Are deterrence and security compatible?

Do military exercizes add or detract from regional security? The whole point of deterrence is to make yourself feel secure while making your opponent feel insecure.

The new sanctions announced by the USA (Read/view: “US announces new sanctions against North Korea”) after the ambiguous “victory” claimed by both sides following the UN Security Council Statement are unlikely to have much effect on a DPRK that is already the most heavily sanctioned country on the globe.

Enter the pointy end of coercive diplomacy: joint US-ROK military exercizes, this time involving a lot more firepower in the shape of USS George Washington, one of the USA’s largest aircraft carriers. (Read: “U.S., South Korea begin military exercises”)

Needless to say, the DPRK gets the “point” and lets loose a barrage of threatening rhetoric. The National Defence Commission, the DPRK’s highest legislative body states that “The army and people of the DPRK will start a retaliatory sacred war of their own style based on nuclear deterrent” (Read: “NDC States to Counter US-S. Korea War Exercises with Nuclear Deterrence”), but is surprisingly modest in details that might indicate that action is imminent. The NDC statement and all articles appearing in KCNA on the subject of the military exercises continue to insist that the DPRK had no part in the sinking of the Cheonan.

Canada’s Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon downplays threats of a “physical response” by North Korea, saying he would be “astonished” if the nation took action. While he still called North Korea an “oppressive regime . . . that continues to pose a threat to peace and security worldwide,” Cannon said he does not believe these threats are founded. (Read: “Cannon downplays North Korean action threats”)

All this comes after both North Korea and China indicated, in their separate responses to the UNSC Presidential Statement that the DPRK was willing to return to the Six-Party Talks. That promise was repeated by the DPRK’s Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun at the regional forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Hanoi. (Read: “North Korea denounces war games, but is still game for six-party talks”)

But what if North Korea is just the scapegoat? What if these exercizes are really aimed at another target? China certainly seems to think so, and vehemently objected to the entry of the George Washington into the Yellow Sea, the site of the Cheonan sinking. (Read/listen: “US & China play chicken in the Yellow Sea”)

As Canadian Globe and Mail columnist Frank Ching concludes, “Not only is Washington taking part in military drills off eastern China, it’s also pushing the envelope in the South China Sea.” (Read: “U.S. reasserts its presence in Asia”)

Maybe one ought to draw back from a “my security requires your insecurity” stance and revisit the concept of “common security”. One cannot teach peace by resorting to war.

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