Jan. 23  2020
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Bush Plays Dangerous Games in Korea

Jonathan Power is a London-based columnist, film-maker, and author of several books on economic development, world hunger and on Amnesty International and human rights issues.

Source  :  Contributing Writer

by Jonathan Power

''SUNSHINE IS dead. Long live the darkness.'' Is this what President Bush would have liked to have said this week during his visit to Seoul? Even he, so soon after his ''axis of evil'' speech, might think that would be over the top.

Nevertheless, President Kim Dae-jung of South Korea is clearly fighting tooth and nail to save what remains of what he calls his ''sunshine policy'' - his ambition to forge reconciliation with communist North Korea.

The opposition at home has been buoyed by the sounds of jihad from Washington. The fact that the political pros in the European Union and the awarders of the Nobel Peace Prize, who in these matters tend to reflect sophisticated liberal opinion, have supported ''sunshine'' cuts no ice in the Bush entourage.

Bush's tactic when he feels he has upset his interlocutor is to turn on the charm and stress the positive issues.

This was the way to soften the hard edges while on the ground in South Korea. But the damage had already been done, the primary message sent and the body language of the Bush entourage is unyielding.

Yet, whereas Bush can say he has a policy on terrorism, or with Afghanistan, is planning a plausible one for constraining Iraq, and can even persuade himself that he can sanction Iran into curtailing nuclear weapons, there is not one argument that will bear scrutiny for a policy of darkness with North Korea.

We have been through this already in 1994 when US intelligence revealed that North Korea had removed spent fuel rods from a nuclear reactor, placed them in a cooling pond, and was perhaps about to reprocess the used uranium to provide plutonium for up to six nuclear weapons.

For good measure the CIA let it be known that some of its staff members thought that North Korea already had built a couple of useable nuclear weapons.

The pressure brought to bear on the Clinton administration to bomb North Korea was enormous. As with Iraq today the argument made was that a rogue nation with nuclear weapons would threaten America's allies, South Korea and Japan, and sooner or later threaten America itself.

In Kim Il Sung, the paramount leader, North Korea possessed the harshest and most immoveable of leaders, one that seemed impervious to advice, even from old allies like Russia and China.

Blessed with a remarkable cadre of high-powered nuclear and rocket scientists, Kim Il Sung seemed to accept that the rest of the country could go hungry as long as some mythical dignity was upheld.

Yet when Clinton received the Pentagon's advice on what to do, it came with great paragraphs of caution warning him that 50,000 American soldiers would probably lose their lives in a war with the North and that millions could die in the South under the onslaught of a North Korean invasion.

Clinton's dilemma was made even more complicated as the Republican hard-liners chimed in. Former president George H.W. Bush's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, and former CIA director Robert Gates argued that the United States should hurry to bomb the reprocessing plant, which if done quickly before the cooling rods were transferred to it would minimize the risk of radioactive fallout.

But Gates, who was also speculating that North Korea possessed two nuclear bombs already, didn't address the terrifying possibility of North Korean revenge on the South.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger came in with his own proposal that inadvertently undercut Scowcroft and Gates. Military action should only occur, he said, if the North refueled its reactor or started to reprocess the plutonium from the cooled rods. But he ignored Gates and Scowcroft's point about the dangers of bombardment on reprocessing facilities.

The stalemate in right-wing opinion gave former Democratic president Jimmy Carter an opening. In a personal odyssey to Pyongyang, he successfully negotiated with Kim Il Sung a stalling agreement that the Clinton administration built on, fashioning a nuclear freeze with his son, Kim Jong-Il who took over the leadership shortly after the death of his father.

Despite all the vicissitudes in the American-North Korean relationship over the last eight years, the central point - the nuclear freeze - has continued. Moreover, the North has agreed to a moratorium until 2003 on the test firing of ballistic missiles.

Unlike Iraq, it sticks to its agreements. And a policy of reconciliation, even if one conducted in fits and starts, was under way until Bush decided to undermine it.

Bush has no alternative to Clinton's policy when it comes to substance. All he can do is to alter the tone of the engagement. The result in the end will probably be the same. It will just take that much longer and be rather more dangerous.

Did Bush learn a thing or two during his visit to South Korea? The next month or so will be critical. It could be the choice between an honorable peace and a terrible war.

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