Saturday, 22 August 2015

On the Brink of War: North and South Korea.

'KCNA said Kim ordered frontline, combined units of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) to “enter a wartime state” on Friday evening. The troops should be “fully battle ready to launch surprise operations” while the entire frontline should be placed in a “semi-war state”'
On August 22 2015 the KCNA reported "The situation on the Korean peninsula is now inching close to the brink of a war due to the reckless provocations made by the south Korean military war hawks". Claims have been made that a 'quasi-state of war" exists, though officiall the Korean War of 1950-1953 has never ended. South Korea, in response to landmine explosions earlier in August in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that wounded two South Korean soldiers, set up loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts along the border. Pyongyang has demanded their removal or else Seoul would face a war. North Korea has ratcheted up tensions on the DMZ and its warlike rhetoric to an insane fever pitch of belligerence as part of a reinvigorated strategy of imposing control from within through diverting discontent outwards.This makes it easier, in a climate of hysteria, to ward off the threat from internal 'enemies of the people'. Throughout 2015 there have been signs Kim Jong Un's iron grip could be in danger of slipping and that the regime requires constant purges and executions to keep the elites in line as drought and the prospect of hunger stalks the land again on a large scale for the first time since the 1990s. It was at that time that the previous Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il, proclaimed a 'Military First' policy to secure the regime from collapse after its economic lifelines from the Soviet Union ended and China had no need to subsidise it in its geopolitical competition with Moscow to secure influence on the Korea Peninsula. Since 2011 Kim Jong Un has continued Kim Jong Il's policy of buying off elites and creating a widening circle of of loyal party member through redistributing consumer goods bought from the hard currency earnings from trade with China. Keeping this 'selectocracy' content is an ever growing, more difficult task. The economic recession and financial crisis in China could seriously affect Pyongyang's ability to retain control other than through outright war or state terror. It is estimated that Kim Jong Un has already executed 70 government officials in the four years since he assumed power compared to his father's tally of 10.

2011 was a pivotal year in global history. As Obama has shifted the focus of US foreign policy towards Asia and containing China, Beijing has become all the more concerned to secure its influence in geopolitically volatile frontier regions as part of its 'One China Policy',from Xinjiang in the West to Manchuria in the far east. War would be a disaster for China and South Korea should the North Korean state implode or if it exploded out into full out war. That's precisely why Kim Jong Un ratchets up the threat level because it means China has to make concessions, supply oil and so help preserve the regime from collapse. For the thinking behind the Obama administration's strategy in Asia is focused on controlling energy supply routes to China by sea or land where possible to as to retain its power political clout in the face of the rising Chinese economic superpower. Beijing fears that while Washington denies 'containment' is the goal.

Joint US-South Korean naval maneouvres have increased. A controversial new US base at Ganjeong is set to open later in 2015 to advance South Korean control over the Socotra Islands against China and so aid its strategic reach over the oil and gas reserves in disputed maritime waters in the East China Sea. This strategic ambiguity on the part of the US towards China has ensured that the Obama administration has simply neglected the issue of North Korea and its weapons programmes as part of a 'wait and see' approach. It has been far more focused on the Greater Middle East and sorting the nuclear deal with Iran first.

The danger with this is that it has made Beijing more insecure and insistent on shoring up North Korea without restraining it through fear that regime collapse would cause chaos,huge numbers of migrants and an unpredictable instability in which South Korea,backed by the US, would advance up to the Chinese border.
This has hardly been helped by the disastrous legacy of the George Bush II and his messianic 'Axis of Evil' speech and the invasion of Iraq in 2003 which clearly made Pyongyang even more paranoid about the US threat of military attack. The regime is fixated on nuclear missiles as the one and sure way to survive in power. But over the longer term, the economic downturn in China, plunging commodity prices, the fall in Chinese investments and 'tourism' and so diminished hard currency directly threatens the regime in Pyongyang. But China lacks the leverage over the nuclear weapons issue because it is forced to prop up North Korea. Kim Jong Un may have calculated that escalating the crisis to the point just short of all out war is the last strategy left to ensure China does not pull the plug on the regime. Drought has dried up the supply of water to North Korea's hydroelectric power plants. Climate change is set to ensure this is a recurring phenomenon. The terrible danger is that the crisis does in fact escalate into an actual war. It should not be understimated how North Korea's military elite are even more paranoid versions of the Soviet elites back in 1983 who were convinced the US was about to launch an all out war against them as Hitler had in 1941. With the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War Two in Asia being commemorated and China aligning closer with South Korea for economic reasons, the elites, indoctrinated with the idea Kim Il Sung alone had to forge the state out of a war against fascist enemies and treacherous Chinese, will be edgy.

It is often forgotten that the Korean War devastated the Korean Peninsula, especially the north. Bruce Cumings in The Korean War : A History cites the appalling scale of the destruction. Pyongyang 75% destroyed, Sariwon 95%, Sinanju 100%. Fear of South Korea and the US is not based only on propaganda.

The war in Asia ended effectively with the US use of atomic weapons on Japan. The Cold War sequel, in which the US backed a South Korean regime containing collaborators with the Japanese, saw more bombs dropped on Korea than were dropped in the Pacific theatre in the entire course of World War Two.

The US carpet bombing was, in the words of Blaine Harden "perhaps the most forgotten part of a forgotten war...a major war crime. Hatred and fear of the Us "is not all manufactured..It is rooted in a fact-based narrative, one that North Korea obsessively remembers and the United States blithely forgets."

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