Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A sight of the next cold war?
Newspapers globally have been reporting on comments made by a senior US Army representative, General Leon LaPorte, that the US Army can "decisively defeat the North Korean threat", and that "whether North Korea has one or several nuclear weapons does not change the balance on the peninsula."

This kind of rhetoric immediately harkens back to the old days of the Cold War in the Sixties, and as crazy as it sounds, it may have some significance. Whilst the US has been largely focused on deterring nuclear ambitions in the Iraq and more recently Iran, with an overriding focus of bringing democracy to the Middle East, the North Koreans have gone about their business of developing nuclear arms halfway across the world. As Bush has no doubt concluded, Islamic militants with nuclear weapons are more of an unpredictable direct threat than the more predictable example of Natan Sharansky's "fear society" of North Korea, with all its bluster and hubris. This aside, it is well established that the North Koreans most likely have developed a number of nuclear weapons, and it looks like a strategy of containment, as opposed to aggression, is prudent.

According to Sharansky, fear societies such as North Korea have to have an outside threat to maintain internal discipline and blind patriotism, and will react with aggression if attacked. Whilst Sharansky leans toward pre-emptive strikes, it would be interesting to see what he would say about the North Korean situation, given the nuclear end game in which aggression against North Korea could see nuclear missiles landing on the USA's west coast.

As few presidents in a democracy such as the US would have the confidence to launch aggressive strikes against a nuclear power with the chance of retaliatory strikes against their homeland, one would conclude that the US would enter into a nuclear containment approach. North Korea does not have the resources to compete with the US as a Superpower state, but a nuclear-equipped North Korea does notably shift the power balance in the East. Whilst China has made significant strides back into the Western world, there still remain fears of a combative China supporting a rogue North Korean state, which would then herald a Superpower Eastern bloc, similar to the old Cold War scenario.

We're a long way off, but stranger things have happened, and history has a nasty habit of repeating itself...