby Kim does hold a couple of ace cards. They were slipped up his sleeve by Western moralists.

Most Western moralists agree on one premise--that there is no premise that can provide an objective standard for moral judgement. Every culture, they insist, is sacrosanct and can be judged only according to its own subjective standards. Accordingly, foreign regimes are immune from moral condemnation--a brutal communist dictatorship such as North Korea must be considered morally equivalent to the United States of America.

Despite his "axis of evil" rhetoric, Bush is incapable of challenging this moral relativism. Consequently, he lacks the moral certainty that would give him the courage to take decisive action. He is reduced to issuing empty threats, followed by appeasing proposals, followed by more empty threats.

But despite their explicit premise that there is no universal standard of morality, the moral relativists implicitly take one moral precept for granted, as if it were unquestionable: altruism. According to altruism, the ethics of self-sacrifice, the rich and powerful are guilty by the mere fact of their success and are duty-bound to sacrifice their wealth to those who have less. Thus, rich and powerful America must assume moral responsibility for the impoverished North Koreans.

According to this moral trap, America must not only respect the sovereignty of North Korea, regardless of Baby Kim's policies of domestic enslavement and foreign belligerence; it must also feed and empower it. If North Koreans die as human shields or when the collective crops fail or when the food aid stops, Kim knows that it won't be he who will be denounced as morally culpable--it will be Bush who will be denounced, for attacking North Korea, or for not providing enough aid. Kim can use his people as hostages, can threaten any atrocity and demand any ransom, knowing that Bush will want to appease him rather than face the denunciation of critics wielding a morality he dare not reject.

The indecision and paralysis engendered by moral relativism, coupled with the appeasement and self-sacrifice engendered by altruism, is suicidal. If America does not throw off these moral chains, it will continue to be the prey of the Baby Kims, Ayatollahs, Arafats and bin Ladens of the world. Just as an individual must act unapologetically to preserve his life, so must America.

America must proudly proclaim its right and intention to protect its citizens, their liberty and their property. It must meet any threat with retaliation that pre-empts loss of American lives.

John Dawson is a writer for the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Copyright © 2003 Ayn Rand® Institute

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