Tuesday, October 10, 2006

80s revival


I don't usually do politics here, so if you want a reasoned, geopolitical analysis, please go elsewhere. But a few thoughts strike me about the news that North Korea has nukes.

1. When I was a teenager, I used to wear a CND badge, even go on occasional marches. "Ah, but if we didn't have nuclear weapons," said older, wiser, more expensively dressed people, "we'd be at the mercy of the countries that do." Could it not be that Kim Jong-il has been reading old speeches by Thatcher and Reagan and everybody else who poured scorn on unilateralism a quarter-century ago? Could it not be that, like any leader, whether loony dictator (which he is) or altruistic friend of the people, he's just protecting his strategic interests? Well, people, this is the multilateralism that was the bedrock of Western defence strategy throughout the 1980s. Mutually Assured Destruction, they called it back then. You like?

2. George W Bush, in his 2002 State of the Union address, identified North Korea as part of an "axis of evil". Wouldn't it have been terribly embarrassing if the US invaded another country on the basis of WMDs that it didn't have? Surely Kim, like Ahmadinejad of Iran, is only trying to live up to his advertising?

3. The North Koreans have been entirely open in their nuclear plans. They withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. They said they were going to develop nuclear weapons; they then said they were going to test one. They did it. Compare this with the Israelis, who still won't admit that they've got them.

4. Can someone come up with an objective, globally applicable criterion for deciding which countries are allowed to possess nuclear weapons, and which aren't? "He's the kind of guy that Dick Cheney might pick as a hunting buddy" isn't good enough, although it is appropriately ambiguous.

None of this is a defence of the Stalinist hellhole that is North Korea, or its mad dwarf of a leader. I don't want North Korea to have nuclear weapons. It's a bad thing. But seriously, once all the indignation and neocon willy-waving has cooled down, what are you going to do about it? To bomb Pyongyang now would either provoke World War III; or prove that all the arguments that underpinned the Cold War, and the geopolitical status quo thereafter, are less substantial and convincing than Kim Jong-il's Eraserhead hair.

PS: Rather more informed comment from Dan Plesch in The Guardian and Richard Lloyd Parry in The Times.

16 comments:

Billy said...

I believe the rule for 4 is "We're allowed them because we already have them, but no one else is"

By the way, do you think this situation could have been averted by the Americans being a bit less heavy-handed, refusing to negotiate etc.?

Anonymous said...

My friend is over in South Korea at the moment teaching English. He keeps hearing the news and quite understandably shitting himself.

However the thing that amazes him is that the locals are amazingly underwhelmed. He expects people to be running around freaking out, but they aren't, the old men are still playing checkers, the shops and restaurants are still running, life goes on.

So he emails me, because he knows that I'll worry on his behalf.

Tim Footman said...

I guess so, Billy, although I'd never claim to be an expert. Simon Tisdall in today's Graun suggests that the US crackdown on NK banks in Macau may have been the final straw. Incidentally, in the interests of balance, read this foam-flecked neocon wank in the Torygraph.

Hi Heather. Two things: one is that nothing all that unexpected has happened. Pyongyang are only doing what they've said they were going to do, and the test itself is more symbolic than anything (or, as the rumours hint, it might be bullshit after all).

Also, I don't know much about Korea, but here in Thailand, and elsewhere in Asia, people don't tend to shit themselves that much. a) Many of them have been through a lot of shit already, and b) There's often a sense of fate/karma/inevitability about big things. I've been through a tsunami and a coup since I've been here, and for most people, it's business as usual.

Billy said...

From the comments of that Telegraph thing you linked to:

Getting rid of the N Korean nuke can only be done by dismantling (bombing) North Korea's infrastructure and starving the population until they dunp Kim. He's not in a position to back down.

Oh dear me.

patroclus said...

Tim, your commentary is infinitely more informed than anything I could come up with. I find macrogeopolitics incredibly wearisome, as it's all terribly depressing stuff and there's never a right answer.

Instead, have a link to some bird from the Guardian who doesn't understand the wibbly-wobbly etiquette of the blogosphere. Another one of the old media who thinks she's allowed to set the 'rules of engagement' for life in the new. Tsk.

dh said...

I avoid politics too but I find your assessment very reasonable. Unfortunately the US, with its massive nuclear arsenal, is running on pure paranoia these days.

Anonymous said...

The US scares me just as much as North Korea. They have better technology as well.

Tim Footman said...

Billy: This is the guy who (according to Private Eye) insists that all DT journalists should refer to Dubya's Folly as "the liberation of Iraq". Oh well, I'm sure his mum loves him.

Patroclus: I'm probably treading on exceedingly rocky ground here, but I can't help noticing that all the hacks she namechecks as being concerned about nasty comments on CiF are female. Do female writers get a harder time; or do they object more? There's another thesis for you.

I will say, though, that my first CiF piece provoked more hostile comment than anything I've ever experienced on Cultural Snow. Maybe it's the feeling that because this is "real" journalism (albeit expressed in blog form), readers are entitled to higher standards. I must admit, I did consider turning this post into a CiF offering. For less than a second.

And now, neatly conflating the two subjects (crap journalism in the DT and not understanding blogging), does this sound like a blog to you? A whole load of descriptions of a single day, by thousands of people. It's interesting, but I don't think it's a blog.

Tim Footman said...

dh, doc: I'm always wary of the kneejerk anti-Americanism that tries to pin everything on Bush. NK is a foul regime, and I'd rather live in Poughkeepsie than Pyongyang. But there's no doubt that in terms of what it has the capability to do, the United States is potentially the most dangerous nation in history. This is why the eschatological religious right scares the shit out of me so much. These guys genuinely believe that armageddon is round the corner, and the good guys are saved. When they gaze at Iran, they see their own, mad-eyed reflection.

dh said...

America bashing is just too easy these days. And counterproductive. The most interesting reaction in all this is the one from China. We are supposed to believe that they are REALLY pissed off. I doubt it. The last thing China wants is instability in North Korea.

tom l said...

There's a whole history of the so-called superpowers treating the rest of the world like children - and not like spoiled children but like bad naughty children. the superpowers are brute parents, waving around tiny carrots and giant sticks. 'do what we want or else we'll punish you'. this goes back quite a way. it's a persisting colonial mentality. nations like china, iran, india, pakistan, north korea aren't putting up with it anymore. some of them went ahead and got their nukes already. the others are following suit. the old mutual-assured-destruction theory doesn't fit anymore. it only made sense when it was the u.s. vs. the u.s.s.r. nuclear war will not mean the end of the world. it will just mean genocide by other means, and we already have a lot of genocide going around these days. i'm afraid we will see nuclear bombs being used. someday maybe the so-called superpowers will hit on the idea of bribing their children, giving them something they want, whether it's a seat at the table of the world trade organization, money, respect, etc ... the balance of power has to shift and is shifting and i think it will not be pretty.

patroclus said...

This is immensely depressing stuff...so I'm sticking with what I know. I looked at that 'mass blog' link from the Torygraph, Tim, and I thought: 'surely there are thousands of British bloggers who are *already* planning to record their thoughts and feelings on October 17th - and on most other days of the year too, without it being a gimmicky pursuit sanctioned by...' [I forget who, and the Torygraph site has gone down now].

But it does play into these thoughts I was having about the blogosphere - if it does get preserved for posterity - serving as the 'structure of feeling' of our age that R. Williams was forever harping on about. Keep meaning to write about that. Maybe tomorrow.

orange anubis said...

Speaking of reasoned, geopolitical analysis, possibly you managed to avoid seeing the Sun today. The front page headline - 'WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT KOREA?' You have to applaud really.

Billy said...

At least the Sun acknowledged the Koreans. The Mail had some bollocks about Royal Mail on the front page.

Spinsterella said...

#4 has always caused a lot of confustion in my tiny little brain as well.

THey always pull out the 'unstable regime' argument. But why are India and Pakistan allowed when they are permanently on the brink of civil war?

And Israel? Surely not the most stable part of the world?

Anyhow, over at CiF; if only they allowed commentators to have links, like on proper blogs...

People might be a bit less nasty knowing that the journalist, and all other commentators could pop round theirs and return the compliment.

Tim Footman said...

dh: I'm wondering what conditions China will demand from the US in exchange for having a stern word with Kim. Not a great time to be Taiwanese, I suspect...

Tom: From my vantage point, this is the Asian century; it's now a question of 'when', not 'if'. And because most Asian countries are starry-eyed with the wonders of capitalism, the US is just going to have to learn to accommodate the fact.

Patroclus: I fully intend to take part in this Oct 17 thing, with a post about how daft it all is.

OA: Yes, I rather liked that one. Although it's a bit sad that it took a reality show for the phrase to percolate sufficiently into the Sunreader collective consciousness...

Billy: Maybe Kim should take over the Royal Mail. Official figures would show that 100% of letters arrived before they were sent.

Spin: Yes, CiF sometimes seems less like a real blog; more like a particularly ill-tempered edition of Points of View.