Nuclear Weapons are a Threat To World Peace

Nuclear Weapons are a Threat To World Peace

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It is a well-known fact that the dropping of the two atomic bombs near the end of World War II in 1945 ushered in the dawn of the Atomic Age. For the first time in human history, the world was introduced to the awesome power of nuclear weapons. Since that time, there have been several different nuclear threats to the world, and one of those threats can be found along the Pacific Rim, in the country of North Korea. Like the dropping of the atomic bombs, it is also known that the North Korean government has admitted to possessing nuclear weapons, and in doing so, it stands as a silent, potential nuclear danger to the rest of the world.

To understand this situation more fully, one must be given some background, starting in the early 1950s. Due to the harsh differences between the peoples of Korea, and especially due to the onset of Communism, the Korean War erupted and the nation split in half, with the Communist-supported Democratic People’s Republic in the north and those who favored democracy in the Korean Republic of the south (Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000). The two separate countries of North Korea and South Korea went their opposite ways, and each has experienced different fortunes in the past half-century. The South Koreans managed to recover from the turmoil of the 1950s and 1960s to become an economic power and a democracy supporter. On the other hand, North Korea can be viewed as a retro country, based first on a Communist ideology, laid down by leader Kim Il Sung and inherited by his son, the current dictator Kim Jong Il, then evolving into a totalitarian state (Pacific Rim: East Asia at the Dawn of a New Century). Today North Korea holds the distinction of being one of the very few remaining countries to be truly cut off from the rest of the world. Author Helie Lee describes this in her novel In the Absence of Sun: “An eerie fear crawled through my flesh as I stood on the Chinese side of the Yalu River, gazing across the murky water into one of the most closed-off and isolated countries in the world.” (1)

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When one examines North Korea more closely, one can see why it would be perceived as a nuclear threat, because it is a completely unfriendly country. Let us take a clearer look at this, starting with the North Korean government. This is a government that, according to the book North and South Korea: Opposing Viewpoints, shows little regard for the human condition through its actions. The book states that the country’s only two leaders, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, “created an absolutist dictatorship that controls all aspects of the country’s economic and political life and that significantly violates human rights. Many North Koreans languish in political prisons, and even those who are not imprisoned suffer from starvation.” (Dudley 74)

It is also no surprise that the country is threatening because of its iron-fisted government, a government that simply does not work. Communism and dictatorship have both been failures in just about every case in history. Let us start with one of the most definitive examples: Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. Hitler expected his empire, established in 1933 and titled the Third Reich, to last for a thousand years. Yet in 1945, a little more than a mere decade, the Nazi regime fell apart (Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000). Shortly after that, the Soviet Union would engage in the Cold War with the United States (Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000). Established in 1922, the Soviet Union stood as a major force on the world political scene for the next seven decades, particularly in the Cold War era. Yet, even this powerful empire could only hold out for so long. By the late 1980s, widespread political change in Eastern Europe signaled its decline, and in 1991, the Soviet Union finally buckled and took all of Eastern European Communism with it (Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000). This does not even begin to describe all of the countless failed dictatorships in Africa and Latin America, with an example being the ultimate failure of Colonel Juan Peron’s dictatorship in Argentina in the 1950s (Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000).

A third reason to add to the mix is the reality that the country’s leaders present a blurred image of its government and way of life. To understand this, take a look at the country’s name. Though we refer to it as North Korea, it is formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Such a title completely contradicts the practices of the government of North Korea and what it stands for. The publication Pacific Rim: East Asia at the Dawn of a New Century describes the situation more accurately: “The North Korean constitution guarantees freedom of speech, press, and assembly, but in practice the people have none of these rights. There is a legislature, too; but it exists only to rubber-stamp policies set by the party leadership. The president’s powers are defined so loosely in the constitution that they are practically limitless.” (Pascoe) The cold reality is that Kim Il Sung’s definition of government serves as a sort of smokescreen, in which every condition has a loophole, and North Koreans have no rights. They must bow to the leader’s every move, as Pacific Rim also states: “The leader’s authority is absolute, and citizens are expected to be unswervingly loyal in carrying out each of his instructions.” (Pascoe)

Even though we see the country documented as the leaders warrant, the real horror does not escape the printed page; rather, it makes a stunning presence. Once again, the book Pacific Rim provides a view, specifically a view of the North Korea capital of Pyongyang: “Visitors to Pyongyang describe silent streets and parks that are eerily empty, as if people were afraid to use them.” (Pascoe) One can only imagine the sheer brutality of the government’s terrible reign if the citizens are scared to even set foot out onto the street. Furthermore, “when South Koreans look across the demilitarized zone that separates them from the North, they see a country that is isolated, poor, and ruled by an oppressive and secretive government.” (Pascoe) Author Helie Lee recounts her own firsthand experiences; standing on the bank of the Yalu River, gazing across at North Korea and armed soldiers on the other side, she recalls, “I buried my face between my knees, put my head down on my arms, and began to cry.” (1-2) She also tells us that “there are so many people trapped in North Korea struggling to survive famine and oppression.” (341) These are all reasons why North Korea tends to be threatening to the nuclear stability of the world.

As far as the nuclear issue itself is concerned, Iraq and North Korea, when placed side by side, presents a strange case indeed. Here is the dilemma: North Korea has clearly displayed its nuclear weapons capabilities to the rest of the world. As stated in the book The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History, “North Korea’s program to develop nuclear weapons was a threat to international stability and world order. A North Korean bomb could touch off a dangerous nuclear arms competition. More than that, an atomic weapon in the hands of an isolated and unpredictable regime with a record of terrorism would be a nightmare.” (Oberdorfer 249) The book also mentions that “Such troublemaking actions, if they went too far, increased the risk of being confronted and possibly overwhelmed by external forces.” (305) I am not sure what others think of this, but to me, this sounds like a fairly legitimate scare. Why, then, are the United States and its allies showing little regard towards North Korea? As long as one keeps up with the news, one knows all about the situation in Iraq over the last year or so. Understandably, Iraq appeared to be a nuclear threat itself, especially considering “[Saddam] Hussein’s interference with U.N. weapons inspectors.” (Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000) No one is sure whether Iraq has been in possession of nuclear weapons, and yet all of the U.S. political and military might has centered on Iraq. The U.S. does not seem ready to focus on North Korea, even though the North Korean government strikes an eerie, dangerous presence with proven nuclear capability.

With that thought in mind, the logical course of action would be to resolve the tensions with North Korea. In my own personal opinion, this makes perfect sense, because not only would potential conflicts be dissolved, but also an end to the bitter hiatus on the Korean peninsula might finally be achieved. There is no point in allowing a half-century old rivalry to drag on any longer than it already has. Without resolution, the Korean peninsula can never be free or achieve true peace and justice. Writer Indong Oh would agree with me; he shares a similar viewpoint in his article “Time to Commit to Peace Regime in the Korean Peninsula,” featured in Opposing Viewpoints. In this day and age, he actually considers the U.S. peacekeepers to be the source of all of the strife and antagonism, more so than the endlessly bickering Koreans. He suggests that “Phased withdrawal of the U.S. forces can be tied to the progress of the arms reduction and the dissolution of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction, including the nuclear and missile development programs. Sustainable peace in Northeast Asia can be achieved through the initiative of the U.S.” (118) He feels that the U.S. can accomplish this objective “by signing a peace agreement with North Korea and by gradually withdrawing its forces from South Korea. Such actions would reduce South Korea’s dependence on the United States and assuage North Korean fears of American intentions in the region.” (113)

Even with all of the scenarios I have mentioned, the possibility exists that this nuclear threat could end sometime in the not-too-distant future. Under its current condition, North Korea appears hard-pressed to survive, and there are so many signs that point to this. Pacific Rim points some of them out: “The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 eliminated North Korea’s main trading partner. In the late 1990s, North Korea faced severe famine. The government was forced to appeal to the world for food aid, something that had never happened before. North Korea will have to follow the route taken by the former Communist states of Eastern Europe—allowing free-market reforms and opening its borders to foreign trade. In 1997 North Korea agreed to take part in four-way negotiations with South Korea, the United States, and China.” (Pascoe) With signs like these, it appears that the winds of change are ever present, and if North Korea wants to survive, it must step up and take action.

To conclude, we have seen that North Korea has all of the pieces in place to be a legitimate nuclear threat to the rest of the world. It remains highly isolated, its government tight-fisted, its nuclear ability perfectly clear. However, I believe that the seeds of change are in place as well, and there is ample evidence for that. Very few countries exist with the kind of lifestyle North Korea embraces, if any at all. Combine all of these factors with the United States’ unwavering war on terror, and it may just be a matter of time before great change comes to the Korean Peninsula.

Works Cited

Oberdorfer, Don. The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History.
Perseus Books Group, 1997.

Dudley, William. North and South Korea: Opposing Viewpoints.
Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2003.

Lee, Helie. In the Absence of Sun.
New York: Harmony Books, 2002.

Pascoe, Elaine. Pacific Rim: East Asia at the Dawn of a New Century.
Millbrook Press, Inc., 1999.

Peterson, Mark. “Korea.” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000.
CD-ROM. Microsoft Corporation, 1999.

“National Socialism.” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000.
CD-ROM. Microsoft Corporation, 1999.

Colton, Timothy J. “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000. CD-ROM. Microsoft Corporation, 1999.

“Argentina.” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000.
CD-ROM. Microsoft Corporation, 1999.

“Iraq.” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000.
CD-ROM. Microsoft Corporation, 1999.

Annotated Source List

Oberdorfer, Don. The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History.

Perseus Books Group, 1997.—This is an extremely comprehensive reference on not only North Korea, but also South Korea as well as the relationships between the two. I found it to be useful because it contains just about anything one would want to know regarding the topic at hand.

Dudley, William. North and South Korea: Opposing Viewpoints.

Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2003.—A very interesting book featuring several issues relating to the Koreas and presented in a point/counterpoint type of fashion. This allows for the writers to be biased because each writer concentrates on one side of an issue. I found this resource particularly useful.

Lee, Helie. In the Absence of Sun.

New York: Harmony Books, 2002.—This is an invaluable resource as it provides a firsthand account of the Koreas. It details the horror of the situation as seen through the eyes of a young woman and her family. It may be slightly biased, but I think anyone subjected to this kind of horror would be.

Works Cited:

Pascoe, Elaine. Pacific Rim: East Asia at the Dawn of a New Century.

Millbrook Press, Inc., 1999.—Though not as comprehensive as the previous sources, this was one source I could not have done without. It is very informative, and I was provided with a good deal of facts. In addition, the author appears to be impartial and not on any one particular side.

Peterson, Mark. “Korea.” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000.
CD-ROM. Microsoft Corporation, 1999.

“National Socialism.” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000.
CD-ROM. Microsoft Corporation, 1999.

Colton, Timothy J. “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000. CD-ROM. Microsoft Corporation, 1999.

“Argentina.” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000.
CD-ROM. Microsoft Corporation, 1999.

“Iraq.” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000.

CD-ROM. Microsoft Corporation, 1999.—All of these articles were sources whose surfaces I merely scratched. For the purpose of the paper, they were virtually useless except for one fact I needed to know about the Soviet Union. I mainly needed to use Encarta for citations. However, I do think fairly highly of Encarta; it is a decent source of information.
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