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Has the softening of North Korea’s image made it harder for the USA hawks to strike?

Has North Korea’s week at the Winter Olympics diminished the nuclear threat? Guardian,  Tania Branigan, 15 Feb 18,  “……Pyongyang has no intention of giving up its nuclear programme, as Washington demands. Although it has in the past committed itself to peaceful reunification, no one believes it is willing to change in the way that it would be needed. The real issue is that the doomsday clock is ticking closer to midnight since the election of Donald Trump – and any attempt to halt the hands is welcome.

The North is increasingly close to developing a nuclear-tipped ICBM that can hit the continental US. Washington knows it cannot destroy all the country’s capabilities – so hawks are now arguing for a “bloody nose” strategy to warn Kim Jong-un off threatening the US (though he must know any attack would be suicidal). Seoul, just 35 miles from the border, would bear the brunt of any retaliation. A conflict could kill tens of thousands and potentially draw in other regional powers, including China.

 “There’s a real concern that for the first time there is a US administration that could take unilateral action against North Korea without consulting the South,” says Professor Hazel Smith of the centre of Korean studies at Soas Univeristy of London. “People are pushing, virtually preparing, for a so-called ‘surgical strike’ – even though the majority of US and South Korean military planners argue that it would be risky to the point of likely catastrophe for the South, and US troops there.
 “The Olympic initiative was never going to solve the nuclear question overnight, but I think it has stopped the mad escalation of the conflict that was going on.”

The task of Kim Yo-jong and the bevy of cheerleaders has been to normalise the image of a country that looks utterly abnormal to outsiders. ………

 Kim has cemented his position, in part through tighter control. He purged and executed his uncle Jang Song-thaek; and he is believed to have ordered the killing of his self-exiled brother, Kim Jong-nam, a year ago. There have been repeated crackdowns on smuggled – especially South Korean – media.

On the other hand he has promised his people a return to prosperity, and though this has mostly been signalled by totemic projects such as a ski resort, there have been some broader economic shifts, such as an increase in marketisation, apparently producing modest improvements in the economy. And, in dispatching the Olympic delegation, and then inviting the South Korean president Moon Jae-in to visit him, he has shown he can reduce tensions as well as increase them.

Sending his sister was doubly inspired. A family member is a more intimate representative than a high-ranking official. And for a patriarchal culture, Kim Yo-jong and the cheerleaders are – by virtue of gender – not only charming and unthreatening but somehow morally elevated, detached from worldly, manly concerns of power (never mind that, in reality, Kim is at the heart of her brother’s regime).  ……..

Is the North’s participation in Pyeongchang a first step to denuclearisation and eventual reunification? No. Events in Iraq and Libya hardened the regime’s beliefs that hanging on to WMDs is a matter of survival. The thaw may not even be a precursor to substantive reengagement with the South, or broader talks, let alone a breakthrough (although the North might freeze its programme if offered a cast-iron US security guarantee, it is hard to see that happening under Trump). But if the softening of the North’s image and approach make it harder for US hawks to strike, then Seoul – and the rest of us – should be grateful for those synchronised chants and armwaves.

February 16, 2018 - Posted by | North Korea, politics international, USA

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