America's face-off with North Korea reminds us that even in the
post Cold War world, the struggle for political power still matters
more than the struggle for economic power.
Otherwise, the conflict would be easily resolved. Korea has far
more to gain by scrapping its nuclear program and taking aid from
the West than it does from building a bomb.
But Kim Il Sung doesn't even begin to see the world this way.
Not only does he feel his regime is threatened, which is bound
to take priority over the mere promise of cash from abroad. He also
knows that unless he keeps his country isolated, his power to
direct the lives of his people may be threatened.
To be sure, if he is a dedicated Marxist, he is also fighting
to preserve a regime that orders economic life according to
principles he believes to be of transcendent value. Still, that's a
political matter, not an economic one.
Nor is North Korea the only case. Iraq's Saddam Hussein, who
risked his country and his life to keep Kuwait, was reaching for
political power more than the key to prosperity.
Possession of Kuwait may have given him access to its oil
fields, but Iraq had plenty of oil already. Besides, once the price
of holding Kuwait became the destruction of his country, it ceased
to make sense as an economic objective.
No matter, he held out to the end anyway, and accepted
Perhaps the advance of the Moslem religion was Saddam's goal -
a greater Arab power dominating the Gulf, particularly if he could
capture control of Saudi Arabia. Saddam then might have made the
West bend politically, on Israel in particular.
But this wouldn't have made Iraq richer, just more politically
The clearest case of politics counting more than money is, of
course, Palestine. An economic coalition with Israel would greatly
benefit its neighbors, including the Palestinians, but they have
never considered it.
Political dominion over specific pieces of land matter more -
witness Ulster, Bosnia, India, Pakistan and several conflicts in
The resistance of Russia and its sister republics to opening
their doors wide to Western business to develop their economies is
based on the need to keep political control over their own affairs.
Never mind that Western money might solve their economic
problems. What comes first is the question of who rules.
Indeed, communists continue to hold power in many of the former
Soviet Republics not because they have a program, but because they
are reluctant to accept democracy, which would require them to
share power. …