MUSUDAN-RI, NORTH KOREA, October
8, 2006 — Seismic shifts are shaking East
Asia. Over just the past week or so, the USA military
announced plans to deactivate from Korea by 2009, the
Japanese Prime Minister (Shinzo Abe) broke with tradition
and reported first not to Washington but Beijing and
Seoul, and North Korea for all practical purposes became
a member of the nuclear club.
North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are well known and
are not a surprise. Further, there is a big difference
between testing a crude atom bomb (which may not have
successfully detonated) and becoming a nuclear power
of strategic significance.
In its official announcement North Korea said the bomb
“will contribute to defending the peace and stability
on the Korean Peninsula and in the area around it."
More than 40 years ago, the Chinese used a similar
argument emphasizing the defensive necessity of obtaining
nuclear weapons due to the threat of American military
The invasion and occupation of Iraq has made the Korean
(and Chinese) fear of the American military presence
on their borders and outside their harbors real.
Korea, North and South, were born of nuclear threats
and as much as Americans might not like it, there are
probably millions of Koreans on both sides of the 38th
parallel very proud and excited today. The majority
of South Koreans have said they want their country to
have nuclear weapons.
And the Koreans are still seeking reunification. Less
than a year ago the highest-ranking delegation from
North Korea was in Seoul. The effort goes back to 2000
when South Korean President Roh visited Pyongyang and
began a "sunshine policy."
What keeps the Korean peninsula apart isn’t just Kim
Jong-Il and his anachronistic Stalinist state but the
presence of 50,000 American troops, contractors, and
their families in 100 military installations spread
across South Korea.
The USA continues to preside (in the same building
in Seoul used by the Japanese when Korea was their colony)
over a 53 year stalemate with China symbolized by the
ironically named heavily armed “demilitarized zone”
But all that conventional firepower and heavy troop
presence is rendered moot by nuclear weapons.
And change is coming from the American side too. The
commander of the 8th US Army in Korea said his command
will deactivate and fall back to Hawaii within three
years. Is this a signal that the long expected reduction
of American presence in South Korea is begun?
But the biggest story may be the growing independence
of Japan. Although President Bush gave his blessing
prior to the trip, new Prime Minister Abe’s summits
with China and South Korea are a positive sign and an
indication that Japan may yet tire of being Asia’s “Britain.”
©Ben Calmes for Sinomania!, 2006.
All rights reserved.