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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Sun Jun 18 21:19:19 2000
Date: Sat, 17 Jun 2000 11:33:24 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: POLITICS-US: World Smiles, Pentagon Uneasy at Korea Breakthrough
Article: 98640
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

World Smiles, Pentagon Uneasy at Korea Breakthrough

By Jim Lobe, IPS, 16 June 2000

WASHINGTON, Jun 16 (IPS) - Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori compared it to the collapse of the Berlin Wall, while the foreign ministry in Beijing called it a major event of historic significance.

While all of Asia and most of the world embraced this week's summit between the leaders of North and South Korea in Pyongyang, there was at least one big building here in Washington where the reaction was decidedly less enthusiastic.

Fifty years of tension on the Korean peninsula doesn't evaporate based on one meeting, noted Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon.

Of course, Bacon was right. After all, previous initiatives by the two Koreas in 1982 and 1991 to end their hostility and ease tensions along the world's most heavily militarised border - where 37,000 US troops are based - came to naught.

But Bacon's relatively grim assessment also may have reflected a concern that the unprecedented and apparently genuinely warm meeting between the South's Kim Dae Jung and the North's Kim Jong Il could have huge - and not so pleasant - implications for the US military-industrial complex, which has been remarkably successful in maintaining the US defence budget close to Cold War levels more than a decade after the Berlin Wall came down.

The (Korean) summit could be catastrophic for American defence planning, because so much of it hinges on the assumption that we are mortally threatened by rogue states of which North Korea has been identified as the most threatening of all, says Michael Klare, who teaches peace and conflict studies at Hampshire College.

Indeed, as the Cold War wound down, Pentagon planners cast about for new threats which would justify spending more money on the US military than the defence budgets of all of its potential adversaries, including Russia and China, combined.

The 1991 Gulf War against Iraq offered a key answer: the United States had to protect itself against Baghdad-like rogue states, mid-sized countries capable of threatening vital US interests, such as access to oil, and led by stridently anti-Western governments bent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction (WDM) and the missiles required to deliver them.

At the time, the rogues were identified as Libya, Iraq, Iran, Syria, as well as North Korea. The Pentagon decided that the US military had to be equipped to fight and win two wars involving these same or other mid-sized states. That one of the wars in this two-war scenario - the benchmark for Pentagon planning for the past decade - would be against North Korea has been taken as an article of faith.

Indeed, North Korea was depicted as the most dangerous and plausible of potential US adversaries. After all, it had already fought one war against US troops 50 years ago. In addition, its leaders, first Kim Il Sung and then his son, Kim Jong Il, were seen as Stalinist die-hards, intensely xenophobic and determined to acquire nuclear weapons, even at the cost of starving their population or alienating their closest ally, China.

Not only did they steer the North to the brink of war in the mid- 1990s over UN demands to inspect its nuclear facilities, but in 1998, the younger Kim shocked the world, and US intelligence agencies, by launching a long-range missile over Japan on a ballistic trajectory, persuading defence analysts here that Pyongyang could actually launch inter-continental missiles against US territory by 2005.

The launch was a godsend for Republicans in Congress, Pentagon hawks, and major military contractors who successfully pressed the administration to accelerate development of an expensive and extremely controversial anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system that could defend US troops (theatre missile defence, or TMD) and US territory (national missile defence, or NMD) against attack.

President Bill Clinton, who has never shown much enthusiasm for these systems, must decide next Fall whether to begin building the first NMD component - targeted explicitly against North Korean missiles - in Alaska next Spring, according to the latest timetable. The system is strongly opposed by Russia, China and some of Washington's closest European allies who worry that it could undo decades of disarmament agreements and spur a new arms race.

Their rationale for rushing NMD was that the North Koreans will have an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2005, and that (Kim Jong Il) is a madman for whom deterrence will not work, says Bill Hartung, an arms expert at the World Policy Institute in New York. But now he's coming into the sunlight and acting like he's a peaceful, normal person, and so the madman theory falls apart.

By showing himself far more publicly than ever before in meetings with the country's historic arch-enemy _ (Kim Jong Il) may have powerfully affected the dynamics surrounding American proposals to build an expensive anti-missile shield, the New York Times observed on the last day of the summit.

But the summit's impact could go further yet in undermining the Pentagon's anti-rogue strategy. Of the original rogues, Iran has seen the political ascendancy of Islamic reformists eager to engage the West; Libya has emerged from international isolation with Washington's blessing; Syria may be moving toward peace with Israel; and Iraq remains subject to strict UN sanctions and almost daily US-British air attacks.

As long as North Korea represented a major threat, the rogue theory had some credibility, says Klare. But take it off the board, and the whole rogue doctrine falls apart, because the others just don't constitute a credible threat.

At that point, according to Klare and other analysts, forces within the defence establishment and the Republican Party may focus more explicitly on China as the future threat against which the United States must plan.

In their view, the supposed threat posed by North Korea has served as a convenient pretext for rallying public opinion in support of big defence budgets and new systems like NMD. But, increasingly in recent years, Beijing has been seen as the real target.

For now, however, the focus is on what follows the summit and whether the goodwill so remarkably in evidence there translates into additional breakthroughs between the two Koreas. It is clear that the Clinton administration is enthusiastic; it announced the imminent lifting of economic sanctions against Pyongyang and a substantial new delivery of food aid.

Is this a strategic decision (by North Korea) for engagement and reconciliation, or is this merely a tactical ploy to save his regime and economy? asks one senior US official. That's the question, and of course it's too early to know.