|May 25, 2002||atimes.com|
A rogue by any other name
By Aidan Foster-Carter
Back in the summer of 2000, the US State Department announced that it was dropping the phrase "rogue state" in favor of the more neutral-sounding "state of concern". In general, that had to be a good thing. "Rogue state" was a tendentious term, meaning no more than that Uncle Sam didn't like your face. He could change his mind, mind: remember when Iraq was on our side? And some of those thus tagged, such as Nicaragua's Sandinistas, seemed like the good guys to me - more so than the murderous Contras that Washington backed. Call me a pinko sentimentalist, but I even retain a soft spot for Cuba. Great music, for one thing. Can you imagine a North Korean "Buena Vista Social Club"? Me neither.
Time marches on. Exit Bill Clinton, enter George W Bush, and no more liberal linguistic pussyfooting. Never mind rogues: these days the damned are plain evil, and an axis to boot. While this column criticized the tact and tactics of that particular presidential intervention, I have no quarrel with the epithet "evil" as such. Indeed, when the "rogue" tag was abolished I felt almost sorry for Pyongyang. When a state has worked that hard for that long to win the all-comers' rogue decathlon, it seems mean to abolish the very event.
Evil, rogue, concern, whatever. The point and the truth are that North Korea is a big worry. Make that a dozen worries. Often these each get raised separately, so their cumulative impact is not grasped. Here I want to pull the whole lot together, and build up an overall picture. Space precludes a detailed account, but this should at least make a handy checklist. Are you sitting comfortably? You won't be for long.
The many concerns posed by North Korea fall into two broad categories: military and humanitarian. The former in turn splits into two. The really heavy stuff is weapons of mass destruction, or WMD for short. This is what promoted Pyongyang, during the past decade, from a longtime neighborhood pest to a global menace. WMD in turn comes in three or four different flavors, none of them appetizing. First up was the nuclear issue. Despite signing the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), North Korea is widely thought to have squirreled away enough plutonium for a couple of atom bombs. It denies this, but the International Atomic Energy Agency will soon demand a full account of all spent fuel. That could lead to a new nuclear crisis, as in 1994, which almost precipitated a second Korean war.
Next come missiles. Not strictly WMD, but as the carrier thereof usually classed as such. Unlike nukes, North Korea admits to having missiles - quite legally, as it hasn't signed the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Clinton came close to a deal to pay them to stop, but ran out of time; Bush chose not to continue - because, critics claim, he needs Pyongyang as a poster child for national missile defense (NMD). Japan has far more reason to worry. As with nukes, any deal will be politically and technically complex: covering actual or future short-, medium- and long-range missiles in up to six areas - research, development, testing, deployment, proliferation, plus verification of all these. Still with me so far?
Hitherto nukes and missiles were successively the United States' top priorities with North Korea. But they don't exhaust WMD, which also includes chemical and biological warfare (CBW). Pyongyang is reckoned to have both, though again it denies it; the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) signed the Biological Weapons Convention, but not its chemical equivalent. It always puzzled me that CBW was on no one's agenda, even though the North Korean army is said to store chemical shells routinely at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), targeted at Seoul just 40 kilometers away. But since last year's anthrax attacks, the US has described the DPRK's suspected bio-weapons program as "deeply disturbing". So if and when these two sit down and talk, this looks like yet another knotty agenda item.
So much for WMD. Next up: terrorism. Here North Korea's position is anomalous. Fortunately, there's no sign of any link to al-Qaeda, nor any clear dirt more recent than the 1980s when two bombs blew up a South Korean airliner, and killed half the South Korean cabinet in Yangon. Yet the DPRK remains on the State Department's terrorist list, for harboring a few Japanese hijackers ever since 1970. Sending them home would get it off the list, with the bonus of eligibility to join the World Bank and International Monetary Fund - which US law mandates Washington to oppose, perversely in this case, for any country so listed. This should be a relatively easy step for Kim Jong-il, so it's odd that he didn't try harder to get delisted under Clinton.
Then there are conventional-force issues. The 1.1-million-strong army is the world's fifth biggest, and much the largest relative to population. Its deployment is forward and offensive, not defensive, and special forces alone number 100,000. Bush has put all this on the US agenda - to the chagrin of Seoul, which wants the US to stick to WMD and leave the rest for bilateral North-South defense talks. If they ever happen: so far Pyongyang won't even allow a military hotline, much less any solid confidence-building measures (CBMs: do not confuse with ICBMs) such as mutual inspections or force reductions. As this implies, issues of the division of labor among interlocutors, as well as prioritization, arise here.
Oh, and did I mention there's a war on? The 1953 Armistice was never followed by a peace treaty, so technically the Korean War is not over yet. Nor is our list of North Korean concerns. To be continued ...
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