• Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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North Korea – between nuclear bomb and nuclear flowers


  The Korean Peninsula was separated into north and south by a three-year war which was suspended in 1953 by an armistice. The signed armistice established a complete cessation of hostilities in Korea by all armed force. That clause was about a complete ceasefire but without a peace treaty to formally end the war. Technically then, Korea is still at war. This loose end is what both sides manipulate to suit their interests at different times. The Cold War years found North Korea on the side of China and Soviet Union, all in the communist wrap. The south naturally went West led by the United States. America had need to deploy nuclear weapons strong enough to strike China and Soviet Union at closer range. South Korea was the natural site, though paragraph 13d of the armistice prohibited such deployment. By 1958, the US deployed its Honest John missiles armed with atomic cannons and added its nuclear armed Metador Cruise Missiles a year later to reach China and the Soviet Union.

For its part, North Korea broke the agreement not less than six times: 1994, 1996, 2003, 2006, 2009, the more recent ones being the sinking of a South Korean ship, Cheonan, in 2010 and the bombardment of Yeonpveong. The armistice provided for a heavily fortified demilitarised zone to be supervised by neutral countries: Switzerland and Sweden. That supervision has ceased. As allies, the US conducts two military exercises yearly with South Korea: Key Resolve and Foal Eagle. This year, North Korea denounced the exercises as provocative and a nuclear threat. By March, it announced that it was scrapping all non-aggression pacts with South Korea, closed its borders, disconnected the direct phone lines between the two Korea as and announced that it reserved the right to make a preemptive nuclear strike at South Korea and US Asia bases. In response, the US sent an undisclosed number B-2 Stealth Bombers and some F22 fighters to fly over South Korea. Following the flyover, North Korean state media announced it was readying rockets to be on standby to attack US targets. So began the rain of nuclear threats like lines of comedy.

Occasionally, photo-ops of Kim Jong Un, the baby-faced new leader with calabash hair-cut, showed him at the ‘frontline’ pointing to sites for the launch of his missiles. Occasionally too, he smiled with his two hands in his pocket. Well, you’ll be tempted not to take him seriously. At 30, what does he know? But just in case he decides to press button, the Western forces fortified their bases and mounted their missile destroyers. About the eve of his proposed nuclear attack, everybody stirred, quipped by the popular phrase, ‘any moment now’. But behind the rhetoric, Un and his cabinet members busied themselves with dance preparations in remembrance of his grandfather, Kim II Sung, who to most North Koreans is a kind of god. Then came the celebration itself: it was flowers, dance, flowers and flowers. So what was Un actually up to? Nobody except people used to Korean happenings would come near a meaning. But as the young man who any moment could let hell loose, he became immediately known. A powerful introduction! He got it. Can North Korea fight a war? Yes, but a very short one. Reason: its people are hungry, very hungry to hold on to a protracted war.

Indeed, if the gates were open, hardly 5,000 people would stay behind. Crossing to the south is crossing to food and better living. If he doesn’t threaten to pull the trigger, how could he be heard? If he doesn’t point finger to the eye of a big power, how could his people know that he is as tough as his dynastic predecessors? And if back home he is seen as weak, added to hunger and the sweat of being caged in, won’t he be courting internal revolt? These are the calculations. Put together, he not only told the world he’s in charge, he made clear his survival strategy: shake when you can, move the people and possibly use them as human shield when necessary.

But a nuclear war is a life-roaster. He may not be alive to move things. The sufferer would be China, its most reliable ally and food-giver. The defeat of North Korea would instantly reunify the divided Korea to the advantage of the South. It would make Western forces share borders with China. That would instantly cut China’s world-power ambitions to size if not abort it. More so, China’s muscular claim to many scattered islands around the Asian Pacific/South China Sea/Spratley Islands will be neutralised. And for the first time, China agreed with the US that the baby-face must be stopped.

Get it, nuclear weapons in the hands of effusive nations is Armageddon.



Onyegbule, PhD, is the Consultant-in-Chief of Conflict Out- Peace In Consult.)

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