Monday, 20 December 2010

Don't poke the bear

What on earth is going on in Korea?  Specifically, what on earth are South Korea and the USA doing holding live fire drills so close to the North?  It was interesting to read that at a meeting of the UN Security Council to decide how the current tensions can be relaxed, Russia and China both said the drills were a bad idea, but the ‘good ol’ US of A were keen to press on, and it seems the South are keen to do whatever is needed to keep America happy and on side.  I should mark the date in my diary – the day I was in agreement with the Russian and Chinese governments.*

I completely fail to see what positive effects the drills could have had. In the long run, North Korea will not back down because of these shows of force, even if it is genuinely outgunned - it’s just not in its nature.  So this sabre rattling (or maybe it’s better to call it willy waving?) can surely have no effect other than to turn up the heat just a little bit more.  Oh, it (hopefully) won’t cause a war by itself, but it may go a long way towards convincing the North that the other side is not only ready for war, but actually fancies a little bit of rough and tumble.

In true ‘red rag to a bull’ fashion, the North will surely only fight fire with fire.  Although North Korea has said it won’t react specifically to these live fire drills, the nature of the standoff hasn’t changed.  Or if it has, it’s certainly not a step closer to peace due to some shells landing in water North Korea claims as its own.  Despite claiming that it is the North that is being the aggressor, actions such as this do not seem to be those of mature nations trying to avoid conflict.

Not that I want to appear to be defending the North’s actions in any of this – the sinking of the South Korean ship ‘Cheonan’ in March and the attack on Yeonpyeong island in November were unforgivably aggressive acts, designed to push the limits of patience and tolerance and provoke further aggression.  They were though no doubt of internal value to strengthen the military’s support of Kim Jong Il and his heir Kim Jong Un.

Ultimately, it seems certain that the only long term solution to the peninsula’s problems is a change in the political and economic situation in North Korea.  But I fear that too little talking and too much growling will never help that be a peaceful change.

I think that one interesting thing we’ll see come out of this is the increasing perception of China as an international diplomatic strength.  They may be secretly embarrassed by their ally North Korea (thanks, Wikileaks), but if they can successfully keep the warmongers of North Korea and the USA apart, they may begin to earn respect as a tolerant middle man.  Its certainly in their interests – China doesn’t want American troops that close to their border any more than they did in the 1950’s, but realises that North Korea is not the most stable decision maker and would expect Beijing’s assistance if the situation deteriorated.  Peace is the only option that keeps China safe as well as both parts of Korea.

Perhaps if America were successfully fulfilling the role of unbiased arbitrator the situation would not have reached the position it is in now.  Somehow, though, this whole situation seems to come down to what America wants, rather than what the international community decides is best.  Doesn’t that sound depressingly familiar?  I think this is one occasion when America needs to realise that it cannot be both military ally of South Korea and international peacekeeper at the same time.

The people I feel genuinely sorry for in all of this are the people of South Korea (who don’t seem to ever get much of a mention) – let’s not forget that Seoul is within easy reach of North Korean missiles.  They are caught between a rock and a hard place – a power hungry, war mongering country with a gun to their head on one side, and North Korea on the other.

*Interestingly, the opinions of the other two permanent Security Council members, the UK and France, aren’t being reported in the media.  Maybe they both did the smart thing and kept their heads down?  As a UK subject though, I’d be very interested to know who my government was backing in all of this.  I’m sure I could take an educated guess though…

No comments:

Post a Comment