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« Wake up and smell the 90s | Main | Keep the pressure on »

Then... Korea

Noam Chomsky recently was interviewed by Democracy Now and gave a good context for our "conflict" with Korea that is lacking in most mainstream coverage (for example, this NYT piece that says "the roots of the Korean crisis go back a quarter-century" which is only off by four decades or so). Relatedly, the Nation has an article looking at North Korea from the perspective of South Korea, and it's really interesting.

First, here's Chomsky:

Well, it's kind of interesting to look at the record. The claim is "Well, we've tried everything. Nothing works. Therefore, we have to use force." Is it true that nothing's worked? I mean, there is a record, after all. And if you look at the record, it's interesting.

1994, Clinton made--established what was called the Framework Agreement with North Korea. North Korea would terminate its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. The U.S. would reduce hostile acts. It more or less worked, and neither side lived up to it totally, but, by 2000, North Korea had not proceeded with its nuclear weapons programs. George W. Bush came in and immediately launched an assault on North Korea--you know, "axis of evil," sanctions and so on. North Korea turned to producing nuclear weapons. In 2005, there was an agreement between North Korea and the United States, a pretty sensible agreement. North Korea agreed to terminate its development of nuclear weapons. In return, it called for a nonaggression pact. So, stop making hostile threats, relief from harsh sanctions, and provision of a system to provide North Korea with low-enriched uranium for medical and other purposes--that was the proposal. George Bush instantly tore it to shreds. Within days, the U.S. was imposing--trying to disrupt North Korean financial transactions with other countries through Macau and elsewhere. North Korea backed off, started building nuclear weapons again. I mean, maybe you can say it's the worst regime in history, whatever you like, but they have been following a pretty rational tit-for-tat policy.

And why are they developing nuclear weapons altogether? I mean, the economy is in bad shape. They could certainly use the resources. Everyone understands that it's a deterrent. And they have a proposal, actually. There's a proposal on the table. China and North Korea proposed that North Korea should terminate its further development of nuclear weapons. In return, the United States should stop carrying out threatening military maneuvers with South Korea right on its border. Not an unreasonable proposal. It's simply dismissed. Actually, Obama dismissed it, too. There are possible steps that could be taken to alleviate which could be an extremely serious crisis. I mean, if the U.S. did decide to use force against North Korea, one immediate reaction, according to the military sources available to us, is that Seoul, the city of Seoul, would simply be wiped out by mass North Korean artillery aimed at it. And who knows where we'd go from there? But the opportunity to produce--to move towards a negotiated diplomatic settlement does not seem outlandish. I mean, this Chinese-North Korean proposal is certainly worth serious consideration, I would think.

After labeling Iraq, Iran, and North Korea an "Axis of Evil" and then invading Iraq, it shouldn't be a surprise that the other two countries want nuclear weapons.

Chomsky also looks at the older history (the one that goes back more than the NYT's quarter century):

And it's worth bearing in mind that North Korea has some memories. They were practically destroyed by some of the most intensive bombing in history. The bombing--you should--it's worth reading. Maybe you should read, people, the official Air Force history of the bombing of North Korea. It's shattering. I mean, they had flattened the country. There were no targets left. So, therefore, they decided, well, we'll attack the dams--which is a war crime, of course. And the description of the attack on the dams is--without the exact wording, I hate to paraphrase it. You should really read the--they were simply exalting, in the official histories, Air Force Quarterly and others, about the--how magnificent it will be to see this massive flood of water coursing through North Korea, wiping out crops. For Asians, the rice crops is their life. This will destroy them. It will be magnificent. The North Koreans lived through that. And having nuclear-capable B-52s flying on their border is not a joke.

And now for the Nation's review of South Korea's perspective (i recommend reading the whole thing and also clicking through to the article by ´╗┐Bruce Cumings which expands on what Chomskey said above, but here are some excerpts):

With the exception of a tiny minority of fanatical anti-communists, South Koreans have largely been unfazed by the headlines. "I'm much more worried about anything President Trump might do than the threats of war and retaliation from North Korea," a friend of mine who teaches engineering at a local university in Gwangju told me over dinner one night.
South Korea will choose its next president on May 9. The two leading candidates, the liberal Moon Jae-in and the more centrist Ahn Cheol-soo, have wide leads over the likely conservative candidate, Hong Jun-pyo. The United States has been closely following the election with growing trepidation. As I reported last year before Park was deposed, US military officials and analysts have expressed alarm that the left opposition could win this year.
´╗┐Moon has staked out a position very different from Trump's: He has called for direct dialogue and negotiations with North Korea and a reopening of the economic cooperation with the North championed by Roh and Kim Dae-jung, the beloved opposition leader who was president in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

These ideas are very attractive to Koreans tired of the years-long dispute between Pyongyang and Washington. "We in South Korea can do this on our own initiative," one of my colleagues at the Gwangju City Archives told me over lunch on Monday, referring to Kim's "Sunshine" policies toward the North. A professor of European industrial history at a nearby university told me many Koreans are convinced that the United States wants to maintain the North as an enemy to "help your military industry."

Meanwhile, at their first group debate on April 13, both Moon and Ahn expressed strong opposition to a unilateral US pre-emptive strike and emphasized that South Korea must play a lead role in any dealings with North Korea or China. The candidates are now running neck and neck, and either one could win the presidency.

That will likely force a change in Trump's policy, away from confrontation and back to the combination of sanctions and military strength emphasized by the Obama administration.

It seems to me it's more that if Ahn wins, the policy might go back to Obama's, but if Moon wins it might be something even better: a real start to de-escalation and possibly (eventually) even reunification. In fact, reading between the lines, it almost seems like the Trump administration's recent escalation is an attempt to swing the election, to get South Koreans to be afraid of North Korea again and vote more conservatively. But hopefully it won't work.

In a stinging editorial on Easter Sunday, the Hankyoreh newspaper, which was founded by journalists purged during the authoritarian 1970s and '80s, blamed both sides for aggravating tensions.

"A military clash on the Korean Peninsula would have disastrous consequences not only for North and South Korea but also for all neighboring countries," the newspaper said. "That is why we will never agree with hardliners who are willing to go to war and who see war as inevitable. The brinkmanship of the U.S. and North Korea, which appear to be engaged in a battle of nerves, is tantamount to taking hostage the entire populations of North and South Korea."

I think it would be really amazing and positive if Moon won the election and began to defuse the situation between North and South Korea, leaving the US on the sidelines.

(Title for this post, in an attempt to lighten the mood, is from Mike Sterling.)

By fnord12 | April 18, 2017, 8:43 AM | Liberal Outrage