n.korea and realpolitik?

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    March 1 2003

    With North Korea's Kim resurrecting his role as global extortionist, the US calls on Russia and China to show moral leadership, writes Tony Parkinson.

    One of the least productive arguments in the global security crisis is whether North Korea is a greater threat than Iraq. In truth, they are part of the same equation.

    To say this is not to swallow whole President George Bush's "axis of evil" formula. It is merely to acknowledge the reality that one crisis is feeding off the other - and to advance the somewhat heretical view that a solution to both must, ultimately, lie in the same fundamental principles.

    North Korea's Kim Jong-il may be a crazy-brave poker player, but there is always an element of ruthless calculation behind his eccentricity.

    Pyongyang test fired a missile into the Sea of Japan this week knowing it would jangle the nerves of a world already jittery over looming conflict in the Middle East. It did much the same in 1998, when last the US was building towards a military strike on Iraq.

    A world bracing in fear of violent upheaval becomes, for Kim's regime, a world rich with opportunities for old-fashioned extortion. To tighten the screws, North Korea has in the past 48 hours played another of its doomsday cards, firing up a reactor used for processing weapons-grade plutonium.

    Is North Korea intent on producing more nuclear bombs (it has two warheads in reserve already) or simply applying maximum leverage at the worst possible moment in order to extract security and aid concessions from the US?

    The aim is to keep everybody guessing. That is how blackmail works.

    Obviously, Washington does not want to be inveigled into a game played by these rules. Nor does the US want to push this to the brink.

    This has led to accusations of hypocrisy - why should Saddam Hussein's regime be threatened with overwhelming force while the US, and, more particularly, its allies in East Asia, seek to contain the North Korean crisis within the realms of diplomacy?

    It is not a silly question. In fact, it is downright awkward. This perhaps explains in part the Bush Administration's reluctance to enter into direct bilateral talks with Pyongyang, despite the urgings of South Korea, Japan, China and Australia.

    But often overlooked in this debate is a key aspect of the American agenda on North Korea - one that brings its handling of this crisis into close alignment with its stance on Iraq.

    Unlike Bill Clinton, President Bush is seeking to internationalise the issue - he wants the United Nations to assume full ownership.

    The US has proposed a new mechanism, the so-called Five Plus Five, for negotiating a way out of this confrontation. Under this proposal, the permanent members of the Security Council would join the two Koreas, Japan, the European Union and Australia around the bargaining table.

    The bottom line the US would take into this process is that North Korea must relinquish its weapons of mass destruction programs and stop immediately its export of missile technology and other weapons components. In return, it would receive economic aid and security assurances.

    Of crucial significance is that North Korea would be asked to enter into these arrangements not just with Washington, but within a forum that includes Russia, China and France.

    As the US sees it, Russia and China, in particular, have just as great a strategic stake in resolving the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. It wants them engaged, formally, in any deals that are made - and in determining the response if Kim's regime repeats its history in the 1990s of welching on its undertakings.

    How does all this relate to Iraq?

    In both cases, the US is urging Russia and China to live up to their responsibilities as custodians of the principle of collective security.

    Just as Washington wants the Security Council to act to enforce the inescapable meaning of resolution 1441 against Iraq, it is seeking similarly an uncompromising and united approach to ending Pyongyang's tactics of nuclear blackmail.

    As the Iraq debate demonstrates, this involves difficult strategic choices for Russia and China. But it also represents a crucial test for the international system as we have known it.

    Significantly, North Korea is resisting Washington's push for a UN negotiating model. No prizes for guessing why.

    from The Age.

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