US, N. Korea exchange doomsday threats | Sunday Observer

US, N. Korea exchange doomsday threats

India as a free, modern nation.
India as a free, modern nation.

People on the tiny Pacific Ocean islands of Guam, an US military base, are practising nuclear attack drill as are people in Southern Japan. World leaders are demanding that the world’s sole super power step back from militaristic postures against North Korea’s maverick dictator and his “nuclear threat” – a ‘threat’ that is puny, if not imaginary.

Last week the world reverberated with a kind of nuclear brinkmanship not heard since those early years of the Cold War in the aftermath of the horrific Second World War and its concluding atomic bombings. On one side there was the threat of nuclear strikes against specific targets and, on the other, there was the threat of an overwhelming military offensive in retaliation, including the use of nuclear weapons.

The difference between the trading of nuclear threats in the early Cold War and its repetition today is that the Cold War saw two equally powerful, well-managed states face-off with their equally matched arsenals that included thousands of atomic bombs.

In that scenario, the ‘stand-off’ was complete: both sides, that is the Soviet Union and the United States, acknowledged the destructive capacities of the other and the impact of such warfare on themselves.

The leaderships in both superpowers as well their intelligentsia had the capacity to realise the danger of what they, themselves, termed as ‘mutually assured destruction’ (MAD).

In the Cold War, the notable difference between the two superpowers was that only one, the US, had actually used nuclear weapons in war. Fortunately, the US intelligentsia and political leadership were intelligent enough and enlightened enough to full understand the awful implications to humanity of such nuclear warfare. This political will diverted Washington away from any further irresponsible brandishing its nuclear arsenal in its geo-political engagements.

It is significant, however, that Washington has never officially regretted using nuclear weapons against Japan in World War 2.

This full awareness of the risk of MAD, was why the Cold War never became a Hot War although both superpowers engaged in geo-political rivalry through client states leading to numerous ‘proxy wars’.

The scenario today, however, is vastly different.

The seeming confrontation between the USA and North Korea is not one between two superpowers. Rather, it is one between two grossly unequal states. On the one side is the world’s sole remaining (and, fading) superpower, not only possessing a vast nuclear arsenal but experienced in its usage. Being the richest power, the US has an incomparable capacity to sustain a war – as it is already doing in several parts of the globe, albeit on a smaller scale.

On the other side is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK - North Korea), small, greatly impoverished country that, due to the Korean War of the early 1950s, has remained trapped in a seemingly permanent confrontation with its southern neighbour, the Republic of Korea (ROK – South Korea). Due to the failure to conclude a peace agreement, the two Koreas have remained locked in this state of suspended war.

The United States, South Korea’s military ally during the Korean War, seems to have been content to tolerate this suspended hostilities status, since this enables the continued stationing of US military assets in South Korea. Thereby the US has, for the past half century and more, positioned military forces on the East Asian mainland close to its geo-political rivals, Russia and China.

Neither Moscow nor Beijing has liked this, especially when, in ostensible fulfilment of its defence pacts with South Korea and Japan, the US routinely holds massive military exercises every year on Korean and Japanese shores and in the Sea of Japan off the coast of Russia.

Despite all Washington’s claims and President Trump’s ferocious rants of ‘fire and fury’, the rest of the world is fully aware that even if North Korea does possess a few nuclear weapons and might, in the distant future, develop capacity to launch nuclear missiles, neither does that country have the cash or the manpower to actually carry out an aggressive war against any country, let alone a superpower.

Why is it that both Russia and China, both sharing borders with North Korea (not a whole ocean way, as is the US) are not perturbed by North Korea’s attempts to build up its military? If Pyongyang is a ‘rogue state’ as labelled by Washington, then all neighbouring countries should fear it.

Last week’s loud threats of military devastation by Washington must be seen as not merely an abusive response to the jingoistic abuse hurled by Pyongyang. It is also a rather childish attempt to alarm Pyongyang’s backers, Russia and China, in to reducing their support for North Korea.

So far, neither Moscow nor Beijing have been taken in by such theatrics by an impresario US president more noted for his bombast and vulgarities rather than state craft.

In South Asia, India and Pakistan are celebrating the seventieth anniversary of the founding of their separate post-colonial republics, although Pakistan, sadly, must do so amidst economic and political crises.

The India that celebrates the seventieth year in the life of its republic is not the India that founded this giant democratic polity. Once saturated with immense poverty an d social deprivation and perceived as ‘backward’, India today, is an emerging world power.

Given its widely disparate sub-national social and geographical composition, India has successfully retained a political unity that has become an example of complex state management for the world. The centripetal tendency of capitalism has been a crucial unifier. However, the degree of state stability achieved and sustained must be attributed also to the strength of the Indian political class in political management – in both dynamic negotiation as well as institution-building.

What India cannot boast about is its social condition: whether it is the worsening rich-poor gap or the impervious caste, gender and other group inequity.

Pakistan cannot claim the same ‘success’ as India in its life as a free, modern nation. This is mainly because of its volatile colonial legacy of barely unified tribes and clans combined with an over-dependence on its armed forces for ensuring political stability.

On the one hand, the political entangled armed forces soon resorted to nationalistic militarism to legitimise their role in governance. On the other, the extreme poverty in rural areas have fuelled communalism, especially religious communalism, and, various political forces, including the military high command, have attempted to manipulate such communalism for their benefit.

Hence, the never-ending bombings, massacres, kidnappings, mutilations that plague this culturally rich country world famous for its Urdu poetry, its classical and modern musical creativity and, its artistic talent.

And to this must be added the same complex of socio-economic iniquities afflicting India, although on a smaller scale.

Both Pakistan and India are guilty of a long history as modern polluters and contributors to global warming.

What South Asians must appreciate is that throughout these tumultuous seven decades, these two nuclear powers have had several armed confrontations but have never brandished their nuclear firepower. This is in total contrast to the war of words now on-going between North Korean and the US. 

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