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What If Canada Were Like North Korea?

By Frank Ahrens

Given the grave possibility of nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula, the news that North and South Korea will field a joint women’s hockey team at February’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, may seem insignificant and frankly missing the bigger picture.

In the run-up to the agreement, South Korean President Moon Jae-in took heat from some American hawks and less-informed cable news talking heads for reaching out to North Korea. Given North Korea’s track record of military provocation and broken promises, they say a willingness to engage with Pyongyang proves Moon is naïve and soft on communism. The most extreme asserted that talks are a waste of time, that it’s time to bomb North Korea and, if millions of South Koreans die as collateral damage, it’s essentially their own fault.

Why would Moon agree to talk about anything besides denuclearization with the thuggish, deceitful North? Why would he let North Korean athletes participate in South Korea’s games when Pyongyang’s missiles are still pointed at Seoul? Having lived in South Korea for three years in the shadow of nuclear North Korea, along with 51 million South Koreans, I can offer a scenario that might help explain why.

First, though, it’s critical to note there are plenty of people who do think it is right to engage the North — the South Koreans themselves, a population whose preferences are often overlooked in the Twitter war between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. South Koreans are realistic: 90 percent of those polled by Gallup right after Kim’s New Year’s message said they believe North Korea will never give up nuclear weapons. Even though the South's decision to give spots on the South Korean women's hockey team to players from the North has rankled many in South Korea, they appreciate and desire diplomatic engagement, no matter how symbolic: 76 percent of those responding to a RealMeter poll said they favor North Korean Olympic participation.

To try to at least partially understand why South Koreans could hold such seemingly contradictory views, let’s run a thought exercise.

First, you must try to imagine something that is almost incomprehensible for us: That America is not the world’s richest, most powerful country, sprawling in land mass and protected on both sides by effective moats. Instead, try to imagine America as a wealthy, modern and technologically advanced nation, but one that is much smaller – about the size of Kentucky, with 51 million people. This version of the U.S. is so small, that larger, richer nations feel they can tell us what to do and even warn us against “freelancing” in relations with other countries, which we might instead consider exercising our sovereign right to conduct foreign policy. We have a robust, well-trained military and a strong, much larger ally, but we were pressured by that ally years ago not to pursue nuclear weapons, so our forces are entirely conventional.

Now, imagine that Canada is not our genial, non-militaristic neighbor to the north, our biggest trading partner and a reliable friend on the other side of the world’s longest undefended border. Instead, Canada is an isolated pariah nation that is headed by a young man; not a likable liberal but rather a cruel dictator who, following in his late father’s footsteps, has built a nuclear arsenal, flouting sanctions and international admonishment.

The Canadian despot has tested his nuclear bombs underground near Hudson Bay; the seismic activity is recorded in the U.S. Over the past year, Canada’s leader has been firing missiles from a base in Quebec, which are traveling farther and higher than ever before, including an ICBM. They arc over Nova Scotia and into the Atlantic Ocean; several have come close to overflying Maine.

In the real world, the border between the U.S. and Canada is easily crossed by a family in an SUV. In our fictional one, it is a virtually impassable no-man’s land, 2.5-miles across, sodded with anti-personnel mines and backed by long-range Canadian artillery pointed south at U.S. cities. Canada has tunneled under the border into the U.S., tried three times to kill U.S. leaders, sunk a U.S. naval ship, killing 46; and once blew an American jetliner out of the sky, killing 115. For much of the world, Canada’s bellicose leadership and its over-the-top rhetoric is funny. For the U.S., Canada is no joke.

The Canadian capital of Ottawa sits only 40 miles north of this border. A little more than 150 miles to the southwest is the American capital of Syracuse. The largest city by far in this fictional version of the U.S., nearly half of the American population lives in the greater Syracuse region, all within easy range of Canadian conventional weapons and certain to be annihilated by a North Korean nuclear weapon.

Why is Canada so militaristic and why is it so focused on the U.S.? Because of an ideology that is the nearest thing to a religion in officially atheist Canada: The belief that the U.S. rightfully belongs to Canada and should be unified under Ottawa’s rule. Hence, every Canadian military action, every bombastic statement is part of a long game to bring the U.S. under Canadian control.

Canada launched a three-year war 68 years ago to claim the U.S. It nearly succeeded; Syracuse fell and was occupied by Canada. All that was left of the U.S. was a tiny, county-sized piece of land in southern New Jersey. America was on the verge of collapse until United Nations forces, commanded by the British military, arrived off the Jersey shore and pushed the Canadians back north of the current border. 

This marked the beginning of a unique and strong bond between the U.S. and England. Now, however, at a time when Canada is more dangerous and unpredictable than ever, England has elected a prime minister who takes to social media to threaten nuclear war against Canada, promising “fire and fury.” He regards the most sensitive diplomacy, with millions of American lives at risk, as a game of “poker.” He’s joined by top members of parliament who say pre-emptive attacks on Canada are “becoming more likely” and who urge British citizens to leave the U.S. before war breaks out.

This is the world that Americans wake up to every day: knowing that Canada is actively working to overthrow the U.S. government and afraid the British prime minister will incite a war with Canada that will decimate America. Any other nation might have curled up into a ball and hidden under a bed. Another option is to carry on and build your economy into the world’s 12th-largest. Americans chose the latter.

So, in this scenario, is it not entirely rational that the U.S. would take any step that looks like it’s away from war and toward, if not peace, then not-war? Even if it’s only as seemingly insignificant as fielding a joint Canadian-American hockey team in an upcoming Olympics?

As for England, if it had a northern neighbor as committed to its overthrow as Canada, it might be less critical of a U.S. president who is trying anything he can to turn down the temperature on the continent where 51 million of his people live.


 
 

A collection of pieces I've written on Korea, Asia, autos and other topics.

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