Kim pushes Clinton into policy corner: US in disarray as Korean crisis deepens

IF MORE evidence were needed that the foreign policies of the Clinton administration are in chronic disarray, it came last week. The Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, pleaded with the President to spend at least one hour a week on foreign issues. Mr Christopher's deputy, Clifton Wharton, was sacked. The National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, fed up with Mr Clinton's inattention to matters international, threatened to resign and go back to Massachusetts. The administration severely upset Irish-American relations by the clumsy way it dealt with the exclusion from the country of the Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams. And United States strategies in Haiti, Somalia and Bosnia remain as directionless as ever.

But soon the most serious challenge of all may arise: how Mr Clinton and his team will handle the increasing possibility of a nuclear confrontation in Asia. This threat has crept up on the President virtually unawares. Last spring he triumphantly announced that one of the world's last rogue would-be nuclear countries, North Korea, would be respecting the Non-Proliferation Treaty after all.

But now, after a disastrous trip to the region earlier this month by the US Defense Secretary, Les Aspin, it seems all too likely that the Great Leader Kim Il Sung, 81, and his son, the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il, 51, have every intention of goading the United States to the limit by pressing ahead with their nuclear ambitions.

On Friday, the State Department insisted that North Korea's latest, apparently conciliatory, statement conditionally offering to allow resumption of United Nations monitoring at its nuclear sites was a 'positive' sign.

But a spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency, meanwhile, was telling the Independent on Sunday: 'We can only surmise that our (UN monitoring) cameras have run out of film and the batteries are dead. We have no way of knowing what the next step will be as our inspectors have not been allowed back since August. There is a discrepancy between the plutonium that appears to have been produced and what they (North Korea) have declared as being produced. So far they have given us no satisfactory explanation.'

Intelligence reports show that 70 per cent of North Korea's 1.1 million-strong army is massed along the demilitarised border with South Korea, and that the Great and Dear Leaders' Scud missiles are within easy striking distance of Seoul - just 25 miles away. American F-16s are constantly screaming overhead in readiness for the unthinkable.

Last Sunday Mr Clinton added to the tension by saying that any attack by North Korea on the South, where the US has 37,000 troops, would be construed as an attack on the US itself. Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman, just back from North Korea, is not the only one who finds it all rather frightening. 'My concern is that this thing is escalating a little bit too quickly,' he says.

In so much as the administration has any clear foreign policy, it is to keep hammering away at the importance of Asia. This is why, rather than visiting London, Paris or Bonn, President Clinton has already been to Tokyo and Seoul; Mr Christopher, during the administration's 10 months in office, has been to the region three times.

He explains that this is because in the post-Cold War era, the US has 'vital security stakes' in that part of the world, in which it has fought three major wars in the past 50 years. This week those United States interests will be further underlined when Mr Clinton flies to Seattle to meet his Asian counterparts for the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation Forum.

But precisely because it has made so much of the importance of Asia, the administration is coming dangerously close to boxing itself in; should the volatile and headstrong Great and Dear dictators now choose to provoke the US or its Asian allies (either through persisting with a nuclear programme or by some other military mischief), Mr Clinton is effectively committed to a big military response.

The flea would thus have provoked the lion into roaring, with dangerously unpredictable consequences.

Should American macho pride be ruffled by yet another petty tyrant, one South Korean official fears, both Koreas could go up in a Waco-style conflagration. And should North Korea persist with its nuclear malfeasance, then clearly South Korea, Japan and Taiwan are going to want to go nuclear too - with untold consequences.

If Mr Clinton is to remain true to his word yet avoid a military crisis, North Korea is going to have to back down, renounce its aim to 'reunify' North and South by 1995, drop its nuclear programme and admit that it has been lying over its plutonium production. As the Americans would say, it is going to have to eat crow.

The situation requires a coherent foreign policy with no American flag-waving bellicosity and, above all, delicate unemotional diplomacy. Mr Aspin, afflicted with heart problems, does not inspire confidence in his senior officials; Mr Christopher does so even less. Few in Washington have real confidence that the looming international crisis will be averted. It is almost enough to make one long for the days of George Bush and James Baker.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk