Tuesday, 10 October 2006

Boom go the strings

My earliest political memory is not Harold Macmillan tyelling us all that we never had it so good (see here), but an awareness that China and Russia were lining up their troops on the respective side of their common border. I am not quite sure when this happened but I suppose it was the late 50s or early 60s. I remember a quite reasonable sense of fear pervading my life, and thinking that the world could end!
Many years later, and on a couple of different occasions India and Pakistan have provided me with the same sort of feeling. Yesterday, of course, it recurred with the North Korean test bomb.
I guess I am less pessimistic about the outcome since it seems that future tragedies have failed to eventuate.
But there are an awful lot of imponderabili:
  • Is President Kim just posturing in order to get world attention? One commentator who knows North Korea well is seriously suggesting this. The theory being that once they have asserted that they are powerful then they can stop spending the indecent amounts they do on militarism and start looking after the thousands who are starving, assured that the world takes them seriously. This doesn't seem to me very plausible. It would be good if it were the explanation but it's a pretty long bow.

  • Is President Kim a madman who is likely to do anything? Or is that just American propaganda? America is a crude propagandist as their relations with Iraq and Iran show us. Their principle tactic has always been demonisation and fear. After all the wolf-crying it is now difficult to know just what the truth is. Australia seems so uncritical of America's lies that we appear to just be like a little lap dog running along behind the pack, unable to think for ourselves.
  • There is a real dilemma for the world. Why should the nations of the world respond to the various humanitarian crises in North Korea when they spend obscene amounts of money on armaments and such pathetic displays as this latest one. As a Christian, and I hope a humanitarian, I know the answer to this. But in a real sense Western magnanimity is used to bolster this evil.
  • What, too, is the role of China in all this? As a sort of ally, and an enormously powerful one at that, one cannot imagine that North Korea is allowed to get away with anything serious that Beijing doesn't approve of. What then does it mean if China actually permitted this to happen? Some commentators suggest it is about a much, much longer strategy of political ambition on China's part. Are they in fact putting Japan and South Korea on notice, and by implication the American alliance, that the balance of power is shifting. Is this where American efforts need to be focussed? It may indeed be what is happening, but what on earth can be done?
None of this seems easy to me. And reveals, yet again, why so many of us have just stopped thinking in a sophisticated way about world politics it is much easier to adopt simplistic solutions for problems that don't really exist (weapons of mass destruction). The trouble is that such solutions don't actually do anything.

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