The invasion and drawn out occupation of Iraq has led to the disbandment of the Axis of Evil – something that until recently left Iran and North Korea searching for their place in the world. But that waiting game is at an end, now that U.S. Secretary of State designate Condoleezza Rice has included both North Korea and Iran in the new “Outposts of Tyranny,” along with Myanmar, Cuba, Belarus and Zimbabwe.
This marks a serious step down as far as Pyongyang is concerned. “Axis of Evil” denoted a centrality of design and – well – evil. There was a mental connection to the last “Axis,” that of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan. There was a direct lineage form the last “Evil,” the “Evil Empire” of the Soviet Union.
Inclusion in the exclusive Axis of Evil brought with it a certain cache, and, for Pyongyang, promised (or so they hoped) a major position in U.S. foreign policy initiatives. In fact, U.S. President George W. Bush, in his January 2002 State of the Union Address, stated clearly that the second goal of the United States, after shutting down terrorist training camps, was to “prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction.” And the first among these was North Korea.
In October 2002, Pyongyang let “slip” that it had the “right” to have a Uranium nuclear program, triggering the 2003 nuclear crisis, one planned for several years by North Korea. This revelation was supposed to scare Washington into signing a peace accord to replace the Armistice Agreement that had ended the Korean War 50 years earlier. That, in turn, was to lead to diplomatic relations, or at least a non-aggression treaty. And that was to provide the assurances Pyongyang craved (and felt necessary) to allow some additional economic experiments without risking the U.S. taking advantage of the situation and undermining the North Korean regime amid the economic reforms.
None of that, however, happened. Washington did invade Iraq, raising hopes by North Korea that it, or Iran, would take center stage next. Washington then engaged Iran in secret negotiations regarding Iraq, and had some bickering over Iran’s nuclear program, which the United States left to Europe to deal with. North Korea got the short end of Axis agenda, receiving primarily neglect from Washington.
With the essential disappearance of the Axis of Evil, Pyongyang was looking at another four years of being on Bush’s back burner. So Rice’s inclusion of North Korea among the Outposts of Tyranny was at least a small consolation for being the one ignored member of the Axis of Evil. Among the Outpost states (which in their title bring to mind something Grand Moff Tarkin would set up), at least North Korea and Iran have something somewhat frightening in their military capability and rumors of nuclear arms. The rest of the group are in pretty sad shape, and being lumped in with Cuba, Myanmar, Belarus and Zimbabwe is anything but flattering, even in a diabolical sense.
While Minsk and Harare may feel they have been elevated (however unwelcome) in Washington’s eyes (and gun sites?), Pyongyang has definitely taken a step down the ladder of significant evil. And this bodes ill for Pyongyang’s strategy of bluffing the world into concessions with pseudo-crises and threats of igniting seas of fire – a strategy that requires others to take the North Korean seriously. And if Rice’s comments are any indication, serious is certainly NOT the word to put next to Washington’s assessment of North Korea for the next four years.