Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Rational Choice for Developing Nuclear Weapons (or "How to read an article you don't agree with in a constructive way")

Is North Korea's decision to develop nuclear weapons rational or not? This question is simple enough. Yet is seems to encourage a lot of bickering and misunderstanding. The latest round has developed over Gaven McCormack's recent article in the Asia Times. I read this article and then I read the Korean Liberators rebuttal. And then I was confused.

My confusion was partly solved when I realised that KL starts by rebutting the article at hand but then dives much deeper and criticises other articles by Mr. McCormack. For future readability, I would humbly recommend to the KL that he start similar posts with a reading list so that we can know in advance what articles are under scrutiny.

From the start let me clarify that this entry goes through Mr. McCormack's current article in the Asia Times and parts of the KL's rebuttal only. It does not venture into other works or critcisms on other works. My entry is based on the assumption that Mr. McCormack's article is asking the question that I started with and is not, as KL seems to think an article defending North Korea’s nuclear program. By doing this I aim to highlight what I see as erroneous comments against Mr. McCormack's article. I hope this will bring the discussion back to a level where constructive argument from both sides can be addressed in a reasonable manner.

The Asia Times' article begins by noting the failure of the NPT in stopping nuclear proliferation. He says that,

In May 2005, the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference collapsed in failure. . . Responsibility was equally shared by the established nuclear powers whose hypocrisy discredited the system and those outside the club seeking to justify themselves according to the superpower principle: without nuclear weapons there is no security.
Quote with emphasis taken from KL.

In the Asia Times' article Mr. McCormack goes on to point out examples to support this claim. These examples include the fact that the NPT signatories turn a blind eye to Israel's nuclear program; that India, despite not joining the NPT have become recognised and accepted nuclear states eligible to receive (civilian) nuclear technology; that nuclear arsenals are increasing, notably in the US despite commitments to decrease stocks. And then you have countries like Japan which follow the letter of the agreement by not having nuclear weapons but not quite the spirit since they have everything ready to go the minute they change their mind.

Confusion may now start to set in if you read KL's post. The next part of the quote taken by the KL from the Asia Times reads:
[Rather than North Korea] The "problem" is the United States, and the half century of hostile, violent and always intimidating confrontation from the intervention that divided Korea in 1945 and the devastating war of 1950 to 1953 to the hostility that continues to this day.
To which KL adds the comments:
The "America-made-North-Korea-do-it," argument. Rather ironic ? and problematic for that position, as circular logic often is ? that those nations currently under the most pressure, the "Axis of Evil," oddly enough, would not be in such situations if not for their illicit weapons programs.
Firstly, in the Asia Times' article this second quote appears twelve paragraphs after the first quote. So the second qutoe in fact is not discussing the failures and problems with the NPT. Nor, is it saying that 'the "problem" is the United States'. The reason the word problem is in inverted commas is because the article is discussing what North Korea thinks is the problem. In other words, Mr. McCormack is not saying that "America-made-North-Korea-do-it". He is saying that North Korea perceives that America has driven them to develop nuclear weapons in the name of self-defense. Preceding KL's quote is an important phrase which he has opted to omit. But one which I think is critical to understanding what is being argued:

from North Korea the world looks very different. The "problem" is the United States, and the half century of hostile, violent and always intimidating confrontation from the intervention that divided Korea in 1945 and the devastating war of 1950 to 1953 to the hostility that continues to this day.
It should also be noted that the quote comes under the section "The Problem of Perspective," which I think re-emphasises that the point being made is one of perception, not fact.

The argument of Mr. McCormack is simple and not new. It states that condemning North Korea as an irrational player who is entirely to blame for its own nuclear program is erroneous. Rather, it is more productive for the western world to see the rationality behind North Korea’s decision in order to better understand how why the choice was made and how the West can better coax North Korea to a different path. Or indeed if there is any point trying to do so. This article addresses what those grievances are/might be and it shouldn’t be dismissed or criticized simply because it suggests that US should consider how its own actions may be interpreted by North Korea.

At this point the KL gives up with article at hand and goes into the other readings. I am too lazy to read them (the links to the other, long articles) so I won't address his comments to the other articles.

Currently reading:

"Hell" by Yasutaka Tsutsui