President Bush used his address to the Congress Tuesday to again urge North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program or face continued isolation and hardship. Some analysts are warning that unless a solution is found soon, Pyongyang is likely to have a nuclear monopoly in Northeast Asia.
In his State of the Union address Tuesday night President Bush said that throughout the 1990s the United States relied on a negotiated agreement to keep North Korea from developing nuclear weapons.
But Mr. Bush added the North Korean government deceived the world by continuing its program. "Today the North Korean regime is using its nuclear program to incite fear and seek concessions," he said. "America and the world will not be blackmailed."
Last October, Washington confronted Pyongyang with evidence that it had resumed its nuclear weapons program. North Korea responded by moving to reactivate a power plant capable of making weapons grade material, expelling international monitors and withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
According to former U.S. secretary of defense, William Perry, President Bush must act quickly to head off North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Mr. Perry said North Korea will be able to process enough weapons-grade plutonium to build five nuclear bombs within a matter of weeks.
"The administration, in recognizing how disastrous a war could be, and recognizing that North Korea might already have one or two bombs, has suggested that they are not overly concerned with the prospect of the production program restarting," Mr. Perry went on to say. "I believe that this misjudges the negative consequences of such a program. Indeed, I believe that any strategy for dealing with this difficult problem must be based on the understanding that allowing North Korea to undertake the production of fissile material and nuclear bombs would be a major setback for American security, for regional security and for international security."
For Ted Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Washington-based Cato Institute, if North Korea begins to build a nuclear arsenal, both South Korea and Japan could decide they have no choice but to acquire such weapons, a move he says that could actually have a beneficial impact.
"There is a possibility that faced with that reality, that a nuclear monopoly is not within reach, the North might back away and conclude that the status quo with all three countries remaining non-nuclear is the preferred option," he explained. "But even if the North does not reach that conclusion at least you have the greater likelihood of a nuclear balance of power in the region instead of a North Korean nuclear monopoly, with the United States shielding its non-nuclear allies from an extremely aggressive and unpredictable adversary."
Doug Bandow, the author of a book called Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World argues it is time to withdraw the 37,000 American troops from South Korea because he says Seoul is more than capable of defending itself.
"The question is what argument is there for maintaining troops? One, of course, is that well we must defend the South from the North," he said. "But it is quite clear the South can defend itself. It can build whatever military it desires under whatever circumstance that it desires. So it is not needed for that. Now another argument is that, well, we need to stop North Korean nuclear weapons. But, of course, the military presence does nothing for that. To the contrary, having 37,000 soldiers on the peninsula within range of Scuds and potential North Korean nuclear weapons makes them nuclear hostages. Nowhere else on earth would Americans be so endangered than to leave them there under those circumstances."
Pyongyang currently has more than one million soldiers in its army, and most are deployed near the border with South Korea.
The North is also believed to have hundreds of missiles and artillery batteries within easy striking distance of Seoul.
Analysts say the cost of war with the North would be enormous, and that is why all parties are looking for a diplomatic solution.
The United Nations Security Council may soon be asked to intervene in the crisis.
The Security Council could impose sanctions on North Korea, a move Pyongyang says it would consider to be a declaration of war.