&#91BOOK REVIEW&#93Current crises disarm a critique

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[BOOK REVIEW]Current crises disarm a critique

Reading this optimistic account of the 1993-4 nuclear crisis on the peninsula will make you an isolationist. It made me want to fly home to California, wall out the rest of the world and support Pat Buchanan.

Published in 1998, "Disarming Strangers" is an informative history of the events leading up to Jimmy Carter's trip to North Korea to meet Kim Il Sung in June 1994 and defuse the crisis. That controversial meeting set up the following October's Agreed Framework, which dissolved a few months ago when the North admitted it had been cheating all along.

Leon V. Sigal does a fine job of chronicling the crisis; he provides a clear picture of who was saying what as the events unfolded.

But Mr. Sigal, who wrote editorials on the subject for the New York Times in the early '90s, is far from an impartial reporter. He works from a few black and white premises, not without flaws: that cooperation is cheap, and works; that North Korea, with few exceptions, was being reasonable and America had its head in the sand; and that those who favored cooperation with Pyeongyang were enlightened and those who favored coercion and regime change were benighted.

He does makes a convincing case that there is a method to North Korea's madness, if anyone is patient and masochistic enough to notice.

But reading with the benefit of hindsight, the benighted get the prizes for prescience. Karen Elliott House of The Wall Street Journal in 1994 wrote, "The only question about ... the U.S.-North Korea deal ... is when it will collapse."

Meanwhile, Mr. Sigal puffs out his chest and claims victory. In the preface, after thanking people who helped him with the book, he ends with: "And to my son Jake, who will never have to worry about a nuclear North Korea."

by Mike Ferrin
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