Robert Charvin: “it is because of its sovereignty that North Korea still exists”
- 05 Sep 2017
The diplomatic crisis between the United States and North Korea has resurfaced this summer. The declarations of president Trump, who threatened to unleash a war of “fire and fury like the world has never seen before”, set the tone. Rather than address the key questions, the political and media coverage in the West does not contemplate neither the reunification of Korea nor diplomacy as a starting point for a solution. Is the insatiable appetite of the corporate world trying to justify another war? In his book, “How can one be (North) Korean?” (in French, « Comment peut-on être Coréen (du Nord)? »), Robert Charvin, an expert in international law, guides us through this dangerous political crisis inherited from the Cold War.
Alex Anfruns: What are the stakes of the crisis that erupted between North Korea and Trump?
Robert Charvin: The current crisis is only a continuation of a state of tension tension that has not ceased for decades (except for the short periods in which Seoul and the United States agreed to initiate a dialogue). It can only be resolved by negotiation, so that a peace treaty can finally be achieved to do away with the state of belligerence that has been in place since 1953!
This treaty must guarantee normal diplomatic and trade relations, allowing a progressive reconciliation between the North and the South of the Peninsula with a view towards reunification down the road, which would solve many socio-economic problems.
For many Pyongyang is a “dictatorial regime” that threatens world peace. As someone who knows North Korea well, what is your take?
North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), a member state of the United Nations, is not a “provocative” power: they are not the ones with military bases in the immediate vicinity of the US borders, armed with nuclear weapons, since the end of the Second World War. The US empire imposes its hegemony over a large part of the world, but not over the DPRK.
The theory of Juche, ideology of Pyongyang, does not impose itself on peoples like the American Way of Life! If, however, we fear the DPRK’s armed forces, why not endorse a regional de-nuclearisation agreement that it has been proposing for a long time, and which obviously includes the United States?
As for the human rights champions, civilians and politicians from the West (of course), why are they not proposing detente, which is the only way to promote all the rights of the Korean people, in the North and in the South?
The views from Pyongyang are systematically dismissed in all debates… Why is there such a consensus?
North Korea has been a textbook case for several decades. Unfortunately, neither the media nor the Western political parties treat it as such. One is allowed to say anything about this country, “incarnation of evil”, led by “crazy fanatics”, also “still” communist, even if it is a brand of socialism tinted with Confucianism.
The reasons for this consensus, which went on to absorb various progressive forces that were afraid of being further weakened by going “too much” against the current (electoralism and parliamentary cretinism so compel!), are not mysterious. Korea is far from the United States and Europe: it is difficult to separate the truth from what is politically useful to certain interests.
The average citizen is more easily convinced by facile arguments, cultivated by pseudo-intellectuals and a repetitive press, than by historical, sociological and economic explanations, not to mention the fact that geopolitics are ignored, forgotten even by a “left” that is becoming more and more out of touch.
Nevertheless, the capitalist world has for a long time used, as a way to legitimate its hegemony, the difficulties that it is often responsible for, but which cause suffering to the “hostile” peoples: it is a matter of making the case that “in other places it is even worse” and that it is therefore necessary to accept the “kind masters” who reign in Paris, Brussels or Washington.
Obviously, they cannot take aim at friendly dictatorships because they are good for business, Saudi-style or amenable African states whose elections are masquerades, and the repression of opposition is the norm. They must be “red” or close, from Chile of Salvador Allende to Kim Jong Un, via Castro, Chávez or Maduro… These are “excellent” weapons against those in the West who denounce the worship of money and the (always distorted) free market.
The United States and its local allies have been able to kill Lumumba, Allende and many others, and to overthrow many fragile powers because it is very difficult to build socialism, breaking totally with the dominant world. But the DPRK remains, scandalous and provocative!
How do you explain the tenacity of the political system in power in Pyongyang?
The Korean people have “thick skin”: almost half a century of (ruthless!) Japanese colonialism; a devastating war with the United States in 1950-1953: a single building was left standing in the capital, Pyongyang, in 1953! Nearly 70 years of a unilaterally imposed embargo – and thus illicit – have created a “siege mentality” which is cynically described as paranoia!
Not to mention the dramas caused, including on food costs, by the disappearance of the Soviet ally, the Eastern European states and the evolution of China, which only delivers “minimal services” to Pyongyang , with Seoul being economically more “profitable”. In spite of everything, and paying the price for it, the People’s Republic of Korea has remained sovereign, counting only on its own capacities, creating a spirit of uncompromising resistance to this day, blending in its ideology Marxism and Confucianism, in which journalists from the great Western press do not have the least bit interest.
In short, this is a model not to be followed according to the West, which lives only by plundering the planet. It would take 5 whole planets for the inhabitants of the Earth to live like Americans. North Korea is a shortcoming that must not be contagious; it occupies a strategic position on the borders of Russia, China and Japan. It must be “contained” to the maximum and, if possible one day, disappear thanks to the actions of the North American military armada (based in South Korea, Guam, etc.).
While this downfall is awaited, North Korea serves as a pretext for maintaining the North American military presence thousands of miles away, but very close to the borders of Russia (an ally of Pyongyang) and China, whose “ambitions are threatening,” if we are to believe Western economists!
The worst of it is the cynicism of the “observers”: everything has been put in place for decades to smother North Korea, but it is reproached for breathing improperly! As a result, the Pyongyang authorities have only one choice: to resist or capitulate and align themselves with Seoul, which is directly subjected to Yankee dollars and soldiers.
Pyongyang seems to be pretty isolated in the global political scene. How do you explain it?
This is a political drama: internationalism is dead. There is no obstacle to the anti-communism that is raging against North Korea. Having lost most of the ideological battles, some communist parties have abandoned the field of international solidarity: being on the side of the Koreans is too “costly”, North Korean socialism is too “different”; monolithic ideological thought is the opposite of the “human rights” talk that is so in vogue. We have abandoned the idea of a unique “model” of socialism, but Westernism and ethnocentrism still permeate many Western communists.
Ultimately, the few Gaullists who have survived in France understand the Korean will to have a nuclear deterrent better that the “progressive” circles who refuse any geopolitical considerations and are less sensitive to the issue of national independence!
It is evident that if socialism is to be capable of resisting neoliberal globalisation, and the speculative plundering interests of transnational corporations, it needs to rely on the nation, on historical characteristics and heritage: history is made of syncretisms.
French, Belgian, American or Italian socialism cannot be “standard”: only the market, that is to say, a world centered on business and capital, standardises, to the detriment of popular values. Korea is Korean: it is because Pyongyang is above all sovereign, and uncompromisingly so, including with respect to China, the great but very different neighbour, that the DPRK, a member state of the United Nations, a developing country in spite of everything, still exists.
Do you have a message of hope concerning the outcome of this conflict, which is deeply connected to our recent history?
It is possible that in the near future, as a result of the imperial madness of someone like Trump, Wall Street maneuvers, or this or that power, each people, obviously in the South, but also in Europe, will come to rely only on itself. Because there is no such thing as international philanthropy, alliances and cooperation can only work in a complementary role.
This is the message of the DPRK: it is honorable in the sad times we live in. On the other hand, the violence and threats from the big powers are worthy only of contempt. There are no excuses for those who, beyond all borders, believe that everything is allowed.
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