I have resisted going here but given the hype and ignorance, I fear we shall need to lean on my little knowledge which remains a dangerous thing.
First things first: THE BOMB.
The Korean nuclear tests violate no international law. The DPRK withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty with the required warning. We need not make comparisons with Israel, India or Pakistan.
The serial violators of the Treaty are the original nuclear states. That deal had two parts. One, non-nuclear states agreed not to get nukes. Two, the nuclear states promised to get rid of theirs.
They haven’t. Even the UK and France still have theirs. Why? Are the Brits going to use them against the Argentinians? Are the French going to use theirs against the Islamists in Somalia? Of course not. The minor powers cling to those nukes to keep their place at the negotiating table. North Korea has learnt from their example.
The UK-French determination goes a good way to explain why North Korea has gone for its own bomb and delivery system. The moves got started after the first Gulf War. The stepped-up drive during the past ten years is one more disaster from the invasion of Iraq. The il-logic goes like this. If you don’t have WMDs you get invaded. Therefore, the way to prevent invasion is to get WMDs. This conclusion is – and is not – rocket science.
Finally, never forget which state is the only one that has ever used nuclear weapons? The US in 1945. The US brass and President Truman wanted them for the Korean War. On thirteen occasions, Nixon discussed using them in Indo-China. Kissinger reports that he was indifferent to the consequences.
Second THE BOMBAST
The bellicose language from Pyongyang is nothing new or dangerous. They declare for 10,000th time that they will destroy their enemies in a storm of fire. That is everyday propaganda for domestic consumption. Bizarre as the official pronouncements sound, that is how they always speak. The US Republicans who got close to the North have learned that there is nothing to worry about. Ex-Ambassador Christopher Hill is one example of this re-education. The time to worry will be when they go quiet and sound as ‘reasonable’ as Tony Blair.
In addition, remember that US aggression operates under the rule laid down by President Teddy Roosevelt 100 years ago: Speak softly – and carry a big stick. The double-speak of diplomacy is a mask for war-mongers.
Third CLICHES AND CONVENTIONAL WISDOMS
Ignorance and prejudice floods from all angles of the political spectrum.
That label is half right. North Korea is a Kingdom. But the Hermit half is the excuse that journalists and politicians give for their laziness and ignorance.
There have always been studies that take us behind the headlines. The works by Bruce Cumings will put the division of the peninsula into its historical context. The peculiarities of the North’s political culture are set out in B.R. Myers, The Cleanest Race, How North Koreans See Themselves – and why it Matters.
Juche! or Chuch’e! The exclamation mark is obligatory. It means ‘self-reliance’.
We don’t have the time to explore Juche! this morning. But it is the core ideology of the totalitarianism regime. Its Neo-Confucianism long ago replaced Marxism-Leninism. The nation replaced class as the driving force in history. Paradoxically, some of these ideas were absorbed from the most hated enemy –Japanese militarists and Emperor worshippers.
To understand Korea today we have to go back to the Japanese invasion from the 1890s. The invaders killed the Queen Min in 1896. How many people know that Korea ever had a Queen? Japan annexed the peninsula into homeland between 1905 and 1910. Korean names were banned as was the Korean language.
To understand the Kim dynasty you need to see Korea through the prism of Japanese militarism.
Instead, it is common for the Left to join the Right in calling the North ‘Stalinist’.
If you want to use ‘Stalinist’ as a summation of everything you hate – like fascist – then by all means call them Stalinists. However, that label tells you nothing about the nature of the regime. If I had to sum it up in two words they would be ‘militarised monarchy’.
Moreover, to stick ‘Stalinist’ on the North strikes me as coming close to racism. It is certainly Euro-centric. The use of Stalinist for the North is to view the world through the anus of the Bolshevik revolution. It is true that Kim Il-sung and Co had relations with Stalin and Co for some twenty years from the late 1930s to the late 1950s. To carry that connection over to the present is to misread those twenty years. More importantly, it is to assume that the links with Stalin etc are the most important thing that has ever happened to Koreans.
The Left fears that US activities around the peninsula are in preparation for a major assault, or at least a pre-emptive strike. I don’t think so. The stealth-bomber flights are aimed at the regimes in the South and in Tokyo, not at the North. The US actions are like the placement of the 7th Fleet in the Taiwan Straits after 1952. Sure, the carriers were there to stop the Communists from completing their liberation of China. But they were also there to prevent Generalissimo Cash-my-cheque from invading the mainland to drive the Red bandits out of Beijing.
Of course, the stand-off can get out of control. That’s the extra danger of nukes, Non-nukes are now WMDs. But they can be contained. No so with nukes.
Also remember that the US did bomb all of Korea back to the stone age between 1950 and 1953. The North lived underground for two years. Two million died.
They have experienced total warfare. They won’t scare easily.