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GETTING TO KNOW: ADAM BROINOWSKI, Director of Metamorphosis @ The Street Theatre

via GETTING TO KNOW: ADAM BROINOWSKI

Adam Broinowski is a theatre maker, academic and writer. Adam has worked as a director, performer and writer with Australian and international artists and companies since 1994, including as a member of Tokyo-based Gekidan Kaitaisha while a researcher at the University of Tokyo in the 2000s. He is a teacher and researcher in Interdisciplinary Humanities with a focus on Japanese and Asian Studies, Historical Studies, and critical International Politics. He earned a PhD in modern Japanese history and cultural studies (performance, film) from the University of Melbourne. His book Cultural Responses to Occupation in Japan: The Performing Body during and after the Cold War (Bloomsbury Academic) was published in 2016, and he recently completed an Australian Research Council DECRA fellowship entitled ‘Contaminated Life: ‘Hibakusha’ in Japan in the Nuclear Age’ at the School of Culture, History and Language at the ANU. He is co-founder of Social Repair Service with dancer/choreographer Emma Strapps.

The Street talked to Adam as he gets ready for rehearsals of Metamorphosis opening at The Street Theatre on the 17th of August.

HOW DO YOU WORK AS A DIRECTOR? WHAT PRINCIPLES DO YOU WORK BY?

As a theatre director I design my approach to suit the particularities and demands of each project. There are some consistent principles I work from. As theatre making is a collaborative pursuit which brings together the skills and knowledges of many people, creating a space for the layering of multiple perspectives is essential. The theatre is a live space which embraces all of the senses in devising ways to evoke the qualities as well as language-meaning of a story. I work with each designer and performer to build a palette of materials and refine a shared multi-sensory language. Theatre also provides a unique opportunity to express the marginalised voices and senses; an attempt to re-balance the homunculus-effect in our societies by creatively amplifying the little-heard perspectives which are so often ignored in public. In short, a people’s theatre which attempts to evoke the life of consciousness in the fullest way possible so as to even-out, if momentarily, the dominant dynamic which concentrates power in our human-made systems as they change over time.

FRANZ KAFKA’S THE METAMORPHISIS IS ONE OF THE TOP TEN NOVELLAS READ IN THE WORLD? WHY DO YOU THINK ITS STORY AND THEMES REMAIN RELEVANT TODAY?

Ignoring my urge to blank on this one, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, published around 1915 amid the collapsing Austro-Hungarian empire and the catastrophe of World War I, seems to have captured a state of being that readers from all over the world continue to identify with. Anchored in the realistic conditions of an aspirational middle-class family somewhere in Bohemia who suddenly lose their capacity to maintain their illusions of status and security, an enigma at the heart of this story stimulates the imagination and permits the reader to blur their boundaries of what shared reality is. While unrelentingly bleak – not surprising considering Kafka’s increasingly withdrawn condition, his battle with tuberculosis, and difficult familial relations – it is also cruelly funny. More politely ridiculous than nihilistic, Kafka beautifully articulates the arbitrary judgements imposed upon people for incomprehensible reasons through a profound wit which manages to find pleasure even as life slowly rolls inexorably toward the cliff… you can always write about it, until you can’t. Sound familiar? We see what can happen to someone and all they thought they had held dear, when for no explicable reason they get up on the ‘wrong side of bed’ in the morning.

HOW DOES THE BERKOFF ADAPTATION DIFFER FROM THE NOVELLA?

Steven Berkoff’s adaption, originally published in the late 1960s, and which he toured around the world as a signature theatre piece over several decades, was a vehicle to promote his style of acting and directing. It remains remarkably close to the original. After all, Berkoff does state in the introduction to his script, ‘I am Kafka’. And yet the ending is somewhat more forgiving in Berkoff’s version. He manages to bring out a wider range of sensory qualities from Kafka’s world. Drawing from a rich legacy of physical theatre artists such as Jean-Louis Barrault, Etienne Decroux, Marcel Marceau and Jacques Lecoq, Berkoff is a genius at adapting modern classic texts using the theatrical tools of physical or total theatre: gesture, movement, design. While maintaining the beauty of the literary text, Berkoff concentrates on evoking shared psychological states, including the subconscious and materiality of emotions, through movement and stage technique in a simple and appealing way. Berkoff also wrote and performed his own plays, produced with his team of designers, actors and producers. As one of a band of mercurial theatre makers who could astutely position themselves within the political and social zeitgeist, particularly during the upheavals of 1980s Britain, Berkoff carved a place for himself within the British theatre scene and now his works are now well established in their own right.

TALK US THROUGH YOUR VISION FOR BRINGING STEVEN BERKOFF’S ADAPATION OF METAMORPHOSIS TO LIFE ON THE STREET THEATRE STAGE.

In this version of Berkoff’s adaptation of Metamorphosis, over many readings of the story and the script, relevant literary criticism and from experience in stylised and naturalistic theatre, together with the wonderful talents of the creative and production team I have generated a range of devices and concepts to inform an overall approach. I situated my understanding of the distinct contexts of WWI Bohemia at the tail-end of the industrial revolution in Europe and of West Europe during economic and social recovery after the devastation of WWII in relation to conditions in Canberra in 2019. From the consistent patterns of militarism and contestation over vital resources, market control and boundaries, we see a thread interweaving these three periods – harsh work/life balance, conformity and stigmatisation, individual withdrawal and widespread desire for liberation amid growing inter-state tensions. Yet there is also new meaning to be found in Kafka’s story in the present. It is now undeniable that we are facing mass extinctions in the natural world at a scale we have never experienced in human history. As yet another legacy of the industrial age, a situation largely created from our abundant releases of carbon emissions from our fossil-fuel reliant economies, ‘becoming an insect’ has an altogether new dimension.

HOW WILL YOU USE PHYSICAL THEATRE TO TELL THE STORY?

Combining the cast’s skills in physical theatre and mime, experience in butoh along with text-based theatre will support our imaginative interpretations of character. In embodying qualities, states and pressures imbedded in the text, we can further open up the psychological and emotional world tensions and time slippages which Berkoff so loves in his script images. We will also use devices from visual theatre, to help perform the transformations in the story as they take place over time.

METAMORPHOSIS IS ACTED OUT BY AN ENSEMBLE OF FOUR. WHAT WILL BE YOUR METHODOLOGY TO GETTING THE BEST OUTCOMES FROM THE STORY AND CAST?

Working as an ensemble means working as a chorus, in unison, as parts of a whole, as individuals who inform and support each other in sharing the telling of a story. With some nifty ideas and a bit of imagination we are using the theatrical tools of physical stylisation, mask and pre-recorded voice, object/set manipulation, paint and some vegetable matter to double-up some of the roles and to convey the story in an evocative way.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR WORK WITH THE CREATIVE TEAM OF DESIGNERS?

Working closely with the design team has meant providing catalytic stimuli from which to launch their creative realisations – clarifying the script for interpretation, trajectories, details, seeking ways to realise a world of Metamorphosis that layers the influences of three distinct time periods. Adopting a liberal approach to the script, to remain true to the text and the core dynamics of the scenes while not taking the specific stage directions too literally, we aim to contaminate it with present world conditions. This has been quite pleasurable, allowing us to have the freedom to enjoy where our imagination will take us while remaining within the structure of the script and the world of the story.

HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN A WORK IS READY FOR AN AUDIENCE?

The work is never ready. It must be ready. It is ready when it is over. A work must have distilled the scenes as much as possible to their essence so they have layers of sediment and a clear flavour. To get there we work we create space for discovery – there are no right answers. Filtering a lot of ideas and materials, we get to the core and its practicable repetition throughout the season. The beauty is in finding things you didn’t expect that emerge from a range of combinations in unpredictable sequential complex: planning, chance, imagination, reflection. As the work is never ready until there is an audience to complete at least half of the whole, the theatre is a place of sensory and intellectual stimulation and engagement where new ideas are sewn and which hopefully germinate for a few weeks after at least.

HOW HAS YOUR WORK IN JAPAN INFORMED YOUR PRACTICE AS A THEATRE MAKER?

I worked as a member of a contemporary Japanese theatre company for roughly five years in the 2000s. I learned an enormous amount. As a movement-based company with a strong reliance on concepts on the one hand, and movement techniques derived and adapted from ankoku butoh (dance of darkness), I was able to experience a different way of working in an ensemble and creative team. Working from a basic movement style, as opposed to character and story-telling, while still performing a show with a dramatic structure and arc, was a new way of working for me. Working immersed in a different language and culture was perhaps the most significant difference. This made me more aware of being a minority. It also had a maturing effect on me, helping me to understand different ways of organising and working, to be less assuming, less self-centred, to give more value to seemingly unimportant things, more empathetic of others’ perspectives based on their lived experiences and contexts, and appreciative of the uniqueness and ephemerality of the overall experience. It is truly remarkable what artists, humans overall, can achieve if they cooperate and focus on a shared goal. It is even more remarkable if they have the support of visionary cultural policy and the networks that engenders. It may have been a path I was on anyway, but I learned an enormous amount. I certainly learned to creatively make more out of less. This piece is a blend of some of these influences – minimalist movement, expressionist movement, dramatic theatre.

WHAT KIND OF THEATRE DO YOU WANT TO MAKE?

I want to continue to make theatre that is of relevance to the contemporary situation, which can offer new ways of interpreting our shared present and pasts, based on new and under-recognised connections and resonances between diverse communities and knowledges in this infinitely complex ensemble we call the Earth.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE STREET.

The Street and I have been steadily developing a relationship based on inspiration, reciprocity, generosity, trust, healthy realism, and advocacy of the importance of theatre and live performance for the wider community and a healthy social fabric. Artistic Director Caroline Stacey has generously made creative offers which I couldn’t refuse from The Street and the theatre and arts community including this wonderful opportunity.

WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?

A book called ‘The Songs of Trees’. An interesting book from the early 1990s called the Mudrooroo-Müller project that explores the adaptation of a Heiner Müller play by Aboriginal playwright Mudrooroo. Also, a book on Dario Fo.  There are several other ‘to read’ books and articles on my desk…

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August 17, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Beyond the backyard: understanding geopolitics for a more peaceful foreign policy

Dr Adam Broinowski, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University, adam.broinowski@anu.edu.au,31 Aug 18

At this moment of shifting world order, in which the atomic clock has been returned to two minutes to midnight (the first time since 1953) and the United States has committed to a 1.5 trillion dollar upgrade to its nuclear arsenal, one can be forgiven for a sense of déja vu. Unlike the 1950s, however, we are now aware of the risk of even greater extinctions in the next 100 years not only from potential full-scale nuclear war but also from the impacts of climate disruption across the entire biosphere.

From here, if we are to identify the dynamics of both militarism and climate disruption with a view to achieving and perpetuating more peaceful conditions, we must recognise how oil – and control over its distribution – has been pivotal to the development of US-led world order since the turn of the 20th century. When US leaders claim the ‘exceptionalism’ of the ‘indispensable’ US nation, they are primarily referring to the US military capability to allow or deny access to supply corridors for the flow of vital resources, products, labour and market access. In this brief overview, we can track this through various stages of the US empire.

Stage I: Beyond the western hemisphere

Having expropriated the lands of native Americans and propelled by its own abundant supply of oil, the US claimed the trophies of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines after the Spanish-American War in 1898 and entrenched itself in the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean region (‘Western Hemisphere’).

As envisioned by ‘world island’ theory, in which maritime powers could claim hegemony by encircling and containing from the ‘rimlands’ any rival economic and military land-based power emerging on the Eurasian ‘heartland’, the US sent naval flotillas from US bases to control geostrategic ‘land nodes’, ‘geographical pivots’, and ‘choke points’ along resource corridors supplying the largest market at the time: western Europe.

In 1900, the Russian empire accounted for over 50 percent of the world’s oil production and was the world number two producer by the 1920s. After the British procured an exclusive petroleum concession in 1901, British and French powers sought to undermine any coordinated resistance from a united Arabia by forming weak Arab provincial administrations that relied on revenue from oil extraction and distribution to Europe. By the 1920s, however, the US had over 70 percent of world oil production with an economy the size of the next six powers combined. After Standard Oil secured concessions in Dharan, ‘one of the greatest material prizes in history,’ on the Saudi peninsula by 1938, the US consolidated its operations east of Suez by 1944.

Stage II: Cold War

At war’s end, having escaped major destruction from WWII as compared to nations in Europe, the Soviet Union and Asia, the US possessed:

  • over 50 percent of world GDP;
  • guaranteed oil supply from Saudi Arabia, and Israel as a foothold in the Middle East;
  • 70 percent of world monetary gold and the US dollar fixed as world currency reserve.

This leverage permitted the US to construct a ‘division and alliance architecture’ (UN system, NATO, US military bases) in which US bases were set up primarily in western Europe and East Asia on either side of the ‘world island’. US bases carry and store nuclear weapons and related systems; they surround territories with large oil and gas reserves and strategic transport corridors; they facilitate rapid interventions and support for proxy wars, economic warfare, and information/psychological warfare. US operations conducted from these bases have primarily targeted governments, authoritarian or otherwise, that seek autonomous and sovereign control over their country’s resources, markets and finances.

Despite the hype surrounding Soviet plans to invade western Europe and its potential attack US cities in the early Cold War years, there is evidence to show that it was indeed hype, and by 1960, the US could target and destroy almost all Soviet and Chinese cities with near-simultaneous nuclear attack, ostensibly in ‘retaliation’ for a nuclear attack by the enemy. Only by the mid 1970s did the Soviets really catch up with the US in terms of scale and sophistication of nuclear weapons to establish a period of détente. In the intervening years more nations acquired nuclear capability in either a clandestine fashion or outside the Non Proliferation Treaty while others relied on US ‘extended nuclear deterrence’ in return for hosting US bases and other bilateral agreements.

Stage III: Oil politics

In the 1970s, with large debt from the American War in Vietnam, and with several countries seeking return of their gold security deposits from the US Federal Reserve, the Nixon administration withdrew from the gold-backed system rather than allowing the dollar to devalue. When oil prices sky-rocketed with the OPEC oil embargo, the US arranged a financial mechanism whereby all OPEC nations would trade oil exclusively in US dollars in return for US military protection and weapons contracts. The dollar remained the world currency reserve, the US could disregard its national debt from foreign wars and US and UK banks amassed huge profits from commissions on foreign currency exchanges for the purchase of oil, the world’s largest commodity.

The Tengiz field oil reserves in the Caspian Sea were discovered in 1979, the same year as Iran’s Islamic Revolution. The latter was met with heavy sanctions while Saudi Arabia’s Wahabbist Islamic uprising at Mecca was not. The US armed and trained Islamist mujahideen to fight against the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan (Operation Cyclone). Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party was installed by the CIA in Iraq and aided to fight Iran for eight years. Wahabbism spread to Pakistan and to Chechnya, Dagestan, Albania and Kosovo – Russia’s soft oil-rich underbelly.

Stage IV:  Middle East wars

In 1991, despite the opportunity to withdraw US foreign bases and ratify arms control treaties with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the US together with NATO proceeded to foment ‘Colour Revolutions’ in resource-rich former Soviet-aligned states (Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova). The Persian Gulf War launched that year, rather than to stop an illegal invasion by a dictatorial regime and to keep local gas prices low, was primarily to enable US control over the distribution of Iraqi oil and further its reach in the region.

Similarly in Afghanistan 2001 and Iraq 2003, rather than retaliation for the 11 September 2001 attacks or to destroy mythical Weapons of Mass Destruction, the Iraq War was to prevent Iraqi oil being traded in Euro, to weaken the Iraqi state by supporting competing factions and claim a stake in roughly one-third of Iraqi oil production. Since then, in 2018 the Trump administration added insult to injury by demanding that the costs of the US-led engagement in the Iraq War be paid for in oil. The selection of Hamid Karzai, with connections to the US oil industry, to lead Afghanistan, and the installation of US bases (including the huge Bagram base), allowed the US to further its access and control over oil and gas pipelines from Tengiz and Turkmenistan and leverage over the economies of US rivals in the region (Russia in the north-west, China in the East, Iran in the South).

In Syria, while the Assad government stands accused of human rights abuses to its own population (and this needs careful scrutiny), US intervention in this multinational proxy war is not about democracy or international law. In 2009 President Assad rejected a ten billion dollar pipeline offer (proposed in 2000) from Qatar (North Dome field) and signed onto a PARS pipeline project from Iran (South Pars field) to Europe. Rather, it is yet another in a long line of US interventions to destabilise the Syrian government since 1947, and to increase its control over (via US bases in the north-eastern part of Syria) the distribution of oil and gas through the region to Europe.

Similarly, rather than to bring about a corrective to Iran’s human rights record, years of US sanctions against Iran (Iran is an NPT signatory, maintains legal levels of uranium enrichment, centrifuge deployment and heavy water stocks, it has altered its Arak reactor to prevent significant plutonium production, provided the IAEA 24-hour access to its declared facilities and subjected its uranium mining to novel verification, has a legal right to possess non-nuclear missiles and combats terrorist groups) have been to weaken its control over resource flows through the Strait of Hormuz, slow its oil and gas exports to inhibit its economic growth and development of its military capacity and to support its rivals (and US allies) Saudi Arabia and Israel (nuclear-armed) which seek regional hegemony.

Stage IVa: North Korea

On the eastern side of the world island, the Korean peninsula has remained divided despite the end of the Cold War. Having lost its security guarantee from the Soviet Union in 1991, North Korea has on many occasions sought direct talks with the US to arrive at a formal conclusion to the Korean War in a peace treaty and the normalisation of relations both with the US and South Korea. While North Korea is a garrison state that has developed under siege conditions for over sixty years, media hyperventilation over North Korean missiles and nuclear weapons has conspicuously ignored several important points. These include:

  • the gross imbalance in military and economic capacity between North Korea and the US and its allies.
  • many nations outside the permanent (P5) nuclear weapons states such as Israel, the NATO nuclear umbrella states, India and Pakistan possess far higher numbers of nuclear weapons while remaining free of sanctions or threats.
  • it is not illegal to conduct non-nuclear missile tests or sell missile technology to other countries.
  • the US regularly tests its own non-loaded nuclear weapons and obviously sells missile technologies to many other countries.
  • North Korea was the only nuclear weapons state to support the motion for the UN Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in 2017.
  • the US’ legacy of abrogating its commitments in negotiations with North Korea.
  • the US has conducted sporadic underground ‘subcritical’ nuclear tests since it ended its nuclear explosion tests in 1992, the latest of which was in December 2017.

Over the course of the 20th century, having experienced the long game to weaken and force China and Russia, or any other perceived rival, to submit to US-led world order, these nations have responded by establishing an alternative geopolitical and geo-economic system, potentially dividing the world once more. This can be seen, for example, in the opening of the Northern Sea Route along the Russian Arctic coast from the Kara Sea, along Siberia, to the Bering Strait. In what is one of the most significant logistical developments since the opening of the Suez Canal, this will enable Russia, China and others an alternative sea route that is not under US control – unlike that which passes through the Straits of Malacca and the Indian Ocean – connecting the European market with suppliers.  It is crucial to question further the dominant narrative repeated in mainstream media to better understand the underlying drivers of wars in recent history when we seek to identify ways of achieving denuclearisation, reducing the impacts of global heating and promoting long-lasting peace in the 21st century.[i]

 

[i] This paper is part of a longer chapter with citations by the author: Adam Broinowski, ‘Nuclear Power and Oil Capital in the Long Twentieth Century,’ Bellamy B. and J. Diamanti (Eds.), Materialism and the Critique of Energy, Alberta and Chicago: MCM Press, 2018: 197-240. http://www.mcmprime.com/books/marxism-and-energy

Adam Broinowski is a lecturer and researcher at the ANU, https://researchers.anu.edu.au/researchers/broinowski-arg.

August 31, 2018 Posted by | politics international, weapons and war | Leave a comment

What will it take for the U.S. to go to the negotiating table with North Korea amid continuing nuclear threats?

Originally published: ‘ADAM BROINOWSKI. Picking up the pieces amid the U.S.–North Korea nuclear stand-off’, https://johnmenadue.com/adam-broinowski-picking-up-the-pieces-amid-the-u-s-north-korea-nuclear-stand-off/

North Korea is often righteously condemned for being the only nation to have conducted five nuclear tests and a barrage of missile tests in the 21st century. Led by a young chubby dictator with a bad haircut, we have long been told that the paranoid hermit kingdom known for its undeniably bombastic, intensely patriotic and anachronistic rhetoric is evil, unhinged and dangerous.

While not to advocate for family dynastic rule in any way, the way in which North Korea has been mediated for mainstream audiences in advanced industrial democratic countries over decades demonstrates a consistent narrative pattern of Orientalist imagery that play on variants of immaturity, cunning and treachery in a legacy going back to Fu Manchu. Complexities tend to be reduced to a simplistic ‘us or them’ binary and seem to trigger intuitive reactions hard-wired by more than enough movies and sensationalist media journalism. No further discussion or reading required.

In the significant amount of digital space recently awarded to speculation on North Korea’s purported nuclear-capable ICBM tests on 4 and 28 July that could strike parts of continental U.S.A., few mainstream media reports bothered to include that since May 2017 the U.S. military tested 4 ICBMs from Vandenberg Air Force base to Kwajalein Atoll and conducted 11-12 drills over the Korean peninsula  involving B-1B, B-2 and B-52 bombers (the latter two are nuclear capable). The current Ulchi Freedom Guardian reiteration on 21-31 August 2017 and the previous Foal Eagle Key Resolve operation  involving 67,000 troops in March 2017 are based on years of biannual U.S.-ROK military drills, giving substance to the recent statement by Secretary of Defense James Mattis: “combined allied militaries now possess the most precise, rehearsed and robust defensive and offensive capabilities on Earth.”

Certainly, North Korea staged the longer reach of a new Hwasong-14 missile which demonstrated staged rocketry, better re-entry cladding and guidance systems. Yet we were expected to take at face-value a Washington Post report of claims by unnamed US Defense Intelligence Agency officials that North Korea had achieved sufficient warhead miniaturisation to fit on ICBMs. This was supposed to support US President Trump’s apparently unprompted threat of ‘fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen’, holding much of the population of North Korea hostage as he sat down to lunch. Yet days earlier Senator Lindsey Graham had stated that he had discussed a plan with the President to “destroy the North Korean nuclear program and North Korea itself”. Moreover, National Security Adviser McMaster had already declared that United States could launch a ‘preventive war’ to prevent North Korea from attaining nuclear weapons cabability – a paradoxical pursuit if ever there was one.

Mainstream channels continued to interpret this ‘tough line’ corrective to the former Obama administration’s ‘strategic patience’, as necessary to force North Korea to the negotiating table. Incidentally, preventive war was the defence used by lawyers at the Nuremberg Trials in their attempt to justify Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland.

In response, the North Korean Strategic Force stated that it was calculating an operational plan to create an ‘enveloping fire’ with 4 IRBM (Hwasong-12) missiles in areas 30-40 km off Guam which had to be approved by leader Kim Jong-un. Subsequently Kim suspended the operation for the meantime. Clearly intended to demonstrate credible intention to strike Guam’s huge U.S. naval and airforce installations from where pre-emptive strikes could be launched and which include 8,000 U.S. troops, anti-ballistic missile defence systems, and signals intelligence infrastructure, this was aimed at military targets. Media reports did not emphasise this point, ignoring the North Korean caveat that this launch would be a warning not an attack. It remains unclear whether or not the IRBMs would be nuclear-tipped. The Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho at the recent ASEAN meeting stated that North Korea was not prepared to negotiate with its nuclear weapons and ballistic rockets unless “the hostile policy and nuclear threat of the U.S. against the DPRK are fundamentally eliminated”. The Korean People’s Army (KPA) listed U.S. hostile actions as: ‘decapitation operations’ and ‘pre-emptive’ attack (as rehearsed in U.S.-ROK drills); ‘preventive war’; and/or ‘secret operations’ for stealthy regime change (CIA coordinated Special Operations).

While indicating its preference for de-escalation and negotations toward de-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, China declared it would defend North Korea if it was pre-emptively attacked by the United States and it would not do so if North Korea struck first. Determining who exactly fired first may be difficult, however, if it was a matter of minutes between detection of a pre-emptive attack (such as B-1B bombers firing missiles at distance) and North Korea launching conventional attacks on U.S. bases in South Korea and IRBM missiles to Guam (nuclear or non-nuclear).

From a North Korean strategic perspective informed by decades of various forms of hostility from the U.S. and some of its allies including the refusal to negotiate and preparations for regime change, such missile capability would seem to provide a desperately needed means of self-defence. In fact, with regard to these latest U.S. nuclear threats listed above (which are not new), North Korea could invoke Article 51 of the UN Charter which maintains the right to self-defence when a sovereign state is under direct attack by a foreign power. It could also invoke the Caroline standard of pre-emptive self-defence in the case of likely attack being ‘instant, overwhelming and without other means, and no moment for deliberation’.

As it would be suicidal for North Korea to provoke U.S.-led retaliation with a pre-emptive strike and considering its historical context, it is reasonable to see the North Korean nuclear program as intended to achieve a second-strike retaliatory capability. Although the U.S. would be unlikely to strike if China (and possibly Russia) was to intervene, North Korea would still seek such a deterrent as a means to negotiate its security terms with the United States and others and to protect its fundamental sovereignty which it regards under threat.

It has been official U.S. policy to refuse to countenance a North Korean nuclear weapons state and to negotiate with it on these terms which it now frames as threatening the lives of millions of ordinary Americans in continental U.S.A.. Yet U.S. leadership does not hesitate from threatening millions of lives in North Korea and on the Korean peninsula. This is not very strategic, as it undermines South Korean sovereign agency and perceptions of and trust in the U.S.-ROK alliance as a deterrent and to the contrary that it might drag the South Korean population into a destructive conflict.

In short, with China’s ‘dual suspension’ suggestion as the most sensible and statesman-like so far, North Korea conceivably would suspend its nuclear program in return for a freeze in U.S. military hostile actions to create the mechanism for direct negotiations to begin. North Korea would then seek an end to the Armistice Agreement of 1953, the terms of which the U.S. never honoured in full, and the establishment of a formal Peace Treaty. North Korea would also seek independent negotiations with South Korea for increased trade, exchange and communications.

Compared to the spike in stocks in Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Boeing and as some U.S. allies push for increased military spending, including anti-ballistic missile systems and ‘pre-emptive strike’ capabilities, the potential losses of millions of lives in a conventional and/or nuclear confrontation on the Korean peninsula and to the global economy in trade would not seem to be worth it. Diplomacy and dialogue between North Korea and the United States and/or other concerned parties toward demilitarisation and de-nuclearisation would seem the safest and cheapest form of defence to be investing in. Perhaps a normalised Korean peninsula which would benefit China’s economic plans, are what the U.S. and its allies fear most, and so they are starting fires to revivify a military containment policy.

Dr Adam Broinowski is a visiting research fellow  and recent ARC DECRA fellow at the College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University. His research and teaching are in contemporary history, politics and society in Japan and Northeast Asia. He is the author of Cultural Responses to Occupation in Japan: The Performing Body during and after the Cold War (London and Sydney: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016).

November 19, 2017 Posted by | North Korea, politics international | 6 Comments