We Don’t Need an Endless State of War With North Korea
by Eric Margolis: Gorbachev
– the Leader Who Saved Us From World War
Koreans may be low on food, they certainly know how to throw a funeral.
I stayed up
until two am watching last week’s mammoth funeral of the "Dear
Leader," Kim Jong-il, live on TV from North Korea’s eerie,
snowy capitol, Pyongyang. Giant floats and goose-stepping soldiers
made this old Cold War Warrior nostalgic for the 1970’s.
What next for
the Hermit Kingdom? Kim3 – Kim Jong-un – has successfully made the
transition to power. The 1.1-million armed forces, the Party, and
security organs remain the power behind his leadership.
So far, a power
struggle between these groups that could have led to the collapse
of the North Korean state has not happened, avoiding South Korea’s
greatest fear, "unexpected reunification" - a human tsunami
of millions of starving northerners flooding south. Japan harbors
similar fears of armadas of North Korean boat people arriving on
the US government and media, North Korea is one of the world’s two
dangerous "rogue state," along with Great Satan Iran,
against whom the neocon war drums now thunder.
advent to power of "Supreme Leader" Kim Jong-un may offer
North Korea’s uneasy neighbors and the United States an opportunity
to defuse many of the peninsula’s dangerous tensions and even begin
a process of opening the isolated Stalinist state to the outside
world – even though Pyongyang insists nothing will change.
usually eccentric, occasionally violent behavior is driven by paranoia,
hatred of South Korean Evangelical Christians, fear of invasion,
and hunger caused by crop failures. Threatening war is the principal
method by which Pyongyang earns foreign currency and food aid.
The North follows
Kim Il-sung’s credo of "Juche," or total self-reliance
and independence. Pyongyang routinely brands prosperous South Korea
an American vassal state, and its current leaders, "traitors."
remains in a state of war with South Korea and the United States
six decades after the Korean War. Having just revisited the Demilitarized
Zone (DMZ) separating them, and briefly walked into North Korea,
I felt the crackling tensions that could erupt any time into full-scale
war. The often childish, quite irrational rivalry between North
and South were also plainly on view.
heavy guns dug into the DMZ have half of Seoul in their range. Kim
Jong-il and father Kim Il -sung repeatedly threatened to turn Seoul
"into a sea of fire."
The US has
hinted it will consider using tactical nuclear weapons against North
Korea in the event of war. Nearly 30,000 US troops garrison South
Korea; 70,000 more could swiftly intervene there along with powerful
US naval and air units. Until recently, South Korea’s powerful armed
forces were under command of a US four-star general. Even the Soviets
weren’t so heavy-handed in the Warsaw Pact.
keeps asking the US to sign a non-aggression pact in which Washington
pledges not to attack the North. The North’s modest nuclear program
was created to deter a US attack by threatening a counter-strike
on US bases in South Korea, Japan and Okinawa.
Korean strategists (conservatives excepted) and their Japanese counterparts
downplay the nuclear threat from North Korea.
has long refused such a non-aggression pact. Instead, it has ringed
North Korea with military forces and imposed a punishing trade embargo
that has played a major role in keeping the North in dire poverty.
Call the North an Asian Cuba.
The US says
North Korea’s regime is a brutal, illegitimate despotism with which
it will only deal with the greatest reluctance and disgust.
Yet the US
supports many nasty dictatorships around the globe, such as Uzbekistan,
Kazakhstan, and Ethiopia. Brutal police state Egypt remains a key
US client. If the US really wants to end North Korea’s nuclear program,
the solution is to sign a non-aggression pact and gradually end
US trade sanctions.
Both the US
and South Korea should end their frequent, provocative military
war games on North Korea’s borders. Such posturing led to last year’s
military clashes and more paranoia in Pyongyang.
North Korea will have to end its nuclear program under UN inspection,
agree to cease threats against neighbors that are a form of financial
blackmail, halve the size of its huge armed forces, move them away
from the DMZ, and divert resources to feeding its people. The nightmare
Stalinist police state must be reformed.
The hard right
in the US will try to block such steps to peace. America’s neocons
worry that North Korea will supply nuclear and other weapons to
Israel’s enemies and wants it crushed. South Korea’s Christian Evangelical
hard right won’t end its hostility to Communism.
be fierce opposition to change from North Korea’s 1.1-million-man
military, which would be the first victim of economic reforms diverting
spending to industry and agriculture.
Communist Party would also fight hard against reforms. But even
within its ranks there are reportedly Gorbachev-style factions that
understand the need to modernize and drag their nation out of the
national security establishment would also fight hard to keep US
forces in South Korea as essential to the security architecture
of North Asia and a vital forward base for US military operations
in the region.
Even so, Kim
Jong-un has a major opportunity to begin defusing 60-years of severe
tensions and to begin building up a viable nation with help from
China. Besides battling entrenched military and party lobbies, he
will have to convince Beijing that North Korea will not fall into
the US sphere of influence.
is the lynchpin of ending hostility with North Korea. China cannot
allow South Korea or the US to take over North Korea and implant
US bases on China’s strategic Manchuria border. If North Korean
collapses, Chinese military intervention is highly likely.
agreement on North Korea’s strategic future is thus essential.
toiled its way out of dire poverty four decades ago, creating an
economic miracle. Equally industrious, determined North Koreans
could do the same today, if given half a chance.
him mail] is the author of War
at the Top of the World and the new book, American
Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the
West and the Muslim World. See his
© 2012 Eric Margolis
Best of Eric Margolis