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Saturday, December 28, 2002
Notes on the North Korean situation
“I woke up this mornin' and none of the news was good,” Steve Earle sings in “Jerusalem.”
As the song’s title might indicate, Earle was talking about the situation in Israel and its occupied territories. The news in that part of the world is by no means good –see this post by Jim Henley for more on this- but the statement is equally true RE North Korea, a country that is moving ahead with a nuclear energy program for purposes that it says are peaceful but the United States suspects that the purpose is militarily development, specifically developing nuclear weapons. (As regular readers of this blog know, just building nuclear weapons is not in and of itself an aggressive act and yet popular debate in the U.S. with regards to countries like Iraq and North Korea usually ignores history and assumes that any country that develops nuclear weapons which the U.S. does not like is going to use them immediately against the U.S. and/or its allies. “North Korea says it has nuclear weapons,” I wrote in October as the set-up to joke about this point. “If history has taught us anything, North Korea will now begin attacking the U.S. of A. with their nukes just like every other country that has ever come to posses nuclear weapons has done.”)
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld indicated on Monday that the U.S. could use military force to solve “problem” of North Korea developing nuclear weapons. “We [the U.S. military] are capable of fighting two major regional conflicts,” he said. We're capable of winning decisively in one and swiftly defeating in the case of the other. And let there be no doubt about it."
The North Korean government has responded with apocalyptic threats that basically say they will go as far as to “destroy the earth” in order defend their country.
There are plenty of sure-fire solutions to this problem but no certain solutions avoid the firing of weapons. Still a few things need to be said.
-After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, I was amazed at the number of Americans who were shocked at what had happened. It seemed to me, and still does seem to me, that any country that wages war as frequently as the U.S. does is going to be attacked is going to be attacked sooner or later by those seeking revenge. You may believe that such people are purely evil and that there is no justness in their cause but it is ludicrous to deny that they would feel that way and that some would act on their beliefs. Similarly, IMHO, naivety doesn’t even begin to describe the people who didn’t think that there was at least a possibility that North Korea would respond to being called “evil” by a President who is waging a war against “evil” by not bowing over but rather getting tough.
-War is in nobody’s interest, with the possible exception of the Bush Administration. The North Korean government would surely be defeated, many people from at least three countries –the North Korea, South Korea and the U.S.- would lose their lives and the damage done could be beyond tragic. The Bush Administration *might* be able to come out of a war looking strong but I wouldn’t bet on it and the costs involved aren’t worth that outcome to any decent person.
-If North Korea were to use weapons of mass destruction against South Korea –and of course I don’t want that to happen-, many in the world, including South Koreans, are likely to blame the U.S. and say that the U.S. wants to wage war without end and that the real victims are the people of other countries, including those with governments that support the U.S. in the “war on terror.” The U.S. would likely be seen as no longer able to offer protection and people throughout the world might begin to demand that their governments ease, if not end, military alliances with the U.S. This could possibly increase the popularity of al Qaeda in Muslim countries due to the group being seen as one of the main forces willing to stand up to the U.S. None or some of this might not be fair but I wouldn’t be shocked to see any of it happen.
-There is something in the human spirit that doesn’t like the idea of negotiating with those you believe are evil. The U.S. government is certainly saying it won’t negotiate with such people. “We will not give in to blackmail,” said State Department Deputy Spokesman Philip T. Reeker on Monday. “The international community will not enter into dialogue in response to threats or broken commitments, and we're not going to bargain or offer inducements for North Korea to live up to the treaties and agreements that it has signed.” That’s all well and good in theory but more than a bit hypocritical coming from a government that deal with a government that regularly violates international treaties and agreements it is party to and cooperates with more than one brutal government in the “war on terror.” But most importantly, it denies reality. Are we to really believe that being able to say you did “not give in to blackmail” is more important than being attack with nuclear weapons and at least thousands of Americans dieing? In the near future lots of governments and groups that do not like the U.S. are going to have nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. At some point, in order to survive, the U.S. is going to have to accept this.
-While there are probably some who love brutal dictatorships run by incompetent megalomaniacs, I think people of all other political stripes can agree that the government of Kim Jong II needs to be overthrown.