For those sceptical about the justification for a US-led war against Iraq - and surveys across the world suggest they are numerous - this week's testimony by a senior US official concerning North Korea made interesting reading. 'Of course we're going to have direct talks with the North Koreans,' Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage told a US Congress fearful of a growing nuclear threat. 'There's no question about it.' Mr Armitage's expression of faith in the power of diplomacy came despite his fresh warnings of North Korea's nuclear programme and its potential to sell material to terrorists or rogue states. Even though he did state that the country's motivation may be economic survival compared to Iraq's desire to 'dominate and intimidate', he nevertheless described North Korea as a potentially worse proliferator of weapons. The diplomat's comments came as his colleague over at the Pentagon, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, placed 24 long-range bombers on alert, in a clear warning to North Korea to behave during any possible Iraq conflict. Despite such moves and some predictable accompanying bluster, it is clear that the US wants to a diplomatic solution on the Korean peninsula. There are obvious strategic reasons for this. North Korea represents a new front at a time when the US is poised to launch a fresh battle in the war on terrorism, a conflict whose principal protagonists - al Qaeda - remain at large. Not even the mighty US would be happy dealing with a three-front conflict. More importantly, however, the Republican hawks of US President George W Bush's regime seem to have grasped the difficult realities of a region with sweeping ethnic and political diversities. A unilateral Iraq-style conflict to push Kim Jong-il from power is unthinkable: it could invite the gravest of threats to South Korea and Japan, and would likely lead to wider regional instability. So as the world ponders during the next few days the US evidence put before the UN Security Council last night, it is worth pausing to compare North Korea and Iraq. Is there really not room for the same faith in diplomacy - and the appreciation of nuance and risk - to be put to work over Iraq? Surely it is not a matter of region, but rather one of principle. Some may suggest this sort of thinking is too late. Saddam Hussein's watch, after all, now reads five minutes to midnight, UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix has admitted. They would be wrong. Precisely because the drumbeat of war is now so loud, the sense of doom so all-pervasive, must the world be doubly sure that all other efforts have been exhausted before the ultimate step is taken to the potential cost of hundreds of thousands of lives. Unless these steps are taken, there is considerable risk to the wider world order, one where allies happily work within the framework of American leadership rather than grow increasingly reticent in the face of US 'hyper-power'. At this point, international reminders are needed that war is not simply 'unstoppable' or 'inevitable'. As the clamour swirls about the prospect of a second and final UN Security Council resolution, therefore, the question remains: can war be prevented? Ultimately, armed conflict - even if it ends with peace - brings death, destruction and chaos. It is, as has been stated many times, the ultimate failure of politics and diplomacy. Hopefully, we will not be at risk of seeing it merely as an extension instead.