In Line of Fire: The Korean Peninsula in U.S.-China Strategy

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      In Line of Fire: The Korean Peninsula in U.S.-China Strategy
      by Tim Beal Monthly Review July 1

      …The literature on U.S.-Korea policy displays dazzling pyrotechnics of hypocrisy. That representatives of the world’s most potent nuclear power, and the only one to have actually used nuclear weapons, can condemn with high moral dudgeon North Korea for developing a small nuclear deterrent, in response to the U.S. threat moreover, is truly astounding. That such hypocrisy garners applause and repetition rather than ridicule is a telling compliment to the power of U.S. global perception management. However, beyond hypocrisy, and mirroring it, there lies irrationality. Much of the discussion of the issues just does not make sense and there is little in the way of rational explanation. For instance, we are frequently told that North Korea is a threat, even an existential one, to the United States, South Korea, and “the region.”89 Yet, we are also told that a North Korean attack on the United States or South Korea would clearly be suicidal and futile, as Colin Powell expressed: “It would be suicidal for North Korea to attack the US.… If North Korea attacked the US, the US would immediately strike back, and the North Korean regime would be no more.”90 How can both statements hold? Why would North Korea commit suicide for no purpose? The threat of retaliation as a deterrent, even if it were suicidal if carried out, does make sense, but that is quite another matter, seldom discussed.91

      One way of attempting to resolve this contradiction is to claim that Kim Jong-un (or his father Kim Jong-il before him) is irrational. “We are not dealing with a rational person,” claimed U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.92 Senator John McCain called him a “crazy, fat kid.”93 More informed observers realize this will not work and thus produce more convoluted explanations and prescriptions that ultimately are no more satisfactory.94

      This is an ambitious and lengthy overview of the centrality of Korea in the emerging confrontational relationship with China. There are several good observations or insights in the article. The excerpt above is one of them. Another is the author’s explanation of why there is no reason to go to war over Taiwan or other contentious issues in the US China relationship. I disagree with the author’s overly pessimistic view of the Moon Jae-in administration, unfairly placing it in the category of other obsequious South Korean governments that preceded it. I think it’s a fair argument to raise the issue of why the Moon government has been less successful than it hoped in changing the framework for relations with North Korea. That would require a similarly long discussion.

      I’ve rarely seen an article address this topic in such a comprehensive manner.

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