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On The North Korean Conundrum

26 Sep

Like two petulant six-year-old boys lobbing insults at each other about who has the most complete football sticker album or the best Transformer, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un continue to have at it. If a kindergarten class was dosed up on Sunny Delight and extreme political positions, and given access to nuclear weapons, this is what it would look like. Were it not so serious, it would be laughable.

There’s been millions of words written and spoken about the situation in an effort to inform and understand. There have also been millions of words written and spoken in an effort to take us (meaning humankind) to war. I’m sure everyone will agree that the former position is preferrable.

This is, then, a short, annotated rundown of some of the more useful, sane output on the situation. One issue that the vast majority of us (and I include the president of the United States in this) do no understanding of North Korean history and politics. However, Gregg Brazinsky does, and these remarks are essential listening for those who want to get to grips with North Korean motivations.

It’s also vital that we understand the long legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War and the way in which the United States (as the lead actor on the United Nations side) prosecuted that war. While I don’t always agree with Bruce Cumings, this piece in the Guardian is a useful rundown of the massive aerial bombing campaign that levelled much of the north during the war.

Gaining perspectives from inside he DPRK is tough, but not impossible. Evan Osnos’s lengthy essay in The New Yorker is definitely worth your time, given the author’s very recent experiences on the ground in Pyongyang.

How, therefore, do we approach the situation and what can history tell us? Jayita Sarkar are thoughtful, exceptionally well-informed analysts of nuclear issues, they present the case for diplomacy and export controls in this great Washington Post op-ed.

Also in the Washington Post, I argued a couple of weeks back that diplomacy is the only route forward. I still stand by that position, although there has been some respectful disagreement.

And what are the challenges for diplomacy? The chances of persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear capability is practically zero. As Uri Friedman notes, South Africa is the only nation to have developed and given up nuclear weapons. His article in The Atlantic offers a useful rundown of the similarities and differences. It’s also worth reflecting on the toxic effects of Trump’s recent speech to the United Nations.

Yes, all of this stuff is from what some would describe as ‘the liberal media’. You can find plenty of warmongering for yourself, and I have no intention of providing links to calls for the destruction of North Korea and its people.

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Why Should You Be Interested In Nuclear History?

23 Jan

There is a degree of arrogance involved in publishing your thoughts at random on the internet. A vain assumption that there are people out there who will be interested in what you have to say (and as an aside: hello and welcome to both of you!) This is perhaps even more apparent when you are dealing with the obscurities and super-specific geekiness of academic history. One reason for this particular blog is the hope that it might interest an audience outside of what is often called ‘the academy.’

That leads into the main question: why in heavens name should you be interested in nuclear history? I for one am not going to pretend that I have all – or even a minority of – the answers to this question. But, I’m enough of a bloviator to think that I might be able to stumble towards a few basic thoughts on the matter.

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Nixon, Intelligence, and the Indian Bomb

23 Dec

‘The most peculiar and haunted of presidents’ is going to be a quixotic figure in any field of study.(1) Nixon and Henry Kissinger – the man most closely associated with the president and his policies – are sources of endless fascination for the scholar and layperson alike.

In my own field, the relationship between the two men and the idea of nuclear proliferation is no less enthralling than any of the other areas in which they involved themselves. Both had little time for the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and non-proliferation activities in general, as their sights were firmly set on the ‘big picture’ policies of détente with the Soviet Union, the normalisation of relations with the People’s Republic of China, the Middle East peace process, Vietnam, and the ‘Year of Europe.’

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The Subtle Art of the Demarche

16 Dec

I meant to post about this ages ago, when the documents were first released, but other stuff got in the way as usual. However, this is so interesting that I had to talk about it at some point.

The National Security Archive at George Washington University continues its excellent work in obtaining the release of previously classified nuclear documentation with this recent set of diplomatic messages.(1) They highlight the efforts of the United States in trying to restrain Pakistani nuclear ambitions while concurrently attempting to achieve other – often conflicting – foreign policy objectives.

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Iran and the Bomb

11 Dec

The Iranian nuclear situation is nothing if not fascinating. The sheer level of anger the thought of an Iranian atomic bomb causes ‘the West’ is remarkable, but not unprecedented. Recent developments have been described as a “provocation” by the French government, amongst others.

Similar concerns were apparent in the late 1960s and early 1970s when India was progressing her weapons programme.(1) Likewise in the 1970s, U.S. ally Taiwan had serious plans for nuclear capability, but was ‘dissuaded’ by American pressure and the promises of an atomic security umbrella.(2) Yet, eyes were turned away when Israel developed capability. By 1974 at the latest (and probably much earlier – some documentation seems to indicate that there was an awareness of the Israeli bomb project in 1968), Israel was known to have a nuclear arsenal.(3) As an interesting sidenote, the same document that accurately assesses the Israeli and Taiwanese programmes also categorises South Africa as more of a danger regarding the proliferation of nuclear materials (such as uranium) rather than as a nuclear weapon state (which it became by the early 1980s, albeit in a very limited fashion.)

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