TEHRAN (Press Shia) – A senior Irish political commentator said North Korea’s military power is merely for self-defense and is intended to stop any potential US aggression against Pyongyang.

“North Korea’s military doctrine is all about deterrence and defense. It has repeatedly said that its military power is intended to stop US aggression. Without its weapons, the US would probably have attacked North Korea by now, as it has done with other official ‘enemy’ states. North Korea sees its situation in terms of an existential threat posed by the US,” Finian Cunningham told the Press Shia News Agency.

Finian Cunningham (born 1963) has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. Originally from Belfast, Ireland, he is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism. For over 20 years he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organizations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. Now a freelance journalist based in East Africa, his columns appear on RT, Sputnik, and Strategic Culture Foundation.

Following is the full text of the interview:

Press Shia: Recently, North Korea fired another ballistic missile over Japan, a direct challenge to the United States just days after a new sanctions resolution adopted by the United Nations Security Council that was intended to force the country to halt its accelerating nuclear and missile tests. What’s your take on the recent launch? Do you believe more sanctions can stop Pyongyang?

Cunningham: No, all indicators and statements from the North Korean government emphatically show that Pyongyang will not stop its nuclear weapons and missiles programs as a result of economic sanctions imposed by the US-led United Nations Security Council. Even many American and Western sources concur that North Korea will not desist from developing its military capabilities. As Russian President Vladimir Putin said recently, “North Koreans would rather eat grass than give up their weapons programs.” Putin is using hyperbole to emphasize the attitude of defiance. The situation in North Korea is not anywhere as dire as “eating grass”. Reports indicate that the country has plentiful reserves of stored fuel oil. So these sanctions will not have any physical impact on North Korea’s military development. I think, however, that Russia and China should not have voted for the latest sanctions. Such sanctions are counter-productive. They are also legally and morally questionable, especially given that they are initiated by the biggest rogue regime on the planet, the United States. The whole logic behind the sanctions is one that stems from American aggression towards North Korea. Russia and China should refuse to, in effect, support this logic by voting for more sanctions. Russia and China should instead put all emphasis on the legal obligation for all parties, especially the United States, to enter into diplomacy and dialogue.

The reason for North Korea’s defiance is that the leadership of Kim Jong-un and the wider populace understand that the military capability of North Korea to inflict grave damage on the US or its allies is the country’s insurance policy for survival. North Korea’s military doctrine is all about deterrence and defense. It has repeatedly said that its military power is intended to stop US aggression. Without its weapons, the US would probably have attacked North Korea by now, as it has done with other official “enemy” states. North Korea sees its situation in terms of an existential threat posed by the US. This reasonable perception by North Korea will have been confirmed again this week, given US President Trump’s criminal threats articulated during his deplorable address to the UN General Assembly in which he said the US was willing and ready to “totally destroy” North Korea. Trump and other senior US officials have repeatedly threatened North Korea with nuclear annihilation in a “preventive war”. That is, in a first-strike war. Such a war is completely illegal under international law. It is simply “aggression” under the guise of “defense” – a line of spurious reasoning used by Nazi Germany and which was outlawed by the later Nuremberg principles. But as we know the US considers itself above the law. It has used nuclear weapons before in history with impunity, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, when some 250,000 people were killed with two A-bombs. Five years after that genocide, during the Korean War (1950-53), the US devastated the North Korea population with so-called conventional weapons, killing an estimated two to three million people, or about 30 percent of the population. That figure compares with the estimated three million Vietnamese that the Americans killed during the decade-long Vietnam War (1965-75). In other words, the Koreans were subjected to an even greater genocide at the hands of the Americans. The American threat to North Korea has been extant for the past nearly six decades. This threat is not a new development under the foul-mouthed Trump administration. Trump is just a particularly uncouth expression of the same genocidal mentality that has existed in Washington for decades. Cognizant of what the US militarist rulers are capable of, North Korea will certainly not give up its military defenses. If anything, it will be impelled to further strengthen them. And really who could blame them for that?

Press Shia: The US has warned it could revert to military options if the latest sanctions fail to curb North Korean missile and nuclear tests. China also has said that the United States must stop threatening North Korea’s leader if a peaceful solution to the nuclear crisis is to be found. Russia has also criticized the administration of Trump for its "aggressive" role in the crisis. What do you think as it seems that the test has split the world powers?

Cunningham: Yes, to be sure, there is a divergence. Russia and China quite correctly are adamant that diplomacy and negotiations between all parties is the only feasible way to solving the crisis peacefully. Germany and France have backed the stance of Russia and China. The American allies in the region, South Korea and Japan, also seem to be amenable to the policy of dialogue. On the other hand, the US has taken its usual maximalist position of issuing an ultimatum to North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program while making vague gestures that talks may take place sometime in the future. The arrogant position of the US is futile. North Korea has said it will not bow down to American diktats. It points to the grim fate of Libya and Iraq and other nations where the US invaded and destroyed knowing that there were no weapons of mass destruction. The North Koreans will also have taken note on how the US leaders cannot be trusted as is evidenced from President Trump’s threats to rip up the internationally binding nuclear accord with Iran. The only way forward, therefore, is for regional parties, including the two Koreas, China, Russia and Japan, and the US, to sit down to mutual talks and communicate on the relevant security concerns. If North Korea made concessions on curbing its nuclear program, then the US will have to also make concessions on standing down its vast military forces on the Korean Peninsula. But we have been here before during the six-party talks under the Clinton and GW Bush administrations. However, while North Korea did put a freeze on its nuclear program, the Bush administration reneged on its commitments. The talks came apart and North Korea continued with its weapons program, detonating its first nuclear warhead in 2006. That is why we are in the standoff position today. Because the Americans double-crossed the North Koreans, calling them an “axis of evil”. I refer here to Lawrence Wilkerson who worked in the US State Department in the Bush administration. Wilkerson candidly admits that the Americans sabotaged the talks. So the prospects for diplomacy with the US ruling class, under the existing conditions of capitalist-imperialist culture that dominates in Washington, those prospects are always going to be limited.

What is key to a diplomatic solution is that the US must finally, at long last, sign a peace treaty with North Korea to mark a definitive end to the 1950-53 Korean War. Astoundingly, the Americans never signed a peace treaty, even 64 years after the war came to a quasi-end. Such a peace treaty is not a failsafe guarantee. The US is a rogue regime as currently constructed. So anything malevolent is possible. But a peace treaty is a bare minimum criterion for a peaceful resolution.

Press Shia: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said on Saturday that he aims to reach an “equilibrium” of military force with the United States. He said, “Our final goal is to establish the equilibrium of real force with the US and make the US rulers dare not talk about military option”. Do you believe the US would finally accept this? What might the future hold? 

Cunningham: Kim Jong-un’s statement about North Korea seeking “an equilibrium” in military forces is consistent with the often-stated position that Pyongyang’s military doctrine is all about defense and deterrence. The Western media demonize North Korea as some kind of “rogue state” that poses a global threat. Admittedly, the North Koreans use bombastic language. But the reality is that North Korea has attacked no-one in over sixty years and has continually said that its weapons are to protect it from American aggression. Given the barbaric history of the Korean War and the decades-long military posturing by the US towards North Korea, the claim of American aggression is much more plausible than the caricature of North Korea as a global threat. The US has invaded and attacked dozens of nations since the Korean War time. It has a stockpile of 5,000 nuclear weapons and has bragged about using them in a first-strike attack. So, just who is the rogue state here? Rationally, objectively, it is the US. As to your question about the US accepting some form of parity with North Korea. Eventually, it will have to.

Press Shia: The two sides have been trading barbs recently. Do you think Pyongyang and Washington would eventually sit at the negotiating table with Russia’s mediation?

Cunningham: One hopes that this could happen eventually, but I can’t see it in the short-term. Such an outcome would require a political sea-change in the US, whereby the politics of governance actually become democratic, rather than being dictated by the military-industrial complex, as has been the case since the Second World War at least. Mutual talks are the only reasonable, feasible and morally correct way to resolve this crisis. But it will require an American leadership that has the modesty and integrity to accept its responsibility for the conflict on the Korean Peninsula. As I said, that requires the signing of a peace treaty with North Korea. The psychological, cultural and moral change required for the US leaders to do this is huge compared with the existing mentality of hubris and arrogance in Washington. There are reasonable voices within the US calling for such a diplomatic approach. They include former president Jimmy Carter and various anti-war groups like the Campaign to End the Korean War, and the ANSWER coalition. But it might be some time, perhaps several years, before these reasonable voices translate into a truly democratic government in Washington. The American political establishment is deeply rooted in imperialism and war owing to the inherent nature of corporate capitalism. It’s hard to see how any US government under prevailing conditions would do the right thing with regard to Korea. And not just Korea, towards Iran, Russia, China and the rest of the world. But we can hope that political culture can and will be changed – eventually – for the common good.