Three editorial columns


Guest Columnists

Tween boys and the fate of the world?

By Tom H. Hastings

First Donald Trump, inexplicably in the ill-fitting role of the President of the United States of America, threatens to go totally criminal, to “totally destroy” North Korea. This violates international laws to which past US presidents have signed and far better US Senates have ratified. Killing civilians. Shooting rockets into cities. Committing genocide. All totally immoral and illegal.

Then the Spoiled Brat Ruler of North Korea responds: ‘I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.’

How, how on God’s green Earth could humankind have permitted us to be in this untenable position, with aged boys taunting and reviling each other, man-child specimens whose only actual achievements were being born sons of powerful men? The tween in his dotage in the US is far older, but no wiser, just a sad blustering narcissist seemingly utterly unaware of just what a pathetic cheap fool he is. The twerp in North Korea earned nothing, son of a son of a brutal ruler, as endowed with a human conscience as, say, Uday Hussein or Curtis LeMay.

These are two poor excuses for humans, clearly addled by their upbringings and the forbearance shown them even when their behavior is kindergarten immature, even when testosterone, greed, gluttony and power over others corrupts all their actions.

And, dammit, they both have nuclear arsenals.

Seriously, humankind, what are we going to do? Even Nixon, as maniacal as he was, visited Leonid Brezhnev and gave him a Cadillac. He really thought better about starting an atomic slug-fest.

Not Trump, referred to by many nowadays as ONE (Our National Embarrassment). How many North Koreans have participated in terror acts against the US? How many times has North Korea conducted war games just off the coast of the US? How many times has North Korea attacked US soil?

Oh, that’s right. Zero.

How many times has the US conducted intimidating war games all around the northern half of the Korean Peninsula? How many North Korean civilians were slaughtered mercilessly by the US military in the 1950-’53 bloodletting, in attacks on North Korean cities, towns, and villages? Just sayin’.

If we would prefer to avoid a nuclear war, if we would rather not have a few US cities immolated and Far East Asia burned down, the US and North Korean peoples need to swing into action, and, as we live in a putative democracy in the US, our duty is even more clear than that of North Koreans.


Dr. Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director.

Trump and Kim, A Dangerous Pairing

By Mel Gurtov

“We’re dealing with somebody that we’ll figure out. He may be smart, he may be strategic—and he may be totally crazy.” That was President Trump speaking of Kim Jong-un at his political rally in Alabama last week. But it could easily have been Kim speaking of Trump—and for all we know, Kim has said something like that in meetings with his top advisers. From the standpoint of US-North Korea relations, words like those, far from being analytical, reflect the kind of off-the-cuff remarks that can lead to trouble.

At first glance it may seem silly to compare Trump and Kim. But increasingly, it looks like these two leaders share negative behaviors of the sort that are more conducive to war than to peace. First and foremost, they may be smart and strategic, but there’s a good chance they’re also both “crazy,” in the nonclinical sense that both are given to bravado and threats when calmness and self-control are most needed. Neither seems capable of restraint; they’re both trying to win a pissing match. These two are more like street fighters than national leaders with a sense of responsibility toward their populations and the world.

Second, and most troubling of all, Kim and Trump have let the war of words become personal. We all know how much more dangerous an argument becomes when the disputants abandon the issues in favor of personal attacks and taunting. Kim and Trump are equally adept at disparaging one another, never backing down or apologizing, and always taking everything personally. Name calling at the international level never works, yet these two seem oblivious to that. Like children, they prefer escalating hurtful words to working things out.

A third similarity is that this pissing match is taking place without any kind of intervention. Kim is, of course, a dictator, surrounded—so far as we know—by military yes-men who don’t dare challenge him. Trump may head a democratic system, but within the White House there’s no democracy. Like Kim, he’s surrounded by military men who seem helpless to shut him up even though they know full well what use of force on the Korean peninsula will mean. From all reports, the military and other advisers roll their eyes at Trump’s language but dare not criticize him or take away his smart phone.

As other analysts have noted, the danger is that these exchanges of personal attacks and threats greatly limit options for a pause, let alone for diplomacy. Instead, they box leaders in, making them feel compelled not just to out-threaten the other side, but finally to back up their tough words with action. The latest US step, for instance—sending advanced fighter-bombers over international waters but within sight of North Korea—could lead to a firefight with North Korean jets. Likewise, the DPRK’s foreign minister has said that Trump’s harsh rhetoric amounts to a “declaration of war.”

Provocative words and actions risk a disastrous miscalculation. There is nothing strategic or rational about them, and we—Americans, Koreans, Japanese, Chinese—are all the likely victims. We wait in vain for influential voices that will push for negotiations and a reduction of tensions.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

A Negotiated Curbing of North Korea’s Nuclear Capabilities Is Good, But Not Good Enough

By Lawrence S. Wittner

The North Korean government’s progress toward developing a long-range nuclear weapons capability, accompanied by bellicose pronouncements, has been alarming enough to spark worldwide public dismay and new sanctions by a unanimous UN Security Council. But even if, at the very best, sanctions (which, so far, have not worked) or diplomatic negotiations (which have yet to get underway) produce a change in North Korea’s policy, that change is likely to be no more than a freeze in the regime’s nuclear weapons program.

And that will leave us with a very dangerous world, indeed.

Most obviously, North Korea will still possess its 10 nuclear weapons and the ability to employ them against other nations.

In addition, eight other countries (the United States, Russia, Britain, China, France, Israel, India, and Pakistan) possess a total of roughly 15,000 nuclear weapons, and none of them seems willing to get rid of them. In fact, like North Korea, they are engaged in a nuclear arms race designed to upgrade their ability to wage nuclear war well into the 21st century.

There is nothing to prevent these countries from using nuclear weapons in future conflicts, and there is an excellent possibility that they will. After all, they and their predecessors have been waging wars with the latest weapons in their possession for thousands of years. Indeed, the U.S. government unleashed nuclear war against a virtually defeated Japan in 1945 and is currently threatening to use nuclear weapons against North Korea.

Moreover, even if one assumes that the leaders of these nations have reached a higher level of moral development, there are plenty of terrorists around the world who would gladly employ nuclear weapons if they could buy or steal them from these nations. Given the instability of some of these countries―for example, Pakistan―isn’t this likely to happen at some time in the future?

Also, many of the world’s nearly 200 nations are quite capable of building nuclear weapons―if they decide to do so. One reason that they have not is that they have been patiently complying with the terms of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968, which provides that signatories refrain from developing nuclear weapons while the nuclear powers disarm. But, after almost a half-century of waiting for a nuclear weapons-free world to emerge, most non-nuclear nations are fed up with the nuclear monopoly of nine nations. And some are considering the possibilities of ignoring the treaty and developing their own nuclear arsenals. That’s what India, Pakistan, and North Korea did.

Finally, there is the possibility of an accidental nuclear war, triggered by a misreading of “enemy” intentions or defense gadgetry, action by drug-addled or drunken soldiers guarding nuclear missile silos, or crashes by submarines or planes carrying nuclear weapons. Machines and people are fallible, and it takes only one mistake to create a nuclear disaster.

Fortunately, there is an alternative to living of the brink of nuclear catastrophe: abolishing nuclear weapons. And this alternative is not as far-fetched as some might imagine.

Thanks to popular pressure and occasional government response, there has been very significant progress on nuclear disarmament. At the zenith of worldwide nuclear proliferation, nations possessed some 70,000 nuclear weapons. Today, as a follow-up to international disarmament treaties and independent actions by individual nations, nearly four-fifths of these weapons have been scrapped.

Indeed, in an historic action on July 7, 2017, the official representatives of 122 out of 124 nations attending a special UN-sponsored conference voted to adopt a treaty prohibiting nations from developing, testing, manufacturing, possessing, or threatening to use nuclear weapons. The treaty also prohibited nations from transferring nuclear weapons to one another. According to Costa Rica’s Elayne Whyte Gomez, president of the conference: “This is a very clear statement that the international community wants to move to a … security paradigm that does not include nuclear weapons.”

Unfortunately, the nine nuclear powers boycotted the treaty conference, and have announced their refusal to sign its Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. In a joint statement released after the treaty’s adoption by the conference, the U.S., British, and French governments declared: “We do not intend to sign, ratify, or ever become party to it.”

Even so, action on the treaty is proceeding. On September 20, nations from around the world began formally signing it at the UN headquarters in New York City. Once 50 nations have become signatories, it will become international law.

If employed properly, the treaty could facilitate negotiations with the North Korean regime. Admittedly, there is no particular reason to assume that North Korea is any more eager than the other nuclear powers to agree to this ban on nuclear weapons. But calling upon North Korea to act within a framework that deals with eliminating the nuclear weapons of all nations, rather than one that prohibits only the nuclear weapons of North Korea, might provide a useful path forward.

Of course, the most important benefit of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is that it lights the way toward a nuclear weapons-free world.

Thus, negotiating an agreement with North Korea to restrain its nuclear program remains important. But, like the signers of the treaty, we should recognize that the danger of nuclear annihilation will persist as long as any nations possess nuclear weapons.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press).

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