The Trigger-Happy Kim

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Asians Say: ‘Better the Kim You Know…’

by Eric Margolis by Eric Margolis

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North Korea’s u201CDear Leaderu201D must be sipping a glass of his favorite French wine and having a good laugh as he observes the worldwide hysteria he created by shooting off a tiny nuclear device.

For a dictator who loves international attention and movie-making with equal passion, what could be more satisfying than playing arch villains in his own James Bond production while savoring the storm of international hypocrisy and prefabricated outrage his less than one kiloton nuclear test unleashed.

But keep in mind, North Korea has done nothing illegal under international law. It has every right to conduct underground nuclear tests. India and Pakistan did so in 1998. Today, the US is supplying India with nuclear fuel and technology that allows Delhi to divert scarce nuclear fuel to its military reactors and upgrade its strategic weapons.

The United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China have all violated the basic international law on nuclear power, the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT). Article IV of the treaty mandates u201Ccomplete nuclear disarmament under strict and effective international control.u201D

That was 38 years ago. Today, these nations have 30,000 nuclear weapons. The United States and Russia hold the lion’s share. None of the treaty signatories have abandoned nuclear weapons. The US is currently updating and refreshing its nuclear arsenal and developing deep-penetrating weapons.

In 1953, America’s greatest modern president, Dwight Eisenhower, launched his Atoms for Peace initiative. He called for total international nuclear disarmament, including the entire US nuclear arsenal. Subsequent administrations ignored Eisenhower’s sensible proposal.

The only two nations to have actually scrapped their nuclear arsenals have been South Africa and Ukraine.

The US, France, Russia, and China also violated Article I of the treaty, which bans transfer of nuclear technology. The US gave nuclear know-how to Britain. France supplied Israel with nuclear technology. Russia gave it to China, and China shared technology with Pakistan. Israel, which refused to sign the NNPT, supplied extensive nuclear technology to South Africa and, more recently, to India.

Those nations screaming the loudest about North Korea and Iran barging into the restricted nuclear club are also the nations with the biggest stocks of nuclear weapons themselves. Israel warns it is prepared to go to war to defend its Mideast nuclear monopoly.

The US has nuclear weapons based in South Korea, probably in Okinawa, at Guam, and with its 7th Fleet in the Pacific. South Korea has twice been caught with covert nuclear weapons programs. Japan can assemble nuclear weapons on 90 days notice. Taiwan has long run a covert nuclear program.

China, not wanting to be caught offside in the world uproar against the Dear Leader, began perfunctory inspections of trucks headed into North Korea. China is the sole source of North Korea’s oil and supplies most of its imported foodstuffs.

Beijing is clearly deeply confused by its eccentric Korean ally, and furious at him for provoking the current uproar and making China’s leadership lose face. But it does not want to see Kim’s Stalinist regime collapse, and has so far refused to join an international naval blockade. So for now, China is playing good cop/bad cop.

The US-led UN embargo against North Korea cuts off tanks, military equipment, and aircraft. But North Korea has a lot of these, however outdated, and can’t afford any more. Following its official philosophy of u201Cjuche,u201D North Korea has become nearly self-sufficient except for oil, and can survive for a long time under blockade. About 85% of its imports come by truck and train from China.

Provided China does not cut off oil to North Korea, the most painful part of the embargo may be the cruel denial of luxury goods to the Dear Leader — a ban on his favorite fine French wines, cigarettes, and chocolates. No doubt, Kim’s cellar was amply stocked in anticipation of such ruthless punishment.

None of North Korea’s other neighbors want Kim’s regime to collapse either. North Korea’s implosion would produce 20 million of starving refugees that would flood into South Korea, China and Japan, as well as possible civil war, and certainly chaos.

So China, South Korea, and Russia may be content to slap Kim’s hands for daring to detonate a nuclear device or two that everyone knew he had but preferred to pretend he did not.

Behind all this cynical farce lies a serious danger. Forced inspections of North Korean ships could spark a military clash between the US and North Korea or, worse, between the US and China.

Both besieged North Korea and the sinking Bush Administration are desperate and dangerously trigger-happy these days.

Asians fear the US may do to North Korea what it did to Iraq — overthrow a nasty but effective government and replace it by chaos. Better the Kim you know…

Eric Margolis [send him mail], contributing foreign editor for Sun National Media Canada, is the author of War at the Top of the World. See his website.

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