October 14, 2017: By Felicity Arbuthnot
When US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, stated of North Korea (4th September 2017): “When a rogue regime has a nuclear weapon and an ICBM pointed at you, you do not take steps to lower your guard. No one would do that”, she unwittingly put her finger on why the DPRK has been conducting missile tests and stating that they have ever bigger, better and longer range capabilities. There is no certainty that either of the latter is the case, but the tiny country has been subject to nearly seventy years of vilification and ever more threatening behavior from the US and allies, with the language of Donald Trump, from near day one of his Presidency of the US regime reaching ever more apocalyptic heights.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres has stressed that dialogue and communication are vital: “Confrontational rhetoric may lead to unintended consequences … The solution must be political. The potential consequences of military action are too horrific.”
One can only hope “diplomat” Haley – who told the UN Security Council: “The time has come to exhaust all of our diplomatic means…” and that North Korea was “begging for war” – was listening. This of a country which in living memory had every town, village and it’s capitol city near erased from the map by the United States and lost at least twenty percent, some estimates state nearer thirty percent, of it’s population of then just nine million people.
In 1953 when the US had destroyed all and there was nothing left to bomb they turned to bombing the dams, flooding the rice fields and causing starvation. North Korea’s government and the country’s collective and inherited memory have not forgotten and are simply attempting to insure such a horror never again afflicts their small nation.
There has been no empathy, knowledge of history, compassion in the Trumposphere. The five times draft dodger, has threatened “fire and fury” along with legality-detonating assassination of the Head of State, referring to him as “Little Rocket Man”, adding that he and his government: “won’t be around much longer.”
Trump is also threatening generating the potential extinction of life on earth. His obsession with “if we’ve got nuclear weapons why don’t we use them” argument goes back decades – but his kindergarten level rhetoric shows a frightening disconnect from statesmanship, diplomacy – and reality. This is not conjecture. Twenty seven eminent psychiatrists have put their reputation on the line writing in the just published book “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” (1) “that he is dangerously mentally ill and presents a clear and present danger to the nation … (exploring) Trump’s symptoms and potentially relevant diagnoses (they) find a complex, if also dangerously mad, man.”
When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told journalists whilst on a recent visit to Beijing that the State Department had: “a couple of, three channels open to Pyongyang” and “We can talk to them … we do talk to them”, Trump tweeted: “save his energy” as “we’ll do what has to be done!”
The Intercept: “wedged between World War II and the Vietnam War? The first “hot” war of the Cold War, which took place between 1950 and 1953, and which has since been conveniently airbrushed from most discussions and debates about the “crazy” and “insane” regime in Pyongyang. Forgotten despite the fact that this particular war isn’t even over“
“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” wrote the President from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. How cheap human life is to a man who has never witnessed, indeed five times evaded, seeing the carnage even one bullet can do. In context, it has just come to light (3) that:
“President Donald Trump said he wanted what amounted to a nearly tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal during a gathering this past summer of the nation’s highest ranking national security leaders, according to three officials who were in the room …
“According to the officials present, Trump’s advisers, among them the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, were surprised. Officials briefly explained the legal and practical impediments to a nuclear buildup and how the current military posture is stronger than it was at the height of the build-up. In interviews, they told NBC News that no such expansion is planned.
“The July 20 meeting was described as a lengthy and sometimes tense review of worldwide U.S. forces and operations. It was soon after the meeting broke up that officials who remained behind heard Tillerson say that Trump is a ‘moron.’”
Trump has vociferously denied the report, predictably falling back on his seemingly miniscule vocabulary and calling it “fake news”, even threatening
The North Korean capital of Pyongyang in 1950 before American carpet bombing. At bottom, the city devastated in 1953
Back to North Korea and the President’s chilling ignorance. On 1st October he tweeted: “Being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it work now? Clinton failed, Bush failed, and Obama failed. I won’t fail.”
Kim Jong-un is thirty three and was formally announced as his father’s successor on 26th December 2011. He has thus been power just short of six years. Twenty five years ago he would have been eight years old.
The US simulates invading North Korea annually. In the last such manoeuvres in August one South Korean defense official told the newspaper Chosun Ilbo that this year’s excercises would include: “a nuclear war game for the first time.”
Currently, in addition to the massive war games, the US has been overflying North Korea with B-52 bombers, with further excercises taking place in and with South Korea and in the last days also with Japan. It should also be remembered that the US has in the Pacific (3):
Total military personnel: 87,000
US 7th Fleet
50-70 ships and subs including …
Up to 14 destroyers and cruisers
1 aircraft carrier
Up to 12 nuclear powered submarines
In South Korea
B52 bombers and fighter jets
40,000 military personnel
200 ships including …
5 aircraft carriers
Moreover, as has been pointed out (4): “In Donald Trump’s first six months in office, he dropped over 20,650 bombs in approximately seven countries, which killed thousands of civilians. By comparison, Kim Jong-un bombs the ocean.”
The same source makes a vital point, ignored by media and politicians:
“The media’s insistence that North Korea will never give up its weapons systems is completely disingenuous when one reads the entire context of the statements offered by Kim Jong-un’s government. On July 4, Kim’s statement read as follows:
“The DPRK would neither put its nukes and ballistic rockets on the table of negotiations in any case nor flinch even an inch from the road of bolstering the nuclear force chosen by itself unless the U.S. hostile policy and nuclear threat to the DPRK are definitely terminated.”
Fox News’ Ralph Peters says ‘better a million dead North Koreans than a thousand dead Americans’ – Sept 2017
Indeed – and with arch hawk retired Lt. Colonel Ralph Peters writing an op-ed in the New York Post (4thSeptember): “Better a million dead North Koreans than a thousand dead Americans” and with the Pyongyang government and people well aware of what happened to Libya which was persuaded to give up its weapons programme and Iraq which had done the same after 1991. Of course Kim Jong-un and his colleagues are going to try to persuade that they can give as good as they fear getting in hope of avoiding annihilation.
Given the reckless rhetoric of Trump and others, as the New York Times puts it (5): “Congress has been sufficiently alarmed to consider legislation that would bar the president from launching a first nuclear strike without a declaration of war by Congress.
“ … As things stand now, the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, passed when there was more concern about trigger-happy generals than elected civilian leaders, gives the president sole control. He could unleash the apocalyptic force of the American nuclear arsenal by his word alone, and within minutes.”
Moreover: “A New York Times analysis found the U.S. could use 1,103 nuclear warheads and decimate China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Libya, Iraq, and Syria … and still have 2,897 left.”
Given that the man who tweets casually about “fire and fury” and smirks as he talks of “calm before the storm”, took the nuclear “football” (briefcase) down to his Florida Mar-a-Lago resort and allowed its minder to have “selfies” taken with it, him and guests, it seems pretty clear that the current incumbent of the White House still resides in the fantasy land of reality shows with no grasp of the potential global pyromaniacal armageddon he jokes about unleashing. Twenty seven eminent psychiatrists of course, have far more disturbing diagnoses.
Apparently he likes watching movies. Perhaps someone should give him a copy of “The Day After.”
Felicity Arbuthnot is a British freelance journalist who visited Iraq dozens of times since the 1991 Gulf War. She has written and broadcast widely on Iraq, one of the few journalists to cover Iraq extensively even in the mid-1990’s during the sanctions and reporting on the devastating effects that took place prior to America’s attack that killed over one million civilians.
Three Dangerous Delusions about Korea
They say that most of the world’s real dangers arise not because of what people don’t know but because of what they do «know» that just ain’t so.
As a case in point, consider three things about Korea that the bipartisan Washington establishment seems quite sure of but are far removed from reality:
Delusion 1: All options, including U.S. military force, are «on the table.»
– Everyone knows there are no military «options» the U.S. could use against North Korea that don’t result in disaster. The prospect that a «surgical strike» could «take out» (a muscular-sounding term much loved by laptop bombardiers) Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile capabilities is a fiction. Already impractical when considered against a country like Iran, no one believes a limited attack could eliminate North Korea’s ability to strike back, hard. At risk would be not only almost 30,000 U.S. troops in Korea but 25 million people in the Seoul metropolitan area, not to mention many more lives at risk in the rest of South Korea and perhaps Japan.
– Hence, any contemplated U.S. preemptive strike would have to be massive from the start, imposing a ghastly cost on North Koreans (do their lives count?) but still running the risk that anything less than total success would mean a devastating retaliation. That’s not even taking into account possible actions of other countries, notably China’s response to an American attack on their detestable buffer state.
Delusion 2: North Korea must be denuclearized.
– Whether anyone likes it or not, North Korea is a nuclear weapons state outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and will remain so. Kim Jong-un learned the lessons of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. Because Kim has weapons of mass destruction, especially nukes, he gets to stay alive and in power. If he gives them up, he can look forward to dancing the Tyburn jig or getting sodomized with a bayonet, then shot. That’s not a difficult choice.
Delusion 3: If the U.S. presses China hard enough, Beijing will solve the problem for us.
– There is no combination of U.S. sanctions, threats, or pressures that will make Beijing take steps that are fundamentally contrary to China’s vital national security interests. (Here, the «vital national security» of China means just that, not the way U.S. policymakers routinely abuse the term to mean anything they don’t like even if it has nothing to do with American security, much less with America’s survival.) Aside from speculation (which is all it is) that China could seek to engineer an internal coup to overthrow Kim in favor of a puppet administration, maintaining the current odious regime is Beijing’s only option if they don’t want to face the prospect of having on their border a reunited Korean peninsula under a government allied with Washington.
– After Moscow’s experience with the expansion of NATO following the 1990 reunification of Germany, why would Beijing take credibly any assurances from Washington (of which there is no indication anyway) not to expand into a vacuum created by a collapse of North Korea? Quite to the contrary, it has been suggested that if China refuses to deal with the North Korea problem on Washington’s behalf, then the U.S. would do it on its terms, presenting Beijing (in the description of former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton) with «regime collapse, huge refugee flows and U.S. flags flying along the Yalu River.» Adds Bolton, «China can do it the easier way or the harder way: It’s their choice. Time is growing short.» If under such a scenario U.S. forces end up on China’s border, suggests Bolton, they wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon. Don’t be so sure. In 1950, the last time American forces were on the Yalu River, they weren’t there very long when hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers crossed into Korea. Keep in mind that happened when China didn’t have nuclear weapons but the U.S. did.
The seemingly weekly rise and fall of the decibel level of bellicose rhetoric coming out of Washington and Pyongyang obscures the realities behind these three delusions. Little change can be expected from Pyongyang, whose policy at least has the virtue of simplicity: «if you do anything bad to us, we’ll do something really, really bad to you.»
So then, what are the prospects Washington could jump off the hamster wheel and come up with something besides threats and sanctions? The omens are not auspicious. Just before he left the White House, Steve Bannon violated the taboo surrounding Delusion 1: «Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.» Then he was gone.
But let’s be optimistic. There have been reports of direct «back channel» contacts between North Korea and the U.S. at the United Nations in New York. Even Bolton suggests that some kind of accommodation could be made to China in the form of a pullback of U.S. forces down to the south, near Pusan, so as to be still «available for rapid deployment across Asia.» (Certainly, that’s one idea. Here’s a better one: how about getting us out of Korea entirely and not having Americans available for deployment across Asia?)
The definitive clarification should have been the Beijing-based Global Times editorial of August 10, 2017 («Reckless game over the Korean Peninsula runs risk of real war»), universally seen as reflecting the position of the Chinese government:
«China should also make clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten U.S. soil first and the U.S. retaliates, China will stay neutral. If the U.S. and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so».
That means that if Kim attacks the U.S., he’s on his own. If we attack Kim, we’re at war with China. In the latter case, while Russia would not likely directly join the fray we can be sure Moscow would provide China total support short of belligerency. Put mildly, this would not be in the American interest.
There is one, and only one overriding priority that should now guide U.S. policy on Korea. It’s not regime change in North Korea – despite that regime’s loathsomeness – or even the wellbeing of South Korea or Japan. It’s avoiding Kim’s developing a missile system capable of delivering a nuclear weapon to the United States. How close North Korea might be to such a capability is the subject of wildly conflicting estimations. (Regarding the American lives hung out on the DMZ, there’s a simple solution to ensuring their safety – get them the hell out of there.)
But what about South Korea and Japan? Our «alliances» with them are a fiction. The U.S. guarantees their security but other than cooperating on the defense of their own territory they do nothing to safeguard ours, nor can they. The U.S. derives no benefit in continuing to make ourselves a target on account of a place that’s more than five thousand miles from the American mainland.
It’s time that «America First!» meant something. As a start, Washington could take seriously Beijing’s proposal for a double-freeze. On the one hand, Pyongyang would suspend its nuclear and missile programs, in particular halting tests of weapons with potential intercontinental range. Washington and Seoul would suspend joint military exercises, including practicing so-called «decapitation strikes« aimed at North Korea’s leadership.
If protecting our own territory and people is American officials’ top priority, and not, as they implausibly claim, «regime change» in North Korea, it’s hard to see why a double-freeze would not be a sensible first step. It would be largely up to China to see that the North Koreans complied with their part of the deal. If they did, perhaps it could lead towards a long-overdue settlement of this Cold War-era standoff and, in time, a reunited, neutral Korea. If not, all bets are off – but we’d be hardly worse off than we are now.