I visited North Korea a couple of years ago, out of pure curiosity to see for myself how this mysterious country looks like from the inside. I also wanted to gain a better understanding of the stand-off between North Korea, South Korea and the United States.
The visit was extremely interesting and I really wish that foreign policy makers from the powerful countries would make visits too, so they can get a different, and likely more informed, point of view to make educated decisions on foreign policy. I came out with lots of pictures and videos - see lots of them here and also the slideshow below.
I was deeply moved when I heard presidential candidate Barack Obama being open to the idea of direct communication with leaders of non-allied countries -- painted as the world's greatest villains -- in order to find peaceful solutions. He was asked by his opponents if he would meet with the leaders of such countries 'unconditionally'. "I would," Obama said during his first presidential bid campaign in 2008. "And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them -- which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration -- is ridiculous. Ronald Reagan and Democratic presidents like JFK constantly spoke to Soviet Union at a time when Ronald Reagan called them an evil empire." I admired Obama for such a positive and risky stance. But after he became president, twice, he failed to follow through. Instead, the US government is obviously preparing for yet another war of choice.
North Korea is a solitary nation, under a very isolated regime. The population lives in extreme poverty and under prison-style control. There is no electricity, no phone services, and internet connectivity would be considered something surreal by most of the country's citizens. Their technology is severely outdated: they lack the most basic tools, machinery and equipment, and access to petroleum.
They have to resort to rudimentary agriculture just to produce the food to survive. At the same time, the oversized military is used by misguided leadership to control the population. Information is strictly controlled, as is movement. Every street corner has a plain-clothed security officer checking everyone's ID to make sure they don't wander away from their home or workplace.
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However, this military cannot and does not have the capability to produce nuclear weapons. They might be able to produce a rudimentary bomb, but that is not a weapon of mass destruction. The technology to build a rocket capable of carrying a bomb undetected and/or unstoppable is very sophisticated, and it is ludicrous to say that North Korea has access to such advanced technologies.
In regards to the "aggressive stance" from North Korea recently reported in the media -- this is not news by any stretch of the imagination. North Korea has been in a state of war ever since the Korean peninsula war which ended with an armistice in November 1954. An armistice is not a peace treaty, and North Korea has never considered it so. Therefore, they are technically still at war, and have been so for the better part of the last 70 years without much care or fuss from leaders of the western world. The North Korean government uses the state of war internally in order to control the population, who are under the impression that the war is actually being waged. The war rhetoric was there all along, but for some reason, it has now become "breaking news" in the US media. This comedy is now being sold to the American people as "clear and present danger" in order to justify a swift response by the US military.
To me, this sounds very much like the rhetoric that preceded the war in Iraq. US media kept talking about the weapons of mass destruction, the danger posed by Saddam Hussein, and the need to act immediately. American politicians know that fear sells, and that the American population reacts predictably and quickly in support of their leadership and military to go to war, attack and destroy any threat, real or fabricated. To be sure, there's no time for diplomacy or due process when you hear that North Korean nuclear warheads are pointing to US cities. Funny how the South Koreans are not impressed at all, although they are only a few kilometers away.
Then one must ask: why is the US media and government suddenly going to war? Why now? There was no question in my mind that this was going to happen, as it all follows such a predictable timeline. We have seen this before and it has all the hallmarks of a fabricated "war of choice". My opinion is that since the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are over now, the US military industrial complex needs another target in order to secure financing, find new practice targets, and keep the war machine well-oiled and prepared for bigger threats. President Dwight Eisenhower gave the American people a serious warning in his farewell speech in January 1961, which is publicly accessible, yet not often referenced. Having a strong military is not bad, given the rise of the new military powers such as China. But why under false pretenses?
The US will go to war again, by choice, and funded by the American people. When the Iraq war started, Jean Chretien was our prime minister and he kept Canada out if it. But our current Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not agree back then, he would have dragged Canada into that war alongside the US. Now he is our prime minister and his Conservative party enjoys a majority in the Parliament. Will Canada join this time?