Saturday, June 20, 2009

North Korea, Nuclear Proliferation and Peaceful Co-existence

With regard to North Korea and Kim Jong-il's current pursuit of nuclear weapons, I suppose all of you have probably not only noticed, but wondered, at my silence on that topic given the gravity of its implications and the significance of the moment as well as my penchant for remarking on all the significant news of each day. It is a complex issue.

One main consideration is this: How can the US morally and ethically repudiate North Korea for doing the same thing it did years ago? I mean, after all, the US, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel have all conducted research into nuclear weapon technology, have all developed nuclear weapons, and have all tested the efficacy of their nuclear weapons. Most of those nations have also developed missile delivery systems and have tested those systems as well. North Korea is doing nothing these other nations have not all done at one time or another. Furthermore, at the times when India and Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons, they were both chastised for it and the world was just as concerned about their likelihood of using those weapons (potentially against one another) as it is today about North Korea's possible use of nuclear weapons.

Another major consideration is: By what right do we assume the moral authority to tell other nations they may not aspire to acquire or actually develop the same military technology possessed by the US, Russia (and other former Soviet satellite nations which possess nuclear weapons in the aftermath of the dissolution of the Soviet Union), Great Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel (nuclear weapons)? Certainly, there is a need for non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and to avoid creating new arms races among and between currently non-nuclear weaponized states. However, there cannot be any moral authority on an issue which supports the continued possession of specific weapons by some nations and a denial to all others regarding their self-interest right to develop the same level of military proficiency as a defensive measure to prevent the possible attack and invasion of the weaker state by stronger, nuclear armed nations.

Consequently, the stand the US, the UN Security Council and the UN body in general take on this issue is nothing short of elitist hypocrisy which preserves the status quo to the detriment of all non-nuclear weaponized nations on the theory that the nuclear weaponized nations will benevolently assure the sanctity and safety of the lesser military powers in perpetuity. This guarantee is impossible to assure, as any quick glance at the collapse of the Roman Empire will reveal.

That said, I also see the value in preventing Kim Jong-il specifically, and all non-nuclear powers generally, from obtaining nuclear weapons as a practical matter.

I think nations like Syria, Iran and North Korea feel caught between the rock and the hard place. They watch the US, time and again, act like a bully on the block and invade some smaller, weaker, more poorly armed country and destroy the stability of that nation as well as those peoples' way of life. They have to feel, on some level, that if they only had nuclear weapons to brandish, they could at least pose a greater threat to the US if it intended to invade, which might make the US more reluctant to actually conduct an invasion. Furthermore, ancient and recent enmity and war with Israel leaves Syria and Iran (and other arab states) feeling extremely vulnerable to a potential Israeli first strike given that the Israelis possess a nuclear capability. This has to be an even greater concern given the effectiveness of the Israeli military in 1967's Six Day War and 1973's Yom Kippur War, as well as the ongoing hostility with Palestinians due to the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and the West Bank and the police state tactics imposed by Israel on Palestinians, as well as ongoing battles with both the government of Lebanon at times and the Hezbollah faction within Lebanon at other times in addition to continuing conflict with first the PLO and now Hamas among Palestinians. I'd suggest they are entitled to some sense of security, though I also have to admit, the idea of these other countries having nuclear weapons scares me.

Nonetheless, people were scared when the Soviet Union developed The Bomb. People were scared when China developed The Bomb. People were scared when the former Soviet Union dissolved and various SSRs became nations who possessed The Bomb (and people remain frightened of that circumstance). People were scared when India and Pakistan developed The Bomb. Yet, among all these nations who possess nuclear weapons, it remains true that only the US has ever actually detonated a nuclear device against another nation (twice). In fact, the US has a history of using a variety of weapons of mass destruction, from the Atomic Bomb during WWII against Japan in Nagasaki and Hiroshima to napalm against North Vietnam and the NLF in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to Agent Orange in Vietnam in as widespread a use as described for napalm to white phosphorous in Falloujah, Iraq, just to provide the best known examples. Hence, nations who fear a potential pre-emptive strike by the US such as North Korea, Syria and Iran all fear the likely American use of WMDs in any war they'd have to wage to preserve their existence and their way of life. It is no wonder these nations seek to possess nuclear weapons. They feel they need these weapons as tactical threats against any invading force to prevent pre-emptive invasions.

I am particularly frightened of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' announced response to North Korea's declared intention of conducting additional tests for either their nuclear weapons, their missile delivery systems, or both: that he intends to beef up Hawaii's security with ABMs, etc. First, to escalate an arms race only hardens North Korea in its position vis-a-vis its perceived need to possess nuclear weapons to deter the US from considering aggression. Second, if the US decides to shoot down one of Korea's tests, that could be perceived as an act of war and could actually lead to the nuclear confrontation everyone claims they are trying to avoid. The same may be true of any attempt to intercept the North Korean ship which so-called military intelligence claims is carrying some kind of nuclear technology. Even if a nuclear confrontation is not the result, the North Koreans might attack South Korea and restart the hostilities which ended in the 50s all over again. They could even attack Japan. That would put China in a hard place, too, because they are still committed by treaty to defend aggression against North Korea.

Part of me thinks, if the US feels the need to show North Korea it can shoot down their missiles, then why not launch an American missile from a South Korean site and shoot it down from Hawaii. Then, the US cannot be perceived as attacking a North Korean asset. They may still take it as an act of war, but they'd be hard pressed to feel the need to strike back given the US wouldn't have destroyed their weapon.

The real way to diffuse the situation is to make North Korea feel less threatened. When you back a frightened animal into a corner, it will strike out in a frightened, angry response. But, if you back up and offer it an avenue of escape marked by food treats, the animal will relax, come out of the corner and be calm. North Korea's economy is in severe straits. The people are barely eating. As China has become more Western involved, especially economically, North Korea has been more isolated in the world. The way to diffuse North Korea's sense of isolation and endangerment, and the fear which arises as a result, is to find a way to bring North Korea more into the world community, not make them a greater pariah; assure them of their sovereignty and safety, not make them feel more threatened; and assist them to improve their economic situation so they feel they have a stake in maintaining positive relations with the West. If North Korea feels it has nothing to lose because it has nothing and no place in the world, threatening to destroy everything (and possibly following through on that threat) looms as a viable strategy. However, engage North Korea in mutually enriching economic endeavors and a mutually assured sense of national security, and North Korea will have a stake in maintaining and preserving agreements into which it enters.

The same strategy applies to Iran and Syria. If the world engages those nations in a manner which assures them of national security, accepts their culture and "way of life," confirms them with respect and dignity, and engages them in mutually beneficial economic ties, those nations will have a greater stake in preserving the world order which is relied upon to perpetuate that sense of place in the world. The more US strategies seek to isolate, punish, repudiate and destabilize those nations, the less they will invest in any desire to mesh with the world in mutually respectful interrelationships which require all parties to recognize they have a significant stake in maintaining a harmonious world order.

You catch more bees with honey than vinegar...

The US likes to say that rogue nations pose the greatest threat to world stability because they sell arms to dangerous groups. The fact is, the US armed and funded Al Qaeda and the Taliban when Al Qaeda was known as the Mujahedeen and the two fought the Soviet Union. The US gave the WMDs to Iraq which Saddam used against Iran and his own people. The US GAO determined that arms which are fueling the rise of violence by Mexico's drug cartels are mainly smuggled into the country from the US. The L.A. Times stated that according to the GAO, "One of its findings was that more than 90% of the firearms traced by authorities after being seized in Mexico over the last three years came from the United States." A recent report released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute states that, "Together [the United States, Russia, Germany, France and United Kingdom] accounted for 79 per cent of the volume of [military arms] exports for 2004–2008. They have been the top five suppliers since the end of the cold war and have accounted for at least three-quarters of all exports annually."

The truth is that the majority of the most feared armaments in the world are controlled by nations who are not considered rogue nations and that those armaments are constantly for sale to anyone with the funds to purchase them. The US desire to create a new missile "defense" system in eastern Europe has led to concerns in Russia to a degree that Russia now is refusing to proceed with the US on a new deal for deep cuts in strategic nuclear weapons to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty which expires in December, and if allowed to expire, could result in a new arms race with Russia.

There is as great a danger that nuclear materials might be sold to "terrorists" by former satellites of the Soviet Union as by any "rogue" nation which might acquire the technology. The reality is that in these difficult economic times, a former SSR might find it economically expedient to make such a sale, whereas any rogue nation who fears a possible invasion by the US is more apt to feel the need to keep their most valuable military assets so they can have them to use in the event of such an invasion. The whole point for North Korea or Iran to developing nuclear weapons with a delivery system is not to sell them to terrorists who would not be capable of using the delivery system. No, the point is to have those weapons as a deterrent to potential US military action against that country (and in Iran's case to prevent Israel from either a pre-emptive invasion, air attack or even limited use of nuclear weapons, all of which Israel has discussed within the last 2 years). There is no incentive whatsoever for North Korea or Iran to divest itself of its most valuable military asset and to suggest either nation would merely jumbles all notions of logic when applied to the notion.

What all citizens of the world really need in order to feel secure in the future is a completely denuclearized world. If we really want to be free of the threat of nuclear attack, we must live in a world without nuclear arms. However, in order to assure such a world would remain free of nuclear arms, all nuclear power plants and, indeed, all nuclear technology, would have to be forsaken. This is the only way to assure there will never be another nuclear explosion on the planet, that no nation will have to fear nuclear arms falling into the hands of aggressive and dangerous rogue states or terrorist organizations. Anything less, and the danger will always exist. Suggesting that by preventing nations like Iran and North Korea from developing nuclear arms capabilities we can prevent a calamity is neither a true statement nor an ethical one to make.

So, all in all, you can say I am suggesting a compassionate approach. You can say I am suggesting an inclusive and cooperative approach. You can say I am suggesting applying understanding and mutual respect. You can say I am suggesting acceptance of the other side, because as it was shown after Nixon went to China, the years of economic and political ties between the West and China have only led to a more secure world in which all parties now are invested in maintaining cooperative and peaceful relations with each other. Only by reaching out and offering hope to ones adversaries can one diffuse potentially destructive urges or situations and create a new climate of respect, acceptance, cooperation and ultimately peace.

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