By Phil Clarke
Panic and hysteria took hold of the South Korean capital, Seoul, last week as troops and police moved in to "protect" government buildings from the alleged threat of North Korean terrorist attacks. Seoul airport and the residence of President Kim Young-sam were ringed with elite brigades, while US tank and artillery divisions were moved closer to the demilitarised zone which divides North and South Korea.
Meanwhile, naval exercises between the US and its Pacific allies were moved to the Sea of Japan off the Korean coast.
To all appearances, massive preparations for war with North Korea are being made by the US and its allies over the issue of that country's nuclear development program. In reality, a military conflict is unlikely, though the US sabre-rattling increases the opportunity for fighting to erupt through miscalculation of either side.
Moreover, on June 7 the Chinese and Russian UN delegations blocked attempts to begin imposing trade sanctions against North Korea. For the moment, the US-led campaign against North Korea's alleged nuclear weapons program is stalled.
The crisis has been fuelled by the International Atomic Energy Agency's claim that North Korea, by extracting 8000 uranium fuel rods from its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, has made it impossible to check whether nuclear weapons-grade plutonium has previously been removed from the reactor.
In fact this confrontation is US-inspired hype; three months ago Central Intelligence Agency director James Woolsey estimated that North Korea probably already had one or two nuclear bombs. Nuclear "non-proliferation" on the Korean peninsula has already failed.
It was always a fiction. Ever since the end of the Korean War in 1953, the United States has maintained hundreds of nuclear weapons in the South.
The US campaign against North Korea which opened in May 1992 has never been seriously about stopping the international spread of nuclear weapons. At least eight countries have nuclear bombs and the means to deliver them, including the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, India, Pakistan and Israel. The US actively gives nuclear technology to its allies, including Israel, the first Middle Eastern nuclear state.
US aims in the Korean crisis include toppling the economically ailing Kim Il Sung regime in North Korea, and giving an ostentatious display of its military might in the region, keeping the US at the centre of the east Asian political stage and bringing numerous economic and diplomatic benefits in its wake.
The danger for Clinton in this strategy is the possibility of another Somalia-style fiasco. China and Japan fear the consequences of a war on the peninsula; Japan in particular knows that North Korean missiles can reach its shores.
Chinese business people maintain a lucrative trade in oil and other commodities on the North Korean border: China is likely to veto trade sanctions, let alone a move towards war. Clinton's administration can keep the campaign against North Korea going almost indefinitely. But the campaign to stop North Korea having nuclear weapons has failed.