The Powell Doctrine and the Peninsula

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The Powell Doctrine and the Peninsula

Colin Powell, U.S. secretary of state-designate, is a person of such extensive experience that he will be able to redeem President-elect George W. Bush''s lack of foreign policy experience.

Born in a poor neighborhood in New York as the son of a building superintendent, Mr. Powell was a professional soldier for 35 years, during which time he held myriad positions before retiring as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In retrospect, those positions almost seem to have been a training period for him to become the first African-American secretary of state in U.S. history. Mr. Powell is one of the most respected American military leaders today, the man who oversaw the victorious Persian Gulf War and served as national security advisor to former President Ronald Reagan.

After witnessing casualties in Vietnam, including one soldier who died in his arms, Mr. Powell pondered the legitimate conditions for the United States to wage war. He said in his autobiography, "I went off to Vietnam in 1962 standing on a bedrock of principle and convictions, and I watched the foundation eroded by euphe-misms, lies and self-deception."

Mr. Powell appears to have conceived the basic ideas for the so-called "Powell Doctrine," which will be the keystone of the Bush administration''s foreign policy, during his time in Vietnam. The Powell doctrine says that U.S. military force should only be used in overwhelming strength to achieve well-defined strategic national interests and that war should always be the last resort.

The Korean War also left a deep impression on Mr. Powell. During his one-year tour in Dongducheon as a lieutenant colonel in the 1970s, he often thought of the 54,000 American soldiers who had died during the Korean War. Eight years old when World War II ended, Mr. Powell said, "Korea was the war I pretty much grew up on."

When a Soviet fighter plane shot down a Korean Air flight in 1983, he was working as then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger''s military assistant, and watched Weinberger and Secretary of State George Shultz fight over policy initiatives on the appalling incident that killed all the 269 passengers. In a clash between ideology and realism, Weinberger called for cancellation of the U.S.-USSR foreign ministerial talks scheduled to take place in Madrid, but Mr. Shultz claimed the United States should not abandon negotiations involving national interests because of the incident. Realism won and Mr. Schultz met his Soviet counterpart. The incident gave the future U.S. secretary of state a chance to reflect on the complex dynamics of power within the U.S. government and the tense cold war atmosphere prevailing on the Korean Peninsula.

Mr. Powell''s assignment as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Bush and the Clinton administrations is likely to become a useful weapon for the new administration as it navigates through rough waters marked by an almost equal distribution of congressional power between the Democrats and Republicans and by Mr. Bush''s weak mandate.

The greatest interest for Korea will be the Bush administration''s China and North Korea policies.

Mr. Powell has pledged to review U.S. military deployments in foreign countries to make sure those deployments are proper. The promise generated much speculation, with some pundits predicting that U.S. forces in South Korea would be reduced and that U.S. troops in Japan would be the focus of strategies for containing China. But this appears to be a hasty conclusion.

If eased tensions on the Korean Peninsula can be used as grounds for downsizing the U.S. forces in Korea, how is the United States going to justify maintaining the current number of troops in Japan? Moreover, there is no assurance that North Korea is really changing or that tension on the Korean peninsula has been eased for good.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Powell show subtle differences in tone over China. Mr. Bush said, "China is a competitor, not a strategic partner," but Mr. Powell said " We will work with them not as potential enemies and not as adversaries, but not yet as strategic partners."

As for North Korea, the missile issue is likely to become a test case of U.S. policy. The Bush administration will negotiate with North Korea over its missile development, but only to the extent of being able to justify the development of a national missile defense network and a theater missile defense system in Northeast Asia, both of which are directly linked to the interests of the military-industrial complex. This is why the new administration is not likely to rush ahead with negotiations or to humor North Korea as the Clinton administration did.

A cause for concern for South Korea is that Mr. Bush is expected to name a number of persons to important positions who favor hardline policies toward North Korea. It remains to be seen how effectively Mr. Powell''s moderate realism can curb this stance.

The South Korean government also has an opportunity to influence U.S. policy because of the differing positions of Asia specialists who will join the Bush administration.
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