North Korean nukes and cowboy politics

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.

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