The crisis on the Korean Peninsula is bringing the region closer to open military conflict than it’s been for many years, with unimaginable humanitarian consequences. By accident or design, the actions by North Korea and the United States could result in a nuclear detonation.
The war of words between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, reflects escalating provocations on both sides.
On 7 July the UN adopted the first-ever, legally-binding Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The UK boycotted the UN’s global nuclear ban negotiations. Britain greeted the treaty’s adoption with a statement signed jointly with the US and France, declaring: ‘We do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it.’
A month later, President Trump was threatening ‘fire and fury like the world has never seen’.
The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 resulted in an estimated 250,000 deaths and fire storms that stripped skin from flesh. Survivors described the victims as being so heavily burned they no longer looked human. In the months that followed, many more died from radiation poisoning.
The impact is felt to this day. Second and third generation Hibakusha, the children and grandchildren of atom bomb survivors, are still suffering cancers and birth defects.
Not all bomb victims were Japanese. Some were Korean. The events of 1945 were being commemorated around the world on Nagasaki Day, when Trump’s tweet hit the headlines.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have mounted in 2017:
- March –US-South Korean military conduct a series of exercises involving tens of thousands of military personnel.
- April –US announces THAAD, its Theatre High Altitude Area Defences anti-missile system in South Korea is operational.
- July 28 – North Korea conducts a successful intercontinental ballistic missile test over the Sea of Japan; the US and South Korea reply with live-fire missile exercises.
- August 8 – Trump threatens ‘fire and fury’ in a tweet; US Defence Secretary James Mattis calls for diplomacy.
- August 15 – Kim Jung-un says wait and see to North Korean military plan for a ballistic missile test over the US territory of Guam.
- August 21 – 10 days of US-led Ulchi Guardian Freedom exercises begin, simulating nuclear war with North Korea; Britain participates alongside Australia, Canada, Colombian, Denmark, the Netherlands, and New Zealand.
- August 29 –North Korea sends a short-range missile over the Japanese island of Hokkaido; Trump responds that ‘all options are on the table’; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tells the media it’s never too late for diplomacy.
- September 3 – North Korea announces it has successfully tested a hydrogen bomb.
- September 11 – US calls an emergency meeting of the Security Council; its tones down its demand for an oil embargo due to Chinese and Russian opposition.
In South Korea, calls to end the US military have also been growing. There is a large and permanent US military presence in South Korea, 35,000 personnel and over 55 US bases.
Small delegations from the newly-formed People’s Democracy Party of South Korea (PDP) visited the US, Britain and Germany in March and April, demanding US troops and bases out of Korea and the dismantling of THAAD.
The PDP’s Peace Expedition returned at the end of August, highlighting opposition to Ulchi Guardian Freedom. On 8 September, the PDP and other civil society groups launched a three-week Peace Tour of 16 cities across South Korea.
Theresa May’s support for diplomacy has been ambiguous. In Japan recently, she assured Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the UK will take part in military training with Japan next year and send an anti-submarine frigate to the region.
Jeremy Corbyn however has left no one in doubt where he stands, calling on North Korea and the US to get round the table. He told May she should help cool things down. ‘There can be no question of blind loyalty to the erratic and belligerent Trump administration,’ he said.
Emily Thornberry expressed the same view in a parliamentary debate: ‘for the US to turn its back on diplomacy at this stage is simply irresponsible and, as its closest ally, we must be prepared to say so.’ An Early Day Motion recently tabled by Green MP Caroline Lucas, has attracted the support of Catherine West and other Labour MPs.
These no-war views should be reinforced by Labour conference – from the platform and from the floor. The underlying causes of the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula should be addressed, including with the creation of a nuclear weapons free zone.
As the Lucas motion suggests, the British government should promote peace and security for all peoples in the region. The best contribution Labour can make is by ruling out support for a military solution.
By Carol Turner
Carol Turner is a Vice Chair of Labour CND and author of Corbyn and Trident: Labour’s continuing controversy, available £9.95 post free from Public Reading Rooms http://www.prruk.org/
Visit CND’s website at www.cnduk.org – lobby your MP, sign the letter to Theresa May, and come to our protest at Downing Street, 5pm to 6.30pm, Thursday 29 September.