North Korea, Opposition Politics, and British Nuclear Deterrence

I wrote the following piece for The Guardian, the stalwart newspaper for whose North Korea Network I have done a handful of essays and events over the past couple of years. After much back and forth and revision, it was ultimately left on the cutting-room floor in London. Such are the risks taken by academics moonlighting as journalists! Fortunately it was picked up by the editors at Sino-NK, who are currently working hard in Seoul, and exquisitely receptive to the interplay between Cold War history, the scrum of British politics, and recent events in North Korea.

Kim Jong-un, Jeremy Corbyn, and the Trident Debate

by Adam Cathcart

While the House of Commons was debating the renewal of Trident, the UK’s nuclear deterrent, a team of technicians was moving onto a highway south of North Korea’s capital to put on their own show of force.

Overseen by Kim Jong-un, the North Korean mobile launch team was anything but the product of robust legislative debate. As the votes were being tallied in Westminster, three missiles were launched from the tarmac at Hwangju, the news reaching the UK just as the vote was announced.

The North Korean state media subsequently described these actions as a “preemptive nuclear strike” exercise targeting US military hardware in South Korean ports. This test, undertaken by a country otherwise held together with string and tape, was a blunt demonstration of the flexibility of North Korea’s missile systems.

As British foreign policy reboots after Brexit, North Korea’s actions gave the new government of Theresa May a clear opportunity to demonstrate a tough side. Meanwhile, the splintered Labour response to Trident renewal and the suggested response to North Korean actions showed Jeremy Corbyn to be less than effective in advancing his idealistic agenda for Britain on the world stage.

Read the full essay at Sino-NK.

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