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Promises of Incineration: The Nuclear Playground Gets Busy

“I don’t know what he’s saying and I’ve long ago given up trying to interpret what he says” (Senator John McCain on President Donald J. Trump, Aug 8, 2017).

Moral equivalence is the enemy of the noble and the exceptional, and the screeching rhetoric currently being fired across the diplomatic bows of Pyongyang and Washington have become mirrors of brute behaviour.

The reasons for this spike came after another round of spanking sanctions on the North Korean regime, a move that did have the reluctant blessing of China on the UN Security Council. Such a move would effectively strip Pyongyang’s coffers of $1 billion, making the point that Washington may well not so much bomb North Korea to the negotiating table as bankrupt it into a bargain.

The evident flaw in this strategy is simple: sanctions have succeeded in reducing a desperate population to an even more impecunious position while entrenching the regime. All the while, these moves have boosted the nuclear weapons drive.

The note on sanctions marked a particularly aggressive mood of participants at the ASEAN foreign minister’s summit over the weekend, one flavoured by the combative sprigs of Philippines’ president Rodrigo Duterte. North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, spat the potty-mouthed, drug pusher killing strongman, was a chubby faced “son of a bitch” prone to “playing with dangerous toys”. It was soon evident to reporters that a self-portrait was being sketched. (It takes one to grudgingly know one).

Duterte did, however, make the needless point that any nuclear confrontation on the peninsula was bound to inflict a geographical calamity of some consequence. “A limited confrontation and it blows up here, I will tell you, the fallout can deplete the soil, the resources and I don’t know what will happen to us.”

Chinese delegates had been keen not to put too many noses out of joint, given South China Sea tensions and the vast elephant in the room that is Beijing’s ambitions. The final joint communiqué of the ministers on August 5 called for “non-militarisation and restraint” regarding the contested area while avoiding any specific mention of Chinese actions.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s cup of praise brimmed, describing the summit as a “successful meeting with [a] very positive and friendly atmosphere”. In rather jejune fashion, Wang claimed that the China-ASEAN strategic partnership had “entered a new stage of comprehensive development.”

On Sunday, Susan Thornton, acting assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, expressed her satisfaction at Beijing’s warming to the US position. “The fact that the Chinese were helpful and instrumental in setting up this really sweeping set of international sanctions shows how they realize that this is a huge problem they need to take on, that it’s a threat to them and their region.”

In absentia, albeit very much present, was the regime of the DPRK. Having effectively gathered a noose, the US-led effort generated a predictable response. “Packs of wolves,” went a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency, “are coming in attack to strangle a nation. They should be mindful that the DPRK’s strategic steps accompanied by physical action will be taken mercilessly with the mobilisation of all its national strength.”

It took a matter of hours for the White House occupant to respond. “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” exclaimed President Donald Trump to reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He [Kim] has been very threatening beyond a normal state and as I said they will be met with fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

It did not take long for the Kim regime to put out word that it was considering the possibility of a military deployment using the Hwasong-12. One suggestion was a missile strike on Guam in the Western Pacific, home to the Anderson Air Force Base.

This would involve, in the bombastic wording of a spokesman for the Korean People’s Army, initiating a plan that would be “put into practice in a multi-current and consecutive way any moment once Kim Jong-un, supreme commander of the nuclear force of the DPKR, makes a decision.”

The nuclear playground is proving busier than ever. Ballistic missile tests are met by air-force fly overs and further military exercises. These, in turn, are met by more tests, spruced with the necessary, inflammatory rhetoric of incineration. The sand pit is being turned over.

Instead of pushing an agenda of recognition that would entail the survival of the Kim regime, rather than its annihilation let alone more genteel overthrow, asphyxiation is being pursued. Desperation is being fed its disturbing rations.

What matters now is which bully will call the other’s bluff. Will the ghost of pre-emption be made a blood-spilt reality? Pyongyang remains the better placed one, noting the old adage that leopards don’t tend to alter their indelible spots. (Remember Iraq, remember Libya). But it is Trump who persists in showing that a bully’s restraint and measure of self-control is taking a heavy toll.

Dr Binoy Kampmark is a senior lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University. He was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, University of Cambridge. He is a contributing editor to CounterPunch and can be followed on Twitter at @bkampmark.



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  1. Robert REYNOLDS

    This ‘shadow boxing’ on the Korean Peninsula is starting to become reminiscent of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

    At least in that former crisis we had, in Kennedy and Khrushchev, a couple of adversaries who could be described as reasonable sane.

    The same cannot be said of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. This whole thing is a very major worry.

  2. Ill fares the land

    Of course I have no facts to support the following contention, but it seems to me that China is likely to be secretly supporting North Korea and its bombastic chest-puffing. North Korea is testing missiles almost on a weekly basis and it must be sourcing the necessary materials from a friendly. Would this be China or Russia? China in particular harbours a distinct hatred towards Japan and both China and Russia stand to gain from North Korea testing a weak US that gets weaker and looks more pathetic by the day and shores up China’s regional power. China clearly sees itself as a super-power, especially in Asia and its actions in the South China Sea are part of a larger process to achieve dominant naval strength.

    Trump has no skills whatever in international diplomacy and is incapable of grasping the nuances of international relations and the delicate balances in play. It is also the case that the weaker the US becomes, the more China and Russia will seek to and can exploit that weakness. They both need to know how far they can push Trump and North Korea is assisting them in that endeavour. I think from the first day of his presidency, Russia and China have been probing little-by-little. The trap is that Trump is such a megalomaniac that I suspect there will be little warning of when he is about to “crack” because of damage to his fragile ego, so it seems to me that a deadly game is perhaps being played out.

  3. Peter F

    Judy Small : ‘Silo’

  4. Matters Not

    Politicians under extreme domestic pressure often start wars. Conflicts abroad both distract and unite the populace. The historical record is littered with examples. Not looking good.

    (And I was told that Hilary was the war-monger. Perhaps it’s in the WH water?)

  5. jimhaz

    2013 Trump

    “Be prepared, there is a small chance that our horrendous leadership could unknowingly lead us into World War III”

  6. Don Kelly

    Australia is inadvertently supplying coal to North Korea via Chinese owned coal mines in Australia. North Korea is China’s No1. coal customer.

  7. Miriam English

    I’m amazed that all those smart minds in the CIA don’t circumvent this stupid problem of two monumental idiots posturing warlike. In the old days they would broadcast subversive TV* and radio into the enemy land and air-drop reading material. It would gradually change the mindset of the people and make them friends. They could get cooperation with whatever the Chinese and South Korean equivalents are to improve the cultural lives of the people of North Korea. The standoff could be won without firing a single shot.

    Related, I’m amazed the NSA and FBI don’t do a similar job on the people of USA. It would be easy to boost diversity in TV, radio, and movies and present messages of tolerance and peace. The USA is already the most propagandised nation on Earth. Instead of using only aggressive, war-promoting propaganda and hyper-patriotic “USA is the greatest country on Earth” propaganda, you’d think they would see the sense in promoting peace, integration, and tolerance. As the USA is currently the most dangerous country on Earth, having it stumbling about rudderless with a lunatic mostly absent from the helm, it makes sense for those who are supposedly guardians of the country’s security to step in and actually do something positive about that security.

    But then, maybe the people in the spook agencies aren’t so smart after all. They drive out the genius-level ones like Edward Snowden.

    [* subversive TV like “Happy Days”, I Love Lucy, and so on.]

  8. Robert REYNOLDS

    No worries, Don.

    Anything for a dollar, you must know that. Do not forget that this is the ‘day and age’ of economic rationalism! If any problems arise then the inbuilt stabilizing mechanisms of the market immediately sort things out.

    It’s fantastic!!

  9. Michael Taylor

    (And I was told that Hilary was the war-monger …)

    MN, if I was given a dollar every time I saw that written on this site – or on Facebook under our posts – Carol and I would currently be sitting in the First Class lounge somewhere in Europe waiting to board for our next flight.

    In people’s haste to warn us that HC was going to start WW3 they completely overlooked what DT was capable of doing.

    I hate what’s happening in the world, but like you I have a sense of smugness.

  10. nurses1968

    I have no doubt either of the 2 bad hair day madmen could reduce to global population significantly with one bad move.
    I have to say though, I don’t think Kim Jong-uns statement was all that unreasonable
    “”Should the US pounce upon the DPRK with military force…we will respond with strategic nuclear force,”

  11. nurses1968

    Poor old Hilary Clinton has committed every conceivable crime known to humankind if social media is to be believed.
    Imagine the field day they would have had if she had won {something about powerful women ? }
    Now, Obama, I liked but America dropped 26,171 bombs in 2016 and over the term of the Obama Presidency it was a bomb every 20 minutes.He dramatically expanded the air wars and the use of special operations forces around the globe. In 2016, US special operators could be found in 70% of the world’s nations, 138 countries – a staggering jump of 130% since the days of the Bush administration.
    but, he’s a bloke

  12. Rossleigh

    Couldn’t Donnie and Kim just go for a wrestle and the loser has to disarm. Shouldn’t be a problem because I’m sure that Donald will tell us that nobody wrestles as well as he does!

  13. nurses1968

    They probably wouldn’t agree to a wrestle,what with those hairstyles

  14. Kronomex

    I think it’s more a case of the Butterball needling the Hairdo because he knows that opposite number just cannot stand the idea of someone standing up to his superior intellect, prowess, hands…heck, just about superior everything. I know it’s a potentially dangerous game of verbal one-upmanship but the main threat comes from the Hairdo and his childish petulance and need to strike out. All we can do is wait and see.

  15. Ceridwen66

    Discontinuities and the vagaries of human agency itself can change outcomes in unpredictable ways,and international structures can be changed in appropriate circumstances by human agency. For astute observers of international relations, Trump is doing nothing unexpected, he is following no other will than the system which spawned him. During the 2016 US presidential campaign, Donald Trump loudly proclaimed putting America first, nationalistic and isolationist words both he and his strategists knew were a direct reference to the historical American political climate which vehemently opposed US troop deployment and conflict participation in WWII. Consolidating this isolationist political narrative during his inaugural presidential address Trump again emphatically stated that “from now on, it’s going to be America first”. The elevation of Donald Trump into the foremost politically powerful position on the planet, and the escalating instability and disorder which has followed has now spawned a new unpredictability and created a steady evolution of new complexities within an already unstable international power structure.

    In his book The Grand Chessboard, Zbigniew Brzezinski argued the United States will be the first, last, and only global superpower. Since the close of WWII hostilities, through the Cold War and beyond, and in concordance with Brzezinski’s 1997 statement, Capitol Hill has historically displayed little or no appetite for any foreign policy, military engagement or political ideology than complete, utter and integrative United States primacy. Hamza Yusuf, the influential Islamic scholar stated that America has an immense amount of power, but it doesn’t use it in any benevolent way, it uses it to maintain a status quo. Nowhere does Yusuf’s statement resonate more than in the hard power capabilities of the United States. Following the Operation Desert Shield hostilities during the first Iraq War there was no innovative vivacity or concrete American interest in attempting the prevention of future conflict. In fact, there were tangible permutations in the Pentagon’s dogmatically conservative approach towards counter insurgency, dissent and revolution with billions of dollars spent on equipping and upgrading the United States military industrial complex to perform measurably better in any future Iraqi and Middle Eastern conflicts. There is no question or argument against the fact that the hard power of the United States is tremendous, it was designed and is stringently upheld to serve and protect a global hyper power possessing a multitude of global interests.

    Why are people surprised that the puppet megalomaniac currently sitting in the White House is performing perfectly to the way the system designed it to be? For the good of this planet and each and every one of us who inhabits it, resistance towards the hegemonic dominance of the United States war machine and the military industrial complex which sustains it is imperative.

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