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Opinion

Defusing the “Three Against Two” Nuclear Pentagon

In this column, Johan Galtung, rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University and author of "50 Years - 100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives", writes that there is a glimmer of hope for reconciling the current Korean crisis: a multilateral deal involving the whole "pentagon" -- China, North Korea, the United States, Japan and South Korea -- giving goods for goods for international conviviality.

KYOTO, Apr 15 2013 (IPS) - It has not been this bad since the 1950-53 Korean War.

October 1962, the Cuba-USSR-U.S. crisis, comes to mind. There were horror visions of mushroom clouds. A proud Cuba, with a strong leader-dictatorship, a social revolution in the near past, was denied a normal place in the state system, bullied by the U.S. and some allies with sanctions and boycotts into isolation, which has lasted more than 50 years.

Johan Galtung. Credit: Courtesy of the author.

Johan Galtung. Credit: Courtesy of the author.

The Soviet Union shipped nuclear-tipped missiles for deployment as close to the U.S. as the U.S. missiles deployed in Turkey were to the Soviet Union. And in that lay the solution: tit for tat, one nuclear threat for the other, in negotiations kept secret, ultimately revealed by Robert McNamara.

Three countries were involved in 1962; in the current crisis five countries, three nuclear powers (China, North Korea, U.S.) with Japan and South Korea. There are unreconciled traumas, of Japan having colonised Korea (1910-45), attacking China and the U.S. during the Pacific War of 1931 to 1945; U.S. using nuclear bombs against Japan in 1945, occupying Japan and South Korea; North Korea attacking South Korea; United Nations-U.S. counter-attacking, ending in 1953 with an armistice; then 60 years of an immensely frustrating quest for unification with the annual U.S.-South Korea + Team Spirit exercises close to North Korea.

And, more recently, the U.S.-China competition for the number one economic world position, the U.S.’ efforts to build economic alliances with the European Union and with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and then the Japan-China conflict over the Diaoyu-Senkaku Islands.

To top it: North Korea’s threats about nuclear weapons, fascist like anybody threatening to turn others into ashes, but so far only verbal violence.

Nonetheless, even against a background like that, there are some ways of defusing this Three against Two pentagon.

Dae-Hwa Chung, a professor at Pusan National University in South Korea wrote about the 60 years conflict, with U.S. bullying North Korea by withholding a peace treaty and normalisation. His basic points: the Soviet Union pulled out of North Korea, but the U.S. remained in South Korea to encircle China; Soviet Union and China recognised South Korea, the United Nations recognised both, U.S. and Japan failed to live up to the agreement of cross-recognition, never recognised North Korea but made peace, and a de facto alliance, with South Korea.

One may speculate why. Both Koreas were dictatorships; South Korea acquired democratic features only in the 1990s. U.S. had a visceral hatred of North Korea for breaking the chain of U.S. war victories since the second War of Independence in 1812 by not capitulating, together with Japan and South Korea hoping for its collapse, even more so after the 1989-90 collapse and absorption of East Germany into Germany.

There are sombre speculations. Both Japan and U.S. have a history of losing wars on the Korean peninsula, Japan in the 1590s under shogun Hideyoshi, and then in 1945 to the U.S. and USSR; the U.S. in 1953, by not winning.

Hawks in both countries might keep the polarisation and nurse their own traumas to fuel a war of revenge, winning, not losing this time; not like the Bay of Pigs in Cuba 1961. For Japanese hawks, some in power under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the current crisis is a golden opportunity to “normalise” their own country, getting rid of Constitution Article 9 depriving Japan of the right to war, brushing away any reconciliation with the Koreas and China (by admitting Japanese wrongs from 1910-1931-1945) — to the contrary, making young Japanese proud of their country.

With strong, even existential motives such as these fueling North Korean, U.S. and Japanese intransigence, the prospects are dim.

And yet let us look for some glimmer of hope, however distant.

A bilateral deal like Cuba 1962 is difficult because the U.S.’ use of Turkey and the USSR’s use of Cuba were symmetric, inviting a tit for tat. What could North Korea give in return for the indispensable peace treaty-normalisation? Credible International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) control used to be the answer, but North Korea has crossed the red line and become a nuclear power.

North Korea could dismantle its verbal and physical threats, hoping for peace treaty-normalisation in return. Would the U.S., used to dictating outcomes giving nothing in return, agree? Like in 1962 keeping it secret, with a “profile in courage” narrative? Hopefully, but not very likely, some secret deals are in the making.

A multilateral deal involving the whole pentagon, giving goods for goods for international conviviality, would be the real Team Spirit. Concretely this would be a (North)East Asian Community with China, Taiwan, Hong Kong-Macao, Japan, the Korean peninsula; and Mongolia, the Russian Far East, maybe more.

The Community would relate equitably to the U.S. and the Pacific by extending TPP to include China and a fully recognised North Korea. The Diaoyu-Senkaku Islands with their exclusive economic zones would belong to the (North) East Asian Community. China-Japan would own it together, share the revenue, with a portion to sustain the community.

There would be mutual and equal benefits; everybody would gain.

And that is a problem for the minds hostage to zero-sum games and addicted to winning; at present found in all five, using patriotism to fuel such games. A change of mentality is needed, like in Europe in 1950. That may take centuries, but could also happen very quickly under enlightened statesmanship. None of the five qualifies for that, today. But together, in a summit meeting, buoyed by NGOs and media?

(END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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