In 1994, the United States was confronted with the resurgence of a danger many had thought gone forever: the prospect of nuclear attack against its major cities. Though the Cold War had ended and Russia had substantially reduced its missile stockpile, North Korea was going in the opposite direction, doing everything it possibly could to acquire a nuclear arsenal capable of striking US soil. For President Bill Clinton, the nuclear threat couldn't have come at a worse time: when he'd taken office a year earlier, America had finally started to enjoy the fruits of post-Cold War prosperity and now that dividend was in danger of being lost.
On top of that, his handling of national security was being questioned in the wake of his controversial decision to pull all US combat troops out of Somalia after the notorious "Black Hawk Down" incident of October 1993; Republican Congressional candidates, sensing that this might be a perfect time to retake control of the House and Senate after almost four decades of Democratic control, hammered away relentlessly at Clinton's credibility on defense issues as the November midterm elections approached.
But late in the summer of that year, Clinton made a decision that would have considerable ramifications not only for his administration but for the entire world-- he authorized the US military to begin a series of pre-emptive actions both open and covert to stop Kim Jong Il's nuclear ambitions dead in their tracks. His first move towards this end came in July of 1994, when his UN ambassador, Madeline Albright, went before the UN General Assembly in an act reminiscent of Adlai Stevenson's testimony before the Assembly during the Cuban missile crisis. Using paper and videotape evidence furnished by the CIA-- which had in turn received them from the Korean Central Intelligence Agency --Albright made a very solid case that North Korea was defying not only the will of the international community but also the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which Pyongyang itself had signed less than a decade earlier.
At the very least, Albright and Clinton sought to gain international support for economic pressure on North Korea to scrap its nuclear program. Deep down they both hoped the situation could be resolved by diplomatic means instead of military ones; however, even as Clinton, Albright, and US Secretary of State Warren Christopher were issuing statements expressing the hope that the nuclear issue could be peacefully resolved, it was becoming painfully clear to US intelligence experts that the atomic trump card would have to be pulled out of North Korea's hand by force. Accordingly, Albright and Christopher began consultations with U.S. allies in the Far East and Europe to gauge the level of international support for preemptive action against Pyongyang.
By August of that year Defense Secretary William Cohen
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