- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2001

There is great uncertainty both at home and abroad about Americas foreign policy strategy and our foreign relations have become tenuous with "strategic competitors," friends and allies alike.
Major cases in point are the burgeoning Arab- Israeli conflict that could easily result in a major war and the worsening situation on the Korean Peninsula.
Whats the problem? If the Bush administration has a strategy for pursuing U.S. interests in either case, it has not told anyone what it is via policy statements. In fact, when asked, administration spokesmen reply "Under review." Indeed, there are so many major policy review studies under way in the State Department, Defense Department and other executive agencies that a sort of "operational paralysis" appears to have taken hold in policy execution as we study foreign policy to death. One is reminded of Nero fiddling while Rome burns. The situation is dangerous.
The basic military strategy of the United States since the last Quadrennial Defense Review of 1997 has been to maintain a capability to fight two nearly simultaneous "major regional contingencies" (read wars), for example, in the Middle East and on the Korean Peninsula. Few military analysts believe we have that capability, given years of cuts in defense spending, force downsizing and expansion of military humanitarian missions worldwide.
As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Hugh Shelton, stated at a press conference last December, "Our forces are frayed." The irony is that we just may have to face a two-war situation if the Bush administration does not act now in regard to the situations in the Middle East and on the Korean Peninsula.
Hesitant to emulate the failure of the Clinton administrations Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives, the Bush administration nevertheless must get directly involved now at the highest levels with all major actors in the Middle East region to head off another major Arab-Israeli war. Despite our present disenchantment with the U.N., this effort needs to be made in the Security Council, in bilateral or multilateral agreements or even in unilateral U.S. declarations. There should be no higher priority for Secretary of State Colin Powell. Why? Whats at stake? The survival of Israel, countless fatalities among Arabs and U.N. peacekeepers, the free flow of energy supplies at reasonable prices, and the future U.S. role in the entire region.
The basic defense posture of Israel has long been the capability to defeat any likely combination of Arab states arrayed against it. Israel has proven that capability in conventional wars in 1967 and 1973. However, the "likely combination" has grown. We should not want to put the combination to a test in conventional ground combat because Israel possesses a formidable arsenal of deliverable nuclear weapons. America simply could not afford to stand back and let another Arab-Israeli war play itself out.
The situation on the Korean Peninsula is also vexing. Despite recent encouraging statements from the Bush administration to the effect that we support South Koreas "Sunshine Policy" of engagement with North Korea, and plan to get back into dialogue with the North "when our policy review is finished," the Bush administration already has set back relations with both North and South Korea over the past several months and caused near paralysis in a widely heralded movement toward North-South peaceful coexistence.
The one major foreign policy strategy that the Clinton administration got right was our approach toward the two Koreas. Following the "nuclear crisis" with North Korea in spring/summer 1994, we negotiated the nuclear Agreed Framework under which Pyongyang consented to shut down its nuclear facilities capable of producing weapons-grade nuclear material in exchange for a U.S. pledge to lead an international consortium to construct two light-water reactors in the North and to provide annually 500,000 metric tons of heavy oil until the reactors are completed. Seven years later, North Koreas nuclear facilities capable of producing weapons-grade material remain shut down and inspections have revealed no new facilities.
Unfortunately, Pyongyang continued to move on other threatening fronts by testing and selling to the likes of Iran and Syria long-range missiles and related technology. The greatest threat emerged when North Korea tested a Taepo-dong missile that flew over Japan in August 1998, a missile which, if further tested, would be able to reach all 50 continental United States within five years according to the Rumsfeld Commission. Subsequently, the Clinton administration got Pyongyangs agreement to enter missile negotiations and to declare a moratorium on missile tests while negotiations continue. North Korea has not tested long-range missiles for the past 21/2 years.
In the meantime, newly elected South Korean President Kim Dae-jung announced in February 1998 his new "Sunshine Policy" toward North Korea reaffirming the necessity of maintaining a strong defense against the Norths formidable military capabilities, while launching separate political and economic initiatives whose objective is "peaceful coexistence" between the Koreas. The Clinton administration wisely embraced the Sunshine Policy with its own policy of "constructive engagement." Pyongyang came a long way in warming up to the rays of sunshine from Seoul supported by Washington and Tokyo as evidenced by an historic North-South summit and rapid movement in high-level government, military and social exchanges and agreements that equated to "rapprochement."
So whats the problem? Almost all progress stopped shortly after President Bush announced at the March summit with President Kim Dae-jung that he does not trust the North Koreans and would stop missile talks with them. Pyongyang has reacted by stalling progress in North-South relations and resorting to its traditional inflammatory rhetoric. That is dangerous. Why? The Sunshine policy and constructive engagement had bought us a relaxation of tensions along the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone. Historically, wars often have started by accident or miscalculation at times of high tension. Those who now wish to push Pyongyang harder and faster toward greater reciprocity, i.e. "get tough," invite a return of tensions. A war would be won quickly by the U.S.-South Korean Combined Forces Command, but it would be a "Pyrrhic" victory.
Hundreds of thousands of American military and civilian personnel and our allies in South Korea and Japan would become casualties in the first few days under a heavy rain of short- and long-range surface-to-surface missiles, long-range artillery and multiple rocket launchers armed with chemical, biological and high-explosive warheads. The CIA estimates North Korea may have one or two nuclear weapons.
We are not prepared in the short term to fight two nearly simultaneous wars. The only safe and sane alternative on the Korean Peninsula as well as in the Middle East is a quick return to intense and sustained high-level diplomacy. We do not have time in these two regions to wait for the final results of long-term policy reviews.

William Taylor, a retired Army colonel and former professor at West Point and the National War College, is a distinguished alumnus of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and an adjunct professor with the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.


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