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A Win-Win Solution for the North Korean Stand-off?

The North Korean situation may be (turned into) a blessing in disguise for humanity if we can let it usher in a global movement for universal nuclear disarmament.

President Donald Trump threatened “fire and fury” against North Korea but only to tone it down days later to “all options are on the table.” In his speech in Arizona last month, he pointed out that he respected the fact that North Korea was respecting the US.

Less than two weeks later, after North Korea reportedly conducted a successful hydrogen bomb test, Trump lamented the “dangerous” game Korea was playing. And, not long after that, Trump asserted that “North Korea is behaving very badly, and it’s got to stop.” Even Trump’s otherwise less hyperbolic Secretary of Defense spoke about the possible “total annihilation” of North Korea. For Americans, it is safe to say, North Korea has become the proverbial tough nut to crack.

But there is a win-win solution, in theory. It is a win-win solution not only for the Trump administration and for North Korea but for humanity as whole: a universal nuclear disarmament. Or, at least, working towards that goal seriously. After all, when the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed in 1968, the ultimate goal was to achieve total nuclear disarmament by curbing both the spread of nuclear weapons in the Third World (horizontal proliferation) and the upgrading and refining of nuclear weapons by the world’s great powers (vertical proliferation). It can be argued that far less progress has been made over the years in dealing with vertical nuclear proliferation than with horizontal nuclear proliferation.

If North Korea accepts a proposal for universal nuclear disarmament, it is a win for North Korea, because it can legitimately give it the right to bask in the inspiration it engendered for such a lofty ideal. There is little doubt that North Korea had been challenging nuclear apartheid, which the late, great Kenyan philosopher Ali Mazrui defined as a world which consists, on the one hand, of Nuclear Haves who are under no special pressure to give up their own weapons of mass destruction, and, on the other, of Nuclear Have Nots who are punished when they presume to go nuclear. If North Korea thus inspires a total nuclear disarmament, this also means the nation can be warmly embraced by the international community. Even a discourse about this is a good thing.

Such a development would be a win for the US because possible nuclear Armageddon in the Korean Peninsula, and beyond, would have been averted. Additionally, it is a win for the US since it does not alter American preeminence in conventional military power in the world even after it forgoes its nuclear arsenal for the greater good. All in all, this would be, of course, a win for humanity too.

There is another way in which approaching the North Korean issue in this way would be a win for the US irrespective of whether North Korea would be on board with the idea. If North Korea rejects such a proposal, it will be truly condemned to isolation more than ever before.

Under the circumstances those seemingly sitting on the fence for the time being regarding the US-North Korea showdown, such as China and Russia, would be left with no choice but to join the international community in genuinely confronting the North Korean regime. In other words, the conflict would then cease to be one between the US and North Korea but between the international community and North Korea. This also means the international community would be totally with the US if the latter sought to solve the North Korean problem by any means necessary.

The North Korean nuclear issue also demonstrates that our understanding of world politics is terribly lagging to some extent behind world politics. It is no longer the case, for instance, that one must be a great economic power to be able to seek or acquire weapons of mass destruction. A country that has not been taken seriously through its technologies of production and information can be taken today seriously through its technologies of destruction.

Mazrui had maintained that a certain degree (and type) of nuclear proliferation in the world was bound to increase nuclear anxieties within the great powers, and strengthen pressures for the total abandonment of nuclear weapons by everyone. The “vaccination” of horizontal nuclear proliferation was what was needed to cure the world of this nuclear malaise, he wrote, a dose of the disease becomes a part of the necessary cure.

If that day comes when universal nuclear disarmament becomes a rallying cry for America too, then, the America of power will have also become the America of conscience. It will be a happier consequence of an otherwise sad and grave situation in the Korean Peninsula.