The Crisis in North Korea

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America has wisely delayed testing a nuclear missile in response to the growing tensions in North Korea. This has been criticized by some people who are concerned this gesture is showing ambiguity to North Korea, potentially causing confusion about how strong America’s resolve is to respond to future acts of aggression from Kim Jong-Un and his political regime. The people who criticize this attempt by America to de-escalate the growing tensions in North Korea are mostly the same people who glibly point out the dire consequences to North Korea should such an act of aggression take place, making comments such as: “If North Korea launch any attack on US bases or South Korea, within minutes there will be a massive crater where North Korea used to be.”

I seriously doubt however whether anyone, including the leadership of North Korea, is under any illusion that a pre-emptive strike against American bases or South Korea would effectively be an act of suicide. It is virtually certain that Kim Jong-Un is not genuinely trying to provoke a full blown conflict. But he might nonetheless be capable of acts of irrationality if he is backed into a corner. Or he mistakenly backs himself into a corner. If his credibility as leader of North Korea is seriously compromised in any way his own life will potentially be in jeopardy, as his generals are liable to turn against him. Also the survival of the leading political regime in North Korea depends in part on keeping up the charade of standing up to the foreign imperialist powers who want nothing more than to invade North Korea at a moment’s notice and exploit it for commercial gain.

So acts of apparent irrationality are entirely possible should the situation continue to escalate much further. With nothing left to lose their natural instinct will be to take as many people down as they possibly can before they go down themselves. And they are well capable of doing this. They do after all have weapons of mass destruction (albeit with a limited range of delivery) which would potentially inflict massive damage to South Korea, local US bases and possibly neighbouring countries.

The political regime in North Korea sustains power by perpetuating the myth that the North Korean people’s own suffering is inextricably linked to the oppressive outside imperialist powers, and these powers present an ongoing threat to North Korea as an independent state. Without doubt the North Korean government is well capable of using propaganda tactics to perpetuate the greatly exaggerated perception of an almost continually ongoing threat of invasion by foreign imperialist powers. But their job has unquestionably been made easier by the aggressive foreign policies of America. Still fresh in the mind of many is the fact that 80% of the infrastructure of their country was destroyed by American bombing during the 1950-53 Korean war. Saturation bombing flattened 18 of 22 major cities in North Korea and resulted in over one and a half million civilian casualties (something like 20% of the population of the country). The memory of this is still fresh in the minds of many North Korean people, and has the effect of adding credibility to the propaganda spouted by the North Korean political regime that imperialist powers want to invade their country, and therefore North Korea need to take steps to avert this.

They have also in recent times witnessed America invading countries such as Iraq, ostensibly to protect themselves from the threat of weapons of mass destruction, but in reality for very different reasons. After 9/11 the Bush administration began to suggest that Saddam Hussein was in leagues with al-Qaeda, and was likely to try and supply them with weapons of mass destruction to attack America with. The reality however was that Saddam was a secular Arab nationalist who dealt harshly with Islamists in Iraq. So this allegation was never particularly likely. And the intelligence supporting the claim that Saddam had WMDs was hardly worth the paper it was written on. Much of this intelligence was compiled under considerable pressure and duress from warmongering politicians who had already formed the firm intention to invade Iraq anyway, a country of considerable strategic importance to America. It may appear that the mess left behind after the war, and all the internal conflicts that ensued, were not at all anticipated by the Bush administration prior to invading the country. But upon reflection it is not altogether clear how this could have been the case. Iraq was a somewhat artificial country created by the British at the end of the Second World War out of part of the Ottoman Empire. There were Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the centre and Shiites in the south, an uneasy cohabitation Saddam held together by ruthless oppression. This of course does not justify that ruthless oppression, but it is highly implausible these facts were not factored in by the analysts who were advising the Bush administration during the period of preparation to invade Iraq. The welfare of Iraq after the conflict however was unlikely a high priority of the Bush administration.

Not only this but America propped up and supported brutal dictators in several South American countries during the years of the cold war, many of whom oppressed and tortured their own people. America also helped to displace democratically elected leaders, leading in some cases to brutal dictators taking their place. In 1950 the people of Iran elected a secular democrat as prime minister. He instantly nationalized British and American oil companies, therefore returning Iran’s oil to its people. As a direct consequence of this in 1953 the British and American governments organized a military coup which resulted in the overthrow of the democratically elected government and reinstalled a Shah (unelected dictator) as leader of Iran. This led to years of ruthless oppression, poverty and torture.

But why does this division of the Korean peninsula exist in the first place? When the Second World War ended the Russians occupied the North and Americans the South. It was essentially like the history of Germany all over again. And of course the same situation occurred in Vietnam. The Russians set up a Communist government in their zone and in the South the Americans set up an anti-communist government. Then both the Russians and Americans cleared out and left them to it. What happened next? Each government naturally had the instinct of reuniting the country under their own political systems, constantly regarding the other side with great suspicion. When the North eventually invaded the South in June 1950 there was a general perception by Washington policy makers that this represented a much wider threat. They completely failed to see it for what it was. The reality was that this was a localized civil war created from the divisions caused by the allied countries occupying the Korean peninsula at the end of the Second World War. Washington policy makers however interpreted this event as communist expansion directed by the Kremlin, so embarked on a long term policy of ‘containment’ (a somewhat euphemistic term). It is this very thinking that also caused the Americans to intervene in Vietnam about ten years on from this, with correspondingly horrific consequences.

It is perhaps unfair to categorize America as being an aggressive imperialist power in the same sense that historically world powers have tended to be imperialist. This is undoubtedly an exaggerated view. But nonetheless there has unquestionably been imperialist elements to American foreign policy from time to time. The current policy of trying to diffuse the North Korean crisis by postponing nuclear missile tests is refreshing to see, and indicates that Washington policy makers may have cottoned on to the fact that sending nuclear capable stealth and B2 bombers to take part in South Korean training exercises has made the situation worse and resulted in increased tensions in North Korea.

It may be true that if North Korea launched a pre-emptive strike against South Korea and US bases there will be “a massive crater where North Korea used to be”, but this is not an outcome that anyone wants. The North Korean people are innocent victims in this crisis as well. They do not deserve to be vaporized simply because they believe the propaganda being fed to them by their ruling elite. And it should be remembered the colossal damage North Korea would likely inflict before they are themselves destroyed.

Some people feel that appeasing North Korea will not produce a desirable outcome. However backing North Korea into a corner will not produce a desirable outcome either. Let’s hope Washington policy makers continue their current trend of trying to diffuse the situation. And let us all be thankful the Bush administration is no longer in power in America!

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