North Korea Is Not a Threat – Unveiling Hegemonic Discourses

That security is socially constructed does not mean that there are not to be found real, material conditions that help to create particular interpretations of threats, or that such conditions are irrelevant to either the creation or undermining of the assumptions underlying security policy. Enemies, in part, “create” each other, via the projections of their worst fears onto the other; in this respect, their relationship is intersubjective. To the extent that they act on these projections, threats to each other acquire a material character.
-Ronnie Lipschutz, UCSC

Kim Jong-Il wants attention. And now he has it. He won’t go in our ‘Morons of the Week’ column and certainly scores points for knowing how to misuse national resources to get international attention.

Our problem with MSM coverage of the North Korea ‘missile threat’ is with the purported hegemonic discourse. Hegemonic discourse does not pertain to just speech; it refers to whole narratives, with a hero and a villain, and us and them that we must defeat and overcome. The point of hegemonic discourse–in this case the discourse of the United States on demonizing North Korea and drawing attention to its nuclear activities—is to subjugate and oppress the counter-discourses of a race-war, nuclearism and anti-capitalism.

(1) Race war discourse

While this is not a clash of civilizations, it is certainly a race war in that the entire discourse revolves around preventing certain kinds of people from acquiring and using nuclear weapons.  Would the United States use the same tactics in France? Or even India? No, in fact it looked the other way on outrageous French nuclear testing in the Pacific and supports India’s nuclear program despite the fact that it is not a signatory of the NPT!

Ronnie Lipschutz has some fine lines for us in On Security:

To be sure, the United States and Russia do not launch missiles against each other because both know the result would be annihilation. But the same is true for France and Britain, or China and Israel. It was the existence of the Other that gave deterrence its power; it is the disappearance of the Other that has vanquished that power. Where Russia is now concerned, we are, paradoxically, not secure, because we see no need to be secured. In other words, as Ole Waever might put it, where there is no constructed threat, there is no security problem. France is fully capable of doing great damage to the United States, but that capability has no meaning in terms of U.S. security.

On the other hand, see the Iran nuclear ‘crisis’ as an example. The United States has demonized Ahmadinejad at every opportunity and conjured him up as an Islamic fundamentalist and nationalist who will defy non-proliferation at all costs. On the other hand, Ahmadinejad cheekily asked the United States to join the rest of civilization in worshipping God. That is the discourse of race war but it is concealed by juridical discourse—the hegemonic discourse.

To borrow from Michael Foucault, the United States is using the juridical schema of nuclear non-proliferation to conceal the war-repression schema. North Korea is the historical Other, the terrorist, the threat against whom the world must be protected in the juridical schema. Yet, under the war-repression schema, North Korea is a sovereign nation with the right to develop nuclear and communications technology. And this latest action is really nothing more than a plea for economic help.

(2) Nuclearism discourse

Tied to the race war schema, is the discourse of nuclearism, which refers to the ideology that nuclear weapons are instruments of peace. Nukespeak in the form of MAD or the hype over so-called precision weapons by our leaders has had trickle-down effects to the point of achieving a mental-wipe or historical amnesia of the U.S. nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This discourse effectively represents a war on history and subjugation of knowledges about the horrors of nuclear war and fallout.

Closely related to nuclearism is the issue of whiteness around nuclear weapons, the paternalistic presupposition that Western powers are the responsible and rightful leaders on the issue, the racist ideology that nuclear weapons in the hands of an Islamic country or “terrorist” spells end to world peace or catastrophe while it is perfectly alright for France, Britain, the United States, Russia, China and now India, to have nuclear weapons.

The epistemological assumptions of nuclearism are dangerous, besides being racist and morally repulsive. The formation of a “nuclear club” and an exclusive right to possess nuclear weapons makes them a forbidden fruit and an issue of prestige, thereby encouraging proliferation. Indeed, discourse around the North Korea and Iran nuclear buildup denotes that these countries see a successful completion of the fuel cycle or the launching of a rocket as an issue of great prestige. There is absolutely nothing prestigious about owning weapons of mass destruction, weapons that can end civilization. However, countries like North Korea and Iran can be forgiven for their nuclearist mentality; after all, it is an implication of the discourse that has been perpetuated by the West, a discourse that has become common knowledge and culture.

Nuclearism must be addressed and put on the table to move past the current impasse over nuclear negotiations and the non-proliferation regime. Without denouncing nuclear weapons and facing our moral conscience as the only nation to have ever used nuclear weapons, we cannot hope to avert nuclear proliferation and prevent ‘rogue states’ from going that route.

(3) Anti-Capitalism Discourse

Truth be told, much of the world is suffering from the dire effects of an international economic system that does  not benefit them. All the signs of desperation are present. They come from the rallies and burning of effigies around the world. The violent protests against NATO and the G-20 summit. The high prices of food. They come as small requests from students on whether anyone is listening. And even the scapegoating of the Other (be it gays, Muslims, liberals, undocumented immigrants) is really an ignorant response to our unwanted troubles, thoughts and desires.

The problem is not North Korea or Kim Jung II. The problem is an international system of haves and have-nots, where people without institutional power vie for attention. In this scenario, a nuclear missile from an impoverished, wretched country helps garner more attention than protests, rallies and suicide. How else can North Korea hope to get the help that it desperately needs?

Foolcracy is hits the nail on what might happen next:

What else of those “consequences” besides the expected veto of proposed UN sanctions?

It probably means that a deal will be made with North Korea for food and other essentials. In return, North Korea will “give up” part of its nuclear or rocket program and…then, in a couple of years, they will go back to the same game of spitting in the face of the world in exchange for food and other essentials. In other words, its a bit like a dysfunctional family that likes to play with guns.

The Obama Administration has scrambled to battle anti-Americanism with new euphemisms. It is not the ‘global war on terror’ but a ‘global contingency operation.’ Not likely to catch on anytime soon. The people living in dire states and conditions, ravaged by war, poverty and hardship, know precisely what it is–an attack on their existence predicated by the United States and its allies.

We have seen and read the master narrative before of demonizing a country, bringing about regime change and killing, colonizing and repressing more peoples while doing it. By unearthing these counter-discourses, we can hope to move towards a ‘solution’ to the North Korea issue. Again, the ‘problem-solution’ is not the missiles, but the manner in which North Korea is seeking help and attention. Finding common ground requires discovering and deconstructing the cultural and discursive constructs. However, the window of opportunity is quite small, as seen by positions and interests of the parties involved. I don’t doubt though, that North Korea will cease to be an entity sometime in the near future and become into Korea again.

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