A sense of let-down grips the people of Japan and South Korea, the two countries sandwiched between war-rhetoric of North Korea and the United States. If they are horrified at the way Pyongyang is flexing its nuclear muscle they are today finding themselves somewhat defenceless and unprotected as well.
People in these two front-line states feel that it is for its own interest that Washington has been keeping the region boiling––albeit with some breaks––ever since 1953 after the Korean War ‘ended’. In the recent decades the then President George Bush included North Korea in the Axis of Evil. This move raised a serious question as Pyongyang was not responsible for the attack on World Trade Centre and Pentagon. The Bush administration apparently did so to checkmate China, its closest ally.
The truth is that North Korea was then not a nuclear power. It became so in 2006. A couple of months later on December 30 the same year Washington––perhaps to earn some cathartic satisfaction––got Saddam Hussein executed. The US-led NATO forces invaded his country after accusing him of amassing weapons of mass destruction. Iraq was captured and in the process completely destroyed, but no WMD was found.
Eleven years later North Korea has hydrogen bomb in its arsenal. China, and later Russia, tacitly allowed it to become a powerful country as North Korea works as a buffer between South Korea and these two countries. If the US ever plans to have a land offensive against China or Russia, no other place would be more suitable.
But in the process of cutting China to size the United States put at risk the people of South Korea, whose capital Seoul, which is just 40 km from the border, was captured by North Korea in the early days of the Korean War (1950-53). Though peace could return in Vietnam in 1975 after 30 years of blood-letting, the Korean Peninsula continues to remain tense. It is not that efforts were not made to bring the two Koreas close.
In 2000 the then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who earlier visited Pyongyang, got the Nobel Peace Prize for his successful implementation of what is called the Sunshine Policy (1998-2008). However, by 2008 it was virtually back to square one as North became a nuclear power.
Almost a decade later people of Japan and South Korea have no reason to aggravate the situation. In fact there are many in South Korea who wish that the two Koreas merge, rather than remain enemies for ever. Yet what they fear most is that though South Korea has been a leading economic power, militarily it has to depend entirely on the United States. As South Korea owes its existence to the US and western allies––who fought to get it back from North in early 1950s––it has no choice but to toe the American line.
The United States had helped Britain and France become nuclear powers to balance Soviet Union then, but will never allow South Korea to do so.
So far Japan is concerned it still has to rely on the United States for its defence. The Japanese Self-Defence Forces, formed in 1954 is not a full-fledged army. The trauma of the World War-II, which ended after the dropping of two nuclear bombs, had produced strong pacifist sentiments in the country then. Under Article 9 of constitution––which was drafted when the country was under occupation of the US––Japan forever renounced war as an instrument for settling international disputes and declared that it will never again maintain “land, sea, or air forces or other war potential.”
In May 2017, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set a 2020 deadline for revising the Article 9 of the Constitution outlawing war as a means to settle international disputes.
The US is exploiting the situation to play the politics of brinkmanship.
Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna. He writes for some prominent English dailies.