Is The United States to blame for the Korean crisis?

The UK’s Stop The War Coalition, well known for having organised the popular campaign against the invasion of Iraq in 2003 has released a statement effectively blaming The United States for the ongoing tensions and absolving all other parties of responsibility (except perhaps South Korea). The statement starts out saying the nuclear tests carried out by the regime are “a product of a long term increase in sanctions and other measures against the North Korea” and goes on to mention Operation Eagle Foal, the annual military exercises carried out by both The United States and The Republic of South Korea where “40,000 US and South Korean troops have been deployed in the region in the last few weeks, backed up by US submarines, battleships and bombers”.

The implication here seems to be that US military activity on the peninsula is entirely at the whim of an overbearing superpower instead of being a welcomed force by say, the South Koreans. What is not mentioned here is that despite some dissent, the United States remains overwhelmingly popular in South Korea and seems to be getting even more so. With Pew telling us in 2010 South Koreans had a 79% “favourable” opinion of The US (18% “unfavourable”). The BBC found very similar results in 2011 with 74% responding with “mainly positive” (19% “mainly negative”). In both polls, only three countries rated the United States higher. Gallup in 2011 asking their opinion on U.S Leadership got a 57% “approve” (18% “disapprove”) with only five countries rating the United States higher. It’s clear here that StWC cannot simply write this off as US “imperialism” given the Americans are guests in that country. We could surmise here that US military presence in South Korea (despite some hiccups) has not only failed to dent the public’s view of the United States, (like say, in Saudi Arabia) it has given them an image of a dependable friend and ally as a bulwark against North Korean aggression.

Knowing that, one has to wonder how Washington is supposed to respond to threats of “pre-emptive” nuclear strikes, wiping out the island of Baengnyeong and declaring “a state of war” with the South which StWC plays down as “North Korean complaints and counter-measures”. The statement goes on to criticise Secretary of State John Kerry for having “threatened that the US would not allow North Korea to develop nuclear capacity and that it would ‘defend and protect itself and our treaty ally the Republic of Korea” (though I’m not sure what exactly that entails, as North Korea already is a nuclear power unless I’m missing something).

In more sobered foreign policy terms, The US will not want to look weak and will want to reassure their ally that they intend to stand by their promise that “The United States is fully committed to the defense of the Republic of Korea, and we stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the face of DPRK provocations.”

StWC finishes off by calling on “the US to stop stoking the tension, end its provocative military exercises, drop the sanctions and seek dialogue rather than confrontation in the region”. StWC fails again to mention that these are US-ROK military exercises in the host nation, not unilateral US military exercises. Of course the US could have done things differently negotiating in the past but right now, Pyongyang’s rhetoric is designed to garner a response and they got one. Probably not the one they were looking for one might add, as the Kims have a history of using aggressive posturing as a means by which to secure aid from the US and the South.

Anti-Americanism notwithstanding, it is strange but perhaps not surprising that StWC has decided to defend a totalitarian regime about as close to Orwell’s dystopia as one can imagine.

The above should not be read as a wholesale endorsement of military action against Pyongyang. Iraq in 2003 was a very different time and a very different situation not the least of which because the latest round of sanctions against North Korea were passed via a unanimous 15-to-0 Security Council vote. It truly is a leap of logic of the StWC to wholesale blame the United States for the recent outbreak in rhetoric. If the North wanted aid and an end to sanctions, making threats to try to secure a better negotiating position should be seen for the cynical, dangerous move that it is and not the “North Korean complaints” that StWC is happy to call it. Also, it was the South that stopped that flow of aid in the first place. A Korean decision, not a US one.

The fact remains that successive South Korean governments have depended on The US as an ally, opinion of the US is highly favourable among the electorate and after the sinking of the Cheounen, South Koreans are looking for reassurance that the regime will not be able to allowed kill South Koreans without provocation again. Hence the $10 million B-2 spirit dummy bombing run.

What will happen next? Most likely a climbdown from Pyongyang and a cooling of the current heat. A Cold war is certainly better than a hot one. Which reminds me of Kim’s very large friend to the North. But that’s a story for another time…

In the meantime, expect more from The Wayward Soldier in the future.

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