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From Bad to Worse on the Korean Peninsula

From a New York Times article on North Korea's announcement that it had removed international controls from its nuclear reactors and from a large supply of weapons-grade fuel:

By taking possession of 8,000 spent fuel rods, the country could conceivably begin producing plutonium-based bombs in as little as six months, experts say. But as serious as this sounds, many analysts see another threat in the country's brash actions, and it could materialize even sooner: a weakening of the half-century-old alliance between South Korea and the United States.

A new and diplomatically inexperienced South Korean president is to take office here in February, and he seeks to pursue closer relations with his neighbor. Behind Pyongyang's latest actions, analysts detect a desire to take advantage of the new South Korean eagerness at the expense of the United States, just as America is enduring a period of intense unpopularity among South Koreans...

North Korea's behavior clearly aims to deepen the cracks that have already made [South Korea's] relationship with Washington unusually fragile, and analysts who agree on little else say Pyongyang's timing could not have been more astute.

Wait, it gets worse:

Remarkably, after more than two years of high-profile efforts to engage with Pyongyang, public opinion surveys here show that South Koreans are as skeptical of their longtime ally, the United States, as they are of heavily armed North Korea.

The president-elect, Roh Moo Hyun, who emerged victorious last week in part on the strength of these sentiments, is an ardent advocate of engagement with North Korea, and has vowed to be assertive in dealing with the United States, which he has openly called heavy-handed.

Mr. Roh... has never been abroad...

So, to sum everything up:

A paranoid, totalitarian regime which has in the past engaged in state-sponsored terrorism, and which recently demonstrated the ability to reach the capital of the world's second-largest economy with ballistic missiles, has reneged on its agreement to halt nuclear weapons development and now has the capability to produce such weapons within six months. Its democratic neighbor to the south, which it attempted to conquer in the past, and which has pursued a policy of engagement to attempt to improve relations, has just elected a new leader who has never traveled outside the country and who believes that more engagement will solve the current crisis. A superpower is committed to the defense of the democracy, but the people so protected are as skeptical of the superpower as of the totalitarian regime. In any case, the superpower is distracted with the pursuit of war against a paranoid, totalitarian regime elsewhere in the world.

Do people appreciate just how serious this situation is?

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