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Does the US have a double standard with regards to North Korea and Iraq?
by David T. Pyne, Center for the National Security Interest
25 February 2003

Giving in to North Korean nuclear blackmail would encourage nuclear proliferation.


Part 1

The Bush administration has increasingly come under attack from both the left and the right for exercising what appears to be a double standard in its policy towards Iraq and its policy towards North Korea. For a time, it looked like the administration was moving in a more prudent direction on North Korean policy. Following the North Korean declaration that they had restarted their nuclear weapons program, the Bush administration appeared to abandon the discredited Clinton-era Agreed Framework and declared that it had no plans to resume talks with North Korea until Pyongyang froze its nuclear weapons program. However, in recent weeks, the administration has begun to backpedal.

As predicted by this author late last month, the more blustering and threats we have heard from North Korea, the more rapidly the administration has backtracked from its earlier tough rhetoric condemning the resumption of North Korean nuclear weapons production. Most recently, the administration has offered a resumption of large-scale energy aid, increased food and agricultural aid to North Korea, and a renegotiation of the Agreed Framework if it verifiably dismantles its nuclear weapons program.

UN weapons inspectors persist in their fishing expedition for the few of Iraq’s rusting short-range chemical artillery shells that managed to survive the Gulf War and seven to eight years of UN weapons inspections have methodically destroyed every weapon of mass destruction found in Iraq. Meanwhile, North Korea is known to maintain a much larger arsenal consisting of 5,000 tons of chemical weapons in addition to their nuclear arsenal with many “No Dong” MRBMs and a few “Taepodong” IRBMs and ICBMs to boot with sufficient range to strike US cities. One is left to wonder how it is that the administration can persist in seeing Iraq as a greater threat because it might be developing nukes but not long-range missiles, while it is well-known that North Korea continues to threaten the US with nuclear obliteration and has both nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them to US cities.

North Korea has expelled UN/IAEA weapons inspectors in contrast to Iraq, which, following the UN Security Council vote a couple of months ago, has welcomed them in. The Bush administration has sought to portray Iraq as the greater and more immediate threat based on the possibility that Saddam ‘might’ have restarted the nuclear weapons program that was declared dismantled by UN weapons inspectors in 1998. However, after two months of searching, the inspectors have been unable to find any evidence to support the administration’s contention of a continuing WMD program. Saddam has done everything short of presenting the US with his remaining arsenal of chemical and biological weapons to avert war with the US, while North Korea has been openly and publicly goading the US into what it claims would amount to World War Three. While Saddam has declared that Iraq would defend itself against an unprovoked attack by the US and would inflict many casualties against invading troops if the US were to invade, North Korea has threatened to annihilate millions of American civilians with the nuclear missiles it has in place today.

While North Korea has long maintained links to terrorist groups like the Japanese Red Army faction and various Middle Eastern terror groups, Iraq’s reported ties to terrorism are much more murky, limited to providing a safe haven for a few terrorists over the years and to providing death benefits for the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. In point of fact, British intelligence reportedly concluded that Saddam does not care much for Islamist radicals and terrorists who would pose a threat to his largely secular regime. His historical disliking for them was strong enough to cause him to invade Iran with US support shortly after the Islamist revolutionaries took power in Tehran, but that is the subject for a different article.

Fifty years ago, North Korean forces, fighting alongside their Chinese Communist benefactors, killed 37,000 American soldiers in the Korean War. This war technically has never ended due to North Korea’s refusal to sign a peace agreement while US troops remain stationed on the peninsula. North Korea is known to have slaughtered scores of American soldiers since the armistice in 1953, whereas Iraq has not been linked to the killing of any Americans outside of fighting US troops during Operation Desert Storm. Nor has Iraq been positively linked to any actual or attempted terrorist attacks on US soil.

In fact, North Korea has itself committed several terrorist acts over the years. In the late 1960s, it shot down a US military aircraft, killing 25 US soldiers. It captured the USS Pueblo and held her crew prisoner, submitting them to torture for 14 months before they were finally released. North Korea succeeded in killing nearly half of the South Korean cabinet in a brutal bombing in Rangoon during the 1970s and has attempted to assassinate various presidents of South Korea. Then, in the 1980s, North Korean citizens ax-murdered two American soldiers guarding the DMZ.

No American president since Eisenhower has ever done anything to retaliate against North Korea for its killings or torture of American soldiers, in part because the US was bogged down for many years in Vietnam and did not want to be distracted from pursuing that war. That remains the case today as the president tries to play down the North Korean crisis as an unwanted distraction from its planned invasion of Iraq.

The administration continues to use the clear and present nuclear danger posed by North Korea against the US as a pretext to justify what it has described as a preventive war against Iraq, claiming that invasion would be justified in order to ensure that Iraq does not become the next North Korea. This is despite the fact that according to recently issued unclassified CIA reports, Iraq, even if left unrestrained, is “several years” away from obtaining the nuclear material to construct an atomic bomb to say nothing of developing the expertise necessary to do so.

The renowned Prussian statesman, Otto von Bismarck, aptly characterized preventive war as “suicide from fear of death.” The overwhelming nuclear and conventional superiority possessed by the US over Iraq has allowed it to bomb Iraq at will without fear of US casualties or Iraqi attempts at retaliation. The very fact that Iraq has been completely powerless to retaliate against the US for its incessant bombing and cruise missile attacks seems to contradict the administration’s overreaching arguments that Iraq somehow poses a threat to a country widely assumed to be the most powerful military power on the planet. Given such massive US military superiority over Iraq, the only scenario that one could foresee in which Saddam would strike out at Americans with CBR weapons is in retaliation for a US invasion of Iraq. Paradoxically this is the very course of action the Bush administration appears determined to undertake. The administration has declared its intention to kill Saddam or otherwise oust him from power, so he will have nothing left to lose from a resort to use of these powerful weapons.

Those who argue that there is a double standard in US policy towards Iraq and North Korea appear to have a point. The administration should pursue a dual-policy of robust deterrence and containment in the cases of both countries. There is no need to resort to extreme or self-defeating measures like invasion or appeasement to resolve its legitimate concerns regarding these rogue nations.

Part II

In recent months, the crisis with North Korea has escalated and Pyongyang has brazenly violated four international treaties. In addition to pulling out of the Carter-negotiated Agreed Framework of 1994, which was supposed to ‘freeze’ its nuclear weapon production, it has announced its withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The purpose of this North Korean announcement appears to have been a bid to increase the yearly bounty in aid it receives from the United States. North Korea has also taken visible and concrete steps to restart its nuclear reactors and commence overt nuclear weapon production. Earlier this month, it announced its intention to begin flight tests of its Taepodong 2 ICBM, which has sufficient range to reach Los Angeles and San Francisco.

North Korea has threatened nuclear war with the United States almost daily for the past couple of weeks and repeated its earlier threats to turn the US into a nuclear “sea of fire.” In response, the administration has sought to allay fears and play down its concerns of imminent war with Pyongyang. Bush officials have downplayed reports that North Korean military forces on the DMZ have gone on full alert, claiming that the alerts are no cause for concern, despite the fact that North Korean troops are now positioned for a blitzkrieg assault across the South Korean border without warning.

Nuclear blackmail, it seems, may be paying off for Pyongyang as the Bush administration’s far-reaching doctrine of pre-emptive attacks apparently does not apply to North Korea, a known nuclear power. Since the North Korean nuclear war threats began a month or so ago, the Bush administration has renounced any potential military action against North Korea, saying it has no plans for such action now or in the future. It has refused calls by more conservative members of Congress like Sen. John Kyl for UN sanctions against the Stalinist regime of Kim Jong Il and has refused to cut off food aid to Pyongyang despite the President’s extremely apt characterization of Kim as an ‘evil’ man whom he ‘loathes.’ After saying it had no plans to talk with North Korea, it has since announced its intention to do exactly that.

Despite declaring it would not negotiate with North Korea until Pyongyang refroze its nuclear weapons program, the administration has since indicated a willingness to renegotiate the Clinton-era Agreed Framework that many conservatives have condemned as little more than Chamberlainesque appeasement. The Washington Times reported on Jan. 17 that the Bush administration has even requested that Congress budget millions of dollars for KEDO, the organization established under the Agreed Framework and charged with building two large nuclear reactors in North Korea.

These two nuclear reactors would be capable of producing 60 nuclear warheads a year, according to the GOP-led House Policy Committee and some Democrat congressmen as well. The administration’s decision to request funding for KEDO represents yet another reversal, since it had informed Congress last month that it would not request such funding. The Times quoted one Republican congressional staffer as having told UPI that this represents a triumph for those in the State Department who have been advocating a policy of accommodation and a return to the Agreed Framework. This staffer concluded that this policy represents “a huge retreat for the administration.”

The president was right to include North Korea as part of its “Axis of Evil.” North Korea is one of the most evil and murderous regimes on the planet today, not far behind its longtime ally and benefactor, the People’s Republic of China. North Korea reportedly holds more than 200,000 political and religious prisoners in its gulags. Under the Stalinist regime of Kim Jong Il, North Korea is reported to have been complicit in the starvation of two million of its own people. It has used US food aid to feed its army and enrich its elite, but not to feed its people. It has even resold some US food abroad to purchase weapons for the Korean People’s Army.

The KPA is the fifth largest Army in the world and is massed along the DMZ like a dagger aimed at the South Korean capitol of Seoul, a mere 60 kilometers to the south. The administration was mistaken to rule out military action against Pyongyang. No country save Communist China and the defunct Soviet Union has been more worthy of regime change than North Korea. Yet regime change appears not to be the administration’s policy for North Korea. The Bush Doctrine, we are led to assume, does not apply to nuclear-armed enemies like Pyongyang.

The Bush administration should return to a more consistent policy based on its previously declared position--no talks with North Korea until it freezes its nuclear weapons program. It should also call for UN sanctions against North Korea and cut off its agricultural and food assistance unless and until North Korea halts its nuclear weapons production. Furthermore, it should proclaim that North Korea is no longer off limits to US military action and that it will consider overthrowing Kim Jong Il if he continues his attempts at nuclear blackmail.

The US should continue redeploying nuclear weapons aboard its warships and aircraft carriers as it appears to have done -- at least one aircraft carrier near Japan is nuclear capable -- to defend against a North Korean blitzkrieg. Finally, the Bush administration should do everything it can to expedite the deployment en masse of Standard 3 ABMs on its 60-odd Aegis destroyers and cruisers, to defend against the threat of North Korean nuclear missile attack against US and allied cities.

Any attempts by the administration to accommodate Pyongyang would not merely shore up the latter’s brutal Stalinist regime, prolong its existence and delay hopes for eventual Korean reunification under the leadership of Seoul. They would also encourage other rogue states to engage in further nuclear blackmail. Equally dangerous, accommodating North Korea will encourage scores of other countries to jump-start their development of nuclear weapons and engage in nuclear blackmail against the US. It will give them reason to hope that they too might be the beneficiaries of the lavish $270 million in annual aid the US has bestowed on North Korea since the conclusion of the Agreed Framework appeasement pact. For all of these reasons, North Korea must not be rewarded for its nuclear blackmail threats. Otherwise, it will just repeat them a few years hence in a bid to up the US aid ante even higher.


© 2002 David T. Pyne

David T. Pyne, Esq. currently serves as Executive Vice President of the Virginia Republican Assembly. He was recently interviewed on Howard Phillips’ Conservative Roundtable TV program.

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