USA-East Asia Looking Into the Abyss

EDITORIAL, 15 Apr 2013

#267 | Johan Galtung, 15 Apr 2013 - TRANSCEND Media Service

From Kyoto, Japan

It has never been this bad since the 1950-53 Korea war.

October 1962, the Cuba-USSR-USA crisis, comes to mind. There were horror visions of mushroom clouds. A proud Cuba, with a strong leader-dictatorship, a social revolution in the near past, was denied a normal place in the state system, bullied by the USA and some allies with sanctions and boycotts into isolation for now more than 50 years.

Soviet Union shipped nuclear-tipped missiles for deployment as close to USA as the US missiles deployed in Turkey to Soviet Union.  And in that was the solution, tit for tat, one nuclear threat for the other, in negotiations kept secret, ultimately revealed by McNamara.

Three countries were involved in 1962; in the current crisis five countries, a pentagon and not two but three nuclear powers (in bold):


with the USA-Japan and USA-South Korea alliances pitted against the tacit China-North Korea alliance.  With the unreconciled traumas, of Japan having colonized Korea 1910-45, attacking China and USA during the Pacific War 1931-45; USA using nuclear bombs against Japan 1945; occupying Japan and South Korea; North Korea attacking South Korea; UN-USA counter-attacking, including China (MacArthur), ending in 1953 with an armistice; then 60 years of immensely frustrating quest for unification with the annual USA-South Korea+ Team Spirit exercises close to North Korea.  And, more recently, the USA-China competition for the No. 1 economic world position, the US effort to build economic alliances with the EU and with the Pacific in Trans-Pacific Partnership, and then the Japan-China conflict over the Diaoyu-Senkaku islands.  To top it: North Korea’s threatening with nuclear weapons, fascist like anybody threatening to turn others into ashes, but so far only verbal violence.

Nonetheless, even against a background like that, there are some ways of defusing this Three against Two pentagon.

Professor Dae-Hwa Chung at Pusan National University in South Korea ( sent an Oped to the New York Times about the 60-year conflict, with USA bullying North Korea by withholding peace treaty and normalization. His basic points: Soviet Union pulled out of North Korea, but USA not from South Korea to encircle China; Soviet Union and China recognized South Korea, the United Nations recognized both, USA and Japan failed to live up to the agreement of cross-recognition, never recognized North Korea but made peace, and a de facto alliance, with South Korea.

One may speculate why.  Both Koreas were dictatorships; South Korea acquired democratic features only in the 1990s.  USA had a visceral hatred of North Korea for breaking the chain of US war victories since the War of Independence in 1812 by not capitulating, together with Japan and South Korea hoping for its collapse, even more so after the 1989-90 collapse and absorption of DDR-Deutsche Demokratische Republik into Germany.

There are somber speculations.  Both Japan and USA have a history of losing wars on the Korean peninsula; Japan in the 1590s under shogun Hideyoshi, and then in 1945 to the USA and USSR; USA in 1953 by not winning. Hawks in both countries might keep the polarization and nurse their own traumas to fuel a war o revenge, winning, not losing this time; not like the Bay of Pigs in Cuba 1961.  For Japanese hawks, some in power under Abe, the current crisis is a golden opportunity to “normalize” their own country, getting rid of Constitution Article 9 depriving Japan of the right to war, brushing away any reconciliation with the Koreas and China admitting Japanese wrongs 1910-1931-1945; to the contrary, making young Japanese proud of their country.

With strong, even existential motives such as these fueling the North Korean, US and Japanese intransigence, the prospects are dim.

And yet let us look for some glimmer of hope, however distant.

A bilateral deal like Cuba 1962 is difficult because the US use of Turkey and the USSR use of Cuba were symmetric, inviting a tit for tat. What could North Korea give in return for the indispensable peace treaty-normalization?  Credible IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) control used to be the answer, but NK has crossed the red line and become a nuclear power.

North Korea could dismantle its verbal and physical threats, hoping for peace treaty-normalization in return. Like in 1962 that would not be one good for another, but one wrong for another. Would USA, used to dictate outcomes giving nothing in return, agree? Like in 1962 keeping it secret, with a “profile in courage” narrative? Hopefully, but not very likely, some secret deals are in the making.

A multilateral deal involving the whole pentagon, giving goods for goods for international conviviality, the Japanese kokusai kyosei, would be the real Team Spirit. Concretely this would be a (North) East Asian Community with China, Taiwan, Hong Kong-Macao, Japan, the Korean peninsula; and Mongolia, the Russian Far East, maybe more.

The Community would relate equitably to the USA and the Pacific by extending TPP to include China and a fully recognized North Korea.  Okinawa could host the (North)East Asian Commission and Hawai’i TPP. The Diaoyu/Senkaku islands with their exclusive economic zones would belong to the (North)East Asian Community.  China-Japan would own it together; share the revenue, with a portion to sustain the community.  There would be mutual and equal benefits; everybody would gain.

And that is a problem for minds hostage to zero-sum games and addicted to winning; at present found in all five, using patriotism to fuel such games.  A change of mentality is needed, like in Europe in 1950.  That may take centuries, but could also happen very quickly under enlightened statesmanship.  None of the five qualifies for that, today.  But together, in a summit meeting, buoyed by NGOs and media?


 Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He is author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgment and link to the source, TRANSCEND Media Service-TMS, is included. Thank you.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 15 Apr 2013.

Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: USA-East Asia Looking Into the Abyss, is included. Thank you.

If you enjoyed this article, please donate to TMS to join the growing list of TMS Supporters.

Share this article:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

6 Responses to “USA-East Asia Looking Into the Abyss”

  1. […] *Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He is author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP. Galtung’s editorial was published by TRANSCEND Media Service. Go to Original. […]

  2. satoshi says:

    Three points:


    “War is a game of deception.” One of the most effective ways for a small and weak country to win a battle with a big and strong country is to carry out a surprise attack. While North Korea is openly declaring its possible attack against the United States, South Korea and/or Japan, it is unlikely that North Korea will begin to attack these countries. On the other hand, if North Korea begins to be friendly to those countries, it is highly likely that North Korea might attack those countries. That is how the deception works. Prof. Galtung says, “North Korea could dismantle its verbal and physical threats, hoping for peace treaty-normalization in return.” Yes, North Korea could do so, but if North Korea would do so, it means that it is highly likely that North Korea is preparing a really serious surprise attack. If North Korea would dismantle its verbal and physical threats, and if it would (pretend to) express its willingness to conclude a peace treaty, it means that North Korea needs to play that way. What is the reason for that? The answer: To deceive those countries that North Korea considers as the enemies. War is a game of deception.

    Note that North Korea understands that North Korea, since 1950, has still been in the “de facto” state of war even though none of the United States, South Korea or Japan considers that these countries are in the state of war in the relation with North Korea. North Korea will (pretend to) remain to stay in the state of war until it will be unnecessary or unable for North Korea to remain in the state of war. Therefore, North Korea’s game of deception will also continue till then. War is a game of deception.


    There is a reason for the North Korean government (to pretend) to remain in the state of war in the relation with their own people. The North Korean government needs to divert the people’s attention from the catastrophic domestic economic problems to the so-called enemy countries. This is why Kim Jong-un repeatedly warns to his people that the United States will attack North Korea at any time. His “primary audience” is his people. By creating a strong fear among his people as such, he is leading his people’s attention from their domestic issues to the enemy outside. It is a dictator’s classical ruling technique. In order to firmly grasp the control of his people, Kim Jong-un needs to make his people believe that his country is in the state of war. He desperately needs to divert his people’s attention from the failure of the domestic economy to the overwhelmingly formidable enemy outside. Considering Kim’s situation as such, how one can expect in the foreseeable future that Kim “could dismantle its verbal and physical threats, hoping for peace treaty-normalization in return”? (If he will, it means that he is preparing a serious attack against the United States, South Korea and Japan, as mentioned above. But, needless to say, he will never do that, because he knows that it will be a suicidal performance for him.)


    Let me point out one additional thing: It is about the relation as Prof. Galtung illustrated above. Since the last few months, however, the relations have been changing like this: “North Korea” “ China—USA—South Korea—Japan”. Note that the relation between China and the United States are getting close these days because both countries have the common agenda – how to deal with North Korea. One of the main reasons why China has been either supportive or tolerant to North Korea over the years is to minimize the possibility of the influx of millions of starving refugees into China from North Korea in case of the collapse of the Kim regime. However, China has already been tired of dealing with North Korea, especially since the last decade or so, but China is in a dilemma because of the possible large scale influx of the North Korean refugees, as mentioned.

    In that regard, it might be worthwhile to recall the fact that China has been supporting the UN Security Council resolutions to impose sanctions on North Korea for recent years. China did not exercise its veto, not even abstention, when it came to make a decision on the sanction against North Korea. China has clearly agreed with the UN sanctions against North Korea. Furthermore, it is reported that one of the recent UN Security resolutions on North Korea was originally prepared by China. Then, China invited the United States to join that resolution. The draft of that resolution, then, was submitted to the Security Council as the joint proposal by China and the United States. Those facts indicate what China thinks of North Korea now.

  3. […] First published here […]

  4. […] 다른 방도가 없다고 주장했다.   평화학자 요한 갈퉁도 4월 15일 트렌센드 미디어 서비스(Transcend Media Service) 사설에서, 제로섬 게임과 승리에만 집착한 전략을 넘어 동북아 차원의 포괄적 […]

  5. […] originale: USA-East Asia Looking Into the Abyss – TRANSCEND Media […]