North Korea more worthy of U.S. attention

“Yoo hoo, Mr. Bush — I’m over here.” With the attention of the world focused on whether U.S. troops will soon be chowing down on coffee and bagels in Baghdad, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has done everything short of razzing President George W. Bush to get American gun sights retrained on the Korean peninsula, but to little avail.

Having witnessed the deployment of U.S. and British troops on the borders of fellow “axis of evil” member Iraq and taken heed of Bush’s first-strike policy, North Korea has gone on the offensive. Already believed to possess a small number of nuclear weapons, sometimes referred to as weapons of mass destruction, North Korea has admitted to violating a 1994 agreement to suspend the development of nuclear weapons. The impoverished communist state has accompanied the resumption of its nuclear weapons program with threats of nuclear retaliation against any kind of military action.

In fact, the complete charge sheet against Kim Jong Il must make the missile-destroying Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein green with envy. In December, North Korean-manufactured Scud missiles were found aboard a ship bound for Yemen. North Korea has also expelled International Atomic Energy Agency nuclear inspectors, announced its withdrawal from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and reactivated its nuclear facility at Yongbyon, thereby giving themselves access to weapons-grade plutonium. Just last week, a North Korean jet violated South Korean airspace. Chemical weapons don’t seem to be on the North Korean menu just yet, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a smokier gun.

With NATO at loggerheads regarding the supposed Iraqi threat, North Korea has left us in no doubt as to what a clear and present danger really resembles. Yet in spite of all this, the focus of the White House remains firmly fixed on the Middle East. Bush’s sole response to the crisis was to cease oil supplies to North Korea, a decision the North Koreans claimed only hastened their efforts to re-establish their nuclear facilities.

Many analysts have concluded that North Korea is simply taking advantage of the United States’ focus on Iraq and that its trash talk is merely a gambit to win an improved aid package and the United States’ signature on a non-aggression pact. However, with its society on the brink of collapse, it would be a considerable risk for the United States to allow the North Korean crisis to fester unresolved. As Argentina’s invasion of the British- owned Falkland Islands in 1982 demonstrated, a desperate leader will resort to desperate means to stave off unrest at home.

With Kim Jong Il patently guilty of almost every action the Bush administration is currently struggling to pin on Hussein, a diplomatic solution to the North Korean situation must weigh more heavily in the Bush administration’s priorities than any concerns regarding the Iraqi regime. A conflict on the Korean peninsula is likely to result in a large number of fatalities. In addition, the possibility that Japan could be embroiled in the conflict would inevitably have a devastating effect on the world’s economy.

The greatest irony in this situation is that, according to White House sources, the inclusion of North Korea in Bush’s famous “axis of evil” remark was a last-minute alteration to Bush’s 2002 State of the Union speech. Apparently, his advisors convinced Bush that criticism directed solely at Iraq and Iran would be perceived as too anti-Muslim. It’s always those throwaway remarks that come back to haunt you.

Chris O’Donnell is a sophomore majoring in mass