The year 2017 was a time of massive risk of war on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea claimed to have tested a hydrogen bomb as well as an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM). US President Donald Trump promised “fire and fury” in retaliation and dispatched aircraft carriers and stealth bombers.
Things climaxed early this month when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un boasted of the nuclear button on his desk. Trump retorted that he had a bigger one.
Korea was a pressure cooker looking for a release valve. Many feared war was imminent. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, and with the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics looming, South Korean President Moon Jae-in launched his “Pyeongchang Initiative.” He invited the North Koreans to the Games and asked the US to postpone joint South Korea-US military exercises.
In his New Year’s address, Kim responded to Moon’s overtures. Trump supported the initiative. For the first time in two years, North and South are talking. The world breathed a deep sigh of relief.
Good news? Not to everyone, apparently. A highly vocal chorus of pundits rang the alarm bells.
The naysayers hail from major US think-tanks with close links to the US government and US corporations. They include The Heritage Foundation (Bruce Klingner), the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars (Robert Litwak), the Center for Strategic and International Studies (Michael Green), the Asia Society (Daniel Russel), the Council on Foreign Relations (Scott Snyder), and the American Enterprise Institute (Nicholas Eberstadt), as reported by Tim Shorrock and John Feffer. US government officials from Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley to US Forces Korea Commander General Vincent Brooks also chimed in.
Their basic argument goes like this. South Korea should not be naive about North Korea. It should be wary about taking its bait and appeasing it, or it could be duped. North Korea has ulterior motives. It is buying time to perfect weapons while trying to extort economic aid. Or, Pyongyang is trying to drive a wedge between South Korea and the US, forcing a break in the alliance.
Certain reporters and academics further this narrative. After North Korea perfects a nuclear ICBM, it intends to use it to kick the US out of South Korea. Then it will swallow South Korea while holding the US at bay with its nukes, they say.
All this is reminiscent of debates last August at the height of the brinkmanship between North Korea and the US, when some called for a peace treaty to end the 1950-53 Korea War, finally putting an end to the uneasy Armistice.
Many of the same people came out in opposition to that idea. Examining their arguments, I wrote, “There is a kind of in-built blackmail in the story. It seems to say, ‘Peace Treaty? The US will have to pull out and we may not be there to save you again. So don’t think about it.’ It really sounds like propaganda designed to instill fear in order to preserve the status quo and the South Korea.-US alliance.”
Actual facts on the ground, however, disprove the allegations behind this blackmail propaganda.
Allegation: South Korea will be fooled by North Korea.
Reality: South Korea is a mature democracy with its own national interests. Liberals like President Moon believe in dialogue while also applying pressure to denuclearize North Korea. It is in South Korea’s national interest to avoid war and denuclearize the North.
Allegation: North Korea has ulterior motives.
Reality: Countries advance their own interests, and North Korea is no exception. In fact, North Korea may not have advanced its nuclear and ballistic-missile programs over the past 25 years were it not for a possible US ulterior motive: advancing missile defense.
Allegation: North Korea is trying to drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States.
Reality: The status of the alliance between South Korea and the US is up to them, not North Korea. As a rogue/pariah state, North Korea’s priority is regime survival. To do this, it needs to normalize relations with South Korea and the United States by bringing the US to the bargaining table.
Allegation: In the long run, North Korea intends to kick the US off the peninsula and swallow South Korea whole.
Reality: It is practically impossible for North Korea to swallow South Korea. The South has double the population of North Korea. South Korea is a wealthy cosmopolitan democracy; North Korea is a backward and isolated dictatorship with a personality cult. Economically, South Korea’s gross domestic product is about US$1.5 trillion vs the heavily sanctioned Northern GDP of approximately $30 billion. South Korea spends about 1.5 times as much on its military alone as the entire size of North Korea’s GDP. As well, the US cannot be intimidated by North Korean nukes when vital interests are at stake.
Allegation: Author Bradley K Martin and Professor B R Myers say that Kim Jong-un cannot abandon the idea of forced unification with South Korea because it would mean the end of the Kim dynasty, and his people would turn against him.
Reality: Through the Joint Communiqué of 1972, the joint entry of both Koreas into the UN, and the Joint Declarations of 2000 and 2004, North Korea has expressed interest in peacefully co-existing with South Korea. Kim’s public statements indicate that he bases his legitimacy on the Byungjin Line: creating a strong and prosperous nation, not on forcing a unification with South Korea. Certainly, North Koreans, like South Koreans, hold reunification dear to their hearts and must pay lip service to it. But nuclear arms are not a weapon of conquest and blackmail but regime survival: domestic prestige, external deterrence, and a means to pull the US to the negotiating table.
It may seem as if the Korean situation is intractable, but peace is possible if we focus on the pragmatics, not the propaganda.In international relations, you deal with what is real and what is possible. You don’t dwell on fantasies about some stated aims, ideology, desires or fears – especially when facts on the ground suggest otherwise.
Those against talks are hardliners who promote the well-worn blackmail propaganda that has upheld the status quo over the decades. Moon’s Pyeongchang Initiative assures peace – at least until the end of the Paralympics in late March. Before then, there is a potential for real progress.
It is time to support the Koreans – not sound false alarm bells.
But you are talking peace. Do you realize how many heart attacks you are causing in the US Think Tanks when you even mention that dirty word. There are no mega profits to be made in peace.
The U.S. has a $0.6 trillion war budget and 3.2 million employees (not including an army of mercenaries, otherwise known as “contractors”). Its gigantic military-industrial complex needs (and can afford to fund) think tanks, pundits and journalists who keep talking on tensions on the Korean peninsula and hyping up the "North Korea threat" to help satisfy its ever growing appetite for more tax payers’ money: Indeed, the U.S. outpaces all other nations in military spending, which is roughly the size of the next seven largest military budgets around the world, combined. And it doesn’t include another 250 billion in hidden costs. Together it amounts to almost 1 trillion or as much as federal government expenditure for Social Security. (While the security of the country from a military and police perspective has top priority, food insecurity still ranges from 8.5% – 20.5% across all states of America). World military spending totaled more than $1.6 trillion in 2015. The U.S. accounted for 37 percent of the world total.
President Trump urged Congress to increase military spending in 2018 by 10
And here is a reality check with facts and figures for the absurd claim by pundits that the North would and could take over the South:
South Korea’s GDP is 50 times larger than the north and it spends about thirty times more on defense. Since 2007, South Korea has bought an estimated $10.7 billion in weapons from several countries. In 2016 its arms imports amounted to $1.3 billion, of which $0.5 billion stemmed from the United States. It has much more advanced and modern equipment (it used to buy more weapons from the US than even Saudi Arabia) and can mobilize two and a half times more troops (standing army plus reservists) than the North according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
North Korea’s total defense spending is about $10 billion which corresponds to the price of the USS Gerald Ford, America’s newest aircraft carrier. If we add the development cost to the acquisition cost, this expenditure accounts for about one fifth of the increase of America’s military budget (as asked by President Trump) for 2018.
North Korea’s active service personnel amounts to 945,000, it maintains a total of 945 aircraft, its army comprises 5,025 tanks, 4,100 armored vehicles, 6,550 artillery, and 2,500 rocket projectors. Its total naval assets include 438 patrol craft, 11 frigates, 2 corvettes, 76 submarines, 25 mine warfare vessels. The figures, looking impressive on paper, still don’t say anything about the real value of the military assets and the number of troops able to fight a war. North Korea’s military is known for suffering from fuel and ammunition shortages for training. Its conventional military hardware is half a century old and largely obsolete (some of its equipment are dating back to World War II) and in the case of war, much of it may not function properly. Instead of channeling all its resources into building a formidable fighting force, it chose instead to become a huge construction building enterprise. It has maintained the country’s infrastructure and built new residential and shopping areas, zoos, water parks, science centers, etc. The much larger, modern and better trained hi-tech armies its enemies have are no match for it and could possibly destroy it in a war within days or weeks, rather than months.
Excerpt from free e-book NORTH KOREA BEHIND THE VEIL which can be downloaded here: https://independent.academia.edu/AbtF
USA is a serial aggressor, invader and murderer. Over the last 70 years, USA has invaded and/or bombed dozens of countries, murdered more than 20 million people, and destroyers tens of trillions dollars of infrastructures. The countries that USA has invaded and/or bombed include Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan. Yet, apparently, USA is not aware that it invaded other countries, or at least USA pretends or claims that it not invading other country but rather is protecting the people of these countries, even though such “protection” mean the massacred of millions of the people USA claims to be protecting. When a country (USA) is so dumb that it no longer knows whether it is or not invading another country, it means that USA is doomed. Each country that USA invades or bombs (which somehow or another the academics and think tankers in USA call an act of benevolence) is in fact a nail on the coffin of USA.
Time to end the 72 year U. S. occupation of the Korean Peninsula, the Japanese home islands, the Ryukyu and return the Chishimas to Japan. Western Hegemony and especially U.S. hegemony is over in Asia. The U.S. has nothing to offer Asia by territorial occupation. It’s time to go home for the U.S. and fix the disfunctional domestic political situation.
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