A festering wound

A festering wound

Time to defuse nuclear Cold War tensions on the Korean Peninsula

By John Grula 05/23/2013

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Nearly three years ago this column warned that America should do all it can to reduce tensions between North Korea and South Korea. Unfortunately, North Korea and the possibility of war on the Korean Peninsula have been much in the news of late, so clearly the tense situation between the two Koreas has only worsened.

The latest go-round between North Korea, South Korea and the South’s ally, the United States, started escalating after the North supposedly conducted a third underground test of a nuclear device on Feb. 12. This follows alleged nuclear tests by North Korea in 2006 and 2009. The first test had an explosive yield of less than one kiloton and is widely considered to have been a failure or possibly a faked test conducted with conventional explosives.

The second “test” in 2009 had an estimated yield of about six kilotons, as did the most recent test. However, there is considerable doubt as to whether these tests were actually nuclear, because in both cases diagnostic radiation was not detected by sensors in South Korea, China, and Japan, according to Science magazine and BBC News Asia online. By comparison, the primitive nuclear bomb the US dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 had a yield of 15 kilotons. Clearly, the third-rate nuclear technologies the North Koreans have so far developed do not equal what our nation was capable of 68 years ago. At this point, it is by no means certain that the North has even one nuclear bomb that actually works.

On April 11 a report by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was made public in a congressional hearing, and in this report the DIA said that it had “moderate confidence” that the North has already succeeded in building a nuclear warhead that can fit on top of a ballistic missile. However, after this conclusion became public, the director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper, released a statement that said the DIA’s position does not reflect the consensus view of the 15 other intelligence agencies that comprise our rather large and diverse intelligence community. Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama have both voiced support for Clapper’s statement, according to reports in the Los Angeles Times.

Our media constantly portray new North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a paranoid nutcase, the same way they depicted his father, Kim Jong Il. But, as pointed out in my earlier article, there’s an old saying that “even paranoids have real enemies.” Moreover, we have our own share of nutcases within the ranks of our military and political establishments.  

Case in point: As part of our recent war games on and around the Korean Peninsula with the South Korean military, for the first time the US flew nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers, B-52 bombers and F-22 stealth warplanes near the North Korean border. This was needlessly and irresponsibly provocative. As the Wall Street Journal reported on April 3, the Obama administration subsequently acknowledged this, and US officials decided to “dial back” their show of force, worried that North Korea and its new leader “may be more provoked than the US had intended.” Ya think?

Among other things, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel subsequently postponed a long-planned test of a US intercontinental Minuteman 3 missile, “because of concerns the launch could be misinterpreted and exacerbate the current crisis,” according to a report by The Associated Press.

How would we like it if North Korea buzzed our West Coast with nuclear-capable bombers? Would we find that provocative?

In its April 5 lead editorial, the LA Times naively stated that the Obama administration’s ultimate goal is “a Korean peninsula without nuclear weapons.” This canard has been repeated many times in the past. It’s a canard because nuclear-armed US submarines routinely ply the waters near the Korean Peninsula, and can deliver a nuclear knock-out punch to North Korea at any time. The North Koreans know this and it’s one of the reasons they persist in pursuing a nuclear deterrent. In this way they are no different than the US and our insistence on maintaining our nuclear deterrent.  

So, what’s to be done about North Korea and the tensions on the Korean Peninsula? In the short term, the US should use all of its diplomatic skills to persuade North Korea’s main ally, China, to lean on the North to tone down its belligerent rhetoric. Secretary of State Kerry is already working on this, according to the Times.

Finally, the US and South Korea need to negotiate a peace treaty with North Korea and put a formal end to the Korean War, which stopped with a truce in 1953. That 60 years have gone by without such a treaty is absurd and the primary reason this Cold War wound continues to fester.

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