US president Donald Trump and his closest allies refused to rule out going to war with North Korea after its military test last week.
Trump said on Twitter, “Their words and actions continue to be very hostile and dangerous to the United States.”
On Sunday, when asked “Will you attack North Korea?” Trump answered, “We’ll see.”
His defence secretary James Mattis said Trump had asked to be briefed on all the “military options”.
“Any threat to the United States or its territories, including Guam, or our allies will be met with a massive military response, a response both effective and overwhelming,” Mattis added.
“We are not looking to the total annihilation of a country, namely North Korea, but as I said, we have many options to do so.”
Successive US governments have claimed that their threats against North Korea are to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
But US threats are precisely what drives North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un to develop them.
He can’t have failed to learn from Iraq’s Saddam Hussein—who former US president George W Bush labelled part of an “Axis of Evil” that included North Korea.
The US, Britain and others could depose Hussein not because he had weapons of mass destruction, but because he didn’t.
Trump’s warnings are aimed to a large extent not at Kim but at the neighbouring states, US ally South Korea and emerging superpower China.
He accused South Korea of “appeasement” and said Kim had become an “embarrassment to China”.
He even warned he could impose sanctions on any country that trades with North Korea. Around 85 percent of North Korea’s trade is with China.
Trump is at odds with China and South Korea over trade.
Proposed restrictions on steel imports to the US would hit both countries.
The Chinese government has criticised Kim for the “error” of his nuclear tests and called for North Korea to heed the opposition of the “international community”.
Yet tolerating the rogue state on its borders is a lesser evil for China’s rulers than letting the US get away with imposing regime change. Trump only pulled back from triggering a trade war earlier this year after Chinese president Xi Jinping promised to take a firmer stance on North Korea.
It has attempted to build up its forces in east Asia and the Pacific in a bid to stay on top.
But North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons undermines the US’s credibility as a superpower in the region.
Trump has left Kim little room to back down, yet cannot afford to let him persist.
With each side repeatedly and recklessly testing the other’s patience, the situation is very dangerous.
US wars on Afghanistan and Iraq have plunged neighbouring states into chaos, violence and despair.
If it does the same in east Asia it could unleash nuclear Armageddon.
The US and its allies at the United Nations pushed on Monday for a resolution to stop Chinese oil shipments to North Korea.
Sanctions like this are often posed as an alternative to military aggression. Yet they would hurt ordinary people in North Korea hardest. Stopping oil shipments could affect food production and lead to hunger. North Korea is already dependent on food aid.
US sanctions on Iraq killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in the 1990s.
Then US secretary of state Madeleine Albright responded to reports that 500,000 children had died by saying, “We think the price is worth it.”
The North Korean dictatorship carried out its sixth nuclear test underground in the mountainous north of the country. The blast was enormous, sending tremors into South Korea and China.
The regime claimed it was a hydrogen bomb. It appeared to be between six and 14 times more powerful than the last bomb it set off.
South Korean officials claimed they expected the nuclear test to be followed by a new missile test. North Korean missiles have already been fired near Japan and the US colony of Guam in recent weeks.
North Korea’s weapons are horrifying. Yet they are a miniscule fraction of those held by the US and its allies.
The US still holds nearly 7,000 nuclear warheads.
It is the only country in history to have used nuclear weapons, destroying two Japanese cities in 1945. These killed hundreds of thousands of people immediately and left millions with long term disabilites and illnesses.
Its largest nuclear test produced an explosive yield of 15 megatons—150 times more devastating than the 100 kiloton bomb tested by North Korea.
Competition between superpowers split Korea in half and built up dictatorships on both sides.
At the end of the Second World War, US president Harry Truman ruled that Japanese troops south of an arbitrary line should surrender to the US. Those north of it surrendered to Russia.
Both the US and Russia crushed resistance and installed loyal regimes. They fought a proxy war from 1950, with 63,000 British troops involved.
It killed two million Korean civilians, and ended with the border exactly where it started.
North Korea’s state capitalism originally had the faster growing economy. But globalisation, the collapse of the Stalinist regime in Russia and US investment in South Korea saw their fortunes reverse.
North Korea’s government is a brutal dictatorship. But while it is often portrayed as a uniquely bizzare place it has much in common with tyrannies around the world.
Its “supreme leader” Kim Jong-Un plays the same cynical game as Trump, Xi and others, but with the weaker hand he has been dealt.
He rules through fear and persecution on one hand—and on the other by posing as an opponent of the US imperialism that has devastated Korea.
US threats weaken the chances of workers in North Korea rising up against the regime. Yet such action from below is the only way they can win freedom.
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