Can the BRICS hold back US war with North Korea?
The ninth annual summit of the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – comes at a critical time. Ahead of the two-day conference opening Sunday in China’s southern port city of Xiamen, Russian President Vladimir Putin published an article warning that the North Korea crisis is “on the brink of large-scale conflict.”
Few people doubt that if the US and North Korea go to war the conflict will result in the use of nuclear weapons, with millions of people’s lives in the balance.
Since the crisis blew up again about two months ago, there has been a dangerous tit-for-tat bellicose exchange between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Coupled with the fiery rhetoric is a seemingly never-ending display of military force by both sides.
Earlier this week, North Korea fired a missile that flew 2,700 kilometers over Japanese territory landing in the Pacific. Pyongyang warned that its next target would be the Pacific island of Guam where the US has a naval and air base. Two days later, American, Japanese, and South Korean warplanes simulated bombing maneuvers over the Korean Peninsula. The American B1-B bombers involved are nuclear-capable.
This was while Trump was declaring on Twitter that “talking was not an answer” in solving the long-running security crisis between the US and North Korea. US Defense Secretary James Mattis appeared to dial back on Trump’s implicit war threat by quickly emphasizing that there was still room for diplomacy. Mattis later reportedly said, enigmatically, that Trump and himself were on the same page.
It just goes to show how precarious the situation has become and why President Putin’s warning about the region being on the brink of war is apt. The risk of misunderstanding is grave and increasing with each round of bellicose exchange.
Putin is absolutely right. The only way back from the precipice of a nuclear war is for all parties to hold direct dialogue without preconditions.
“Provocations, pressure, and bellicose and offensive rhetoric is the road to nowhere,” wrote Putin in the article cited above. He also said that it was “misguided and futile” for the US to keep putting pressure on North Korea through imposing tougher sanctions in the calculation that it would stop Pyongyang from developing its nuclear missile program.
North Korea has reportedly said that its nuclear program is non-negotiable. With sound reason, Pyongyang cites other nations such as Iraq and Libya which gave up their weapons programs only to be subsequently attacked by the US. The communist state has indicated that it is open to discussions, but that American preconditions of disarmament are null and void.
While US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has hinted at the possibility of future diplomatic talks with North Korea, Washington demands that Pyongyang must first end its nuclear weapons development.
Both China and Russia have called for a “double freeze.” That is, for the US to cancel its annual war maneuvers on the Korean Peninsula and at the same time for Pyongyang to put a halt on its missile testing. Then, the next step would be for multilateral talks to proceed.
It’s not clear if North Korea would accept this Chinese and Russian roadmap for talks. But one thing is clear. Washington has pointedly refused to consider such a trade-off. For the past two weeks, the US has held massive war exercises on the Korean Peninsula with its South Korea and Japanese allies. This is in spite of protests from North Korea, which views the military drills as offensive preparations for an invasion.
Beijing and Moscow’s position on the crisis is the rational way back from the precipice and toward a peaceful solution. As things stand, the spiral of aggression can only inevitably spin out of control with disastrous consequences.
The United States needs to start behaving like a regular member of the United Nations. It needs to abandon its arrogant attitude of being above the law and threatening unilateral use of military force – just because it deems other nations to be unacceptable to its over-inflated sense of self-righteousness.
The US must realize that it is part of the decades-old problem of insecurity on the Korean Peninsula, and largely because it never signed a peace treaty with North Korea at the end of the war in 1953 – a war in which up to two million North Koreans were killed by American carpet bombing. Washington is no position to demand preconditions.
Russia and China’s roadmap is consistently rational – legally, morally, politically. As Putin implies, it behooves all parties to engage as equals without the prejudice and supremacist mentality that infuses the American ultimatums on North Korea to prove itself worthy.
Reacting to the latest North Korea ballistic missile tests, Trump remarked without the slightest shame: “This regime has signaled its contempt for its neighbors, for all members of the United Nations, and for minimum standards of acceptable behavior. Threatening and destabilizing action only increases the North Korean regime’s isolation in the region and among all nations of the world.”
Trump then signed off with the usual American assumed prerogative to use violence against others, saying: “All options are on the table.”
Of course, the American position on Korea, as with so much else, is rank hypocrisy. The devastation of America’s illegal wars over the past two decades alone make its presumed moral high ground a sick joke.
Washington needs to learn that its habitual threats of violence against North Korea and so many other nations is not acceptable. Such bellicosity is itself a crime against international law and the UN Charter.
But this crisis is a test for how much the BRICS have succeeded in forging a multipolar world. One of the most positive developments in international relations over the past decade is the emergence of China, Russia, and the other BRICS as new centers of political and economic power. The erosion of American presumed unipolar dominance is a good thing in that it deprives Washington of its arrogant self-entitlement to disregard international law in seeking its global ambitions.
As Putin wrote, the BRICS represent “relations based on equality, respect and consensus… creating a fair multipolar world for equal development for all… healthy international relations based firmly on international law.”
On the North Korea crisis, the US is patently acting as an aggressor. There is no legal or moral justification for Washington to unilaterally assert that diplomacy is not the answer and that it has the prerogative to use pre-emptive military force.
China and Russia indeed have the key to resolving the North Korea crisis peacefully. The crucial question is: do they have the global leverage to force the United States to abide by international law and diplomatic norms?
The BRICS summit this week may provide an answer. For the sake of world peace, the answer better be in the affirmative.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.