By Christine Ahn
Last week, North Korea launched a satellite, which has raised the ire of Japan, United States, and South Korea, who managed this week to get the UN Security Council to rebuke North Korea.
Many in the Korean-American community involved in the movement for peace and reunification on the Korean peninsula were surprised by President Obama’s harsh response. But Korean-Americans who know the history of U.S.-Korea relations (i.e. not the State Department version) have a different take.
Terry Park, a Bay Area Korean-American artist, wrote on Facebook, “People are freaking out that North Korea sent the equivalent of a tin can and some string four feet into the ocean. Meanwhile, the U.S. actually dropped two nuclear bombs on a country, and they still have the most nukes than all countries combined. The hypocrisy/amnesia astounds me so much.” At a fundraising event to save the Korean language program at UC Berkeley, I asked one of the Korean language instructors what she thought about North Korea’s rocket launch. She responded, “So what?”
And that is precisely the question. So what if North Korea launched a satellite? Every country has the right to explore space. According to the Washington Post, “South Korean officials confirmed that the rocket was carrying a satellite.” That’s what concerns me the most – how is it that information gets so distorted and perpetuated by a frenzied media?
Without sounding too trite, an obvious reason is the military industrial complex, and Northeast Asia is definitely a serious buyer and seller in the arms market. The U.S., Japan, China, Russia, South and North Korea account for more than 65% of the global military spending (the U.S. is the outlier spending half of the world’s spending at $711 billion in 2008). South Korean hawks get more during budget planning season, and Japan’s hardliners use North Korea’s rocket launches to justify the overturning of Article 9 which bans the state from declaring an act of war. The bottom line is that Northeast Asia is becoming more and more militarized, and as Lotus Fong, an astute follower of US-Asia relations recently noted, the U.S.’ imperial foray into Asia in the last century has really militarized the region.
One major seed that could be planted to undo much of this is actually settling peace on the Korean peninsula. Most Americans don’t realize that the United States and North Korea are in a state of war. The Korean War never ended with a formal peace treaty – just with a fragile truce of a temporary armistice in 1953. James Laney, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, recently advised: “A peace treaty would provide a baseline for relationships, eliminating the question of the other’s legitimacy and its right to exist. Absent such a peace treaty, every dispute presents afresh the question of the other side’s legitimacy.”
The strong response from the U.S., Japan and South Korea will only further isolate North Korea and could threaten the six-party talks that would end North Korea’s nuclear program. As many experts on North Korea caution, we need to engage the people and government – not further isolate them which only serves to embolden the hardliners and hawks within North Korea, and South Korea, Japan, and right here at home.
Christine Ahn is a policy analyst with the Korea Policy Institute and a member of the National Campaign to End the Korean War and the Asia Pacific Freeze Campaign. She lives in Oakland and has been active in the movement for peace and social justice in the U.S. and internationally.