[VIEWPOINT]No war if Kim Jong-il stays calmI have been struck in my recent conversations with Korean experts about their concern that after the United States has attacked Iraq it will direct its firepower against North Korea, one of the two other "axis of evil" states. In fact, while it is possible that the United States would go to war against Saddam Hussein's country, it is clear that unless North Korea initiates a war against the South or the United States, there will be no American military action in Korea.
It is not possible at this point to predict if President Bush will order an invasion of Iraq. There are clearly individuals within the administration who believe strongly that the United States should wage war to remove Saddam Hussein from office, destroy his arsenal, and establish a new regime in Baghdad. There are, however, many obstacles to such an operation, such as opposition from within the Republican party and a lack of support from American allies. Moreover, there are great risks that the outcome of an operation against Saddam Hussein would not only fail to pacify the region but would actually generate a destabilizing upheaval in the Arab-Moslem nations and hostility throughout the world that would be detrimental to American and allied interests.
But it is clear that despite the "axis of evil" rhetoric there is no plan to initiate hostilities against North Korea unless Pyeongyang starts a war. Why is the U.S. attitude against one axis country so different from its policy against another? There are several reasons:
?The perception of the threat is different. Proponents of military action against Saddam Hussein believe that he poses a clear and present danger to the region. Although there is also concern about North Korea's missile arsenal, most American analysts believe that the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces and America's strategic weapons can adequately deter North Korea.
?Iraq has no important friends. Many governments would oppose American intervention in Iraq but most would acquiesce to U.S. military action. Attacking North Korea, however, would be a very hostile act toward China. Unlike what happened in 1950, when Chinese intervention prevented the unification of Korea, Beijing would not fight the Americans. But although the United States is strong enough to ignore China's wishes, it would be very costly for Washington to engage in what Beijing would perceive as a hostile act.
?The United States does not need major allies to fight Iraq. From a political and diplomatic point of view, it would be wrong for Washington to fight Iraq without the support of its European and Asian allies, but the reality is that America could initiate a war against Iraq on its own, relying on the permission to use bases in a few small Middle Eastern nations. In the case of a war against North Korea, the United States would obviously need active South Korean support. It would also have to use its bases in Japan. So going to war against North Korea would require that Seoul and Tokyo agree.
?The psychological dimension should not be underestimated. To most American policy-makers, Kim Jong-il is just another dictator, but Saddam Hussein is worse. There is a feeling among the Washington hawks that an opportunity to destroy the Iraqi regime was missed in 1991 and that now is the time to rectify the mistake. Many proponents of action against Iraq are also passionately committed to supporting the current Israeli government and view Iraq as a dangerous menace to Israel's security.
Conflict between Washington and Pyeongyang is possible, especially over the export of missiles and the development of weapons of mass destruction. We may witness a second Gulf War; we will not see a second Korean War unless Kim Jong-il starts it.
The writer is a senior fellow at Hudson Institute in Washington D.C. and chair of the Korea-Japan Luncheon Group.
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