For utopians viewing the world stage there is war or unending conflict and peace. However, the reality of world affairs offers nuanced meaning of each. Every action can be understood horizontally through a sequence of causes and vertically in the structure of things. The precipitating factors for war involve causes such as territorial claims, alliance commitment, ideological fervor and competing national interests. Beyond these material factors are the historic factors and genetic disposition for conflict. The tocsin in the air is often an expression of DNA.
At the moment the world is in disarray, Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, expresses concern that the nations of the world are arrayed against him. His saber rattling gestures include everything from missile testing to rhetoric that describes inflicting devastation on the United States. What no one knows is what motivates this leader of the Hermit Kingdom other than financial concessions from the West in return for empty promises. Like his father and grandfather before him, Kim is an extortion artist.
Denuclearizing the Korean peninsula makes sense from an American perspective, but North Korea has nothing to trade or influence to save its nuclear arsenal. As a consequence, a military option to eliminate the threat of nuclear exchange cannot be removed from the negotiating table. Yet war in the nuclear age is a prospect so horrific that it cannot be “another option;” it is the unpalatable option.
Hence the real option in most cases of conflict is stability. In the North Korean case, this may entail protocols and verification on the testing, use and placement of nuclear weapons.
There is a difference between crime and tragedy. The world now unfolding is comprised of many criminals whose notion of war defies the horror of nuclear exchange, believing as they do that the West will never use weapons of mass destruction even if it means surrender.
Solzhenitsyn made it clear that the elimination of war is a grand theme that enters the realm of the utopian and non-existent. The opposite of war is not peace, but stability. Should one consider this to be the appropriate backdrop for analysis, North Korean nukes must be controlled since their elimination is likely to lead to war. And this may be achieved through regional negotiation among China, South Korea and Japan.
Solzhenitsyn also noted that a state of war only serves as an excuse for domestic tyranny. Surely North Korea reinforces this claim. The country is in a dire condition since it can neither feed itself, nor provide electricity. War chatter has a chilling effect on North Koreans and an even more frightening effect on regional neighbors. That explains why the U.S. is the “Great Satan.” The challenger, in this case the U.S. – it is argued – doesn’t lead the free world; it coerces allies into the adoption of key policies.
Where this crisis is headed is anyone’s guess, but I am persuaded that the conditions for stability will emerge even if they are unclear at the moment. Should North Korea actually precipitate a war, it would be eliminated from the map in minutes. However erratic Mr. Kim may be, he knows that.
In Leo Tolstoy’s majestic novel, War and Peace, fact or fiction merge into a tapestry of Russian life in the Napoleonic Wars. What the book demonstrates is the moral depravity and philosophical stagnation as war’s effect. Despite the devastation, war holds out promise of resolution, of that moment when stability emerges – a reprieve from horror. That is the only realistic prospect for North Korea now that the beasts of war have been unleashed and the threat is so great a response is inevitable. It is hoped that cool heads will seek the pathway to stability without the bombs bursting in air. God help us if this isn’t the case.
Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org
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