Werther | The first crisis over North Korea’s nuclear program arose in late 1994. It was obvious there was not much the United States could do to step in unilaterally and disarm the North Korean regime. Sanctions, the normally inevitable option short of war, had no meaning – the United States had no trade with the North in the first place and the regime followed a policy of economic autarky (Juche) in any case. There was really only one feasible course of action: gather as many regional allies as possible, agree to a process of inducing North Korea to freeze its nuclear program, and tender an offer to the North Koreans on the basis of a quid pro quo.
When the Clinton administration outlined its proposed course of action to Congress there was some grumbling. Arm-waving professional patriots of the American political class do not like seeing the slightest diminution of their country’s God-given prerogative to impose its will abroad when and as it likes. But there was no rational alternative, and apart from a few obscure, back-bench House Republican members a general consensus emerged that the administration’s Agreed Framework was the best of a bad series of options.
Only one politician of any political standing dissented. His name was John Sidney McCain III. His modest proposal was that the United States should be prepared to bomb the North Korean reactor sites. Never mind that he could be condemning several thousand U.S. troops (and tens of thousands of South Korean civilians) in the vicinity of the Demilitarized Zone to a virtual death sentence. It had never occurred to this self-proclaimed military expert that the North Korean regime had amassed thousands of long-range artillery pieces and rocket launchers and concealed them in tunnels north of the DMZ. From these positions the North Korean military could unleash an avalanche of fire south of the border. The result would probably have been a repeat of the Korean war of 1950-53 but with even more murderously lethal weapons.