North Korea Is A Nuclear Power – Which Makes It Harder To Exploit
It would seem that 2017 has brought the world a ninth nuclear power. Although still undeclared, North Korea appears to have joined the UK, USA, Russia, China, France, India, Pakistan and, most likely, Israel in having the world’s most deadly weapons as part of their arsenal.
Whatever your opinion on nuclear weapons, North Korea has displayed some serious mettle in remaining committed to its strategic goal of becoming a nuclear power. This has been achieved with little in the way of external technical assistance and despite UN sanctions, international isolation, and the extreme poverty of its public.
Its determination to become the world’s ninth nuclear state has been motivated by the simple premise that the deterrent offers the regime its survival. Thus, 2018 may see a change of tack from the international community on North Korea relations now that it seemingly has a credible nuclear capacity, although whether the tone will be more modest or more hostile is unclear.
The prevailing narrative about the intentions of North Korea has been that the East Asian state is the aggressor and that the international community led by the United States has been forced to react to a threat. However, much of North Korea’s communications have also played up to the “psycho”, “lunatic”, “rocket man” language used by some politicians and the more tabloid-inclined media to describe Kim Jong-un. This is despite there being no evidence that Kim, his father or grandfather have suffered from mental health problems.
The North Korean regime is likely to believe that the world being fearful of them will work to their advantage, while the US-led coalition are able to construct an enemy in the style of an evil Bond villain to encapsulate the non-capitalist “other”.
Herein lies the crux of the North Korea issue that few people appear to realise. Nuclear weapons matter, human rights matter, human security matters, freedom of movement matters, access to basic medical treatment matters, their style of governance matters, but what actually counts in world politics is money and power.
North Korea is a poor country with minimal infrastructure. On my chaperoned tour of the country, I saw a way of life in the countryside that would not look out of place in pre-industrial revolution Europe.
People rise at dawn and go to bed at sunset. Farming is labour-intensive with only basic tools and is largely arable. Indeed, I do not recall seeing any animals at pasture throughout the week I was there – although they made sure to offer us meat at our lunches.
Life seems tough for a lot of people, but there is a beauty in their respect for, reliance upon and entwinement with the natural world that we have largely lost.
There are various indicators that beneath North Korea’s terrain sit vast quantities of natural resources that the regime has not the technology, capacity, or perhaps inclination to exploit to any great extent.
Many parts of the country are dark after sunset, such is the unavailability of power, and most of North Korea’s 25 million citizens have little access to or knowledge of the consumer products that exist beyond their borders. Gaining access to its finite resources would undoubtedly be a lucrative prospect for many outside countries.
The political scientist Nicholas Spykman once wrote that “the search for power is not made for the achievement of moral values; moral values are used to facilitate the attainment of power.” Apply that to a scenario in which a “fear and loathing”, to use Hunter S Thompson’s phrase, has been created around North Korea because it serves the interests of those who seek to profit from the removal of the Kim regime who impede capitalist expansion.
The implication here then is that capitalism represents a moral path on the course of human development. It does not, and we should not isolate the North Korea issue from the critiques of capitalism going on elsewhere.
In September 2017, when asked how he would solve the North Korea issue, Jocko Willink, a former US Navy SEAL and now political commentator, wrote (in a tweet): “Drop 25 million iPhones on them and put satellites over them with free wifi”.
Willink’s answer tacitly acknowledged the capitalist imperative behind the discrediting of the Kim regime above any compassionate or security concerns. In short, seduce the North Korean public with the bright lights of consumerism so that neoliberalism can have its exploitative way with them.
North Korea may have entered its nuclear military age in 2017 but that does not necessarily mean that the ongoing hostilities will take a more nuclear turn in the coming year. Nuclear weapons are not meant to be used and evidence suggests that the Kim regime understands this as much as any other nuclear power.
More important, however, is that the continuity of nuclear peace seems assured because a capitalist imperative is the primary shaper of the hostilities. A nuclear genocide helps no one in that regard.