For Reciprocal Disarmament
Socialists should start from a clear position of opposition to any state possessing nuclear weapons. That much of the left – and not just the Stalinist left – has not historically done so is much to its discredit. And any sane person, irrespective of their place on the political spectrum, will be horrified at the thought of Team Kim Jong-Il getting its mitts on this kind of hardware. It is true that the US deliberately demonises his regime by pejoratively labeling it as rogue state. But let’s just say that, in this case, the US is probably not far wrong.
I'm not a big fan of nukes myself. I remember watching The Day After when I was ten, at the height of the 'second Cold War' of the early '80s, and having nightmares for weeks afterwards. But I doubt whether focusing on the tiny stockpile of primitive warheads North Korea may slowly be developing is the best way to get rid of nukes.
The country most responsible for nuclear proliferation is not North Korea but the United States. For more than a hundred years, the US has interfered in the affairs of Third World nations to enforce its will and protect its interests. Today, possession of nukes is one of the few ways that threatened nations can hope to defend themselves against the US. The US would never have invaded Iraq if that country possessed nukes. North Korea knows this, which is why it is developing nukes.
Given the history of US behaviour on the Korean peninsula even the most enlightened government in Pyongyang could be forgiven for being paranoid about the intentions of Washington. For decades the US stationed nukes along the border between the Koreas. During the Korean War it destroyed virtually every sizeable building in the north with bombing raids, and repeatedly flew a lone B 52 bomber over Pyongyang to terrify the people there, who knew that a lone B 52 had carried out the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The brutality of the US war on North Korea led to the consolidation of Kim Il-Sung and his clique in power. The healthiest part of the Korean Workers Party and the most militant parts of the working class and peasantry were unable to oppose the bureaucratisation of the country, because they had been wiped out - not by Kim Il-Sung, who did not achieve complete power until the early 50s, but by the war (an analogy might be made here to the role of the Russian Civil War in preparing the way for Stalin and his bureaucracy). North Korea might seem like an isolated society, but it did not develop in isolation.
The way to stop nuclear proliferation is not to attack vulnerable states like North Korea or Iran, but to change the foreign policy of the US and of its allies. The first step towards changing these policies is to oppose them. To support US attempts to intervene in the affairs of Iran and North Korea is to pour petrol on a fire that is already out of control.
Iran has offered to stop its nuclear programme if Israel junks its huge arsenal of nukes. Iran's ally Syria even put a resolution calling for a nuclear-free Middle East to the United Nations Security Council a couple of years back, but it was vetoed by the US.
For its part, North Korea has offered to end its nuclear programme in return for a guarantee that the US will not attack it. The US has refused to give this guarantee.
Rather than pick on North Korea, the left should argue for reciprocal disarmament, which would involve North Korea junking its nuke programme in return for the US giving a guarantee it won't attack and (more importantly) pulling its troops out of South Korea and Okinawa. Without troops on the ground in the south and its enormous airbase in Okinawa, the US would find it very difficult to attack North Korea. Let's remember, too, that in both South Korea and Okinawa the US presence is hugely unpopular.
If the US does attack North Korea, then the left should argue that North Koreans have a right to defend themselves. Such an attitude might seem dreadfully radical to some Western liberals, but I've talked to quite a few South Korean leftists, none of whom were supporters of the government in Pyongyang, and all of them insisted that they would take the north's side if it were attacked by the US. There's a parallel here with Iraq - shortly after the invasion of that country I remember attending a demonstration of hundreds of Iraqis who had been driven into exile by Saddam's regime. They were mixing anti-Saddam slogans with the chant 'Victory to Iraq'. To them, there was no contradiction between political opposition to Saddam and support for anyone who fought the invasion. In the same way, there is no contradiction between opposition to the government in Pyongyang and support for the right of North Korea to defend itself from the forces that have brought such misery to Afghanistan and Iraq.