Monday, 4 September 2017

North Korea and Bad Faith



















“America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests." Kissinger's cynical truism applies to any state at any time, there is no US exceptionalism here. And we see this coming to the fore over North Korea's latest nuclear test, said to be their first hydrogen bomb. As an underground test all we have to worry about is the fall out of bad faith and disingenuous position-taking, but it's no less poisonous. At the United Nations earlier today, the US got on its high horse and attacked the Kim regime for his "abusive use of missiles" and accused him of "begging for war". Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, went on to say her country didn't want war but their patience "is not unlimited". Haley's UK counterpart, Matthew Rycroft veered away from the war rhetoric and called on the North to stop its brinkmanship and head to talks. If there isn't a sign of serious intent, however that is defined, talks are doomed to failure without a measure of good faith on the Kim regime's part.

As we've seen before, North Korea isn't mad. The regime is disgusting, but it is not stupid. Kim Jong-un doesn't head up a death cult. He, like every other Stalinist despot to have blighted world history has an overriding interest in keeping the apparatus on the road and his flabby ass in the driving seat. As far as the North is concerned, that would mean such a readjustment to international relations so the government would feel able to divert capital and resource away from the military and modernising the decrepit and rotting economy. China is the vision: a society catching up with the West carrying a monstrous dictatorship on its back. However, Kim has learned a very valuable lesson from recent history. Regimes that earn the displeasure of the United States and its allies tend not to last very long, especially if they lack the means to deter attack. George W Bush and Tony Blair went to war precisely because Saddam Hussein lacked weapons of mass destruction. Britain and France felt empowered to "rescue" the Arab Spring in Libya precisely because Colonel Gaddafi had abandoned his weapons programme.

Here's where the bad faith comes in. How the US can condemn any country for "abusive use of missiles" when it regularly turns the skies over the Middle East black with smoke from its cruise missile strikes. How can the US condemn North Korea for developing nuclear weapons when it previously had tactical nuclear weapons attached to its military presence in South Korea, and can target the north with land and sea-based ICBMs at a whim? And how can the US lecture the Kim regime on peace when Dubya himself vetoed a non-aggression treaty, something which the Clinton administration had put some time and effort into achieving?

Blaming China, as Trump stupidly does at every opportunity is wrong as well. China has a clear interest in maintaining the North as a buffer for a number of reasons. A reunited Korea would be a powerful and wealthy neighbour in its own right, and one enjoying considerably more freedoms than Chinese citizens. The government has a hard enough time keeping a lid on the clamour for democratic reform, the strike waves and peasant struggles that regularly convulse the country, as well as the allure of Western-style consumerism and its more individuated and open culture. Having an advanced capitalist state right on the border presents a threat in the medium and long-term. In the short, if the south gobbles the north that means freer range for the US military as well as the possibility of millions of refugees. There are also limits to what the Chinese can do re: the North. They can browbeat and arm-twist, but Kim and his henchmen are fully aware of the interests its large neighbour has in making sure the regime doesn't go under. Furthermore, turning off the oil and implementing sanctions from the Chinese side make things much less stable. A harsh winter without fuel imports could collapse the regime, create the refugee problem, and let the nuclear technology and expertise vanish into the who knows where. Like Kim, Xi would like his and his party's monopoly on power to continue.

Anyone with a hint of humanity would like to see the North Korean regime fall and Kim and his lackeys brought to account for their crimes. But, presumably, because leftists and socialists care about human life we have to think about the best way of doing this. Letting the appalling, blood-curdling rhetoric dominate the headlines and causing millions in Korea and elsewhere to fear their lives might evaporate in an instant is not sustainable. The longer the stand off, the greater the chance of something horrendous happening. Perversely, the best way of bringing Kim down is by normalising relations, by allowing the economy to open and develop, to let foreign capital flood in with the kinds of values and aspirations that, ultimately, tend to something better than the Orwellian hell of Stalinism and, eventually, neoliberal capitalism. Here, the Chinese are right and the British government is wrong. It's not for the North to make a statement of intent, it's the responsibility of both sides to do so. Because pushing Kim further into the corner to the point where there is nothing left to lose, that's when the situation becomes its most dangerous.

3 comments:

Ben Philliskirk said...

"A reunited Korea would be a powerful and wealthy neighbour in its own right, and one enjoying considerably more freedoms than Chinese citizens."

In a dream world. The sheer economic, social, political and environmental dislocation caused by the unification of Korea would take generations to deal with, which is why nobody is very keen on it.

Anonymous said...

"A reunited Korea would be a powerful and wealthy neighbour in its own right, and one enjoying considerably more freedoms than Chinese citizens. The government has a hard enough time keeping a lid on the clamour for democratic reform, the strike waves and peasant struggles that regularly convulse the country, as well as the allure of Western-style consumerism and its more individuated and open culture."

really Phil, you write this and call yourself a socialogist?

Anonymous said...

It's worth reading how the Korean War started and how America behaved as well as its ally South Korean dictator Rhee who committed more atrocities against his own people than the northerners did. America lied about the start of it, as they later did about vietnam. They carpet bombed the north, used napalm and caused millions of deaths by damaging rice fields as well, and they were part of the occupation of it. If North Korea's leaders are paranoid, it's with good reason. American and South Korean exercises/war games don't help. You don't have to be a supporter of North Korea to want to be critical of the west's attitude and propaganda. Some honest British journalists at the time told the story, e.g. James Cameron. And if the nuclear powers were sincere and active about non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, we wouldn't be in this dangerous situation, given how erratic the us president is.
For further background read Jon Halliday' chapter in the 1984 socialist register ed. miliband, saville and liebman, merlin press