Now that the UN Security Council has both Iraq and North Korea to consider, it is no longer possible to talk as if they were two separate issues that can be pursued in turn and quite separately from each other.
The question, of course, is what to do about them. America's answer is: use force in the Iraqi case and diplomacy in the Korean. There is no contradiction. You need to use force if Iraq is not to get to the point where North Korea is: too dangerous to invade.
But why not take the opposite view: that what is sauce for the North Korean goose should also be sauce for the Iraqi gander. Diplomatic engagement and concerted international pressure are just as valid for Saddam Hussein as for Kim Jong Il. Even more so when you consider that United Nations nuclear inspectors have reported back to the Security Council in the one instance, saying that it is doubtful that Iraq has managed to develop any nuclear capability in the last decade, while reporting the opposite in the case of North Korea, which clearly has been intent on developing nuclear weaponry in clear breach of agreements made a decade ago.
One of the worst casualties of the present debate over Iraq has been the belief that there is a "third way" between the unilateral exercise of force and doing nothing. "There is no alternative" was the cry of Mrs Thatcher, and it seems to be the cry of Tony Blair as he repeats again and again that Saddam is in breach of Resolution 1441, will not own up to his misdeeds and must therefore be removed by force.
But there is an alternative. It is what we all thought we had signed up to in the weeks following 11 September before President Bush suddenly took the issue of Saddam out of his back pocket and slammed it on the table as the number one item on the agenda. And it's what Washington seems now to approve of in the case of North Korea.
It is called "internationalism", the effort to lay down certain principles for the conduct of global behavior and to develop the institutions the UN, the International Court of Justice and the regional security pacts to encourage and enforce them.
All right, it isn't easy. There are all sorts of regimes with access to all sorts of nasty weapons, Pakistan and India among them as well as Iran and Israel. All of them, like North Korea, have surreptitiously pursued weapons programs. It would be nice if we could go round forcing them to cough them all up. There are also suffering people all over the world who are crying out for the strong arm of Western righteousness to break the rules of non-intervention and deliver them from evil.
But the danger of saying that you can deal with one crisis in one way and then go on to deal with others in different ways is that, by acting inconsistently, you undermine the whole in order to deal with the one. The cost of "liberating" the Iraqis is that you accept the continued oppression of the Chechens, the Tibetans and even the Palestinians; the price of enforcing disarmament of Iraq through invasion is that you implicitly accept that those who already have such weapons will be allowed to keep them.To those who have shall be accorded respect; and from those who have not shall be taken away.
Better, surely, to accept common limitations but agree common pressure. For that has been the lesson of the much-quoted crises of recent times. Internationalism has not failed because it is inherently flawed or weak, but because it hasn't been pursued consistently. Saddam would never have invaded Kuwait had the international community acted on its own principles and isolated him when he invaded Iran a decade before. Instead the West saw it in its interests to see the two sides exhausting each other in warfare. Or, as Henry Kissinger put it: "If only both sides could lose."
Nor would Slobodan Milosevic have waged war in Bosnia or Kosovo if the West had acted decisively at the start to defend the new states that they had guaranteed, or had the members of the UN backed their own institution when the Belgian peacekeepers were simply ignored at the beginning of the genocide in Rwanda.
The other great lesson of these tragedies is that it is united pressure as much as the threat of force that stops dictators. Milosevic only finally decided to get out of Kosovo when Nato agreed a unanimous vote condemning him and Russia made it clear that it was not going to support Serbia. Milosevic himself did not fall until it became clear that his people were against him and his security forces were not going to open fire on their own people.
In the case of Iraq, there isn't that unity behind war. Far from it. In the case of North Korea, there isn't yet a consensus behind a policy of containment. Let's try and get that unity around an agreed policy of pressure and persuasion in both cases. The carrot is engagement, trade and humanitarian assistance. The stick is international isolation and condemnation.
As for regime change. Yes, we want it in the two countries. If the example of Eastern Europe is anything to go by, it will happen if we stick to our principles in all our dealings with these regimes, and others. But we have no right to intervene of our own accord. In international affairs as domestic ones, the law is there to prevent us taking it into our own hands.
© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd