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North Korea and US: War is an option whose time has long passed

Yonela Diko is currently the Spokesperson of the African National Congress (ANC) in the Western Cape. Prior to assuming his role in the ANC, he worked in various companies in the private sector. Between 2007-2009 he worked for one of the Leading Retirement Fund Companies, NBC Holdings as an Employee Benefits Consultant. After that he joined the Corporate Strategy and Industrial Development (CSID), an Economic Research Unit housed under the School of Economics at Wits University. He did his BCom degree at the University of Cape Town majoring in Economics.

The United States of America and North Korea are effectively in a state of war. North Korea has finally achieved the unthinkable. They have produced an Intercontinental Nuclear Warhead that is capable of reaching US cities and Korea’s usual threats have suddenly taken a more sombre and war-ready tone.

While America is among the nine countries that continue to possess the estimated 16,300 nuclear warheads that exist in the world, with North Korea now joining the club, their leader Kim Jong-un has become more arrogant and more foolhardy, in a way his father and grandfather could never be, and this to many is because he is finally capable of matching this vitriol with deed.

So, what if a nuclear device were to detonate in an urban area today? What would happen if a 10-kiloton nuclear explosive went off in downtown New York City, at Madison Square Garden, or Park and Lexington Avenues?

According to the federal emergency management agency, what would happen is that the half-mile radius around the bomb would have a low chance of survival and most buildings – including those of federal government meant to be the responsive units – would be utterly destroyed. The next half mile would suffer extensive damage, fires and serious injuries, and those within three miles could suffer minor injuries and slight damage to their homes. The area hit by a nuclear bomb would not be habitable for 100 years.

This would mean cities that have taken over 200 years to build, cities like Boston, Washington DC, the wealth of Manhattan, would be destroyed at a single trigger and not to be habitable for decades on end. There is not a single American who thinks that is an acceptable loss, even when that is compared to the utter annihilation of the entire North Korea. One nuclear explosive would cause an unthinkable and unacceptable loss of life, loss of livelihoods, a damage to a metropole that would create a void so big America would never recover.

After Trump warned North Korea that it risks the destruction of its people if it were to attack the United States, many experts have said that in fact Trump is risking the destruction of all people. The cost to both the US and North Korea of a full-scale nuclear war would far exceed any conceivable benefit.

How did we get here? What is the source of the America-North Korea antagonism? According to Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School, The Korean War never really ended. The 1953 armistice merely ended the most active phase of the conflict, but more than a million troops still face each other across a demilitarised zone (DMZ) less than three miles wide.

The Korean War (Fatherland Liberation War) of 25 June 1950-27 July 1953) began when North Korea invaded South Korea. The United Nations, with the United States as the principal force, came to the aid of South Korea. The real war of course was between Soviet Union and United States who both came into North Korea and South Korea respectively.

Between 1966 and 1969, there were more than 280 North Korean attacks on Americans or South Koreans around the DMZ. North Korean commandos staged attacks on the presidential mansion in Seoul and North Korean forces seized the USS Pueblo, a US Navy intelligence-gathering ship operating in international waters off the North Korean coast, and took hostage all the ship’s personnel.

Only after President Lyndon B. Johnson dispatched the USS Enterprise battle group did the North Koreans even agree to discuss the Pueblo but when North Korean leader Kim Il-sung concluded that American military force was off the table, talks went nowhere. It was almost a year before the North Koreans released the Pueblo’s crew, and then only after General Gilbert Woodward signed a humiliating “confession” on behalf of the US government.

North Korea over the years has always coupled provocation with outreach. On April 15, 1969 – Kim Il-sung’s birthday – and just days after North Korean officials proposed a meeting in the DMZ, two North Korean MiG-21s shot down an unarmed US surveillance aircraft over the Sea of Japan, killing 31 American servicemen.

This provocation and outreach has characterised the North Korea-US relationship for the last 50 years. It’s clear that North Korea has been biding its time to finally be able to put the United States in this position where they have no choice but to negotiate or lose big.

In the 19th century the German military strategist Carl von Clausewitz called war “the continuation of political activity by other means”. The modern world however is very complex and Trump and Kim Jong-un seem to take comfort in simple answers. What they fail to recognise is that for every complicated problem there is a simple answer – and it’s usually wrong. Trump’s “fire and fury” speech may be profoundly reassuring to those who otherwise would be profoundly confused by the dilemma North Korea possession of nuclear weapon poses. In the age of nuclear warfare, to continue our political difference by means of warfare to is not an option because our mutual survival depends on finding ways to manage the differences without war.

Today, any guerrilla, no matter how obscure his cause or remote his country, can fire a shot that will be heard around the world. Kim Jong-un has realised this and even if he is in possession of one nuclear weapon, he can cause unbearable damage that will reverberate throughout the world and cause untold devastation.

A joint recognition of the harsh reality is that the US and North Korea have profound, irreconcilable differences but their survival depends on finding ways to manage their differences without war. There is unlikely to be a time when all differences between nations have been overcome, all ambitions forsworn, all aggravations or selfish impulses transformed into acts of individual and national beneficence. If we are to make any progress towards real peace we must accept the fact that war results from unresolved political differences, not from the existence of arms. There is no other way to know just what these political differences are except by talking to one another directly. Dialogue is not a sign of weakness or a silver bullet to ending differences and preventing war, but it is the only way to understand just what is the cause of the differences.

So what does North Korea’s Kim Jong-un want? What are the political, social and economic tensions that have led to conflict? Pursuing an arms race without dealing with nation-to-nation problems at the same time would be the ultimate example of treating a symptom while letting the disease run its brutal course. Arms build-up is a result of these symptoms, not the cause of them.

The US has spent little time understanding Kim Jong-un and more time hurling sanctions at him at the slight provocation. There are many who have thought cutting off all trade and negotiations, intensifying sanctions, will isolate and weaken North Korea’s King Jong-un. This has not happened. The government has not collapsed and will not collapse. He has simply squeezed his people with brutal austerities and his people will take it. Outside confrontation and isolation can strengthen a dictatorship.

Hard-headed negotiations and contact with the outside world is the only way to diminish Kim Jong-un’s powers, otherwise he will continue to build armaments without restraint while firing salvos of hot rhetoric.

The constant refusal to engage North Korea has pushed them into the orbit of their inexperienced Young Leader who like his immature American counterpart live on the whims of their invented illusions of invincibility and power.

It’s time for more mature politicians to take over the international space and bring lasting solutions before these children destroy civilisation itself. DM


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