Asif Haroon Raja
THE US-North Korea antagonism has its roots in the 1952-3 Korean War which had divided the country. While North Korea is backed by Russia and China, South Korea is protected by the US and it has a large military presence in the country. In order to ward off impending danger posed by USA and its allies, North Korea despite being an impoverished country, developed nuclear bombs and missiles, causing deep anxieties to USA and its allies South Korea and Japan. The US imposed sanctions in response to Pyongyang’s defiance of previous UN resolutions banning the testing of ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads.
When North Korea launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in July 2017, which many analysts believe are capable of hitting the US mainland, the US piled on more sanctions in August 2017, which further inflamed tensions. Russia and China bear a measure of responsibility for the latest outburst. The two strategic partners voted unanimously at the Security Council to support US calls to further load North Korea with economic sanctions. They made a big mistake since the move has only spiraled strains and has encouraged the Americans in their incorrigibly aggressive temperament. Moscow and Beijing, more than anyone else, should know that sanctions more often prove counterproductive. They are a weapon of war-making and a sinister ancillary for diplomacy.
Pyongyang condemned the latest round of sanctions as a despicable violation of its sovereignty. It argued that the US has thousands of nuclear weapons capable of hitting North Korea and has also installed this year a new missile system, the THAAD, in South Korea, which gives it a first strike advantage. Given the array of American offensive military forces, the repeated verbal threats of “all options on the table”, the nuclear-capable B-1 bombers flying from Guam over the Korean Peninsula, and now the latest enflaming up of sanctions, North Korea perceives it an existential danger and says that it has the right to protect its integrity and sovereignty by developing military self-defence.
The latest sanctions are extremely harsh and punishing when seen in context with poor economy of North Korea and plight of its populace. The nation’s top exports of coal, minerals and seafood are to be banned, which would dry up its already insignificant export revenue by one-third, going from $3 billion to $2 billion a year. Miffed by Pyongyang’s recent ICBM tests, the US President Trump, a product of gung-ho political culture of the United States, in his bid to add more teeth to sanctions warned North Korea that the country would “face fire and fury, the like of which the world has never seen before”. Trump’s threat came on the heels of a report by the Washington Post indicating that Pyongyang had “successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles.”
His outrageously incongruous remarks and threat of annihilation shocked the Americans. It drew adverse comments from some politicians and media in USA. Many opined his choice of words were grotesque. Hawkish John McCain said it were not helpful in the current spiral of tensions. Other members of the US Congress also deplored Trump’s rash rhetoric. He was compared with North Korean leader Kim Jung-un, commonly portrayed by American politicians and media as “a nut-job”. One lawmaker, New York Representative Eliot Engel, called Trump’s rhetoric “unhinged”. It intensified the upsurge of calls to strip Trump of his nuclear-strike authority. Activists and lawmakers urged Congress to revive legislation that would strip the executive branch of the power to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike. “Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) wrote. “No U.S. President, certainly not Trump, should have sole authority to initiate an unprovoked nuclear war,”
Given numerous threats already from the US that it is prepared to use pre-emptive military force against North Korea, the words from Trump implying a catastrophic attack worse than the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are indeed feloniously reckless. Such words coming on the 72nd anniversary of the US dropping two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki — killing over 200,000 people — are grotesque. The situation became more alarming when the US military commander pugnaciously hurled a war threat. The Kim Jong-un regime responded just hours after Trump’s remarks, promising to hasten “the tragic end of the American empire” and announcing it would review plans to “strike areas around the U.S. airbase on the Pacific island of Guam,” where the U.S. maintains large military bases, “with medium-to-long-range strategic ballistic missiles and envelope it in fire”. Pyongyang uses this kind of emotional rhetoric frequently, threatening to turn the US and its allies in South Korea and Japan into “a sea of fire”.
Seeing that sabre rattling was spiraling out of control, Russia and China have called for composure and for dialogue to resolve the long-running conflict on the Korean Peninsula, which has seen recurring tensions ever since the end of the Korean War in 1953. It cannot be denied that America is part of the problem. Ever since the end of the Korean War, the persistent presence of American military forces on the Korean Peninsula is a never-ending source of conflict. Russia and China are correctly advocating instantaneous all-party talks for the region, involving the two Koreas. But slapping sanctions on one side is wrong, especially given the ongoing war threats issued by the US. Russia and China have a central role to play in order to make the US come to its senses and step back from a disastrous war. But given the American hubris and sanctimonious ness to wage criminal wars, and given the hawkish state of mind of its Commander-in-Chief, possibility of making the US behave like a normal law-abiding and peace-loving nation is slim.
While North Korea is rightly worried about its survival, and is justified in taking measures to protect itself, the US with a track record of destroying nations, capturing sovereign countries, affecting regime changes and stoking proxy wars, is the world’s biggest rogue state. Its USA and not North Korea which needs to be sanctioned and prosecuted. As long as it reserves the right to unilaterally threaten and attack any nation, and even drop atomic bombs on civilian centers, the world will always be in severe danger. It was wrong on part of Russia and China to impose sanctions on North Korea at the call of USA. It’s just like feeding a monster which destroyed Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, bisected Sudan and bloodied Pakistan. USA has made the world unsafe. The two countries stand at the cusp of nuclear war. One slipup, one miscalculation, could launch a nuclear war in the region. There is growing fear that the U.S. under crazy Trump is inching closer to nuclear war. CIA Director Mike Pompeo suspects that Pyongyang may undertake another missile test and may strike the US mainland. There are wide calls in USA to de-escalate tensions so that diplomacy could work. A petition with over 57,000 signatures, reads: “Stop the insanity. Don’t provoke a war with North Korea.”
—The writer, retired Brig, is war veteran, defence analyst, columnist and author of five books including two on Kashmir.
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Asif Haroon Raja