Augustine C. OhanweWednesday, January 10, 2018
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ased on the prevailing tension between the United States and North Korea, one would comfortably assert that the potential of nuclear war hangs over humankind like the mythical sword of Damocles. My take on the issue is solely premised, not from crystal ball, but on political reality on the ground. Throughout the cold war, the earthlings were visibly shaken with fear and scared stiff of nuclear Armageddon because the two superpowers (the US and Russia) were engaged in ideological rivalry. Science was running a race against time. The Soviet Union and western armament industries were pouring out sophisticated military hardware with quantum killing capacities, and the scientists in charge of the production were accused of being primitive, and moved solely in their acts by selfish motivations.

The superpowers race for supremacy in the field of armament ran in pari passu with their uncontrollable appetite to expand their respective spheres of influence. Both powers possess intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), which experts upheld, could lead to mutual annihilation. Such analysis frightened many. Furthermore, it was scientifically established that only the cockroach would survive the radiation in the wake of nuclear attack.

The closest nuclear war that could have befallen us was in 1962 when the Soviet Union felt encircle by the US - by its deployment of missiles in Turkey and Italy. In retaliation, Nikita Khrushchev secretly stationed a missile in Cuba. Protecting Cuba, a close ally, as well as overseeing the interests of the Socialist sphere was a part of the strategic equation. The US analyzed Russia's move as a declaration of a nuclear war and was alarmed. It provoked the Cuban Crisis. But whenever frightful events happen, and we teeter on the brink of destruction, something suddenly shifts in the world consciousness and we draw back from the edge. That's what happened in the Cuban crisis.

Another incident that could have triggered a nuclear showdown between the US and Russia was averted by Lieutenant Stanislav Petrov, a former Russian military officer. On September 26, 1983, he was on duty in his secret command post outskirt of Russia when Russian military computer mistakenly detected incoming missile from the US. There was a visible sign on the radar screen showing that 'five Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles had been launched towards the geographical location of Russia. Based on Red Army code of conduct, he was expected, when such a threat occurred, to unleash a retaliatory strike, but Lieutenant Petrov refused to obey the warning saying that he had 'a gut instinct that it was a false alarm.' Later, it emerged the false alarm had been triggered by a satellite mistaking the reflection of the sun's rays off clouds for a missile launch. His action was described as 'outstanding quick thinking.' In 2002 the Association of World Citizen honoured Petrov at the United Nations headquarters as the man who averted a nuclear war.

The fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 led to the disintegration of the Soviet empire and spelt the obituary for communism, which in turn transformed the cold war. The whole world embraced the transformation with euphoria because of the perceived reduction of the threat of a thermo-nuclear disaster. The euphoria seems to be dwindling as we watch disturbing events unfold in Korean Peninsula. A 'tectonic motion' is simmering beneath the political surface. Because the tectonic force has what it takes to reshape the contour of the earth, triggering earthquakes, volcanoes, and climatic changes, we find it a favourable geological metaphor to explain the boiling tensions brewing in the Korean Peninsula. The dangerous undercurrent must be recognized.

It has just begun between the US president, Donald Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un. They are locked in intemperate verbal fisticuffs. Both are hauling verbal grenade at each other. Both leaders have been delivering finger-wagging threats, warning each other not 'push us too far.' Careless and irresponsible words do add coal to a burning issue. Hitler started in the same way - using derogatory, incendiary remarks and graffiti to spread his hatred of the Jews. This was a prelude to the Second World War. In Rwanda, the Hutu also used graffiti and radio hate speech to sow the seed of ethnic hatred against the Tutsi, and within a week, machete dealers in Rwanda turned millionaires. When the zero hour arrived the world witnessed a killing field that was close to the one that occurred in the Former Yugoslavia.

The level of unhygienic rhetoric going on between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un leave much to be desired. The languages they sometimes use are strange and guttural. I mean no offence. I feel petulant and bewildered. And instead of demonstrating flexibility, both leaders have intensified their insults and threats. In recent time, most of such expressions are vain and inconsiderate expressions one would label as voluntary abortion of thoughts.

North Korea is a hermit kingdom that practices Stalinesque dictatorship. It has tested multiple intercontinental ballistic missiles. Experts have confirmed that the missiles are capable of striking any part of the US. The US has requested China, the main trading partner of North Korea to help restrain Kim Jong whom they see as loose cannon. China has half-heartily done its bid without success. Yes, China's diplomacy has hit rock bottom. Diplomacy has failed to husband the threatening situation, and sanctions have not compelled Kim Jong Un to budge. Is it difficult or impossible to create a dialogic space between both leaders to enable them to promote persuasion over polemic? President Eisenhower of the United States met with Khrushchev in Geneva to invoke the spirit of détente with intent to normalize the frosty relationship between their both countries. Eisenhower told the Russians, 'we have come to find a basis for accommodation which will make life safer and happier not only for the nations we represent, but for the people elsewhere.' Can such spirit of détente make a replay in Geneva or elsewhere to enable Donald Trump and the North Korean leader ventilate their feelings and harmonise the perceived contraries in order to make the world a safe place? There is a huge gulf between the two leaders, and peace meeting between North and South Korean leaders could be possible but would likely marred by unacceptable difficult conditionality from the North.

In critical periods of history, there have been outstanding personalities whose influence steer the course of human events, such personalities are endowed with skill to conduct a difficult policy with consummate dexterity. Methinks persons of such stuff seem to be in short supply.

More frightening circumstantial rumour, blended with disturbing intelligent gathering, has it that Kim Jong Un has plan to strike the US with weaponized anthrax, prompting president Trump to view North Korea as the greatest immediate threat to the US. A seasoned US policy maker has also warned that 'the US cannot tolerate the risk of a nuclear North Korea.' President Trump has made his intension crystal clear when he stated that 'America and its allies will take all necessary steps to achieve a denuclearization and ensure this regime cannot threaten the world.' The perceptions the US holds about North Korea could result in unleashing preemptive attack against the Pyongyang with intent to nip in the bud the perceived emerging threat. Such action could provoke a nuclear war. Most analysts are of the view that that the ongoing tension in Korean Peninsula is between North Korea and the US. It means that threatening situation would not engulf other countries. One cannot help but crack a wee smile at such a lame and armchair ridden assertion. In interconnected world such as ours, with secret alliances common in global chess game, nuclear war will not be localized. In the wake of a nuclear attack, Kim Jong Un might not hesitate to teach American allies a lesson. That's the main reason the situation in the Korean Peninsula should provoke a global concern.

The main obstacle to peace in the Korean Peninsula remains the lack of trust between the US and North Korea. Pyongyang does not see atom of sincerity from Washington with regard to US posture for peace. Rather, North Korea sees any dangling of peace offer from the US as a Trojan horse or a diversionary tactic to attack. To the North Koreans, America is viewed as bête noir.

North Korea feels threatened, and sees acquisition of nuclear weapon as the only way to protect itself from going the way of Cartage. While it sees the US as its very dangerous and primary enemy, an enemy with a hidden agenda, it has programmed and focused its rockets at South Korea and Japan and has vowed to strike the US Pacific Territory of Guam. Assassination of Kim Jong Un will not douse the disturbing tension. The removal of Julius Ceaser paved the way for the wicked Nero. Is Kim Jong Un then a wasp that has perched on the scrotum? Are Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, leaders with missions to fulfill? I agree with one Henry Ashby Turner that 'impersonal forces make things possible, people make them happen.' Hitler was the man who made the WWII happen. Casting a retrospective view at the cold war rivalry between the two superpowers and comparing it with the disturbing tension between North Korea and the US, one would have a healthy fresh layer of growing fear that a dangerous design is in the offing. The world seems to be waking to the dawn of a new reality - a possibility of nuclear attack looms large. Let's hope North Korea will not outsmart the US and maneuvers it into a trap.