Foreign Policy Blogs

America and North Korea — Relax


The insufferable Thomas Friedman has been ranting in recent columns about how North Korea threatens to step over a “red line” in the country’s latest belligerence towards the West which would disrupt the world’s conflict-free period. The New York Times’ champion of neoliberalism explains:

“Think about what a relative luxury we’ve enjoyed since the Great Recession hit in 2008. We, the Europeans and the world’s other major powers all have been able to focus almost entirely on healing our own economies — without having to worry about a major war or globe-rattling conflict that would snuff out our fragile economic recoveries or require extensive new defense spending. Relatively speaking, the world in the last five years has had a geopolitical timeout.”

Well, sure. If you forget about that whole Arab Spring business in which NATO provided logistical support to opposition movements — including a no-fly zone in Libya — in the MENA region, the civil war in Syria, rocket strikes from Hamas into Israel and the Israelis’ predictable disproportionate retaliation, the never ending “war on terror,” drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, and Islamic jihadists waging wars from Somalia to Mali, the world has enjoyed an unprecedented era of global peace.

Staying on North Korea, however, I have always believed that Pyongyang is China’s junkyard dog, so to speak. Every so often, whenever it’s geopolitically pertinent to do so, North Korea will engage in its sabre rattling and China will be there to rein them in and prevent anyone from crossing the red line. China does, after all, control the flow of energy and food into North Korea. To paraphrase comedian Bill Maher, North Korea is the chihuahua who barks its head off at you from inside a locked car in a parking lot.

But no, this is not a view shared by the “liberal” New York Times, one of the mainstream outfits which marched America into war in Iraq by constantly quoting Bush administration officials as “sources.” On April 12th, an op-ed was published with the headline “Bomb North Korea, Before It’s Too Late.”

To publish such an article, written by Dr. Jeremi Suri, is irresponsible to say the least. However, it is not surprising given that the corporate owned American mainstream media has always met outlandishly hawkish policies — such as the desire to preemptively bomb a nuclear North Korea — with approval.

Indeed, journalist Dan Glazebrook has a more succinct view as to why this is happening now:

“Their intention has been clear from the start of this crisis. North Korea’s whole intention is to show its willingness and preparedness to defend itself should war be launched upon it. Every year we have these massive provocations of joint US and South Korean war games exercises right at the borders of North Korea. This year the provocations were stepped up to actually simulate a nuclear missile attack on North Korea. B2 bombers were used for the first time along with B52s and F22 bombers. So there is a military provocation from the US. North Korea feels rightly threatened – they’ve seen what’s happened to Iraq, to Libya and so on. It feels threatened because it knows it was in the explicit hit-list of the American government some years ago. It needs to make very clear that it will not tolerate any kind of infringement of its sovereignty, any kind of attack, and this is all about to show that it’s willing to defend itself.”

President Obama has asked for $526.6 billion for the Pentagon for FY 2013. The fact that is lost on Friedman is that America’s defense spending, while moderately cut in Obama’s budget due to the sequestration, is still bigger than the next thirteen countries in the world put together. Moreover, it does not factor in the war in Afghanistan which was rung up on America’s credit card to the tune of $80 billion, nor does it account for the maintenance of America’s nuclear weapons, which resides with the Department of Energy. Taken together, our military budget is closer to $1 trillion, which is larger than the military spending of every single country in the world combined.

Friedman is quite right when he says that America should have used the last five years to invest in itself. However, it should not abandon that goal now simply because North Korea is suddenly on the agenda again. America should be focused at home, trying to figure out a way to pay for that $1 trillion for military expenditures.

Think about that as you file your taxes today.

Photo: The Telegraph



Tim LaRocco

Tim LaRocco is an adjunct professor of political science at St. Joseph's College in New York. He was previously a Southeast Asia based journalist and his articles have appeared in a variety of political affairs publications. He is also the author of "Hegemony 101: Great Power Behavior in the Regional Domain" (Lambert, 2013). Tim splits his time between Long Island, New York and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Twitter: @TheRealMrTim.