Thursday, November 16, 2006

Why the US doesn't invade North Korea

By Thang D. Nguyen

JAKARTA—His visit to Hanoi, Vietnam, for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit on 18-19 November is President George W. Bush’s first overseas trip since his Republican Party’s defeat in the November 7 election.

For the most part, the Democrats’ victory—and control of the US Congress after 12 years—was because of the increasingly visible failure of the Iraq War.

But, as leaders of the 21-nation APEC come to Hanoi this weekend, including President Hu Jintao, President Vladimir Putin, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the US debacle in Iraq is not on their minds.

To be sure, there will be trade talks among APEC leaders, particularly on how to revitalize world trade after the failure of the Doha Round.

But the big issue at this year’s APEC Summit is something much hotter than trade: It’s North Korea and its nuclear programs.

“It’s inevitable that North Korea will be the focus of everyone’s attention,” Daniel Sneider, associate director of Stanford University’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, told The Associated Press.

Indeed, the APEC meet is the first meeting at head-of-state level among the US, China, Russia, and Japan since Pyongyang tested its atomic bomb on 9 October. Along with the two Koreas, these countries have been involved in six-party talks designed to get Pyongyang to drop its nuclear programs.

As it can be expected, the now so-called lame duck president George Bush will continue to criticize North Korea and probably drops a few caveats it during the APEC Summit. After all, as it is a member of the “axis of evil”—a phrase that he used in speech at the UN General Assembly in 2002—that includes Iraq, Iran, and North Korea itself.

Furthermore, although his secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld resigned (he got sagged) after the Republicans’ defeat, President Bush continues to defend the Iraq War and insists that withdrawing from Iraq is a defeat. He keeps regurgitating the point that his administration has saved the Iraqi people from living under tyranny and dictatorship by taking Saddam Hussein out.

To be sure, Saddam Hussein—who is now waiting to be hanged for his crimes against humanity—is no angel. But, if Saddam’s dictatorship was good enough a reason to go to war, why hasn't the U.S. invaded North Korea, which showed the world its nuclear capability in early September, and taken its dictator Kim Jong-Il out?
Is Kim Jong-Il lesser of a dictator than Saddam Hussein? Or does Mr. Bush think that the North Korean people have not suffered as much as the Iraqi people?

Clearly, North Korea meets all the justifications for a war that Iraq did not have. So, why has the US not gone to war with North Korea?

There are several possibilities. First, North Korea is of no economic values to the US.

For one thing, North Korea has no oil. Furthermore, there are no US business activities in or trading with this closed, Communist economy.

As a matter of fact, starving North Koreans survive each year because of the generous food aid from—you guessed it— Uncle Sam.

To be sure, going to wars does benefit the US economy as it brings big contracts to the defense industries or business opportunities for other sectors.

In the case of North Korea, however, there would be only costs for going to war with Pyongyang but no benefits from it.

Second, unlike Baghdad, Pyongyang has Beijing as a patron.

Despite Beijing's statement that it is "resolutely opposed to" the nuclear test and that Pyongyang has "ignored universal opposition of the international community", China is still North Korea's big brother. Thus, the US would have to deal with China if it wanted to do anything to North Korea.

Third, while South Korea and Japan are US allies, they are not Israel.

It's no secret that Israel is America's favorite and spoiled child. Time and time again, we have seen Washington's overprotective attitude when it comes to Jerusalem.

Examples are plenty. One is the Bush Administration's silence (read approval) on Israel's attack on Lebanon that started in July this year. The attack killed over 1,500 people, many of whom were Lebanese civilians, and severely damaged Lebanese infrastructure.

Imagine what Washington would do if someone else did the same thing to Israel? And, imagine what Washington would do if North Korea, with its real nuclear programs, were located near Israel, as Iraq is?

The former Malaysian prime minister, Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad, had it right: Israel rules America and the world by proxy.

Finally, although Pyongyang is a danger to Seoul and Tokyo, it is an opportunity to Washington.

For South Korea and Japan, who are most exposed to North Korea as a security threat, their source of protection comes from none other than the US. In other words, each year Seoul and Tokyo spend a great deal of their national budgets on US-made weapons and defense systems as part of their guard against North Korea.

As such, North Korea makes the US indispensable for South Korea and Japan and, of course, keeps fat contracts for US defense companies with Seoul and Tokyo coming.

Indeed, the day the North Korean Communist regime collapses or the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that divides North Korea and South Korea falls down—as the Berlin Wall did—the US will be less relevant in North Asia. And, thus, there won't be many contracts for US defense companies either.

The writer is a Jakarta-based columnist. His writing can be read at


Anonymous Wade said...

Why did the U.S. invade Iraq on the pretext that Saddam was harboring illegal weapons, including an alleged nuclear program, and failed to invade North Korea, who was clearly developing such a program? 1. Intelligence suggested that he had not yet completed a nuclear weapon, where evidence showed that North Korea was closer to actual completion or actual possession of the bomb. Invasion the of DPRK was therefore implausible in the face of potential nuclear escalation. 2. DPRK had and has a much larger army. The fact that the U.S. uses different policies for different situations is no great revelation of hypocrisy. That's how foreign policy is run. I agree that invasion of Iraq was a mistake (given that Saddam had not yet fooled the U.N. into lifting sanctions so that Iraq could resume its weapons programs in a less dormant manner), but the discrepancy between policies does not reveal that Iraq was invaded only to take its oil resources. If that were true, American oil companies would have subjugated the resources by now, I would think. However, it is true that keeping vast oil resources out of Saddam's hands was likely a huge factor in the decision to go to war.

5:01 PM  
Anonymous Marsha said...

it might be so due to a simple reason: the U.S. probably didn't think it was a mere bluff Bagdad made to scare people off.

what do you think?

7:08 PM  
Blogger Thang D. Nguyen said...

Well, the US (and British) intelligence was crap on Iraq, Marsha.

But sometimes even if Washington knows that its intelligence is wrong, it still uses it to keep the bucks coming from contruction and oil companies for political campaigns and to boost the defense industry.

This is no news, of course!

2:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The answer is indeed simply that America knew full well that Iraq had no nuclear weapons and so felt safe to invade it with tanks; North Korea, on the other hand, openly admitted that it did so America would be risking a nuclear war to attack it.

6:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...







12:15 AM  
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7:48 PM  

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