With North Korea launching ballistic missile tests with disturbing regularity, and US officials openly talking about the possibility of a preemptive strike against the Hermit Kingdom’s nuclear facilities, the question of war on the Korean peninsula is now “on the table,” as the national security wonks like to say.
It should be taken off the table, pronto.
The reason is simple: a military confrontation with North Korean despot Kim Jong-un has a 100% chance of ending in a nuclear conflagration. As retired Col. David Hunt, who served in Korea on the DMZ, told Eric Bolling on Thursday, every war game simulating a war with North Korea has ended in a nuclear conflict. For fifty years, the North Koreans have been preparing for a resumption of hostilities in a war that never formally ended. Positioned in the heights just above the demilitarized zone is a massive array of North Korean artillery pointed at Seoul, the South Korean capital, a city with 3 million inhabitants. Within six minutes, that tremendous firepower would be unleashed, and the casualties would be massive.
Of course the South Koreans are fully aware of this, which is why they would never consent to a US military strike. This is the one factor our talking heads — who blithely debate this “option” as if it were just another foreign policy issue — always leave out. They can’ imagine that the South Koreans might object to the obliteration of their country – or even that they might have a say in the matter.
The reason for the supposedly irrational behavior of the North Koreans isn’t hard to understand. Every year we conduct joint military exercises a few miles from the North Korean border, and this year they simulated a full-scale military assault. Our nuclear-capable B-1B bombers and F-22 stealth fighter jets – the world’s most lethal military aircraft — flew alongside South Korean fighters in a “mock” air raid on North Korean positions. The USS Vinson, an aircraft carrier, the USS Columbus, a nuclear submarine capable of landing special forces and hitting offshore targets, were deployed off the North Korean coast. Twenty-thousand US military personnel joined with over 300,000 South Korean troops to enact a dress rehearsal for a war Pyongyang has been preparing for since the last one ended in a truce.
Now the US is openly talking about ending that truce, with President Trump tweeting that if the Chinese don’t do something about Kim Jon-un the United States will act.
Trump thinks he can get the Chinese to rein in Pyongyang – after all, aren’t they allies? Well, no, they aren’t. The last time Beijing had any influence in Pyongyang was in 1956, when the pro-Beijing faction within the ruling Korean Workers Party acted in concert with a pro-Soviet faction to remove supreme leader Kim Il Sung from power at a meeting of the Central Committee. The attempt failed, and the dissidents were purged and later executed. The latest manifestation of a pro-Beijing faction within the leadership was centered around Kim Jong-un’s late uncle, Jang Song-thaek, Pyongyang’s liaison with Beijing via “free trade zones” set up in coordination with the Chinese. He was charged with treason and recently executed, shot to death with an anti-aircraft gun: his family was also killed.
There is no military solution to the problem of North Korea. Nor is leaving it to the Chinese going to work. There’s just one way to avoid war on the Korean peninsula, and that is by encouraging the process of North-South reconciliation that was begun some 16 years ago with the “Sunshine Policy.” That’s when South Korea’s then President Kim Dae-jung opened up talks with the North, and, in spite of US opposition, his successor traveled to the North, and met with Kim Jong-il: thousands of South Koreans followed suit, crossing over to visit long-lost relatives. Trade increased, but the thaw didn’t last long. Nixed by the Bush administration, and the coming to power in South Korea of right-winger Lee Myung Bak, the sunset of the “Sunshine Policy” was ensured.
Recent political developments in South Korea hold out some hope. The impeachment of President Park Geung-hye, daughter of cold war military dictator Park Chung-hee, means that the liberal opposition will very likely come to power. The leading candidate, Moon Jae-in of the Democratic party, opposes a preemptive strike and has said “The safety of South Korea is as important as that of the United States”: he’d reopen negotiations with Pyongyang.
The Korean people are intensely nationalistic: they resent any sort of foreign interference in their affairs, which is why meddling by Beijing and Washington is widely resented. There is a way out of the Korean conundrum – if only the US will get out of the way.
Justin Raimondo is the founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com.