Though undoubtedly a country with one of the world's most oppressive governments, the rationale behind North Korea's inclusion on President Bush's "axis of evil" list isn't exactly clear. Former U.N. ambassador and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke has suggested that North Korea was included on the list to show the Muslim world that the U.S. isn't targeting them exclusively. But conspiracy-minded Muslims should note though that "Korean" is just a letter away from "Koran."
Confronting North Korea in the war on terrorism isn't a completely outrageous notion. The country's leadership has been on the U.S. State Department's terrorist list since it blew up a South Korean airliner in 1988. But if sponsoring terrorism were the sole rationale for inclusion, North Korea would be pretty far down the list. For those who consider Iran and Iraq to be the Coke and Pepsi of terrorism, North Korea is barely even an RC.
North Korea's inclusion in the "axis of evil" is the result of a huge foreign policy shift by the Bush White House. Immediately after Sept. 11, Bush said that the U.S.'s goal was to destroy international terrorist organizations and to punish the countries that harbor them. In January's "axis of evil" speech, that goal was expanded when Bush said, "The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."
A laudable goal, for sure, but it's a long way from a war on terrorism. Bush doesn't care about North Korea's terrorist capabilities -- what he's worried about is their missile and nuclear programs. Despite extreme poverty, starvation and a leader so weird that last year he awarded a Hero of the Republic medal to a 15-ton air hammer, North Korea continues to develop ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons for domestic use and export. The country's most famous weapon is the No Dong missile. Although its name sums up the essence of warfare, the No Dong doesn't have the range to threaten the United States.
It is, however, a threat to our allies, South Korea and Japan. North Korea has developed bigger, faster and harder missiles that could conceivably hit Alaska, but the threat of instant annihilation by the United States if such a strike occurred is an obvious deterrent.
North Korea's missile and nuclear weapon's program isn't meant to make North Korea a serious strategic rival to the United States. That would be like slapping flame decals on Hyundai and calling it NASCAR. Instead, it's meant as blackmail. Throughout the '90s, North Korea indicated a willingness to give up its weapons of mass destruction programs in exchange for economic and food aid. They don't want to fight us -- they want to scare us.
Many people -- particularly those in South Korea -- believe that negotiating with North Korea will be the most effective and safest way to disarm them. Our allies around the world, along with an increasing number of people in the U.S. who supported our original war on terror, think that our "axis of evil" policy is sloppy and impulsive. Bush didn't do much to change that perception on his recent trip to South Korea. After being told about an attack on American troops by ax-wielding North Koreans, the president said, "No wonder I think they're evil."
One would've hoped that Bush knew why they were evil before he made his policy.
E-mail your questions to andisheh@ creativeloafing.com.
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