Yesterday North Korea claimed that it has processed enough plutonium to make six nuclear weapons. I’ve often argued that wars don’t begin when the shooting actually begins, that we need to look at the militaristic decisions made years before to see how they planted the seeds for war. After the First World War, the victorious allies constructed a peace treaty designed to humiliate Germany and keep its economy stagnant. With the onslaught of the Great Depression, the country was ripe for a mad demagogue like Hitler to take over with talk of a Greater Germany.
In his January 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush’s team added North Korea to the “axis of evil” that needed to be challenged. By all accounts it was a last minute addition. The speechwriting team never bothered to consult with the State Department’s East Asia experts. In all likelihood North Korea was added so that the evil three countries wouldn’t all be Muslim (the other two were Iraq and Iran) and the “War on Terror” wouldn’t be seen as a war against Islam.
North Korea saw a bulldog president in the White House and judged that its best chance to stay safe was to make a U.S. attack too dangerous to contemplate. It’s a sound strategy, really only a variation on the Cold War’s “Mutually Assured Destruction” doctrine. When faced with a hostile and militaristically-strong country that wants to overthrow your government, you make yourself too dangerous to take on. Let’s call it the Rattlesnake Defense.
Militarism reinforces itself when countries beef up their militaries to stave off the militaries of other countries. With North Korea going nuclear, pressure will now build on South Korea, China and Japan to defend themselves against possible threat. We might be in for a new East Asian arms race, perhaps an East Asian Cold War. Being a pacifist means stopping not only the current war but the next one and the one after that. In the 1980s activists were speaking out against the brutal régime of Saddam Hussein, an American friend who was gassing his own people. Now we need to speak out against the cowboy politics that is feeding instability on the Korean Peninsula, to prevent the horror and mass death that a Second Korean War would unleash.