President Kim Jong Il of North Korea has obviously failed to comprehend that only those countries sanctioned by America and its close allies are permitted to develop nuclear weapons in this unipolar world. Other nuclear powers, such as India and Pakistan, are tolerated as long as they keep their policies in line with those of Washington.
Still, all is not lost as North Korea is not Iraq, does not have oil and further, does not have its sights on Washington’s de facto protectorate Israel. It may, therefore, manage to escape the Bush administration’s list of potential targets for enforced regime change.
Further, North Korea has a big brother, China, which looks out for its interests, a detail that will not have escaped the American president’s hawkish advisers.
Last weekend, the U.S. President joined with the leaders of Japan and South Korea in a bid to “persuade” North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme, while at the same time vowing to achieve a peaceful outcome to the dispute.
Earlier, North Korea had offered to cooperate with the U.S. on condition that America withdraws what the North Korean leadership calls its “hostile policy”. The unhesitating U.S. response was that the future of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme is non-negotiable.
President Kim promptly reacted by threatening to toughen his country’s policy towards the U.S., whatever that implies.
Even so, Washington has refrained from doing its usual war dance and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and others in the administration have played down the situation speaking in terms of diplomatic solutions.
One can only speculate upon why such a cosy diplomatic option is not being offered to Baghdad, which, unlike North Korea asserts that it does not possess weapons of mass destruction. And while Saddam Hussain has been making every effort to rejoin the world community, the U.S. and the UK have denied him this option time after time.
In fact, the American government visibly shudders at the thought of Baghdad opening its doors to Hans Blix and his team of weapons inspectors and has stated that if Baghdad puts a foot wrong once those inspectors are in place, it will not hesitate in acting unilaterally.
After all those years of U.S. demands that weapons inspectors return to Iraq, when Saddam finally acquiesces, the Bush administration shows its displeasure, throwing suspicion on Saddam’s motives for agreeing to cooperate. Isn’t it possible that Saddam just doesn’t want a bloody conflagration?
Chairman of the Senate Committee Patrick Leahy recently commented that Pyongyang is a far greater threat to U.S. security than Baghdad. Secretary of State Colin Powell disagreed and said: “Saddam Hussain is more of a clear and present danger (than North Korea).”
His explanation focused around the Iraqi regime’s invasions of both Iran and Kuwait during the last decades and its allegedly using chemical weapons on its Kurdish population.
But Saddam’s questionable history still does not explain Washington’s determination to oust the Iraqi leader at this particular moment in time, while glossing over the threat from Pyongyang. The inherent dangers in launching a major attack on Iraq are manifold while conclusive proof that Iraq’s leader is a “clear and present danger” is insufficient at best, absent at worst.
Washington admits that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons during the Gulf War in 1991, yet the Iraqi leader was restrained enough not to use them.
In this case, what would be his motive for preemptively unleashing them now? In any event, although Iraq’s missiles have improved capabilities and can travel longer distances, the U.S. has stated that they are not capable of reaching either America or Britain.
Saddam is also known for being a survivor and would gain nothing at all from unleashing his weapons on American interests when he knows that U.S. retaliation would be swift and devastating.
On the other hand, President Kim is an unknown quantity. He is known to be reclusive and eccentric with a fear of flying, which led to him taking an epic 10-day train journey to visit his Russian counterpart in July 2001.
Amid U.S. and British assertions that the Iraqi people have little love for their leader, Saddam organised a national referendum with the continuance of his presidency at stake. The result, although not independently verified, appears to be overwhelmingly in his favour.
In a show of gratitude for his “re-election to office” Saddam issued a decree releasing most of the prisoners in his jails, including political prisoners – the first time this has ever happened during his long presidency.
While Saddam is doing his best to appear as a benign figure – admittedly a tall order – Bush and the hawks in the White House and the Pentagon are coming across as dictatorial and self-interested.
Following the North Korean admission and the comparatively calm reaction of the U.S., the Bush administration’s case for attacking Iraq has been weakened. It is now evident that Saddam isn’t the only leader to have unilaterally broken agreements and far from being the only detractor of the U.S. who is allegedly developing weapons of mass destruction.
The more jaundiced among us will be unable to ignore the one main difference between Iraq and North Korea – oil. Put simply, Iraq has vast reserves still untapped, while North Korea is economically on its knees, without the benefit of such prized black gold.
The other factor crucial to the Bush administration is geographical. Korea’s weapons delivery systems do not have the range to do any harm to either the U.S. mainland or Israel. The same cannot be said of Iraq, which launched its Scud missiles in the direction of Tel Aviv in 1991.
Saddam may be a wild card, but then so is President Kim, along with several leaders of ex-Soviet Union countries who still have nuclear missiles along with stocks of the plutonium and uranium to manufacture nuclear warheads.
Russia is currently assisting Iran with its nuclear power reactor at Bushehr, which will enable Iran to produce weapons-grade fissionable material, and has rejected all American pressure to desist. In these days when the U.S. is showing who’s boss, it will not be surprising if other smaller nations decide that it is in their interests to protect themselves from America’s new imperialism in any way they can.
North Korea has every reason to want to hold on to its nuclear weapons, which provide a deterrent against U.S. threats that in certain circumstances, America would use its weapons of mass destruction against the North Koreans.
They also act as a buffer to South Korea’s conventional military supremacy, and substitute for the loss of its once Communist ally Russia. Without serious military clout, North Korea would have little choice but to toe a line dictated by a White House, which has already labelled it as “evil”.
America is fast becoming a quixotic figure fighting windmills; its war on terror hasn’t succeeded now that Al Qaida is back up and running and its Middle East policy, if it has one, is in a shambles. Worse, the world at large, and especially the Arab world, views the once kindly Uncle Sam with burgeoning suspicion.
Before any of us can really feel safe again, and nuclear non-proliferation can get back on track, the U.S. should analyse its international policies and attitudes with a view to engaging once more with the rest of the world instead of behaving as a megalomaniac headmaster.
The American people themselves are beginning to question their government, as evidenced by the hundreds of thousands who demonstrated against war last Saturday in Washington and San Francisco, including thousands of veterans of the Vietnam War.
For the sake of the Iraqi people, and the region as a whole, let’s hope that Bush and his administration take note.
Linda Heard is a writer, editor and Arabist, who has lived and worked for most of her life in the Middle East.
She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org