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Fears of a nuclear conflict on the Korean peninsula increase
Military and diplomatic tensions have escalated on the Korean peninsula in recent weeks. In February, North Korea conducted a nuclear test.
This was followed by a US-South Korean military exercise and then by the North Korean regime declaring a "state of war" on the South.
Hotlines between Pyongyang and Seoul have been cut and work at the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex has been suspended.
Clare Doyle reports on this growing instability and the possibility of a regional conflict.
The escalation of fear and tension on the Korean peninsula, and far beyond, is not without justification.
North Korea is a quasi-Stalinist regime of a peculiar kind and inherently unstable. The new 'great leader' in North Korea - Kim Jong-un - appears to be even more unpredictable than his father Kim Jong-il (who 'inherited' the 'communist party' leadership from his father, Kim Il-sung) when it comes to threats of launching nuclear weapons.
Does he really see the South of the divided peninsula as a major threat to his dictatorial rule - especially its higher living standards and certain basic elements of democracy? Is he trying to demonstrate to others within his own ruling clique that he is boss? Is he using the threat of nuclear attack to force a renewal of negotiations in the international "six-party talks"? Is his aim to get international sanctions lifted and more food aid for North Korea's starving population?
It is probably a mixture of all these. The situation is indeed one in which at any time a nuclear exchange could be set off - deliberately or by accident.
It cannot be excluded. It would lead to a human nightmare of death and destruction, the collapse of the regime in the North and a major crisis for South Korea and the whole region.
The initial response of the US to North Korea's threats has, thankfully, been "ratcheted down", as an analyst at Yonsei University, Seoul, put it.
After flying B2 nuclear bombers over the peninsula, the US administration has postponed a planned inter-continental missile test and appears to be looking for 'dialogue' rather than 'active deterrence'.
The new Chinese 'Communist' party leadership in Beijing appears to be less willing than in the past to give automatic backing to the North Korean regime and its periodic sabre-rattling against imperialism and the South Korean regime.
On the other hand, in the South, the 'trustpolitik' of its new right-wing regime means accepting that 'denuclearisation' is not the only first step towards the removal of the almost permanent threat from the North.
It is totally hypocritical of the US and China to demand total disarmament of North Korea when they are themselves armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons which they have no intention of de-commissioning.
Nuclear armaments are monstrous and fiendish weapons of mass destruction. No sane regime would use them because of the prospect of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). They say they are simply deterrents.
But this does not answer the argument that such weapons could be set off by accident or by a deranged head of state.
In the case of Korea, a new instability has arisen in the aftermath of the previous 'reign' of Kim Jong-il, during which a majority of the population lived in absolute poverty and starvation.
The existence of the superior living standards in the south and the 'infection' of certain hard-won democratic rights, even access to the internet, threaten to undermine the regime in the North.
Hence the hyping up by Kim Jong-un of the external threat and the necessity of being ready to use nuclear weapons in self-defence.
The regime in North Korea appears to be a law unto itself. It is in a position, with 600,000 troops just across the 'ceasefire' line to obliterate the South's capital, Seoul, that lies only 37 miles to the South.
It has made a number of attacks, for example on South Korean vessels, in the recent past and soon may launch a missile with a range that would take it as far as the US base of Guam.
In its struggle for dominance in the region and internally, the ruling 'Communist' party in China is not averse to engaging in its own military stand-offs in the region - with Japan, Vietnam and even the US.
But on its road to the restoration of capitalism, it will not now automatically come to the aid of its neighbour.
The regime in North Korea is by no means 'communist' anyway, even in name. Its ruling ideology, Juche, is an invention of its first 'leader' - Kim Il-sung originally a communist and resistance fighter against Japanese rule over Korea.
The statelet, with its population of nearly 25 million, resulted from the devastating peninsular war of 1950-53 between the forces of imperialism and those of post-war China under Mao Tse Tung.
It ended in a stalemate with an ossified northern state modelled on Stalin's Soviet Union and a capitalist south under pro-US military rule.
Today the steady stream of tourists who stare across the De-militarised Zone that divides the peninsula are told by official guides that the "communist wolves" of the North have threatened the democratic South for 60 years.
Firstly, although the main bastions of the economy in the North are state-owned, there are no elements of democracy for the massively impoverished and hungry population but there is great wealth and privilege for a few at the top of the governing clique and the army.
North Korea has been used as a bogeyman against the ideas of communism and socialism but it is a gross distortion of such ideas and bears no resemblance to a democratic socialist workers' state.
Secondly, in the South, US imperialism poured huge resources into backing ruthless military dictatorships there for more than 30 years, including that of Park Cheung-he, the father of the newly elected president.
The US has a large arsenal of weapons and tens of thousands of troops based in South Korea. Since Pyongyang's threat to 'nuke' Hollywood, the US has threatened to increase its 'hardware' on the peninsula - another reason for China to try and de-escalate the crisis. (In 1994, Bill Clinton's administration seriously considered invading the North but it was constrained by the estimated $100 billion cost and one million casualties.)
The South Korean economy is dominated by a handful of family-run conglomerates or Chaebol. Trade union militants are constantly harassed and imprisoned for exercising the democratic rights to organise and to strike (see article on socialistworld.net - 26 February 2013).
The struggle to create an independent political voice for the South Korean working class gathers urgency.
Because of the monstrous regime in the North, which many have been persuaded to falsely associate with 'socialism', the task of building a genuinely socialist force to fight against big business and the banks in the South remains difficult.
Today's huge discrepancy in living standards between the North and the South means that most in the South see the huge cost of reunification as being at their expense.
Any struggle to re-unite the peninsula in the interests of working people needs to link the struggle against dictatorship and nuclear madness in the North with the struggle against the Chaebol in the South.
The struggle for socialist democratic planning of publicly owned industries, banks and the land would lay the basis for the longed for reuniting of the peoples of Korea.