Saturday, 13 February 2016

On the North Korean Nuclear Tests of Early 2016

The United States has temporarily deployed an additional Patriot missile battery in South Korea in response to North Korea’s nuclear test and a long-range rocket launch. The move comes ahead of talks next week to set up an even more sophisticated US missile defence system in a move that has worried China and Russia.
While experts discuss the actual threat level poses by North Korea's fourth nuclear explosion and seeming intent on accelerating its WMD programme, the broader geopolitical context of US and Chinese rivalry in East Asia indicates that Washington is trying to reforge close ties between South Korea and Japan under its aegis

By 2006, the US had already started to scale down its troop commitment to South Korea, a move that should have been accelerated for the simple reason that the raison d'etre of North Korea is the constant threat of the Evil Yankee Imperialist revisiting northern Korea once more just as it did during the Korean War ( 1950-1953 ).

The fact that the US retains over 30,000 troops in South Korea some 60 years after the end of the war and quarter of a century after the end of the Cold War has less to do with Pyongyang's gimcrack attempt to produce atomic weapons but to use that threat as a pretext to project America's revived role in Asia-Pacific.

The sending of a pair of nuclear-capable B-52 bomber over South Korea on January 6th after Pyongyang's test was a far swifter reaction than back in 2013 and was as much designed to impress upon the Chinese that the US remains a power in the region capable of dealing with North Korea and its supposed 'ally' in Beijing.

But, of course, Pyongyang is a law unto itself and the only reason China retains trade links with North Korea is to shore it up as a state and prevent the chaos that would ensue should it collapse. In geopolitical terms it would carry the burden for the huge numbers of refugees and trying to maintain security while the ROK is safely behind the DMZ.

China has since 2011 become more annoyed with the regime of Kim Jong Un but has very little control over what he does. In fact, those in the regime leaning too closely and sympathetically to Chinese policy in the military have been executed in grisly ways just so as to maintain North Korean 'independence.'

The North Korean nuclear threat offers great business opportunities for the US in selling THAAD weapons. Yet instead of ramping up tensions in East Asia, the US should long ago have struck a peace treaty with North Korea and withdrawn its troops as sensibly suggested by eminent international relations scholar Anatol Lieven.

A US that has left the Korean Peninsula could no longer be cited as some imminent threat and so the corny and insanely belligerent propaganda would lose its thrust. More than that, the very real traumatic collective memory of US carpet bombing and colossal destruction in the air blitz of Korean cities in the 1950s would be diminished.

The dangers with North Korea's threat in 2016 are higher than ever. This is not simply because of Pyongyang's obsession with getting a bomb at all costs, one it hopes it can use to negotiate its survival and 'recognition' as a power that can defend itself against US bombing threats that were given traction by Bush's 'Axis of Evil' speech.

While the fate of Iraq being invaded was not lost on North Korea after 2004, the real problem is the burgeoning conflicts and disunity among the East Asian powers over claims to uninhabited rocks and the surrounding maritime waters. And the the real basis for these conflicts are primarily concerned with access to oil and gas.

Belligerent Chinese claims to the  Senkakus/Diaoyus islands with Japan are matched by South Korea's spat with Japan over the Liancourt rocks. The danger with Obama's 'Pivot to Asia' is is denies it is about 'containing' China while being forthright in using nationalistic disputes to sell weapons systems in way that contribute to Chinese insecurity.

China has tried to work with the US on sanctions but simply cannot afford to let North korea collapse. The last thing it wanted was further North Korean nuclear tests as this would raise the spectre of Japan and South Korea pursuing nuclear weapons too. Obama exploited this insecurity to sell  ballistic missile interceptor program in 2013.

Such moves are contributing towards the build up of a dangerous arms race across these anti-missile forces are also useful against China’s increasingly obsolete ICBMs. These hostile moves and demonstration of cutting edge US military hardware threaten to bring back the dangerous period just after 1945.

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