In 1994, as Washington mulled bombing the Yongbyon reactor during a crisis over North Korea’s suspected nuclear-weapons program, President Clinton asked the commander of U.S. forces in South Korea about the bottom-line cost if war broke out on the Peninsula. “A million and a trillion,” Gen. Gary Luck replied. Facing the prospect of a million people dead and a trillion dollars in industrial damage, Clinton eventually made a deal with Pyongyang.That sobering assessment makes even neoconservatives think twice about efforts to oust the Communist regime. But current tensions have analysts worried that North Korea will do something rash enough that South Korea may be forced to finally respond—and draw Washington, its treaty-bound ally, into a conflict that could quickly escalate. “There’s always a tendency to look at the North Koreans’ bluster and say, ‘They’re doing the same old stuff again,’ ” says Victor Cha, former top Asia hand on George W. Bush’s National Seˆcurity Council.
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