Hawks Push Regime Change in North Korea
by Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - The coalition of foreign-policy hawks that promoted the
2003 invasion of Iraq is pressing US President George W Bush to
adopt a more coercive policy toward North Korea, despite strong
opposition from China and South Korea.
By most accounts, North Korea ranked high in bilateral talks between
Bush and Northeast Asian leaders, including Chinese President Hu
Jintao, at the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
(APEC) forum in Santiago, Chile, this past weekend, although the
final communique did not address the issue.
Bush reportedly tried to make clear that his patience with Pyongyang
and its alleged efforts to stall the ongoing "six-party talks" was
fast running out and that Washington will soon push for stronger
measures against North Korea in the absence of progress toward an
agreement under which Pyongyang would dismantle its alleged
Bush claimed on Sunday that his interlocutors, who include the
leaders of the four other parties to the talks - Russia, China,
Japan and South Korea - agreed with him, but Hu and South Korean
President Roh Moo-hyun have not backed down publicly from their
strong opposition to a harder line toward Pyongyang.
Indeed, just before the weekend summit, Roh told an audience in Los
Angeles that a hardline policy over North Korea's nuclear weapons
would have "grave repercussions", adding, "There is no alternative
left in dealing with this issue except dialogue." The South Korean
leader also denounced the idea of an economic embargo against
That the hawks back in Washington are indeed mobilizing became clear
on Monday when William Kristol, an influential neo-conservative who
also chairs the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), faxed a
statement titled "Toward Regime Change in North Korea" to reporters
and various "opinion leaders" in the capital.
PNAC issues statements relatively infrequently, so its formal
statements are carefully noted. PNAC boasts Vice President Dick
Cheney, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary
Paul Wolfowitz and Cheney's powerful chief of staff, I Lewis Libby,
among a dozen other senior Bush national security officials, as
signers of its 1997 charter.
"It's clear that they see the transition [between the Bush
administration's two terms] and before any new round of the
six-party talks, as the time to try to set policy direction," one
veteran analyst told Inter Press Service on Monday.
Kristol's statement referred in particular to two recent articles,
including one published last week by Nicholas Eberstadt, a Korea
specialist at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), that appeared
in the neo-conservative The Weekly Standard, which is edited by
The article, "Tear Down This Tyranny", called for the implementation
of a six-point strategy aimed at ousting North Korean Chairman Kim
Jong-il, in part by "working around the pro-appeasement crowd in the
South Korean government", which apparently includes President Roh
The second article, published on Sunday in The New York Times,
detailed a number of recent indications cited by right-wing
officials and the press in Japan - including high-level defections
and the reported circulation of anti-government pamphlets - that
Kim's hold on power may be slipping.
The article noted in particular a recent statement by Shinzo Abe,
secretary general of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP),
that "regime change" was a distinct possibility and that "we need to
start simulations of what we should do at that time".
"Recent reports suggest the presence of emerging cracks in the
Stalinist power structure of North Korea, and even the emergence of
serious dissident activity there," wrote Kristol. "This should
remind us that one of President Bush's top priorities in his second
term will have to be dealing with this wretch[ed] regime," he went
on, citing Eberstadt's strategy as "useful guidance for an improved
North Korean policy".
Eberstadt's article, which criticized Korea policy in Bush's first
term for being both "reactive" and "paralyzed by infighting",
proceeds from the explicit assumption that efforts to persuade North
Korea to give up its nuclear program - which US intelligence
believes may already include as many as eight nuclear weapons - are
almost certainly futile.
"We are exceedingly unlikely to talk - or to bribe - the current
North Korean government out of its nuclear quest," wrote Eberstadt
in an implicit rejection of the basic goal of the six-party talks.
Moreover, he wrote, the nuclear crisis and the North Korean
government are essentially one and the same: "Unless, and until, we
have a better class of dictator running North Korea, we will be
faced with an ongoing and indeed growing North Korean crisis."
To achieve the desired "regime change", Eberstadt called first for a
purge of US State Department officials who had argued for engaging
Pyongyang during Bush's first term. Washington, according to
Eberstadt, should also increase "China's 'ownership' of the North
Korean problem" by making clear to Beijing that it "will bear high
costs if the current denuclearization diplomacy failed".
At the same time, US officials must recognize that South Korea has,
under Kim and the "implacably anti-American and reflexively
pro-appeasement" core of his government, become a "runaway ally" -
"a country bordering a state committed to its destruction, and yet
governed increasingly in accordance with graduate-school 'peace
"Instead of appeasing South Korea's appeasers (as our policy to date
has attempted to do, albeit clumsily)," wrote Eberstadt, "America
should be speaking over their heads directly to the Korean people,
building and nurturing the coalitions in South Korean domestic
politics that will ultimately bring a prodigal ally back into the
Washington should also ready "the non-diplomatic instruments for
North Korean threat reduction," he wrote, arguing that preparing for
the deliberate use of such options - presumably an economic embargo
or even military strikes - "will actually increase the probability
of a diplomatic success".
Finally, echoing Shinzo Abe, of Japan's LDP, Eberstadt called for
planning for a "post-Communist Korean Peninsula" with other
interested parties, "to maximize the opportunities and minimize the
risks in that delicate and potentially dangerous process".
Eberstadt's strategy, according to a number of analysts, largely
echoes the views of John Bolton, under secretary of state for arms
control and international security, a former American Enterprise
Institute vice president who is openly campaigning to become deputy
secretary of state under Condoleezza Rice.
Bolton, perhaps the administration's most extreme hardliner, has
strong support in Cheney's office and other right-wing strongholds,
including The Weekly Standard and on the editorial page of The Wall
On Saturday, Tokyo's right-wing Governor Shintaro Ishihara, who
claims to be on friendly terms with Bolton, told Fuji Television
that Bolton wants to impose economic sanctions against North Korea,
which in the US official's view, would lead to Kim's ouster "within
This was written for Inter Press Service, November 25, 2004.
Jim Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.