By Kamal Wadhwa
The war clouds over the Korean peninsula are darkening perceptibly in the wake of US Secretary of State John Kerry's official visits to Tokyo and Seoul last month. Not much was disclosed about those consultations except that the former American presidential candidate had pledged full and unequivocal US support to both Tokyo and Seoul in the event hostilities did break out between them and the renegade Korean nation.
What really are the options open to North Korean leader Kim Jung-un to avoid war and save his communist state from virtual annihilation if his powerful adversaries force his hand as they seem to be doing day in, day out?
Even a limited, but well-planned, three-pronged military offensive launched by the United States, Japan and South Korea across the Korean peninsula and from the South China Sea would probably see the end of North Korea as a viable and independent nation able to survive on its own resources for any extended length of time.
Then what is really pushing North Korea's three principal adversaries to raise so much commotion and hullabaloo over everything North Korea did or is doing? Every small or even insignificant gesture the beleaguered nation makes - be it diplomatic or purely defensive - is interpreted by its adversaries as hostile and aggressive and attracts sharp vitriol and loud abuse.
The truth is that North Korea is akin to an abandoned child who, in its total helplessness, waves his fists blindly in every direction to keep his oppressors at bay. This explains the periodic rattling and firing of rockets in random directions by North Korea when the relentless pressure mounted on it by its enemies begins to bite deeply.
It is probably also true that North Korea is no longer protected militarily by either Russia or China - its erstwhile communist allies. Both these states have a powerful affluent class and are driven more by economic interests than any overriding ideology inherited from the past. Even then, both Russia and China would come out with full moral and diplomatic support for North Korea if it were attacked by its foes.
This intangible support from both these powers would be necessitated by sheer guilt and remorse because North Korea is staunchly communist and its ideology is of a purer variety than even Cuba's. Moreover, it hearkens back to the early communist era whose shadow lingers over all the erstwhile communist states who have embraced free market economic ideas.
Judging from the chorus of voices emanating from Moscow and Beijing during the last several weeks, the North Korean goat would probably have to be sacrificed to feed the predators possibly waiting for it on the Korean peninsula and off the coastal waters of North Korea in the South China Sea.
A motley crew of American, British and European journalists is filing all sorts of reports on the worsening living conditions in North Korea due to the food shortage afflicting that country. Can these stories with their sordid descriptions of North Koreans engaging in cannibalism to feed themselves be true? Is the human being capable of surviving on human flesh as these stories portray?
Again as before, it is the Western media that is up to its old game of demonizing its Asian and eastern ideological foes that make invasion or occupation of such a hapless and helpless nation that is North Korea - a compelling option for the West and its allies!
Before throttling or strangling a disobedient or rebellious child, some moral justification must be found by its assailants in order to appear clean of blame after the heinous act. That is what North Korea's detractors are doing - seeking support from any nation at all - to throttle that young nation by portraying it as an evil nation that is capable of and is bent on great destruction - quite disproportionate to its size and role in the comity of nations!
And why is North Korea not interested in seeking any rapprochement and eventual reunification with its other half - South Korea?
South Korea seems to have all the qualities and merits that should attract North Korea in sufficient measure to coax it to shed its shyness and together become one across the 45th parallel demarcated by the Allies after hostilities ended in the Korean War. On occasion, South Korea has sent costly shipments of food across the border and even offered North Korea expensive incentives in order to bring it to the negotiating table to discuss possible reunification.
At one meeting, the South Koreans offered to set up a giant tourist resort close to the demilitarized zone as a joint enterprise with the North to attract tourist dollars and other hard currencies badly needed by the communist state.
A question: Why is Kim Jung-un so adamant in keeping his nation intact when a reunified and single Korea would probably become a great industrial power like Japan?
It is the odor and stench of capitalism and free market economics emanating from across the border that makes the North Korean leader wary of all overtures even when his people often have to live with hunger and deprivation without any real complaint or rebellion against his authority. Formost North Koreans, he simply knows better.
The philosophy of pragmatism that the South Koreans have imbibed from America and Japan has made them adept at making money - often lots of it - in ways that are unacceptable to most Asians, including the North Koreans. That very lack of moral scruple in making money sends South Korean boats all the way to the Arabian Sea and to other waters to hunt down defenseless sharks whose fins are sold to Japanese restaurants to make delicious shark fin soup - at enormous ecological cost!
The extraordinary closeness that South Korea enjoys both with the United States and Japan means that its people are receptive to materialist values and committed to obtaining higher and higher standards of living. The resultant money consciousness has spawned the Korean Diaspora as tens of thousands of South Koreans have gone overseas looking for profitable employment opportunities; the South Korean economy is not big enough to absorb so many new entrants into the workforce.
Then again, there are beauty parlors, restaurants and a slew of other enterprises owned by South Koreans - all the way from Mumbai to Miami!
Pragmatism enables South Koreans to pick up and adopt foreign ideas and cultures very rapidly; quite simply, it is good for business. They relate to and interact with foreigners quite effortlessly in order to find gainful employment and business opportunities away from home. Like his American or Japanese counterpart, the South Korean travels all over the globe out of compelling necessity.
The South Koreans are fast losing their squeamishness inherited from a tradition-bound inherited Buddhist past to become sharpies and hustlers - often of the worst kind - with lethal business instincts! The North Koreans are insular, inward-looking and not all interested in people or events outside their country. Basically, North Korea is an autarchy that occasionally has to trade with select nations to meet its daily needs for survival.
That is the very essence of the dilemma confronting Kim Jung-un. If he acquiesces to the pressure for reunification, North Koreans will literally be "eaten alive" in a unified Korea where the southerners will call the shots and determine the North Koreans' fate.
In such a scenario, most probably the North Koreans will wind up as casual or menial laborers or do industrial work in South Korean-owned enterprises - unable to command any decent wages to live comfortably in a free market economy where cyclical variation in employment is the rule rather than the exception.
Will the North Koreans, too, have to leave Korea and join the Diaspora, feeling rootless and homeless as lengthy periods of time are spent away from home?
The other half of the dilemma - rejection of reunification with South Korea - is likely to make Kim Jung-un the target of universal vilification, particularly by the Western media that will orchestrate a noisy and vociferous campaign to dislodge him from power in the greater cause of One Korea and One People.
The eventual safety and long-term survival of North Korea can only be guaranteed by Russia and China if they reject threats such as those voiced by former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the effect that these powers would have to pay a "price" if they dared thwart Washington and its global geo-political agenda.
Both Mr. Putin and Mr. Jinping are seasoned and principled leaders. As far as possible, they would want to avoid a confrontation with Washington because of a gradual convergence of interests brought about by shifting global economic realities. But both leaders must come out with bolder statements in support of North Korea's independence and survival as a sovereign communist state.
Even North Korea's nuclear weapons program can be rolled back and capped under the aegis of Russian and Chinese defense guarantees. If Washington, Tokyo and Seoul keep up the pressure to provoke North Korea and begin hostilities, then the beleaguered nation has every right to invoke those guarantees to protect itself from its enemies.
Kim Jung-un is a doughty warrior and a very committed one. Yet if left alone, he will prove to be quite helpless and could do little to push back the grand coalition of military forces being readied against him for a possible invasion of North Korea.
In the days and weeks to come, the North Korean strongman must desist from making any controversial statements or take any untoward action that may justify annihilation of his nation by the savage Powers that might be converging on the Korean peninsula and off North Korean coastal waters in the South China Sea.
The author is an Honors graduate in Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities from the University of Chicago and has studied Political Science and Economics at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania. Lastly, he was a student enrolled in the Public Administration and Economic & Social Development departments of the University of Pittsburgh.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
What would the world be like if, for example, Russian energy sources, the Ukrainian food industry and the German industry united to work together?