It is said that one definition of insanity is to repeat the same process over and over again and expect a different result. That axiom was never truer than when it is applied to United States and Australian policy towards North Korea.
On Wednesday, 29 November 2017 North Korea test fired it’s Hwasong-15 ICBM. The missile has a reported range of approximately 13,000 km and slightly less armed with a warhead. It is further reported that the missile has a multiple warhead capacity, meaning that one ICBM can independently destroy geographically dispersed targets.
The distance from Pyongyang to New York City is 10,916 km, to Los Angeles 9551 km, to London 8657 km and to Canberra fractionally less at 8600 km.
This means to all practical intents and purposes North Korea is a nuclear power which, if attacked, is quite capable of a devastating response. Quite apart from the physical devastation, the psychological impact upon the United States population of having several of its major cities destroyed is incalculable.
One has only to recall the attacks of 6 December 1941 and 11 December 2001, the combined death toll of which was fewer than 8000 to have some insight into the psychological effects of losing 20 to 30,000,000 people would have.
The ICBM test came after a two-month pause in North Korea’s nuclear testing activity. That should have been an opportunity to formulate a program for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and to establish a parallel peace mechanism.
This was in fact proposed by China and Russia in July of this year, the so called “double freeze” proposal. It was simply ignored by the United States and if the Australian government had a view, it was not apparent from any public statements from either the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister.
North Korea had in fact been persuaded to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in December 1985. It took until 1991 before the United States withdrew its nuclear weapons from South Korea, which was followed in January 1992 by North Korea signing a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA.
After a number of difficulties from both sides, progress was resumed in June 1994 when former US president Jimmy Carter negotiated a deal with North Korea in which North Korea agreed to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for talks with United States on normalizing relationships which had been in hiatus since the armistice ending the Korean war in 1953.
In October 1994 an “Agreed Framework” was negotiated. It took less than two years however, for the agreement to break down with the US imposing a range of sanctions. A sanctions policy is being pursued to the present day and it has unequivocally failed in its primary objective. It did however, force the North Korean government into a variety of measures that have culminated on the one hand with ensuring the maintenance of a repressive and dictatorial regime, and on the other hand developing the means to ensure that any attack upon its territory would bring devastation and ruin upon the attacker.
It should be clear from this very brief history that sanctions do not work and that any lasting resolution of the Korean issue requires negotiation, good faith and an end to belligerent and provocative statements and actions.
This has not been the history of this matter. The US and its allies have conducted endless military exercises on or about North Korean territory. These exercises have no military necessity and are clearly aimed at applying pressure to the North Korean government.
Donald Trump’s UN speech in September 2017 was extraordinary for its threats and crude belittling of the North Korean president. Following North Korea’s latest missile test, the US’s UN ambassador Nikki Haley threatened North Korea with “total destruction”.
No criticism of this intemperance was heard from the Australian government, nor did they make any attempt to reconcile the use of such threats with Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter which enjoins all members “to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State.”
Instead, Turnbull called for more pressure to be a applied on North Korea “to bring this reckless regime to its senses.” Bishop called for additional sanctions against individuals and entities associated with North Korea in support of a broader international effort “to bring North Korea to be negotiating table.”
Neither politician seems to have even the scantiest knowledge of the relevant history, are incapable of seeing that sanctions almost invariably fail, and have both had an irony bypass when they talk about upholding International law.
Fortunately there are some adults involved. President Xi spoke to President Trump by telephone on 29 November and according to a lengthy transcript provided by the Xinhua News Agency reiterated that China was committed to a peaceful resolution of the problem, of which the “double freeze” proposal was a start.
Further, Mr Xi reportedly warned Mr Trump that all steps taken by the US to resolve the North Korea issue should be agreed in advance with China.
This would undoubtedly come as a profound shock to US and Australian readers, which is perhaps why the mainstream media of both countries spared their readership this insight into modern geopolitical realities.
It is also clear from the Xinhua transcript that Russia and China are working together on this as on so many other issues. Russia has made it clear through its Foreign Minister Mr Lavrov that, like China, they will respond to any unilateral attack upon North Korea by coming to the North’s aid.
Do Australia and United States really want a war with Russia and China over North Korea? Australian fantasies about the protective capabilities of the US “ANZUS umbrella” would receive a rude awakening.
It is clear that’s the only lasting solution to the North Korean issue must be a diplomatic one, followed by the integration of North Korea into the benefits of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. South Korea’s President Moon is one who is at least alert to this reality and has taken some tentative steps to distance his country from the more extreme statements emanating from Washington.
The quicker American and Australian politicians cease their mindless threats, counterproductive sanctions and provocative actions the more quickly we can move towards that goal. A failure to do so can have devastating consequences, and Australia will not be exempt.
Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org