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Examine a night composite satellite image of the Earth. The areas that are well lit are, for the most part, regions of wealth and well-being. Darkness represents wilderness or poverty. A very small feature is particularly interesting. South Korea shines brightly while North Korea is dark; the demilitarized zone is the clear boundary. With the Berlin Wall gone, this border is now the most vivid illustration of the difference between communism and capitalism. Yet North Korea can, any time it so desires, make a light brighter than a thousand suns.

At least that is the opinion of Florida Senator Bob Graham, chair of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee. “North Korea has at least two nuclear weapons,” he stated bluntly on Meet the Press recently. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is more cautious. In August 2001 he said that North Korea has the nuclear material to have between two and five nuclear weapons, but he did not claim that any had been built.
 
The contrast between North and South is not just in the lights. North Korea has an area slightly smaller than that of Mississippi, and a population of 22 million people. Yet, of 174 countries tabulated by The Economist, North Korea has the largest armed forces. (I’m including reserves; if you include only active military, then North Korea still ranks fifth.) Its gross domestic product per person, relative to local cost of living, is just 6 percent of South Korea’s. North Korea cannot afford to feed itself; a third of its calories consumed are financed by international aid. Its industrial base is in a sad state of disrepair from years of neglect; the country’s only thriving export is arms. The country’s totalitarian ruler, Kim Jong-il, inherited his job from his father. He is one of a small number of rulers categorized as “pathological predators” by former CIA director James Woolsey. (Saddam Hussein is also on the list.) North Korea is, of course, a member of President George W. Bush’s axis of evil.

In early October, the United States confronted North Korea with evidence that the country is expanding its nuclear weapons program-that it is building gas centrifuge enrichment plants that could produce enough uranium fuel for one or more new nuclear weapons per year. (This is in addition to the two to five weapons they may already have from prior plutonium production.) North Korea’s intention could be to use the weapons against their traditional enemies (South Korea and Japan) or to sell them to the highest bidders; nobody knows. The region is exceptionally dangerous. For decades, the South Koreans have been discovering covert tunnels built by the North under the demilitarized zone, large enough to drive tanks through. And, after North Korea, the country with the largest army in the world is South Korea.

To the amazement of the world, North Korea responded to this confrontation by admitting that they, indeed, have such a program. They then declared dead the 1994 U.S.-North Korea bilateral “Agreed Framework” that had outlawed such facilities. The North Korean leaders subsequently announced that, in addition to the new uranium program, they were resuming plutonium production in their nuclear reactors.

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