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Leslie Gelb: North Korea is run by a porn king, Kim Jong-il. His favorite thing is watching porn flicks. He gets the attention of the world and of the United States, in particular, by messing around with the development of nuclear weapons, doing missile tests, and the like. And every time he does, he gets us. He gets our goat. All my colleagues start running around and saying how dangerous this is and we got to do something about it and we got to stop it, that what he’s doing is totally unacceptable.

President [George W.] Bush said that for eight years. And what happened? He [Kim Jong-il] developed nuclear weapons. He developed missiles that are capable of reaching most of his neighbors, for all the threats.

So what were they saying? What were they saying? What sense did it make? You can threaten the North if you have the capacity, really, and the likelihood, really, of carrying out that threat. But in the case of the North, the leaders there don’t believe for a moment we’re going to attack them militarily. And the reason is very simple. The reason we don’t attack North Korea is because the South Koreans don’t want us to. That’s the last thing they want. Because even though the South Koreans fully understand we could destroy North Korea and end the threat to them, that before we would complete that destruction, the North could totally destroy Seoul, the capital city of the South. So the South would throw us out of the country if they thought for one moment we would start such a war.

In fact, no country would have us if we start such a war like that, to have an ally destroyed at the expense of destroying an enemy. That makes no common sense. We got to look for another way to deal with the problem. And one way to deal with it, right off the bat, is not to go crazy every time the North Koreans start rattling their missiles or nuclear weapons. We can deter them. We have deterred them. They understand full well that if they were to make any serious threats to use any of those weapons, then we would have to destroy them, whatever the consequences.

The boss of that country wants to watch his porn flicks. He doesn’t want to get destroyed. And look, people say, no, this is crazy. You can’t tell that. I heard exactly the same arguments all my career about the Soviet Union and the Chinese. They say, they’re crazy. They’ll fight nuclear wars. We have to prepare to fight nuclear wars. The Chinese don’t care if they lose half a billion people. Of course, they do.

You know, it’s just nuts. It’s nutty thinking. Nobody wants to get destroyed but they want to have the security of those nuclear weapons to deter us, in most cases, to deter us.

Recorded on: May 1, 2009.

More from the Big Idea for Monday, April 16 2012

Today's Big Idea: The Impossible State

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Leslie Gelb: "North Korea I...

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