Viewpoint by Joseph Gerson
The writer is President of the Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security; Co-Founder of the Committee for a Sane U.S.-China Policy; and author of “Empire and the Bomb: How the U.S. Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World”.
NEW YORK (IDN) — News reports recently broadcast North Korea’s ostentatious display of its nuclear arsenal and delivery systems, along with macho circus-like performances to demonstrate the power and courage of its military. [2021-10-21]
North Korea is widely seen in the United States and increasingly in Japan as a belligerent power. It is also a nation that the UN reports is once again on the brink of mass starvation, even as it displays genocidal nuclear weapons that have been designed to overcome U.S. and Japanese missile defenses, and some of which are thought to be able to reach Washington and Tokyo.
Nations are not permanent enemies or permanent friends. While the government in Pyongyang, like that in Washington, is approaching their relations with most other countries in the tradition of Mafia dons, albeit with nuclear weapons, there remains a diplomatic path to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and even the creation of a Northeast Asian Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone.
Getting there requires acknowledging that, even as North Korea was the initial aggressor in the Korean War 70 years ago and continues to spew hatful rhetoric, belligerent action by the U.S., and earlier by Japan, have led North Korea to develop its deterrent, if genocidal, nuclear arsenal. Doing so in no way excuses Pyongyang’s harsh authoritarian rule or the assaults on democracy in the United States.
North Korean development of its nuclear weapons and increasingly advanced and dangerous delivery systems are the logical/illogical response to historical and current perceived threats of attack.
Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program is the logical response to the repeated nuclear threats made by the United States and the military threats posed by the U.S.-Japanese-South Korean alliance system. You point your gun at me, I point mine back at you. You develop missile defenses that may be able to disarm our nuclear forces, we will build nuclear weapons that can circumvent your systems.
It is a classical spiraling nuclear arms race and is not entirely different from China’s development of its “minimum deterrent” nuclear arsenal, which appears to be on the very of being increased and upgraded to become a “medium deterrent” arsenal.
Like the United States and other nuclear powers’ preparations for nuclear war, North Korea is practicing what C. Wright Mills termed “crackpot realism”. Were their nuclear weapons to be launched (their display is already a “use”), at a minimum they would result in the genocidal murder of tens of millions of innocent people. Worse, their use could ignite omnicidal nuclear exchanges, bringing on nuclear winter and ending civilization and nearly all life as we know it.
Beginning in 1950, in the earliest stage of the Korean War, during numerous crises the U.S. has repeatedly prepared and threatened to attack North Korea with nuclear weapons, most recently with President Trump’s “fire and fury” threats.
There is also the history of U.S. bombers destroying nearly all buildings in North Korea during the Korean war. Prior to that, Japan’s brutally conquered and colonized Korea, traumas which reverberate across generations.
Japan’s military modernization, its recent commitment to double its already massive military budget, and Japanese military’s belief that the “peace constitution” permits it to possess tactical nuclear weapons, are all sobering. Add to that, the widely known U.S.-South Korean military “exercises” designed to conquer and overturn the authoritarian Kim dynasty.
In these circumstances North Korea has adopted its “military first” doctrine, and it has sacrificed economic development and its people’s wellbeing, to ensure the survival of the Kim dynasty system.
Tragically, opportunities to build the trust necessary to overcome the fears that have fueled the North Korean nuclear project have arrogantly wasted.
Essential to the 1994 Agreed Framework brokered by former President Carter was the commitment to build light water nuclear reactors, which could not produce nuclear weapons-grade fuel, and to provide North Korea with fuel oil. Believing that the North Korean government would collapse under the weight of its misrule, the U.S. reneged on its promises.
In the last months of the Clinton administration, Secretary of Defense William Perry and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright negotiated a comprehensive agreement with Pyongyang’s rulers, which included the elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Before leaving office, President Clinton was to travel to Pyongyang to finalize that agreement.
With President George W. Bush’s forces in the process of stealing Al Gore’s 2000 election victory in Florida, Clinton never made the trip. President Bush refused to honor the agreement, taunted Kim Jong-Il by calling him as a spoiled pygmy, and the rest – including North Korea’s construction of a nuclear arsenal and missiles in violation of United Nations resolutions, is unfortunate history.
Part of that history was the failure of the Six-Party talks, initiated by China, which brought Beijing, Washington, Seoul, Tokyo, Moscow and Pyongyang together to explore diplomatic paths to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. While this diplomacy was ultimately unsuccessful, it illustrated two essential truths:
First, North Korea’s insecurity and its resulting threats are part of a larger system of Northeast Asian tensions. Resolution of the U.S.-DPRK confrontation and Korean denuclearization must therefore involve North Korea’s neighboring nations.
Second, denuclearization can only be achieved through difficult and time-consuming trust building diplomacy, including declaring the Korean War finally over and rolling back sanctions that have resulted in widespread humanitarian suffering, even as time to prevent accidents and miscalculations leading to war may be limited. The commitment must be there.
Given the coincidence of Chinese/North Korean interests, their common enemy and economic ties, no serious progress toward limiting or reversing North Korea’s nuclear program can be made without Beijing’s deep involvement.
That in turn requires the U.S. and China to recognize their common interests: preventing war, potentially nuclear war as each side dangerously ratchets up tensions, stanching the climate emergency and preventing pandemics.
Noam Chomsky recently stated that there are solutions to each of the existential threats facing humanity. What has been lacking has been the will. The 70-year-old Korean War has yet to be ended, with the threat of nuclear war still hanging over us all. Can the war be ended, and the threat removed? It’s a matter of vision and will. [IDN-InDepthNews – 21 October 2021]
Photo: A tractor in North Korea. CC BY 2.0