NORTH KOREA: NUCLEAR ORIENTALISM AND THE HERMIT KINGDOM

VALERIA GURROLA WRITES – Nuclear Orientalism deeply permeates US media.

In December 2019, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un warned the US of a “Christmas gift” dependent on the outcome of nuclear negotiations with the Trump administration. Days after the announcement, satellite images uncovered new activity at the previously dormant Sohae Satellite Launching Station in North Korea. This active missile test site is the same one that North Korea had dismantled nineteen months earlier, in alignment with Chairman Kim’s commitment to the UN Security Council’s mandate to denuclearize.

The sudden announcement and reassembly of the Sohae Station in December 2019 has caused US media to speculate about what the ‘gift’ would entail, ranging from a nuclear test to a missile test, or even… a vase?  In the frenzy of miscommunication, Twitter users jokingly shared biased tweets about the supposed gift. One Tweet by the user @JerMunji reads, “Well it was a nice run being here. I enjoyed my time,” speculating, obviously, that the Hermit Kingdom would wage nuclear warfare against the US.

But these reactions to North Korea’s December 2019 announcement reflect the bias known as  “Nuclear Orientalism” against North Korea.

Nuclear Orientalism is the deeply ingrained notion, held by the rest of the world, that non-Western countries cannot be trusted with nuclear warheads. This double-standard traces back to the 1970s, when the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France and China signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which granted the five of them the power to yield nuclear warheads.

What to make of this situation? For one thing, the US has an extensive record of adding to nuclear tension (and of course is the only nation to exercise the atomic option in warfare.) The United States has an estimated total of 5,800 nuclear warheads, whereas North Korea has an estimated total of just 40. North Korea, then, poses no real threat to nuclear warfare, despite what many American politicians and nuclear pundits fear.

Instead, nuclear weapons provide countries such as North Korea protection from US aggression.  During the Korean War, the US transported nuclear weapons to the Pacific Ocean so as to threaten surrounding countries from intervening in the war. Although the US never acted on those threats, US B-29 bombers simulated nuclear warfare against Korea. By the end of the war, an estimated one million North Koreans lost their lives due to US involvement.

Fear of a nuclear world war dramatically increased after President Trump’s term in office, but these fears reflected bias rather than shrewd political assessment. In truth, the only way to move forward is to grant North Korea nuclear power rather than force it to denuclearize. Clear-headed talks on the topic of global denuclearization cannot begin without first discussing, and dismissing, the sad untruth of the concept known as Nuclear Orientalism.

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