Sunday, 14 February 2016

The Geopolitical Advantages of the North Korean Crisis

North Korea under Kim Jong Un and his atomic weapon tests reflects the failure of is diplomacy to end the official state of war would lessen tensions and should be done in tandem with a withdrawal of US troops from the Korean Peninsula. South Korea is more than wealthy enough to defend itself.
As international security scholar and historian Anatol Lieven argues '
it should negotiate a peace treaty with North Korea. This will remove Pyongyang's motive to attack U.S. interests, ensure that China could never again attack U.S. forces in a ground war and allow the U.S. to concentrate instead on maintaining its overwhelming lead over China in naval and air power.
There is 'no surrender' to North Korea involved here nor any way in which South Korea or Japan would be abandoned but it may well remove the propaganda benefits North Korea derives from having US troops garrisoned south of the DMZ and expedite a final end to the state of war existing since 1953.
North Korea is not some sort of Oriental Third Reich waiting to dominate East Asia. It's a gimcrack totalitarian regime which uses the threat of atomic weapons and ballistic missiles as a means not to blow up the world, as though Kim Jong Un were Dr Evil, but to increase its bargaining hand in negotiating its survival.
The alternative to the sort of promising diplomacy pursued by President Bill Clinton in the 1990s after the end of the Cold War. Negotiations between Clinton, Albright and Kim Jong Il almost resulted by 2000 in a agreement in which the US would have supervised reductions in its missile stocks to negligible proportions.
This series of measures negotiated by the State Department's William Perry and others would have guaranteed to cessation of testing and for the US to buy out North Korea's intermediate and long range missiles. In return, the US too would have provided $1bn in food aid annually
That chance was scuppered by the controversial constitutional crisis within the US caused by the controversial election of George W Bush in 2000 who rejected Colin Powell's attempt to continue Clinton's policy as well as starting to come under the influence of a coterie of neoconservative fanatics to started to dominate policy.
The belligerent rhetoric of the "axis of evil" in January 29, 2002, the exaggerated claims at that stage of nuclear weapons capabilities, the plan for the US to use preemptive strikes against North Korea using its nuclear weapons,; the progress on non-proliferation from 1994 was destroyed by Cheney and Rumsfeld.
While South Korean support for the US ( as general approval ratings ) remain high, it does not necessarily translate into uncritical approval of all the US does: resistance to the proposed Jeju base in a case in point. But Seoul has the best in modern defence weaponry that Pyongyang could not compete with.
North Korea's military is feeble compared to the ROK; it is outdated, depends on massed troop formations and much obsolete military hardware. Pyongyang would be incapable of overrunning the south and would be obliterated if it even attempted to do that. The missiles are about state preservation.
The real reason in 2016 the US is seeking to blame China for what North Korea does, is not only a consequence of its own failures after 2000 to formulate a sensible policy towards North Korea; it's about the Pivot to Asia announced in 2011 and fear of and the need to contain the China as a US global rival.
As a January 2013 Congressional Research Service report (PDF) explained, the U.S. has sought “to have a world-wide, continuous global military presence,” in order to preserve the extraordinary military and economic superiority it had at the end of World War II.
As in the case of South Korea, these military postures came with their own specific justifications. But the real goal has always been to maintain military dominance and prevent the rise of so-called peer competitors, or great power rivals that would undermine U.S. hegemony in the region.
Ironically, the U.S.’s continued military presence and defense treaty with South Korea does nothing to weaken Pyongyang. Instead, it engenders geopolitical calculations on the part of regional great powers like China to prop up the North Korean regime.
This is the broader geopolitical context to the controversy over who is responsible for North Korea's atomic weapons programme. China wants to use trade to gain bargaining power over Pyongyang. It may well have failed and those seen as too close to Beijing , such as Kim Jong Un's uncle, get executed.
China simply does not want a collapsed state on its borders with migrant problems as well as the threat of a unified Korea with US bases running contiguous with its borders. This is one reason continued and pointless US military presence in South Korea is counter productive, other than as part of the military-industrial complex.
This involves blaming China for North Korea's missile tests so that it can profit from East Asian insecurity to sell THAAD systems, a measure that only raises concerns in Beijing as it threatens to make obsolete its ICBM systems. The broader US aim since 2011, when Kim Jon Un came to power, is containment of China.
There is a good case for US interests ( outlined e.g. by Mearsheimer ) not to be too closely engaged on the Korean Peninsula as there is no reason why it should be sucked into a potential conflict should North Korea collapse as it would be of more importance to Chinese security and not America's.
But China has become an increased economic superpower rival to the US which has Washington deeply worried about its future role as global political hegemon. These concerns are exaggerated as China has always regarded itself as a regional civilisation and not a world power.
Other Asian powers , however, do look to the US understandably as a balancing power against overbearing Chinese domination of the East and South China Seas ( and indeed the vast oil reserves contained around disputed island chains ). The problem comes with the US trying to compromise Chinese sovereignty.
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.
As historian of Korea Bruce Cumings put it ' The truth is that Pyongyang ought to be paid by Pentagon hard-liners and military contractors for its provocations; the North Koreans are the perfect stalking horse for America’s stealth containment of China—and for keeping military spending high'
Sending a message to Pyongyang is one thing, as if it could really threaten the US with any ballistic missile, but aggressive moves on the periphery of China over a North Korea that is not considered much of an all at all is dangerous and aggressive militaristic posturing.
China aside, such manoeuvres invariably carry with them the sort of threatening menace the neoconservatives under Bush used in the build up to the Iraq War in 2003 when the Pentagon moved twenty four long range B1 and B52 bombers from Guam to South Korea, conjuring up fears of bombing raids.
This sort of behaviour divorced from forceful diplomacy with Pyongyang only intensifies the spiralling levels of paranoia that make North Korea edgy and hysterical. The traumatic collective memory of US carpet bombing and colossal destruction of Korean cities in the 1950s remains raw.
As Bruce Cumings shows ( The Korean War ) ' The United States dropped 635,000 tons of bombs on Korea ( not counting the 32, 557 tons of napalm ) compared to the 503,000 tons in the entire Pacific theatre in world War Two...estimates of the destruction of towns cities in North Korea ranged from 40 to 90%'
Irrespective of grotesque and hysterical propaganda in North Korea, the memory of the destruction visited upon civilians in North Korea remains, though in time, as that generation grows old or dies off, the first hand experience of smouldering cities, some 90% destroyed, will start to fade into memory.
It is 80 years since the Korean Civil War started which then helped trigger off US intervention in the Korean War which has not officially ended. It is long overdue for there to be a final peace settlement to this ongoing 'war' that does not depend on rival powers exploiting the North Korean threat for geopolitical advantage.


Cumings, Abrahamian, Moaz Inventing the Axis of Evil ( 2004 )
Bruce Cumings,: The Korean War ( 2010 )

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