Time for an alliance in North Pacific

By Paul Lin 林保華

Saturday, Mar 15, 2003,Page 8
As war in the Persian Gulf looms large, North Korea has rapidly escalated its provocations of the US in order to lend a hand to fellow axis-of-evil nation Iraq and also extort more concessions from the US.

Part and parcel of this has been a re-enactment over the Sea of Japan of the April 2001 incident in which a Chinese J-8 fighter challenged a US EP-3 surveillance plane. The difference was that North Korea used four Soviet-made MiG-19 fighters. Learning from China's experience, they kept a slightly greater distance from the "enemy" to avoid a collision. But since they succeeded in "locking on" to the US plane, the sense of alarm on the US side isn't hard to imagine.

If such an incident were to occur over Iraq, US fighters could open fire, but, of course, an EP-3 isn't a fighter, so the US had no choice but to suppress its anger. Moreover, since attention is now focused on Iraq, incidents on the Korean front must be handled in a low-key manner. A total of 24 B-1 and B-52 long-range bombers have been deployed from the US mainland to Guam, however, where they can deter rash action on North Korea's part by bringing the country within bombing range. Unfortunately, if conflict does break out, these bombers will still arrive too late to deliver an initial devastating blow to North Korea's missile bases or to the 300 long-range artillery pieces that threaten Seoul.

Faced with this crisis in Northeast Asia, the US must consider the problem strategically. It might consider deploying a missile defense system encompassing Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, but it isn't feasible for the US to shoulder the entire burden of regional security. Recently the US has encouraged Taiwan to take more responsibility for its own security, and, by the same logic, South Korea and Japan, which are threatened by North Korea, should also take more responsibility for themselves.

The US has already let it be known that its troops could be withdrawn from South Korea. In the face of threats from terrorist states, these countries will need to assist one another as well as work with the US. It follows that they should form an alliance, a North Pacific Treaty Organization (NPTO) along the lines of NATO.

NATO was established in April 1949 with the objective of countering the expansion of the communist bloc headed by the Soviet Union. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world has continued to have to contend with what is now referred to as terrorist activity, which adheres to the tenet of "unrestricted warfare" and targets ordinary civilians. Sometimes it is also state-sponsored. So there is as much reason for NATO's continued existence as there was in the past.

In the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the 1999 war in Kosovo, and the current crisis in the Middle East, for example, NATO worked to iron out internal differences, achieve consensus and eradicate evil forces. The presence in North Asia of many of the nations that threaten world peace and human dignity -- nations like North Korea and its supporters -- makes the case for a new treaty group.

At present, democratic nations in the North Pacific region include the US, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Russia. Since Russia still hasn't joined NATO and still carries extensive baggage from its communist past, there might be some hesitancy regarding its inclusion in an NPTO. But Russia's relations with NATO are improving all the time. Since an NPTO would not be aimed at containing Russia (even if Russia does have certain interests involving North Korea), Russia would likely not be adamantly opposed to the grouping. It might even opt to join out of its common interest with the US in countering fundamentalist Islamic terrorism.

The key question may be China's reaction, which will be a clear test of China's sincerity about opposing terrorism. If China truly opposes terrorism, it should not oppose this plan but actively support it. On the other hand, if China still supports North Korea's challenges to the free world, then its opposition to the formation of such an organization is inevitable.

As for cross-strait relations, this is a matter for Taiwan and China, and shouldn't affect the larger international effort to fight terrorism. Will Chinese President Jiang Zemin (江澤民), who is "friendly" toward the US, help complete this arrangement?

Since international terrorist activity also affects peace in Southeast Asia -- as illustrated by terrorist attacks in Indonesia and the Philippines as well as the arrests of many international terrorists in Singapore -- when necessary, an NPTO could expand into the Central and South Pacific to form a powerful front against terrorism across the Asia-Pacific region.

In this way, these regions could protect themselves and coordinate from afar with NATO to contribute to anti-terrorist action in other regions. It must be recognized that terrorism knows no national or regional boundaries.

Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.

Translated by Ethan Harkness
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