Ten Reasons Why U.S. Cannot Attack North Korea
In comparison to Iraqi Case

By Choe Kwan Ik


"The game is over." George W. Bush reiterates this statement, meaning that the U.S. will unleash an attack on Iraq soon to topple the Saddam Hussein regime by all means, in spite of strong opposition to war, being voiced by a majority in the United Nations Security Council, by the international society and domestic public opinion. In a sharp contrast to such a U.S. stance on Iraq, the Bush team has taken a quite different attitude toward Pyongyang by saying that the U.S. will address the "nuclear crisis" in North Korea by peaceful means and diplomatic efforts. Why? What are the reasons? The answers may be found in the fact that the cases of the two members of what the Bush team calls an "axis of evil" are quite different.

Reason 1--DPRK is a military power

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is a country which has a disproportionably strong military power given its size and population--more than a million-men regular armed forces, tens of thousands of special combat units, a huge amount of weaponry of various types including missiles, millions of reserves and citizens who are well trained and all set to join a war at any moment, a completely fortified land with bomb-proof rocky mountains, and the close unity of the military and the people behind the Supreme Commander. Moreover, the U.S. speculates that North Korea has already one or two nuclear weapons. More important is the fact that Washington finds no excuse to urge Pyongyang to disarm itself, unlike the case of Iraq. 

Reason 2--DPRK has retaliation capability 

North Korea, unlike Iraq, not only has explicitly stated that it would promptly retaliate on the U.S. once the latter should dare to make a preemptive attack on the former but it has enough power to do so. Pyongyang says that a preemptive attack is not a monopolistic privilege given the U.S. At the time of the "nuclear crisis" in 1993-94, the U.S. government under Bill Clinton attempted to preemptively attack North Korea. But it had to withdraw the plan because its consequences would be devastating and horrible for the U.S. as a result of a Pentagon's war simulation. This structure remains unchanged basically even today. Currently, targets of North Korea's retaliation include U.S. bases in Japan and even a part of the U.S. mainland, let alone U.S. forces in South Korea. In the case of Iraq, Baghdad has no such a retaliatory capability as North Korea has. The United States would intensively launch an attack on Iraqi soil in the initial stage of a war by using thousands of more sophisticated missiles than those used in the first Gulf War, to be followed by merciless bombings to devastate the country, and then by a landing of armed forces to occupy Baghdad to put an end to a second Gulf War. It will result in a "complete victory" over Iraq. This is obvious. On the other hand, however, Washington can never overlook the potential retaliatory capability of North Korea. This has played its role as a major deterrence to a second Korean War.

Reason 3--U.S. alliance in Northeast Asia strains

During the days of the first nuclear crisis in Korea, the then president of South Korea, Kim Young Sam, opposed a U.S. bombing on North Korea, and Japan was totally unprepared to help the U.S. in such a military action because of the war-renouncing constitution of Japan and of the lack of a relevant law enabling the economic giant to mobilize and procure public and private facilities and resources for the U.S. armed forces in a "contingency." Still now, neither Seoul nor Tokyo wants war on the Korean Peninsula because they know that they will be the direct victims of such a war, not the U.S. Though Japan, the major ally of the U.S., expresses support for the U.S. going to war against Iraq if only an additional UN resolution authorizing it has been adopted. However, it stresses a peaceful and negotiated solution to the current nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula rather than an imposition of UN "sanctions" on North Korea.

Reason 4--Seoul-Washington ties worsen

President Roh Moo Hyon, former human rights lawyer representing the post-war generations of South Korea, has pledged to succeed, and develop, his predecessor's "sunshine policy" or reconciliation policy toward fraternal North Korea. He is an explicit advocate of revising the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and of more matured South Korea-U.S. relations based on an equal footing. He also declares that Seoul should be a main player in addressing the aggravated situation on the Korean peninsula including the nuclear issue by acting as arbitrator between Pyongyang and Washington. Roh's election pledges won the ardent support of voters. In his inaugural speech on February 25, the new South Korean leader stressed peace, stability, dialogue, reconciliation and common prosperity of Northeast Asia. His emergence as a new type leader came true against the background of unprecedentedly strong anti-American sentiments in South Korea in the wake of the USFK military court's acquittal of two GIs who killed two Korean teenage school girls by an armored vehicle in June last year, in particular. The South Korean public was angered by Bush's calling North Korea a member of an "axis of evil." Such unfavorable developments in South Korea have aroused serious concerns in Washington over its relations with Seoul, baffling George W. Bush's unilateralist hard-line policy on North Korea.

Reason 5--Washington's friction with Beijing and Moscow grows 

Pyongyang has kept, or revitalized, both its traditional strategic partnership and cooperative relations with the two neighboring big powers--China and Russia, through top leaders' active diplomacy. China participated in the 1950-53 Korean War and withdrew its Volunteers after signing an armistice that ended the hard-fought war. It has been deeply involved in the security of the Korean peninsula ever since. A new Russia under Vladimir Putin, too, has restored its traditional ties with the former close ally in the Far East region and it has more interests with Pyongyang in such fields as politics, security, the economy--the linking of a Trans-Korean Railway and the Trans-Siberian Railways, in particular. Russia has also expressed full support for the inter-Korean peace process paved by the two leaders of North and South Korea--General Secretary Kim Jong Il and President Kim Dae Jung--in June 2000. China and Russia have reestablished their strategic cooperation vis-a-vis the only nuclear superpower across the Pacific which has started going it alone since George W. Bush came to power. On the other hand, the two nations, as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, have supported a peaceful solution to the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula and urged Washington to resume direct talks with Pyongyang. The Bush team, while rejecting direct negotiation with Pyongyang over the nuclear issue, has been trying to "persuade" the two big powers to join the U.S. in containing Pyongyang so that it may give up its "nuclear weapons development" first of all. However, such a U.S. scheme has faced with a cool response from them. Beijing and Moscow detect the true intention of the Bush administration, which does not agree with their North Korea policy.

Reason 6--U.S. finds no justification

There is no justification for the Bush administration to make a preemptive attack on the DPRK. In the first place, it is the U.S. that has failed to put into practice the Agreed Framework signed between Pyongyang and Washington in October 1994 in Geneva. It has also failed to produce hard evidence that Pyongyang is engaged in a nuclear weapons development. Pyongyang dismissed as a total frame-up the U.S. claim that its officials "admitted" a clandestine plan to produce nuclear weapon with enriched uranium. In the meantime, the issue of North Korean missiles is not incorporated in the Agreed Framework. Pyongyang is not a signatory to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Therefore, Washington is not in a position to demand that Pyongyang stop the development, employment, testing, and export of missiles in accordance with this international missile control regime. Pyongyang on January 10 this year announced that it would leave the Treaty of Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weaspons (NPT), and thus it would be totally free from the binding force of the safeguards accord with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) under its Article 3. Withdrawal from the NPT is a legitimate right accorded to each member of the international body when it decides that its national supreme interests are most seriously threatened. No country in the world, therefore, has the right to call for sanctions or bombing on a nation that has declared a withdrawal from the NPT. A U.S. decision to stop providing the DPRK with heavy oil was a breach of the Agreed Framework, which was intended to nullify and abandon the bilateral agreement of its own accord. A prominent difference between Iraq and North Korea in this regard is that no UN "resolution" or "obligation" is imposed upon the latter to observe. Pyongyang warns that if UN sanctions against it at the U.S. initiative would be an act tantamount to a declaration of war and that it would consider abandoning the half-century-old Korean Armistice Agreement which the U.S. signed in the name of the UN Commander-in-chief. Moreover, the U.S. has been wantonly violated the armistice by threatening a preemptive attack on the other side of the armistice and by launching its annual large-scale war games against the North such as the "Foal Eagle" and "Reception, Staging, Onward-Movement and Integration (RSOI)" military exercise which are scheduled for March and April. They are obviously designed to simulate a nuclear attack on North Korea. These war games replace the "Team Spirit" joint military exercises which were conducted between the end of 1970s and the early 1990s until Pyongyang declared leaving the NPT in protest against the annualy conducted nuclear test war games. The U.S. that possesses the largest amount of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and is the largest weaponry exporter in the world, has no right to demand a country technically at war abandon WMDs.

Reason 7--North Korea cannot become a theater of war for oil

Iraq is the second largest oil producing nation next to Saudi Arabia. It is against this backdrop that the Bush team--many of whose members are related to big oil and military businesses--is going to war to remove Saddam Hussein from power and take over the oil in Iraq. Everyone knows this. It is also apparent that ultra-hawks in Washington, called "neo-conservatives," are trying to disintegrate the Arab world and Islamic nations and set up as many pro-American regimes as possible in the Near and Middle East which will plant "American democracy" in the region. However, there are no such rich oil fields in North Korea as in Iraq. Thus the U.S. has no reason to fight North Korea for oil.

Reason 8--The essence of Pyongyang-Washington ties needs negotiations

What Pyongyang has long appealed for to the successive U.S. administrations is: U.S. commitment to secure the DPRK's sovereignty, independence by signing a non-aggression treaty to put an end to hostility between the two adversaries, thereby to normalize the bilateral relations. The country's claims are so constant and logical that Washington has found no ground to reject them. In the last days of the Clinton administration, both nations reached a point where only "ten percent" were left unresolved before normalization, as William Perry famous for the "Perry Report" once described it. In fact, all the items as regards Pyongyang's demands except for a non-aggression treaty were incorporated in the 1994 Geneva Accord and other bilateral agreements. But Bush and his aides destroyed everything. Externally, Pyongyang wants peace and normalized ties with Washington, while, domestically, it has sought economic reforms and development, national reconciliation and reunification with the South. The latter can be guaranteed by the former. Washington may be aware of this intention of Pyongyang's as Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage indicated recently. North Korea has not invaded neighboring nations nor is threatening them at all. The origin of the nuclear issue is attributable to U.S. nuclear deployment in South Korea and continued nuclear threats to North Korea. And as Pyongyang has clearly made public, its nuclear development programs started to address the critical energy problem as a crucial national interest from the outset, not to become a member of the "nuclear club." Noteworthy here is the fact that Pyongyang says that it is ready to prove the transparency of its nuclear program in a verifiable manner once Washington agrees to conclude the proposed non-aggression treaty. The Bush administration has rejected direct negotiations with Pyongyang on the nuclear issue by saying that it should be addressed through multilateral talks. This is aimed to avert the responsibility to Pyongyang for the death of the Agreed Framework and the nuclear issue so as to isolate and contain North Korea internationally just in the case of Iraq. The game is not over. Washington is forfeiting the last chance.

Reason 9--International relations change

A paradigm of international relations as regards the Korean Peninsula has drastically changed over the past years. Among the changes are: the DPRK's normalization of relations with the EU and other Western nations, its admission into the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) as a full member, a historic inter-Korean summit of 2000, DPRK leader Kim Jong Il's brisk diplomatic activities with the EU, Beijing, Moscow, Tokyo, and Washington. These moves have contributed toward breaking the Cold War regime in Northeast Asia, a significant factor making harder for Washington, now under the unilateralist government of Bush, to apply its old-fashioned power politics to stifle North Korea in the same way as it is doing on Iraq.

Reason 10--Growing anti-Americanism worldwide frustrates Bush's war policy

The Bush administration's unilateralim is being countered by growing anti-Americanism in every part of the globe. On February 25 alone, more than ten million people in some 100 countries rose simultaneously in protest against U.S. attack on Iraq. Only a handful countries such as Britain and Spain have expressed support for it. In the UN Security Council and the NATO, U.S. alliance is being torn apart. Bush's "either-U.S.-side-or-terrorist-side" theory has backfired. Bush's approval ratings are daily declining. Strong anti-war demonstrations swept over the U.S. Though a majority of the U.S. citizens are reportedly still behind Bush, most of them want a UN endorsement before going to war against Iraq. It is clear that the war, if it should break out, would end in U.S.'s "overwhelming victory" over Iraq. But it is also apparent that it would trigger global backlash and blowback against the only superpower from among the rest of the world including its allies, let alone the Arabs and Muslims. At the same time, Israel's "clear break" strategy, which is sponsored by the pro-Israel and anti-Islam "neo-conservatives" in Washington, may backfire in the Middle East. Bush and his close aides are threatening Pyongyang by indicating that it may resort to arms to address the "nuclear crisis" in Korea. Before such an option may be considered in earnest in the White House, Bush's team will be isolated in the global village. 

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