As tensions continue to rise following Pyongyang's testing of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and subsequent military exercises carried out by the U.S. and South Korea, anti-war voices are calling de-escalation and restraint, with one advocacy group charging Wednesday that "both sides are acting to escalate the crisis" and that only way forward is through diplomacy.
Rising tensions were evident on Wednesday as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley addressed the U.N. Security Council. "Time is short. Action is required," Haley said as she also threatened possible use of "considerable military forces" to address the situation.
"We condemn the missile test and we urge the DPRK government to put an end to further missile tests. The U.S. military drills are a reminder that both sides are acting to escalate this crisis."
—Kate Hudson, Campaign for Nuclear DisarmamentThe London-based Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), however, pointed to the Iran nuclear deal reached in 2015 as evidence that diplomacy can deliver meaningful results.
"We condemn the missile test and we urge the DPRK government to put an end to further missile tests. The U.S. military drills are a reminder that both sides are acting to escalate this crisis," said CND general secretary Kate Hudson.
"We call on the international community to strengthen efforts to seek an end to the growing tensions in the region," she said. Referring to now-collapsed six-party negotiations aimed at Pyongyang's nuclear disarmament—which involved the U.S., North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Russia, and China—Hudson said those talks "need to be resumed as a matter of urgency. The Iran nuclear deal shows what can be achieved through engagement and dialogue."
"Russia and China are promoting a joint freeze on North Korean missile tests and further U.S. and South Korean military drills. The British government should support this initiative, which acknowledges the security fears on both side of the conflict," Hudson added.
As Martin Hart-Landsberg, former economics professor and member of the Board of directors of the Korea Policy Institute, wrote last month, "it is important to realize that what is happening is not new." He wrote:
The U.S. began conducting war games with South Korean forces in 1976 and it was not long before those included simulated nuclear attacks against the North, and that was before North Korea had nuclear weapons. In 1994, President Bill Clinton was close to launching a military attack on North Korea with the aim of destroying its nuclear facilities. In 2002, President Bush talked about seizing North Korean ships as part of a blockade of the country, which is an act of war. In 2013, the U.S. conducted war games which involved planning for preemptive attacks on North Korean military targets and "decapitation" of the North Korean leadership and even a first strike nuclear attack.
Given that background Christine Ahn, founder and international coordinator of peace group Women Cross DMZ, told Democracy Now! Wednesday that Pyongyang likely conducted the missile test "as a way to advance their capability to defend in the case of any kind of preemptive strike from the United States." According to Ahn, the North Koreans "want to put the pressure on the United States, on the Trump administration, to say, 'We need to negotiate some kind of peace settlement,' because they feel threatened."
Ahn also pointed to the China- and Russia-backed proposal for a missile test and military drill freeze, saying "it originally came from the North Koreans in 2015," and called it "the most viable proposal that is on the table."
That proposal, she continued, "is the deal that should be seriously considered, but the Trump administration is not accepting it. And, in fact, you know, I think by virtue of not accepting it and not seriously considering it, the only way that Americans can interpret that is to say that we value the exercises more than we value freezing North Korea's nuclear program. And so I think that this is North Korea's message to the United States: 'We want to negotiate, and we're going to do what we can to defend our sovereignty and our country from any kind of preemptive strike from the Trump administration.'"
Ahn also referenced a letter (pdf) sent last week to President Donald Trump by a group of former U.S. government officials which says "we strongly urge your administration to begin discussions with North Korea in the near future " as it is "a necessary step to establishing communication to avoid a nuclear catastrophe." They warned: "There is no guarantee diplomacy will work. But there are no good military options."
Haley, meanwhile, told the U.N. Security Council that past efforts to curtail North Korea's nuclear and long-range missile capabilities had clearly failed and called on the body to support a much stronger U.S.-back resolution she indicated would soon be forthcoming.
"The United States is prepared to use the full range of our capabilities to defend ourselves and our allies. One of our capabilities lies with our considerable military forces. We will use them if we must, but we prefer not to have to go in that direction."
She added: "We will not look exclusively at North Korea. We will look at any country that chooses to do business with this outlaw regime. We will not have patience for stalling or talking our way down to a watered down resolution. Yesterday's ICBM escalation requires an escalated diplomatic and economic response."
Those calling for calm, however, suggest a different path. "To be clear: peaceful alternatives are at hand," Christine Hong, an associate professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an executive board member of the Korea Policy Institute, recently wrote.
The U.S., says Hart-Landsberg, can "accept North Korean offers of direct negotiations between the two countries, with all issues on the table."