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s the Korean Demilitarized Zone poised to become “ground zero for the end of the world”?

The Korean Peninsula: Ground Zero for Armageddon?  May 30, 2017 By Simone ChunTruthout | News Analysis  Is the Korean Demilitarized Zone poised to become “ground zero for the end of the world”? Historian Bruce Cumings, the author of The Origins of the Korean War, raised this question in a recent article for the London Review of Books, and judging by a series of exchanges between the United States and North Korea in recent weeks, the possibility may not be as remote as it once seemed.

In April, North Korea warned of the imminence of “a thermonuclear war,” a prospect seemingly acknowledged by President Trump’s declaration that, “We could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea.” On May 2, a US carrier strike group patrolled the waters off the Korean Peninsula in anticipation of North Korea’s sixth nuclear test, which never happened. Nevertheless, on May 14, Pyongyang test-fired a new class of missile into the waters between the North and neighboring Japan, prompting the US to move a second heavily armed carrier strike group, equipped with Aegis missile defense systems, to the Korean Peninsula. These two strike groups, which jointly field a total of some 160-attack aircraft and are escorted by substantial support fleets, considerably raise the stakes in the region.

According to Cumings, the latest high-stakes exchanges between the United States and North Korea are a continuation of six decades of US foreign policy which, “Since the very beginning … has cycled through a menu of options to try and control the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea].” According to The New Yorker, in this asymmetric conflict, North Korea uses “belligerent propaganda — not to mention nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles” to counter what it perceives as a persistent existential threat from the United States.

Noam Chomsky has described the current situation as the logical outcome of the propensity of the United States to “play with fire” rather than making genuine efforts to achieve denuclearization: “Over and over again,” he observes, “There are possibilities of diplomacy and negotiation … which are abandoned, dismissed, literally without comment, in favor of increased force and violence.”

Republicans and Democrats have historically shown great unity in this approach toward North Korea, with the notable exception of the Clinton administration, whose direct talks with Pyongyang achieved an eight-year freeze on all North Korean plutonium production (from 1994-2002). However, in 2001, George W. Bush abruptly inducted North Korea into the “axis of evil,” prompting Pyongyang to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and return to the reasoning that nuclear weapons alone could prevent an inevitable full-scale attack by the US in the future.

More recently, President Obama’s much-touted “pivot” to Asia — essentially a policy of isolating North Korea while boosting Japanese militarism — has succeeded only in laying the groundwork for a new regional cold war. Under the Trump administration, the pivot to Asia is overtly accelerating the militarization of the entire region, with some $7.5 billion being invested to boost infrastructure, equipment, and new troop and asset deployments. This amount accounts for nearly 14 percent of the total $54 billion increase in military spending requested by the Trump administration.​

North Korea experts point out that, “Even with its nuclear program, North Korea is a weak country with an outdated military and a very small population,” incapable of anything but an insignificant military threat to the US. Yet US mainstream media pundits and government officials have tirelessly molded public perception of North Korea, portraying it as a determined, bristling adversary bent on raining destruction upon the US mainland with little or no provocation. Rounding out the propaganda image of the fearsomely irreconcilable foe, North Korean leadership itself is regularly depicted as irrational by the US, and often labeled with pseudo-psychiatric diagnoses. Most recently at the UN, US Ambassador Nikki Haley endeavored to display her psychiatric insight by “get[ting] into Kim Jong-un’s head,” and pronouncing him to be “in a state of paranoia … incredibly concerned about anything and everything around him.”

Such sophomoric appraisals of North Korea, while lacking historical and analytical perspective, play well to public fears. The characterization of North Korea as the unequivocally irrational and constantly threatening “other” have skewed US public opinion over the span of six decades. Pew public opinion polls show that “78% of Americans now have an unfavorable view of the North, with 61% holding a very unfavorable view.”…….

Nevertheless, American voices are increasingly calling for a new dialogue between the US and North Korea, for even though Americans by and large view North Korea as “the enemy,” an Economist/YouGov poll conducted in May 2017 found that 60 percent of Americans supported direct negotiations between the United States and North Korea. This statistic in itself speaks volumes, and shows that even in the worst of times, humans hope for commonality and view interpersonal interaction as a catalyst that has the potential of triggering positive change.

Officials on both sides of the Pacific have also begun renewed calls for dialogue amid heightening tensions. The new South Korean President Moon Jae-in was elected with a strong mandate for engagement with North Korea, and has promised a renewed emphasis on diplomacy and rapprochement. Even Pentagon chief James Mattis, noting the grave risks of open conflict, has reiterated the US commitment to working with allies in order to arrive at a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear stalemate.

As former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry recently noted, opportunities for peace and security in Northeast Asia still exist in the midst of conflict, awaiting only the political will and foresight to actualize them: “We now have the opportunity for a new approach to diplomacy. Will we have the wisdom to seize it?”

An overt shift toward diplomacy would be a welcome development for the many Koreans who still dream of an end to the painful schism imposed on their collective psyche by six decades of hostility and separation. David Kang, a Korean studies scholar at the University of Southern California, dreams of crossing the Korean Demilitarized Zone with his 81-year-old father to visit the site of the elder Kang’s hometown, which was destroyed during the height of the Korean War. “I would love to fly to Seoul with my father” he says, “and drive together to where he was born.”

Dr. Simone Chun has taught at Northeastern University in Boston, and served as an associate in research at Harvard University’s Korea Institute. She is an active member of the Korea Peace Network, and a member of the steering committee of the Alliance of Scholars Concerned about Korea.


May 31, 2017 - Posted by | North Korea, politics international

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