TCS Daily

Loved or Feared?

By Christopher C. Hull - April 22, 2003 12:00 AM

This Wednesday North Korea, the second leg of the now bipartite Axis of Evil, will sit down to talks with the Bush administration and China in Beijing. That meeting follows Pyongyong's startling 180 a week ago Saturday - about 48 hours after the fall of Baghdad - in which the rogue nation suddenly announced it would accept U.S. terms and participate in multilateral talks.

This is the first post-Hussein answer to the dilemma posed by 16th-century Italian schemer Niccolo Machiavelli, whether for a Prince (or a nation) "it is better to be loved or feared." From the camps of al Qaeda to the courts of Damascus to the minarets of Tehran, this question should be foremost on American military minds with the conquest of Iraq behind us.

Feared or loved, which is better? As Prof. Harvey C. (minus) Mansfield of Harvard teaches, the challenge is that if a professor gives out A's, then students will love him - but if he then gives a student a C, that student will hate him. If, however, the professor gives out C's, then students will fear him, and if he gives out more C's, students will simply continue to fear him. But any A's he scatters about will cause those students to fear AND love him. (Note: He wasn't kidding.)

When applied to U.S. foreign policy, the question is not always so clear. The crushing 'F' that U.S. forces gave the Republican Guard has had myriad effects, positive and negative. President Bush announced his satisfaction this weekend that Syria's leader Bashar Assad saw the light and agreed to return fleeing Iraqi Baathists. The Special Forces in Western Iraq, coupled with the Syrian war plan the Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered up two weeks ago from the U.S. European command, likely informed Assad's decision, a positive step for a country that hardly loves the U.S.

On the other hand, Pyongyang is spent-fuel-rod-rattling that it has begun "successfully" processing weapons-grade plutonium, in response to the U.S. threat - though South Korea and U.S. sources are highly skeptical. And other forces are at work in North Korea's dramatic, positive shift in policy on bilateral discussions. China briefly shut off its oil pipeline into energy-starved North Korea, a blunt signal to stop rabble-rousing on nuclear and proliferation issues and come to the table. Beijing also undertook a secret multi-week effort with the U.S. to persuade Pyongyang to stand down with diplomatic tools, as well.

But fear played a primary role in the diplomatic coup - at least according to what North Korea was saying before that decision. According to reports from a rare appearance of North Korea's ambassador to the UN on April 10, the day after the fall of Baghdad and the day before Pyongyang's agreement to start talking, "the Iraq war has heightened North Korean fears of American aggression." UN Ambassador Song Ryul Han said those fears "were driving events on the peninsula," and further that "recent calls to bring the North Korean issue to the UN Security Council have also raised North Korean fears, since the United States also sought Security Council action before attacking Iraq."

Also, before the decision, South Korean negotiators agreed with U.S. requests to relocate its 23,000-man command - most of its 37,000 soldiers in Korea - further south on the peninsula. In a tactical T'ai Chi move, moving men further away appears bellicose to the North's maximum leader Kim Jong Il, because it makes it more difficult to strike them were the U.S. to start bombing raids on nuclear facilities, using the air power it has beefed up in the region in recent weeks.

Thus it is not only images of statues being pulled down in Baghdad, but imagined 5MWe reactors being blown up in Yongbyon, that has Kim atwitter.

There is no denying that Korea is a peninsula kept at peace by fear. This year is the 50th anniversary of the cessation of hostilities in the Korean War. The bullets stopped flying in 1953 (for the most part), but the war has never officially ended. On the other hand, there has been no large-scale attack. With Korean forces arrayed in a phalanx on either side of its internal, fortified border, the torn nation hangs suspended by fright.

I can attest to the guitar-string tautness of the region. A decade ago, I visited Korea on a security tour for congressional aides. During that trip, we were escorted under heavy guard to Panmunjom, the tiny Potemkin city in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that winds like an endless, fenced, feral football field along the 38th parallel on the Korean peninsula. In Panmunjom, the two rival forces stalk warily, divided from each other only by a six-inch-high concrete stripe designating the line between two nations.

Rules of engagement in that bizarre place dictate that soldiers can use only the kinds of weapons that are wielded against them - fists against fists, knives against knives, guns against guns. That dictate spawned endless mass Tai Kwon Do battles, until a bloody incident in 1976 when two U.S. soldiers were hacked to death with an axe after coming out to trim a tree. (A chilling photo on display shows the carnage taking place, with a US soldier struggling to stop another from drawing a .45 automatic from his holster, preventing the escalation to gunfire that would have led to the whole company's certain death.) Today, as a result, no one is allowed to cross that concrete stripe to the other country's side.

There is one exception: The powderpuff blue building in the center of Panmunjom designated as the negotiation chamber. Within that structure, we pencilnecked staffers crossed into North Korean territory, under the watchful eye of suspiciously towering Communist soldiers.

The tense calm of that place, and my safe passage into and out of what was then late North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung's protectorate, belie this inescapable fact: one million North Korean soldiers and a proportional raft of artillery lurk behind and below the green hills of the DMZ. Since that spot is merely 30 miles from Seoul, an advance of just a few miles by those forces would put them in mortar range of 20 million souls - giving North Korea leave to obliterate them all in under 48 hours.

Why do they not cross, and rain death on the South's capital city? Because there are thousands of American soldiers arrayed in a "trip-wire" before them. If they advanced, the so-called Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) would be forced first to do battle with true democratic forces, the U.S. Second Infantry Division.

Now, as we have seen in the past three weeks, our soldiers would fight valiantly beyond anything the North could imagine, but even if the 23,000 U.S. command troops remained in place, a 28-1 ratio in force in one place at one time would surely lead to their annihilation. American blood would stain the ground from the DMZ to the gates of Seoul.

And that, the North understands, would lead to the annihilation of their civilization. Uncle Sam would not, could not tolerate a death toll 40% as high as the entire Viet Nam War in one engagement. There would be repercussions terrifying beyond contemplation.

That brings us back to today, 50 years after the ceasefire. The late Kim Il-Sung's megalomaniac son Kim Jong-Il knows an invasion would bring incineration, undercutting fear-mongering predictions of the North striking while the U.S. was "distracted" in Iraq. Kim also knows his government is dangerously close to collapse in food and energy. UN Ambassador Han, during his appearance April 10, said that the nuclear program is aimed at a severe energy shortage, and that "satellite photos show the northern part of the Korean Peninsula has no lights."

And, finally, Kim knows fear - fear of the United States of America.

With attention turning from Iraq back to the rest of the world, rogue regimes everywhere have cause to tremble. While decrying and denigrating the Bush administration's decision to go to war, they cannot help but understand the implications if that decision is replayed on their home turf.

Thus North Korea's decision to back off from crisis and start talking, a signal to America that it is good to be feared. Around the world, we may now see further bolstering of Machiavelli's own conclusion to his dilemma, which is that of course "one ought to be both" - but since the two rarely go hand in hand, "it is much safer to be feared than loved."

And for a United States focused like a laser-guided munition on security after the trauma of September 11, let us underscore one word of that old Florentine's quote:


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