Philobiblon: North Korea and the US

Saturday, July 02, 2005

North Korea and the US

Bruce Cumings North Korea presents a compelling picture of the Stalinist state, as I said yesterday, but it also presents a revealing, and frequently terrifying, picture of the world's rogue superpower.

Cumings says: "It was the Korean War, not Greece or Turkey or the Marshall Plan or Vietnam, that inaugurated historically unprecedented defense budgets (the budget quadrupled from June to December 1950, from $13 billion to $54 billion, or more than $500 billion in current dollars) and built the national security state at home and a far-flung archipelago of military base abroad, that transformed a limited containment doctrine into a global crusade, and that ignited McCarthyism just as it seemed to " fizzle, thereby giving the Cold War its long run. (p. 8)

Now you might say that Cumings is making special pleading for his pet subject, but that budget figure is telling.

Eight years after that budget jump, Cuming says, the US brought nukes to South Korea "in spite of the 1953 armistice agreement that prohibited the introduction of qualitatively new weaponry ... primarily to stabilize the volatile civil war" (to stop the South attacking the North).

If you suffer from nightmares you might not want to read the next bit ...

There were 280mm nuclear cannons and "Honest John nuclear-tipped missiles" and a year later air-borne "Matador cruise missiles". Later atomic demolition mines, which weighed 60 pounds but had the same power as the Hiroshima bomb, were added. They were moved around in Jeeps, helicopters and carried in backpacks!!! "That one of them might stray across the DMZ during a training exercise ... and give Pyongyang an atomic bomb was a constant possibility."

"In January 1968 the North Koreans seized the American spy ship Pueblo, capturing the crew and keeping it in prison for 11 months. The initial reaction of decision makers was to drop a nuclear weapon on Pyongyang."! (p. 53)

Since the weapons were so close to the North, there was a "use it or lose it" mentality. "For decades ... the US planned to use tactical and battlefield nuclear weapons in the very early stages of a new Korean conflict, the usual scenario being ... within one hour of the outbreak of war". (p.54)

So we should perhaps most thank Kim Il Sung for the fact there has not been any use of nuclear weapons since WW2. (And you can understand why the regime was, and is, so keen to have nukes of its own.)

But there is credit on the US side - in 1991 President Bush (the older - dread to think what the younger might do with these at hand) "announced that he was withdrawing all tactical and battlefield nuclear weapons on a worldwide basis, destroying them or putting them into storage". (p.55) But as Cumings says, from the NK view, US submarines can still sail right up to their coast.

Cumings sums up the North as "a small, Third World, postcolonial nation that has been gravely wounded, first by 40 years of Japanese colonialism and then by another 60 years of national division and war, and that is deeply insecure, threatened by the world around it". (p.151)

It is, for me, a convincing portrait.

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