Expert: North Korean Regime Sturdy

Kim Jong Il’s regime is sturdier than many U.S. politicians are willing to admit, a top North Korea expert said at an Institute of Politics forum yesterday that painted a sobering picture of American security in light of the Oct. 9 nuclear test.

“We must abandon our idea that, given enough time, the current regime will collapse,” said panelist Stephen W. Linton, who has traveled to North Korea over 50 times as a humanitarian aid worker and now heads the Eugene Bell Foundation, which provides medical aid to North Koreans.

“The U.S. needs to get real about the situation in East Asia,” he said.

Ashton B. Carter, Ford Foundation professor of science and international affairs, moderated the standing-room-only event.

“What has transpired in North Korea represents the most serious disaster with regard to American national security in the past several years,” said Carter, who is also co-director of the Preventive Defense Project, a collaboration between Stanford University and the Kennedy School of Government.

A theme throughout the 90-minute-long session was that the world has failed to take North Korea’s threats seriously.

“The dirty secret is that our intelligence on Iraq and [weapons of mass destruction] was better than our intelligence on North Korea,” said Arthur Brown, a former chief of the CIA’s Asia division.

The discussion was marked by talk that the United States should be realistic in assessing its options on how to disarm North Korea and head off the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Linton, of the Eugene Bell Foundation, cautioned against encouraging regime change.

“China doesn’t want a refugee flow, and South Korea doesn’t want to support the entire North Korean population,” Linton said. “China is not in our car and will not help us push North Korea to the wall.”

South Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, Choi Young-jin, who was also at the talk, maintained that North Korea would outlast the pressure to disarm.

“Iran’s nuclear program is motivated by aspiration,” he said, “while North Korea’s is motivated by desperation.”