World War 3 – will it start over North Korea?

Since the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House the world appears to be moving closer to a catastrophic military conflict that threatens nuclear Armageddon. In this first in a series, political editor Dr Martin Hirst assesses the possibility that we’re already fighting World War Three.

‘The fear of war hangs over society. This is almost literally true, for it is not the invader in the streets but the warhead exploding on us which dominates our nightmares.’

~ Martin Shaw, Dialectics of War, 1988

(Image via @BlackJesuscom)

THIS IS A SERIES that looks at global flashpoints and their potential to blast the world into a nuclear nightmare. It was once unthinkable that strategic nuclear weapons might be used in a world-wide war, but now we need to start thinking it is more likely than not.

And just this month, Donald J Trump caused the “Mother of all bombs” to be dropped in Afghanistan to explode over… we may never know what exactly.

Are we already inside World War Three?

In this series, I will look at Asia, the Middle East and Europe as places where potential nuclear trigger points might occur and then, on a brighter note, I’ll offer some suggestions about how we might stop it.

Let’s begin on our own doorstep.

We are not neutral

We are not neutral and we never have been. Australia is a willing and active partner in many of today’s global conflicts. Despite contrary propaganda, this does not make us safer, it increases the risk that we will be a target too.

Pine Gap makes us a target for Chinese and possibly North Korean and Russian nukes. I’m more worried about China and Russia because they both have nuclear-capable submarines that can reach us almost undetected.

When 1,250 US marines flew into Darwin this week, the NewsCorpse rag that dominates Northern Territory journalism, the NT News, could hardly contain its jingoistic excitement, declaring on page one that they are “ready to fight” against “our” common enemies.

We should be under no illusion or misapprehension about their intent:

Lieut. Colonel Middleton said when US Marines were in forward deployment they were ready for battle.

“I think that the commitment that we’ve taken to put a task force here with a conversation to get larger over the years says that we do think this is an important region,” Lieut. Colonel Middleton said.

When asked about the North Korea stand-off he said: “We stand ready to fight.”

I can only hope that this made the good souls of Darwin feel a lot safer, knowing that they are potentially within range of North Korean rockets.

We all have “potential”

It’s important to focus on this word “potentially”, because it is a crucial qualifier.

Our foreign minister, Julie Bishop, has used the threat of a DPRK nuclear strike on Australia as one reason for enthusiastically welcoming over 1,000 marines to northern Australia, but the threat is not imminent, or even realistic today.

Weapons experts agree that North Korea is at least four years away from developing a ballistic missile capable of a) carrying a nuclear warhead and b) travelling as far as Australia without blowing up mid-flight.

Speaking on the ABC’s AM program earlier this week Bishop was keen to talk up the North Korean “threat”.

[North Korea] is on a path to achieving nuclear weapons capability and we believe Kim Jong-un has a clear ambition to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear payload as far as the US.”

But what Bishop ignores here – and she hopes you will too – is that while North Korea’s nuclear threat is only “potential”, the United States has a proven nuclear capability and a proven propensity to use atomic weapons.

Not only that, hawkish American analysts are now insisting that the U.S. must strike first and this first strike should happen sooner rather than later.

…the United States must plan to destroy North Korea’s nuclear and long-range missile sites sometime in the next several years — and perhaps within the next two.

At the same time, it must be expected that the American action would trigger the North Korean military to instinctively launch a full-scale retaliatory strike against the Republic of Korea (ROK) along the armistice line of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), whether or not Mr. Kim remains alive. With that as a given, the United States must prevent such an event by launching, simultaneously with the initial attack on the North Korean nuclear and ICBM facilities, a full-scale offensive against the North’s positions along the DMZ. There can be no delay in this U.S.-ROK offense, for it is essential to preclude North Korea’s own counteroffensive against the South.

This is a clear statement of aggression from the American side.

The argument for a pre-emptive strike against North Korea is that its patron-state, China, is incapable of stopping Pyongyang through purely diplomatic efforts.

So is China an ally or an enemy?

This piece first published on Independent Australia as Are we already fighting World War 3?

What about China?

The undertone of the marines’ deployment in northern Australia is also the tense relations between Washington and Beijing. However, Bishop didn’t mention this in her AM interview — maybe because, this week, the US is trying to pressure China into restraining North Korea.

Donald Trump had a friendly meeting with the Chinese leader, x Jinping, so for now, in the world of momentary and shifting alliances, China is a ‘good guy’.

Perhaps the Chinese government has no interest in – and there for no intention of – preventing the DPRK from building nuclear missiles. After all, North Korea is an ally and if China is feeling threatened and hemmed in by the US and its allies, it would only be natural to want to see your friends armed and ready for the fight.

Our foreign minister seems intent on keeping us in the dark as we, in John Pilger’s words “sleep walk” into being party to a war with China launched by our American allies.

As the John Pilger documentary, The coming war on China, demonstrates, the South China Sea is another potential flashpoint in northern Asia and the United States is already adopting an aggressive posture in that region too.

The situation with China is really a cause for concern and it highlights the terribly destructive dialectic of war that pushes global capitalism between commerce, trade, and armed conflict.

China is Australia’s largest trading partner in terms of imports and exports and Australia is fifth on China’s trade league table, so some stability in the relationship is – you might think – important to both sides.

So why then is the Australian government so willing to back the US in its containment and encirclement strategy when it comes to China?

The noose around China: U.S. bases surround it (screenshot from John Pilger’s new documentary The Coming War on China)

The Australian media has been full of alarming – and alarmist – stories about China’s military expansion into the South China Sea and the base-building in the Spratly Islands. However, there is little news and even less analysis about the forward bases that the U.S. has in the region, all with nuclear and non-nuclear missile capability and all within close striking distance of every major Chinese city.

Why would Australia want to be militarily aggressive towards such an important regional neighbour?

The answer to this question really is a key point to consider. Haven’t we always been at war with China?

Australia’s dangerous liaison

I am happy to argue that, in a sense, we have been fighting World War Three since 1945. That is ever since the Yalta Agreement that carved up the post-WWII world. The three main parties – Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States – agreed on a global division of spheres of influence that has been the basis of nearly all territorial disputes and armed conflicts since then.

It has been benignly summed up like this by the office of the official U.S. Government Historian:

‘… in exchange for potentially crucial Soviet participation in the Pacific theater, the Soviets would be granted a sphere of influence in Manchuria following Japan’s surrender. This included the southern portion of Sakhalin, a lease at Port Arthur (now Lüshunkou), a share in the operation of the Manchurian railroads, and the Kurile Islands. This agreement was the major concrete accomplishment of the Yalta Conference.’

This is what happens when wars end with the thorough defeat of one side. It is not dissimilar to the outcomes of the Versailles Conference of 1919 that ended the first world war. Historians now agree that the seeds of the second world war were sown at Versailles because of the rotten deal forced on a defeated Germany.

The Yalta agreement didn’t last either. When the Russians annexed half of Germany and Poland, and made most of Eastern Europe vassal states, it created a military and economic stalemate in Europe, and started the Cold War.

The U.S. has been on military high alert in Europe (via NATO) ever since. It is an unstable situation now given the pressures on the European Union and Trump’s own weird views of the alliance (this week he likes it).

The Chinese Revolution of 1949 (which was bourgeois nationalist, not socialist) also took China out of the U.S. sphere of influence.

Since then, the United States has built its vast ring of steel around China in an effort to strangle it economically. This obviously hasn’t worked and China is now totally integrated in the global capitalist economy and it threatens the once unassailable position of the United States as a global superpower.

Interestingly, the rise of China poses a similar threat to post-Cold War Russia.

Our close military ties to the U.S. make us complicit in their global war games and, far too often, Australian governments have been willing to join U.S.-led coalitions in unjust wars. Let’s not forget Australia forces have been fighting alongside American troops, aircraft and battleships for a long time and we’ve been involved in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria since the 1990s.

All roads lead to 1984

‘For as long as Winston can recall, Oceania has been in a constant state of war – with whom it was at war is of neither importance nor consequence.’

If you’ve read my material before you would most likely know that George Orwell’s disturbing and prophetic novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, is close to a holy book for me. So many of the tropes and imagined horrors from post-WW2 Europe, as fictionalised by Orwell, have come to pass.

Since probably the start of the Twentieth Century the world has been in a state of permanent military crisis. Perhaps we can say it is a state of perpetual war. Alliances have shifted over time, but the key theme since world war 2 has been that conflict usually occurs on the peripheries, not in the metropolitan homelands — the exception perhaps being the Balkans conflict of the 1990s.

In Orwell’s novel, there are three major military and economic blocs of power:

  • Oceania — what we might describe as ‘The West’.
  • Eurasia — Russia and what’s left of the old Soviet empire.
  • Eastasia — China and its increasingly unstable neighbour, North Korea.

In the real world, he West has been asserting itself all over the globe whenever it can. The main aggressor has been the United States, which, since the 1950s, has either invaded and occupied, or supported anti-democratic military coups in, more than a dozen nations. Since WWII, the U.S. has killed an estimated 20 million people in 37 nations. It has dropped bombs on at least 30, all in the name of freedom and democracy.

Today, the U.S. and its allies are involved in hot wars across the Middle East and North Africa, and maintain a belligerent stance across Asia, the Pacific and on NATO’s borders with the Eastern bloc.

In the real world, Putin wants to rebuild the Eurasian empire and is doing so aggressively in Crimea, Chechnya, Ukraine, Georgia and other satellite nations on its southern flank. Putin is also worried about the build-up of U.S. troops on his western border, too. Russia is also involved in Syria, which is a flashpoint I’ll discuss in part two.

The Eastasian empire is emerging as a threat to the other two and aggressively building bases in the South China Sea is evidence of this.

The very economic logic of global competition between these empires is pushing the world towards an outbreak of even greater hostilities.

Having a complete megalomaniac narcissist in charge of the American nuclear football also doesn’t help.

Trump wants a war — with someone

Trump wants war so that he can be the greatest U.S. President in history in reality, as he already is in his own mind.

I really don’t think Trump cares if the trigger is Korea, China or Syria.

The problem for the rest of us is that Trump is so deluded that he thinks he can survive a nuclear winter.

Maybe there’s a bunker he can hide in at Mar a Lago.

I’m not so sure the rest of us would survive (or would want to).

The first step to fighting back; we have to demand that the U.S. marines be sent home, that Pine Gap be closed and that we no longer participate in Oceania’s military conflicts.

In part two, I will look at the flashpoints in the Middle East where Oceania and Eurasia are facing off in a battle of (fuck)wits that could soon be a battle of bombs.

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