Reading the news during the past few days I couldn’t help but notice the sudden outburst of love exuding from the White House toward France and Germany. Long gone are the days when Washington bureaucrats poured expensive French wine down the drain to protest Chirac’s undue respect for international law. Germany’s Nazi past is no longer being brought up in political debates and television news shows. Rumsfeld and Powell have changed their minds and no longer wish to “punish” France or Germany for their opposition to the aggression against Iraq.
What monumental event brought about this remarkable shift in the US foreign policy? So belligerent and independent in the very recent past, what caused the US President, hat-in-hand, turn to the UN and make a tearful plea for this irrelevant group of foreign pen pushers to take on the leading role in what Washington calls a “reconstruction process” in Iraq?
The war in Iraq has been going on for just over five months and only about 300 US soldiers have been killed and a few thousand became invalids presumably in the process of serving their country. The US spends just under $1 billion per week (or so we hear from government officials) on fighting “Saddam loyalists” in Iraq and only 2 US soldiers are being killed and 9 are being wounded every day somewhere in hot Iraqi deserts. Surely this wasn’t enough to cause the almost magical change of attitude at the helm of the world’s only remaining superpower in its own mind toward the role of some UN in this crazy, crazy world.
The Pentagon is simply running out of Mexicans desiring to expedite their naturalization process at the expense of Iraqi civilians – the so-called “green card soldiers”. As you may know, last year Bush signed an executive order making “green card” holders immediately eligible for citizenship if they signed up for service. Nearly 40,000 frontline US troops are not US citizens and majority of those are Hispanics. They can’t vote Bush out of the office but, on the bright side, they can die for his ambitions and incompetence.
Unfortunately for the great strategic minds in the Department of Defense there are only so many illegals living in poverty who would consider risking a meeting with an RPG-7 for a chance of legal employment at a neighborhood Burger King. The war in Iraq is also not the best advertisement to attract the US citizens to serve their country’s oil corporations. Hence the dilemma: as any imperial power the US needs to fight an expanding war on the world, but philistines back home are scratching their heads at the high gas prices and rampaging unemployment and start to voice their mild discontent. They’ve been promised bread and circuses but so far only got the second half of the deal.
Meanwhile in Washington Bush’s ‘strategery’ is taking a definitive turn away from Iraq and is heading to the US army’s favorite part of the world – the East Asia. The US Department of State believes that it’s a good idea to stop and search North Korean ships at sea. North Koreans, not to be outdone, have an equally pleasing thought: to nuke South Korea in retaliation for any aggressive actions by Washington. Of course, it is entirely possible that North Korea, just like Iraq, doesn’t have any weapons of mass destruction. It’s possible but not bloody likely.
Today North Korea’s standing army is estimated at 1,082,000 troops plus 4,700,000 trained reserves. What do we know about the strength of the North Korean army? Not much: we know that the country’s economy is in bad shape. We also know that the grim picture of the North Korean economy painted by Washington is not true. North Korea continues to spend about 30% of its modest GNP on defense and we also know that in the past few years the country’s army grew by more than 100,000 troops.
Here’s what Jane’s Sentinel writes about the recent military buildup in North Korea: “…the DPRK armed forces have continuously and dramatically increased their firepower during the 1990s. Sizeable increases have been made since 1996 in holdings of armoured personnel carriers (APCs), artillery pieces, support ships, transport aircraft and submarines. A notable feature is the quantity and speed with which North Korea manufactures indigenous arms and equipment. In 1990 134 munitions plants were operated, most of which were located either underground or partially concealed. Between 1984 and 1992 1,000 tanks, 2,500 APCs and 6,000 artillery pieces/rocket launchers were manufactured. Until recently North Korea was not thought to have its own aircraft manufacturing capability. However, since 1994 it has been reported that the country has been producing its own version of the MiG-29 and has been manufacturing 14 per year since then. In late 1997 US and ROK defence analysts disclosed that more than 300 weapons plants were operating in North Korea at about 50 per cent capacity, producing, inter alia, ballistic missiles, MiG-21 and MiG-29 fighters, midget submarines, artillery and special operations aircraft.” [Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment – China and Northeast Asia, January 2002]
North Korean army may not have the latest equipment but they have a lot of it. Just the number of medium and light tanks operated by the DPRK army is in the range of 4,000 – 5,000. Artillery and air defense systems number in tens of thousands. North Korea operates dozens of long-range ballistic missiles, including Scud-C (range 500 km), Nodong-1 (range 1,000 km), Taep’o-dong 1 (range 2,000 km) and Taep’o-dong 2 (range 3,500 km). It is believed that all of these missiles can carry chemical and biological warheads. North Korea’s current stockpile of chemical weapons is estimated at 5,000 tonnes and is compiled of some 20 different chemical agents including hydrogen cyanide, mustard gas, tabun, sarin, phosgene, VM, VX, adamsite, chloroacetophenone, chlorobenzylidene, malononitrile and soman. The South Korean military intelligence estimates that DPRK can produce 15 – 40 tonnes of such chemical agents daily. North Korea’s biological weapons stockpile is believed to be about 1,000 tonnes primarily of anthrax, cholera, yellow fever, typhus, bubonic plague and smallpox.
Can you think of a better way to distract Americans from their economic problems than a major war? And so today Bush is trying to find out how far he can push North Korea before it pushes back. Washington would prefer to fight North Korea at sea or in the air, where the US military can maximize its technological edge. Using the same logic the North Koreans will try to confront the US military on the ground and use their numerical superiority and high tolerance to casualties to inflict heavy losses on the Americans. There is nothing the US can do to avoid ground combat: there are over 50,000 US troops stationed in South Korea and North Korean ballistic missiles can reach US bases all the way in Japan.
The US will need at least 300,000 – 450,000 troops on the North Korean border and for support functions to repel a possible ground invasion by the DPRK forces and an all-out drive on Seoul is North Korea’s primary goal in any major armed confrontation with South Korea and its transpacific protector. The North Korean military was preparing for this war for the past fifty years. One way or another, a war with North Korea would mean an automatic general draft in the US and this will solve the problems of unemployment and high gas prices for many Americans.
In the latest news we hear that the chief of the U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Gen. James Helmly told commanders to cancel training unrelated to the war on terrorism and identify soldiers who aren’t fit enough to be sent overseas. All 205,000 Army reservists have been notified of a possible overseas deployment in the very near future. The US army consists of 1.4 million regular troops and 1.1 million National Guard and Reserve troops. Currently there are nearly 130,000 National Guards and reservists on active duty including a third of the entire Army Reserve, according to September 17 article in USA Today.
Even with general draft, assembling a force big enough to resist North Korea so far from home will pose a major challenge to Pentagon. Today the US military is scrambling to find extra 10,000-20,000 troops to continue the process of freeing Baghdad and Mosul of its inhabitants. About 45,000 US Army regulars are doing back-to-back tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and South Korea. The Army National Guard is already falling behind its recruiting goal for the current year and finding half-a-million more candidates for the role of hi-tech gun fodder in Koreas won’t be simple even with general draft. Mexicans crossing the border into the US may find Canadian citizenship far more appealing or just head back to Tijuana and wait for better times.
Today the US already has a significant military force assembled on the doorstep of another long-time foe – Iran. While Iran may not have as much muscle as does North Korea, Europe’s business dealings with Tehran may prove to be effective defense. In Iran’s case the apple of discord is Russia’s involvement in the Busher nuclear power plant project. Russia grabbed a big piece of business from the US and European nuclear monopolies and Moscow continues to aggressively encroach on what some European nations (like Germany) believe to be their traditional market. The situation around Iran, while still threatening to result in an armed confrontation between this country and the US, has really more to do with business than it has to do with politics or Bush’s “war on terrorism”.
Since the problem with Iran is more of a business issue a war would be counterproductive for all parties involved. It’s all about sharing. In particular, it’s about Russia sharing its Iranian business with the West, or not sharing, as it stands right now. True, in 1995 Russia was willing to complete the Busher power plant when no other country would agree. Russia wasn’t Iran’s first choice either but Tehran quickly realized that it was short on options. Now, it seems, others became interested and Russia is feeling the pressure. The situation around Iran has escalated somewhat with the UN deadline for Iran to “prove” that it has no hidden nuclear agenda. Now Iran threatens to halt it co-operation with the UN but this threat is unlikely to have any major consequences and is unlikely to lead to a war. Still, there is one wild card in the Iranian nuclear game: Israel, which is the only side involved that wants a war with Iran. Of course, Israel would prefer to leave the actual fighting to the US, but it may try to provoke a conflict by bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities.
As the war continues in Iraq, Afghanistan and costs and casualties are mounting the Bush administration will feel increasing pressure as it gets closer to the elections. War in Iraq is the single biggest issue that threatens to leave Bush without any chance for a second term. While there are serious problems with the economy – high unemployment, skyrocketing budget deficit, ballooning defense spending and no signs of any improvement – the war in Iraq is what the Democrats will use to get Bush out of the White House. Iraq is Bush’s Humpty Dumpty. Even if the UN finally gives birth to a new resolution on Iraq, any UN involvement will be nothing more than a facade for continuing US and British occupation of Iraq: casualties and expenses will continue to grow.
Various polls conducted by the US media ask Americans whether they support the war in Iraq and the opinions in most of these polls are split very near the middle. However, what the media really should be asking is whether or not the US public would support this war with weapons in their hands for one thing is supporting your country’s belligerent foreign policy with your checkbook and a very different thing is to support it with your own life.
Withdrawal from the Korean negotiations and bombing of Iraq in early 2001, withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, confrontation with China over the spy plane incident, announcement of the National Missile Defense Plan and withdrawal from the 1972 ABM treaty with Russia, announcement of a global war on terrorism, invasion of Afghanistan, invasion of Iraq, intensifying military standoff with North Korea, Iran and Syria: Bush has a tendency of avoiding existing problems by creating bigger ones. A military confrontation with North Korea is the next logical step for Bush. The question remains: will Bush be dumb enough to start a war with North Korea. I believe the three years of his presidency speak for themselves.