Yesterday, Donald Trump’s hawkish new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the infamous war mongering National Security Adviser John Bolton stated that they would like to see North Korea’s de-nuclearisation follow a similar course to Libya’s 2003 abandonment of weapons of mass destruction. This served as an indication to many that the US has more or less admitted a devious plan to make lofty promises of new economic opportunities to North Korea in exchange for de-nuclearisation, only to later break these promises and then invade a country that voluntarily made itself defenceless. This is after all exactly what happened to Libya which went from a country with the best living standards in Africa to a failed state after a NATO invasion in 2011.
The great betrayal of Libya
There is little doubt that many if not most in the US deep state would want to do the same thing to North Korea. After all Pompeo and Bolton’s statements serve as a kind of perverse admission that the US would like to do to the DPRK what they did to the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. But the reality is that North Korea will almost certainly not end up like Libya, instead it will likely end up either like Hong Kong in 1997 or Germany in 1989.
While George Bush’s government shook hands with that of Libya in 2003 while the world broadly welcomed Tripoli’s agreement to disarm itself, eight years later, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Nicholas Sarkozy and David Cameron launched a war of mass destruction against a Libyan nation that had rendered itself defenceless to such an attack. In the case of North Korea, eight years from now, there will not be a North Korea as we know it today and this will not be because of war but because of a voluntary partial reunification settlement with the South.
One Country – Two Systems is coming sooner than most people think
Even though the date had been set well in advance, many still could not believe that Hong Kong would reunite with the rest of China in 1997, after being ruled by Britain since 1842. Likewise, few people who lived through the building of Berlin Wall in 1961 could believe that in 1989 it came down so rapidly and without a fight. Likewise, it is my strongly held view that many are going to be shocked at the speed with which the two Korean states adopt their version of the ‘One Country – Two Systems’ model that has worked so well in the reintegration of Hong Kong and Macau back into China.
In this sense, while a German style total reunification is still a ways away, the two Korean states may be just a few short years away from becoming a united nation with two different socio-economic systems that exist side-by-side in a coordinated and mostly harmonious fashion. While many point out that the differences between North and South Korea are even more dramatic than those between the two German states in 1989 or Hong Kong and the rest of China in 1997, the reality is that the 20th century experience has shown that both Korean states are able to move fast when it comes to rapid development.
The Korean ‘can-do’ experience
After the 1953 armistice which ended the Korean war, the DPRK was able to transform a literal wasteland created by US carpet bombing into a modern society based on Soviet style infrastructure. Later, in the 1970s and 1980s, South Korea rapidly developed into the ultra-modern state that it is today. Likewise, under Kim Jong-un’s rule, the DPRK has not only recovered from the economic recession of the 1990s but has done so in a manner that has created an economic boom based on adopting some of the principles of limited market socialism.
Because of the extreme resilience that both Korean states have shown in the face of deadly war and extreme economic recession, there is a clear precedent which indicates that any ‘One Country – Two Systems’ model that is eventually adopted will be as smooth if not smoother (due to the smaller size of Korea vis-a-vis China) than the reintegration of Hong Kong and Macau with the rest of China.
Because of this, a Libyan style invasion of one country would be an invasion of a single Korea. However irrational and violent the US is, there is simply not a strong likelihood that it would invade a prosperous united Korea, however separate the two systems remain, not least because such a state would likely seek to trade with US consumers eager for Korean products and more importantly because such a state would be next to the Chinese nuclear superpower.
Trade wars – not regime change wars
Interestingly, if the trends in Trump administration trade policy continue along their current trajectory, there is actually more of a chance that the US would try and engineer a trade war with a united Korea than engage in a Libyan style war of mass destruction against a united Korea. Trump has already shown that when it comes to either sanctions or tariffs, no productive Asian state is safe whether it US friendly South Korea and Japan, US rival China or US opponent North Korea in respect of sanctions, sanctions which remain firmly in place in spite of the major steps Pyongyang is taking to make peace with Seoul and the wider region.
In any case, a ‘One Country – Two Systems’ Korea would be able to survive a trade war, just as the present countries in north east Asia subject to increasingly irrational US tariffs are surviving just fine.
A large and exploited Arab world versus a geographically contained and resilient Korean world
Finally, there is another reason that North Korea will not end up like Libya. Throughout the 20th century, the United States has pursued the policy pioneered by the Arab world’s British antagonists known as divide and rule. Exploiting tribe against tribe, sect against sect, ethnic group against ethnic group within the larger Arab space and all the while pinning state against state whose own borders are artificially drawn by western powers, in order to exploit the sentiments of an Arab world that can truly only function if united into a single Arab federation. The Arab world first united in the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and remained mostly geographically unified under the Ottoman Empire centuries later. It was only after this that massive problems began.
Beginning in the 20th century, Britain, France and later the United States began actively dividing the Arab world along not only national lines but many others, most notable confessional sectarian lines. The presence of a European colonial settler state in the heart of the Arab world known as “Israel” has exacerbated these problems one-hundred fold. In this sense the entire situation can be boiled down to the fact that Korea has China on its door step, which means that the US likely won’t dare attack it while by contrast, the Arab world has an “Israeli” occupier in its most holy cities, making exploitation of Arab divisions all the more easy for the imperialists.
Compared to the multiple divisions the west has sown in the Arab world, Korea’s artificial division is much simpler. A Korean peninsula that is much smaller than the intercontinental Arab world stands a much better chance a reunification than many Arab states who remain on knife edge to the exploitation from the US, EU and “Israel”.
The fact of the matter is that tribalism and factionalism are sad realities in the Arab world that are all too easy to exploit. Such realities simply do not exist in north east Asia. Because of this, Koreans are harder to exploit and in any case because of the small size of Korea vis-a-vis the vast Arab world, there are fewer things for a malign foreign power to exploit in the first place.
In this sense there is little more a foreign power could do to divide the Korean people than has already been done and unlike the Arab world, a divided Korea has been generally tense but also generally peaceful in spite of occasional flare ups between the two sides.
Now that Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in have expressed a willingness to put the past behind them, it appears to be only a matter of time before a united Korea becomes a reality and in so doing, will become like just any other medium sized Asian nation that is too homogeneous to exploit and too integrated into the international trading system for the US to bother waging anything against it other than a trade war.