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Archive for May 2010

Nonsense on north Korea

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Brendan Stone and Stephen Gowans discuss the Cheonan sinking on Unusual Sources.

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May 30, 2010 at 11:04 pm

Posted in north Korea

From one apartheid state to another: Israel’s secret military alliance with apartheid South Africa

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By Stephen Gowans

Israel has been called an apartheid state. Now its links to the original apartheid state have been brought to light. In a new book, The Unspoken Alliance, Sasha Polakow-Suransky, a senior editor at Foreign Affairs, the principal journal of the US foreign policy establishment, cites declassified South African documents that reveal that Israel forged a secret military alliance with South Africa in the 1970s, and offered to sell the apartheid state nuclear weapons. (1)

From its founding in 1948 until the mid 1970s, Israel was critical of South Africa’s apartheid, and sought allies among the newly independent black African states. But for many African countries, Israel was the replication in Palestine of the same European colonial settler model they had struggled to break free from. They weren’t going to become allies of a colonial power.

Then Israeli defense minister (and now president) Shimon Peres, accompanied South African prime minister John Vorster, a Hitler-admirer who had been jailed during WWII for supporting the Nazis and belonging to the fascist Ossewabrandwag, on a 1975 visit to the Holocaust memorial. Peres signed an agreement with Vorster’s government to establish a secret military alliance, and offered to sell Pretoria nuclear warheads.

South Africa, a white racist state, proved to be more amenable to Israel’s offers of alliance, seeing in the Zionist state a kindred country of European settlers “situated in a predominantly hostile world inhabited by dark people.”

The cementing of the alliance was helped along by an existing relationship: South Africa was already shipping yellow cake to Israel. Now, safeguards against nuclear proliferation were lifted, allowing the Israelis to divert the yellow cake to their nuclear weapons program.

The strength of the new relationship was signalled by the 1976 visit to Jerusalem of South Africa’s prime minister, John Vorster. Accompanied by Yitzhak Rabin and then defense minister (now president) Shimon Peres, Vorster visited the Holocaust memorial, a grotesque spectacle considering the South African prime minister was a Hitler-admirer who had been jailed during the war for supporting the Nazis and belonging to the fascist Ossewabrandwag.

In 1975, South Africa’s defense minister, P.W. Botha met with Peres to buy Israeli nuclear warheads. While the deal fell through – the South Africans thought the asking price too high – the two men signed an agreement to establish a secret military alliance. Israel also arranged to send Pretoria 30 grams of tritium, which South Africa later used to build a number of atomic bombs.

Alon Liel, a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, told the British newspaper The Guardian that South Africa used its mineral wealth (based on the exploitation of oppressed black miners) to fund joint military projects while the Israelis provided the technical know-how. South Africa would soon become Israel’s largest arms customer. According to Liel, “After 1976, there was a love affair between the security establishments of the two countries and their armies. We were involved in Angola as consultants to the [South African] army. You had Israeli officers there cooperating with the army. The link was very intimate.”

Israel regarded the relationship as based on more than just convenience, but on a common position as colonial oppressor, under pressure from national liberation movements. The two countries shared “unshakeable foundations of…common hatred of injustice and…refusal to submit to it,” wrote Peres to South Africa’s information minister, Eschel Rhoodie. The “injustice” each refused to submit to was ending apartheid (South Africa) and reversing the Nakbah (Israel), in both cases the subordination of indigenous people to the interests of settlers from Europe. Rafael Eitan, Israel’s then military chief of staff and Ariel Sharon, a future prime minister, sympathized with the “plight” of the South Africa’s apartheid regime, presumably seeing in it a reflection of the difficulties faced by Israel in enforcing its own racist regime.

By the late 1980s, the apartheid regime in Pretoria was bleeding support, and it was no longer tenable to back South Africa. Israel decided that it would “have to switch from white to black.” The security estblishment balked, pointing out that South Africa, as Israel’s chief arms customer, had “saved Israel,” a conclusion Liel says is “probably true.”

Chris McGreal, a reporter at The Guardian who has written a series of articles on the revelations in Polakow-Suranky’s book, points out that the fact that Israel was willing to act as a nuclear proliferator “undermines Israel’s attempts to suggest that, if it has nuclear weapons, it is a ‘responsible’ power that would not misuse them, whereas countries such as Iran cannot be trusted.”

But how responsible was France? It probably played a role in Israel’s development of nuclear weapons, transferring technology to Israel in return for its role in the attempted 1956 British-French take-over of Egypt (the Suez Canal crisis.) (2) How responsible, for that matter, is the United States, which dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WWII, despite the reality that a Japanese surrender was imminent, and, even if it weren’t, could have been obtained easily without the use of atomic bombs? (3) What’s more, the United States continues to threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states (4) – hardly the acts of a responsible nuclear power, and nothing less than nuclear terrorism.

Polakow-Suransky’s book, and McGreal’s reporting, reveal that Israel entered into a military alliance with an overtly racist regime – and aided South Africa in its attempt to smash Angola’s national liberation movement — the foundations of the alliance all the stronger for being based on shared problems related to the maintenance of oppressive rule over dispossessed indigenous majorities.

1. The bulk of this article is based on Chris McGreal’s articles for The Guardian: “Israel and apartheid: a marriage of convenience and military might” May 23, 2010; “Revealed: how Israel offered to sell South Africa nuclear weapons”, May 24, 2010.
2. See Richard Becker, “A turning point in the Middle East balance of forces”, PSLWeb.org, November 1, 2006.
3. See Jacques R. Pauwels, The Myth of the Good War: America in the Second World War, James Lorimer & Company Ltd., Toronto, 2002, p 172-173
4. Stephen Gowans, “Nuclear Posture Review 2010“, what’s left, April 10, 2010.

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May 24, 2010 at 9:18 pm

Posted in Israel

The sinking of the Cheonan: Another Gulf of Tonkin incident

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By Stephen Gowans

While the South Korean government announced on May 20 that it has overwhelming evidence that one of its warships was sunk by a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine, there is, in fact, no direct link between North Korea and the sunken ship. And it seems very unlikely that North Korea had anything to do with it.

That’s not my conclusion. It’s the conclusion of Won See-hoon, director of South Korea’s National Intelligence. Won told a South Korean parliamentary committee in early April, less than two weeks after the South Korean warship, the Cheonan, sank in waters off Baengnyeong Island, that there was no evidence linking North Korea to the Cheonan’s sinking. (1)

South Korea’s Defense Minister Kim Tae-young backed him up, pointing out that the Cheonan’s crew had not detected a torpedo (2), while Lee Ki-sik, head of the marine operations office at the South Korean joint chiefs of staff agreed that “No North Korean warships have been detected…(in) the waters where the accident took place.” (3)

Notice he said “accident.”

Soon after the sinking of the South Korean warship, the Cheonan, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young ruled out a North Korean torpedo attack, noting that a torpedo would have been spotted, and no torpedo had been spotted. Intelligence chief Won See-hoon, said there was no evidence linking North Korea to the Cheonan’s sinking.

Defense Ministry officials added that they had not detected any North Korean submarines in the area at the time of the incident. (4) According to Lee, “We didn’t detect any movement by North Korean submarines near” the area where the Cheonan went down. (5)

When speculation persisted that the Cheonan had been sunk by a North Korean torpedo, the Defense Ministry called another press conference to reiterate “there was no unusual North Korean activities detected at the time of the disaster.” (6)

A ministry spokesman, Won Tae-jae, told reporters that “With regard to this case, no particular activities by North Korean submarines or semi-submarines…have been verified. I am saying again that there were no activities that could be directly linked to” the Cheonan’s sinking. (7)

Rear Admiral Lee, the head of the marine operations office, added that, “We closely watched the movement of the North’s vessels, including submarines and semi-submersibles, at the time of the sinking. But military did not detect any North Korean submarines near the country’s western sea border.” (8)

North Korea has vehemently denied any involvement in the sinking.

So, a North Korean submarine is now said to have fired a torpedo which sank the Cheonan, but in the immediate aftermath of the sinking the South Korean navy detected no North Korean naval vessels, including submarines, in the area. Indeed, immediately following the incident defense minister Lee ruled out a North Korean torpedo attack, noting that a torpedo would have been spotted, and no torpedo had been spotted. (9)

The case gets weaker still.

It’s unlikely that a single torpedo could split a 1,200 ton warship in two. Baek Seung-joo, an analyst with the Korea Institute for Defense Analysis says that “If a single torpedo or floating mine causes a naval patrol vessel to split in half and sink, we will have to rewrite our military doctrine.” (10)

The Cheonan sank in shallow, rapidly running, waters, in which it’s virtually impossible for submarines to operate. “Some people are pointing the finger at North Korea,” notes Song Young-moo, a former South Korean navy chief of staff, “but anyone with knowledge about the waters where the shipwreck occurred would not draw that conclusion so easily.” (11)

Contrary to what looks like an improbable North-Korea-torpedo-hypothesis, the evidence points to the Cheonan splitting in two and sinking because it ran aground upon a reef, a real possibility given the shallow waters in which the warship was operating. According to Go Yeong-jae, the South Korean Coast Guard captain who rescued 56 of the stricken warship’s crew, he “received an order …that a naval patrol vessel had run aground in the waters 1.2 miles to the southwest of Baengnyeong Island, and that we were to move there quickly to rescue them.” (12)

Some members of South Korea’s opposition parties – which have been highly critical of the government for blaming North Korea for the disaster– “contend that the boat was sunk either by a ‘friendly fire’ torpedo during a training exercise or that it broke part while trying to get off a reef.” (13) Whatever the cause, they don’t believe the findings of the official inquiry.

So how is it that what looked like no North Korean involvement in the Cheonan’s sinking, according to the South Korean military in the days immediately following the incident, has now become, one and half months later, an open and shut case of North Korean aggression, according to government-appointed investigators?

South Korean president Lee Myung-bak is a North Korea-phobe who prefers a confrontational stance toward his neighbor to the north to the policy of peaceful coexistence and growing cooperation favored by his recent predecessors. His foreign policy rests on the goal of forcing the collapse of North Korea.

The answer has much to do with the electoral fortunes of South Korea’s ruling Grand National Party, and the party’s need to marshal support for a tougher stance on the North. Lurking in the wings are US arms manufacturers who stand to profit if South Korean president Lee Myung-bak wins public backing for beefed up spending on sonar equipment and warships to deter a North Korean threat – all the more likely with the Cheonan incident chalked up to North Korean aggression.

Lee is a North Korea-phobe who prefers a confrontational stance toward his neighbor to the north to the policy of peaceful coexistence and growing cooperation favored by his recent predecessors (and by Pyongyang, as well. It’s worth mentioning that North Korea supports a policy of peace and cooperation. South Korea, under its hawkish president, does not.) Fabricating a case against the North serves Lee in a number of ways. If voters in the South can be persuaded that the North is indeed a menace – and it looks like this is exactly what is happening – Lee’s hawkish policies will be embraced as the right ones for present circumstances. This will prove immeasurably helpful in upcoming mayoral and gubernatorial elections in June. (14)

What’s more, Lee’s foreign policy rests on the goal of forcing the collapse of North Korea. When he took office in February 2008, he set about reversing a 10-year-old policy of unconditional aid to the North. He has also refused to move ahead on cross-border economic projects. (15) Lee’s goal, as Selig Harrison, the US establishment’s foremost liberal expert on Korea describes it, is to “once again [seek] the collapse of the North and its absorption by the South.” (16) Forcing the collapse of North Korea was the main policy of past right-wing and military governments to which Lee’s government is historically linked. The claim that the sinking of the Cheonan is due to an unprovoked North Korean torpedo attack makes it easier for Lee to drum up support for his confrontational stance.

But it does more than that. It also helps Lee move ahead with his goal of re-unifying the Korean peninsula by engineering the collapse of the North. Lee has used the Cheonan incident to: cut off trade with the North; block the North’s use of the South’s shipping lanes; argue for stepped up international sanctions against Pyongyang; call for the beefing up of the South’s military; and issue a virtual declaration of war, branding North Korea the South’s principal foe and announcing that “It is now time for the North Korean regime to change.” (17) Seoul already spends $20 billion per year on its armed forces, almost three times more than the $7 billion Pyongyang allocates to military spending. South Korea has one of the most miserly social welfare systems in the industrialized world, in part because it spends so much on defense. (18) Only 28 percent of the South’s working population is covered by a government pension plan, a state of affairs that has given rise to “’silver’ job fairs, established to find jobs for people aged 60 and over.” (19) Even so, the South’s military spending as a percentage of its GDP is a drop in the bucket compared to the North’s. With a smaller economy, North Korea struggles (and fails) to keep up with its more formidably armed neighbor, channeling a crushingly large percentage of its GDP into defense. It is caught in a difficult bind in which it not only has to defend its borders against South Korea, but against the 30,000 US troops stationed on the Korean peninsula and twice as many more in nearby Japan. By expanding the South’s military budget, and using the Cheonan affair to put the country on a virtual war footing, Lee forces the North to either divert even more of its limited resources to its military – a reaction which will ratchet up the misery factor inside the North as guns take even more of a precedence over butter – or leave itself inadequately equipped to defend itself.

This meshes well with calls from the RAND Corporation for South Korea to buy sensors to detect North Korean submarines and more warships to intercept North Korean naval vessels. (20) An unequivocal US-lackey – protesters have called the security perimeter around Lee’s office “the U.S. state of South Korea” (21) – Lee would be pleased to hand US corporations fat contracts to furnish the South Korean military with more hardware. Lee’s right-wing party and US military contractors win, while North Koreans and the bulk of Koreans of the south are sacrificed on the altar of South Korean militarism.

The United States, too, has motivations to fabricate a case against North Korea. One is to justify the continued presence, 65 years after the end of WWII, of US troops on Japanese soil. Many Japanese bristle at what is effectively a permanent occupation of their country by more than a token contingent of US troops. There are 60,000 US soldiers, airmen and sailors in Japan. Washington, and the Japanese government – which, when it isn’t willingly collaborating with its own occupiers, is forced into submission by the considerable leverage Washington exercises — justifies the US troop presence through the sheer sophistry of presenting North Korea as an ongoing threat. The claim that North Korea sunk the Cheonan in an unprovoked attack strengthens Washington’s case for occupation. Not surprisingly, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has seized on the Cheonan incident to underline “the importance of the America-Japanese alliance, and the presence of American troops on Japanese soil.” (22)

Given these political realities, it comes as no surprise that from the start members of Lee’s party blamed the sinking of the Cheonan on a North Korean torpedo, (23) just as members of the Bush administration immediately blamed 9/11 on Saddam Hussein, and then proceeded to look for evidence to substantiate their case, in the hopes of justifying an already planned invasion. (Later, the Bush administration fabricated an intelligence dossier on Iraq’s banned weapons.) In fact, the reason the ministry of defense felt the need to reiterate there was no evidence of a North Korean link was the persistent speculation of GNP politicians that North Korea was the culprit. Lee himself, ever hostile to his northern neighbor, said his “intuition” told him that North Korea was to blame. (24) Today, opposition parties accuse Lee of using “red scare” tactics to garner support as the June 2 elections draw near. (25) And leaders of South Korea’s four main opposition parties, as well as a number of civil groups, have issued a joint statement denouncing the government’s findings as untrustworthy. Woo Sang-ho, a spokesman for South Korea’s Democratic Party has called the probe results “insufficient proof and questioned whether the North was involved at all.” (26)

Lee announced, even before the inquiry rendered its findings, that a task force will be launched to overhaul the national security system and bulk up the military to prepare itself for threats from North Korea. (27) He even prepared a package of sanctions against the North in the event the inquiry confirmed what his intuition told him. (28) No wonder civil society groups denounced the inquiry’s findings, arguing that “The probe started after the conclusions had already been drawn.” (29)

Jung Sung-ki, a staff reporter for The Korean Times, has raised a number of questions about the inquiry’s findings. The inquiry concluded that “two North Korean submarines, one 300-ton Sango class and the other 130-ton Yeono class, were involved in the attack. Under the cover of the Sango class, the midget Yeono class submarine approached the Cheonan and launched the CHT-02D torpedo manufactured by North Korea.” But “’Sango class submarines…do not have an advanced system to guide homing weapons,’ an expert at a missile manufacturer told The Korea Times on condition of anonymity. ‘If a smaller class submarine was involved, there is a bigger question mark.’” (30)

“Rear Adm. Moon Byung-ok, spokesman for [the official inquiry] told reporters, ‘We confirmed that two submarines left their base two or three days prior to the attack and returned to the port two or three days after the assault.’” But earlier “South Korean and U.S. military authorities confirmed several times that there had been no sign of North Korean infiltration in the” area in which the Cheonan went down. (31)

“In addition, Moon’s team reversed its position on whether or not there was a column of water following an air bubble effect” (caused by an underwater explosion.) “Earlier, the team said there were no sailors who had witnessed a column of water. But during [a] briefing session, the team said a soldier onshore at Baengnyeong Island witnessed ‘an approximately 100-meter-high pillar of white,’ adding that the phenomenon was consistent with a shockwave and bubble effect.” (32)

The inquiry produced a torpedo propeller recovered by fishing vessels that it said perfectly match the schematics of a North Korean torpedo. “But it seemed that the collected parts had been corroding at least for several months.” (33)

Finally, the investigators “claim the Korean word written on the driving shaft of the propeller parts was the same as that seen on a North Korean torpedo discovered by the South …seven years ago.” But the “’word is not inscribed on the part but written on it,’ an analyst said, adding that “’the lettering issue is dubious.’” (34)

On August 2, 1964, the United States announced that three North Vietnamese torpedo boats had launched an unprovoked attacked on the USS Maddox, a US Navy destroyer, in the Gulf of Tonkin. The incident handed US president Lyndon Johnson the Congressional support he needed to step up military intervention in Vietnam. In 1971, the New York Times reported that the Pentagon Papers, a secret Pentagon report, revealed that the incident had been faked to provide a pretext for escalated military intervention. There had been no attack.

The Cheonan incident has all the markings of another Gulf of Tonkin incident. And as usual, the aggressor is accusing the intended victim of an unprovoked attack to justify a policy of aggression under the pretext of self-defense.

1. Kang Hyun-kyung, “Ruling camp differs over NK involvement in disaster”, The Korea Times, April 7, 2010.
2. Nicole Finnemann, “The sinking of the Cheonan”, Korea Economic Institute, April 1, 2010. http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/kei/issues/2010-04-01/1.html
3. “Military leadership adding to Cheonan chaos with contradictory statements”, The Hankyoreh, March 31, 2010.
4. “Birds or North Korean midget submarine?” The Korea Times, April 16, 2010.
5. Ibid.
6. “Military plays down N.K. foul play”, The Korea Herald, April 2, 2010.
7. Ibid.
8. “No subs near Cheonan: Ministry”, JoongAng Daily, April 2, 2010.
9. Jean H. Lee, “South Korea says mine from the North may have sunk warship”, The Washington Post, March 30, 2010.
10. “What caused the Cheonan to sink?” The Chosun Ilbo, March 29, 2010.
11. Ibid.
12. “Military leadership adding to Cheonan chaos with contradictory statements”, The Hankyoreh, March 31, 2010.
13. Barbara Demick, “In South Korea, competing reactions to sinking of warship”, The Los Angeles Times, May 28, 2010.
14. Framing the Cheonan sinking as an act of unprovoked north Korean aggression did not benefit Lee Myung-bak and his GNP party as much as Lee and the party may have hoped. Indeed, the GNP was disappointed with its showing in the June 2 elections. Even so, on the eve of the election, Martin Fackler, writing in the New York Times of June 1, 2010 (Ship sinking aids ruling party in S. Korean vote) noted that:

“Soon after taking office two years ago, Mr. Lee appeared at risk of losing public support, as he faced mass demonstrations on the streets of Seoul against the import of United States beef. Now, political experts are talking about the “Cheonan effect,” as polls show that more than half of expected voters approve of the president and his tougher line toward the North.

“Nowhere is the current upwelling of popular support more apparent than in polling for the local elections to be held across South Korea on Wednesday. Mr. Lee’s Grand National Party, whose candidates once faced tight races in some districts, now appears poised to sweep the most important races, including hotly contested mayoral elections in Seoul and the nearby port of Incheon.

“Kim Moon-soo, the conservative governor of a province outside Seoul, just two weeks ago was in an uphill battle for re-election against a liberal opponent. Now, polls show him with a comfortable 15 percentage point lead. ”

Fackler continued:

“Politicians and political analysts agree that voters decisively turned to the Grand National Party after the announcement on May 20 of the results of an international inquiry into the sinking that found North Korea responsible. Political analysts said the results were enough to persuade many undecided voters to swing to the conservatives, who are seen as stronger on defense.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/02/world/asia/02seoul.html?ref=world

15. Blaine Harden, “Brawl Near Koreas’ Border,” The Washington Post, December 3, 2008.
16. Selig S. Harrison, “What Seoul should do despite the Cheonan”, The Hankyoreh, May 14, 2010.
17. “Full text of President’s Lee’s national address”, The Korea Times, May 24, 2010.
18. Selig S. Harrison, “What Seoul should do despite the Cheonan”, The Hankyoreh, May 14, 2010.

According to Thom Shanker and David E. Sanger, writing in The New York Times of May 30, 2010 (“U.S. aid to South Korea with naval defense plan”), there are 28,500 US troops in south Korea. South Korea has between 600,000 and 700,000 troops. The North has 1.2 million active-duty military personnel, but “many are poorly trained, or put to work building housing.” The core of the north Korean military is comprised of 80,000 special operations forces.

Hence, there are about 1 million combat ready US and south Korean troops on the Korean peninsula posed against slightly more north Korean troops, many of whom are performing non-military functions. The rough equality in number of troops is preponderated by the sophistication of south Korean’s military equipment and its ability to call on US military superiority in the event of a conflict.

19. Su-Hyun Lee, “Aging and seeking work in South Korea,” The New York Times, September 11, 2009.
20. “Kim So-hyun, “A touchstone of Lee’s leadership”, The Korea Herald, May 13, 2010.

Thom Shanker and David E. Sanger, writing in The New York Times of May 30, 2010 (“U.S. aid to South Korea with naval defense plan”) noted that:

(i) senior American officials were surprised “how easily [the Cheonan] was sunk by what an international investigation concluded was a North Korean torpedo fired from a midget submarine”; and

(ii) the waters in which the Cheonan sunk were considered too shallow to allow a submarine to operate and therefore did not warrant close monitoring.

There are two inferences that can be drawn from these observations:

(A) The inquiry’s findings are improbable;
(B) The north Koreans are devious and more formidable than we thought and therefore the south Koreans need to buy monitoring equipment from US arms manufacturers to plug this national security hole.

Predictably, The New York Times reporters opted for inference B. Inference A wasn’t considered, presumably unthinkable in the newspaper’s newsroom.

21. The New York Times, June 12, 2008.
22. Mark Landler, “Clinton condemns attack on South Korean Ship”, The New York Times, May 21, 2010.
23. Kang Hyun-kyung, “Ruling camp differs over NK involvement in disaster”, The Korea Times, April 7, 2010.

According to the JoongAng Daily of May 29, 2010 (“Probe member summoned on false rumor allegations”) Shin Sang-cheol, a member of the taskforce that investigated the sinking of the Cheonan, but who was replaced for “arousing public mistrust in the probe”, “has repeatedly claimed that the sinking was just an accident, and that the South had tampered with evidence to blame the North.” Shin, linked to the opposition Democratic Party, served on a south Korean patrol boat in the Yellow Sea as a Navy second lieutenant. Later he worked for seven years at a shipbuilding firm.

Meanwhile, Park Sun-won, former south Korean president Roh Moo-hyun’s secretary for national security, and now a visiting fellow at the Brooking Institution, has accused the Lee administration of concealing information about the sinking.

Both men are under investigation by south Korean authorities for “spreading false rumors,” clearly an effort by Seoul to deter anyone in the South from pointing out the weaknesses of the inquiry’s findings.

Shin’s and Park’s motivations for calling the probe’s findings into question, however, may be the same as the motivations of GNP politicians for accusing the north Koreans of sinking the warship: partisan political advantage. Both Shin and Park are associated with the Democratic Party, whose electoral fortunes in the impending elections are likely to suffer as a result of the GNP concocting a “red-scare” incident to rally support around. It’s in their partisan interests to poke holes in the inquiry’s findings.

24. “Kim So-hyun, “A touchstone of Lee’s leadership”, Korea Herald, May 13, 2010.
25. Kang Hyun-kyung, “Ruling camp differs over NK involvement in disaster”, The Korea Times, April 7, 2010; Choe Sang-Hun, “South Korean sailors say blast that sank their ship came from outside vessel”, The New York Times, April 8, 2010.
26. Cho Jae-eun, “Probe satisfies some, others have doubts”, JoongAng Daily, May 21, 2010.
27. “Kim So-hyun, “A touchstone of Lee’s leadership”, The Korea Herald, May 13, 2010.
28. “Seoul prepares sanctions over Cheonan sinking”, The Choson Ilbo, May 13, 2010.
29. Cho Jae-eun, “Probe satisfies some, others have doubts”, JoongAng Daily, May 21, 2010.
30. Jung Sung-ki, “Questions raised about ‘smoking gun'”, The Korea Times, May 20, 2010.
31. Ibid.
32. Ibid.
33. Ibid.
34. Ibid.

Most of the articles cited here are posted on Tim Beal’s DPRK- North Korea website, http://www.vuw.ac.nz/~caplabtb/dprk/, an invaluable resource for anyone interested in Korea.

Updated June 3, 2010.

Written by what's left

May 20, 2010 at 10:36 pm

Russ Feingold: Defending the top one percent from the bottom 99

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US Senator Russ Feingold is displeased. The legislation he helped draft in 2001 to cripple Zimbabwe’s economy as punishment for the country’s land reform program, which redistributed the land of 4,000 settlers to 300,000 landless indigenous families, has been exposed for what it is: a major instrument in a program of economic warfare designed to restore the property of expropriated farmers and drive the land reform program’s champions, Zanu-PF, from government. Feingold is counterpunching with new legislation which he hopes will prove less of a liability to US propaganda, which has misdirected blame for Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown to Zanu-PF policies. At the same time, the new legislation aims to strengthen the West’s agent on the ground, the Movement for Democratic Change.

By Stephen Gowans

New US legislation introduced by US Senator Russ Feingold to update a 2001 bill that has been used to cripple Zimbabwe’s economy is aimed at supporting members of Zimbabwe’s coalition government who support US goals of restoring the property rights of settlers, while pressuring land reform champions to step down from government posts.

The current legislation, ZDERA, the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, was passed into law in 2001 as an instrument to be employed in the program of ousting the Zanu-PF government. Zanu-PF, a merger of forces that had played the leading role in the country’s liberation from settler minority rule, provoked Western reaction when it rejected harsh conditions imposed by the IMF in the late 1990s and then introduced a fast-track land reform program. The land reform program expropriated settler farms without compensation, redistributing land to indigenous Zimbabweans. The beneficiaries of the program were over 300,000 previously landless families who were resettled on land previously owned by 4,000 farmers, mostly of British origin.

ZDERA, which blocked Zimbabwe’s access to loans, credits and debt relief from international financial institutions, plunged the country into an economic abyss. To bleed Zanu-PF of popular support, the United States, Britain, the European Union and other Western governments launched a propaganda offensive, blaming the ZDERA-induced economic meltdown on Zanu-PF mismanagement. At the same time, they backed the formation of a new opposition party, the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change), which brought together the settler community, trade unions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The MDC and its NGO partners have received generous assistance from Western governments and foundations, and have championed an agenda congruent with overseas investor rights and the interests of the settler community.

US Senator Russ Feingold has introduced new legislation to update a 2001 bill he co-wrote that has been used to cripple Zimbabwe’s economy. Feingold and others have tried to blame the effects of the 2001 bill, known as ZDERA, on Zanu-PF mismanagement.

Since the MDC’s formation in 2000 a virtual low-level civil war has convulsed the country, with the MDC, its civil society allies, and its Western backers seeking to oust Zanu-PF from power through electoral and extra-electoral means. Elections held in 2008 produced a parliament divided roughly evenly between Zanu-PF and the MDC (the MDC having fractured, by this point, into two factions.) Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the largest MDC faction, won the first round of voting in the presidential election, but failed to obtain a majority, forcing a runoff. Alleging that Zanu-PF partisans were using violence to intimidate his supporters, Tsvangirai withdrew from the ensuing runoff, effectively conceding the presidency to Robert Mugabe, the Zanu-PF candidate. This left the country divided, with neither party able to convincingly command the support of a majority. To avoid paralysis, the parties agreed to the formation of a coalition government. Mugabe would serve as president and Tsvangirai as prime minister.

For the MDC’s Western backers, the outcome was neither as good as desired, nor as bad as it could have been. MDC members were part of the cabinet, and therefore could affect policy, but Zanu-PF controlled the police and military, and therefore was in a position to block any attempted roll back of the party’s land reform program, as well as its (newly introduced) economic indigenization agenda. And it was precisely land reform and economic indigenization (a policy mandating majority ownership of the country’s enterprises by indigenous Zimbabweans) that Western governments bristled against.

Another minus from Washington and London’s point of view was the coalition government requirement that all members call for the lifting of sanctions. The official Western position, mimicked by the MDC, was that there were no sanctions, only targeted “restrictive measures” that exempted the population at large and punished a few key members of Zanu-PF. By denying the existence of sanctions, the West could blame Mugabe for the country’s economic turmoil, thereby providing Zimbabweans with a reason to turf Zanu-PF from government.

However, the West’s story wasn’t believable. ZDERA, with its obvious punitive implications for Zimbabwe’s economic welfare, could be pointed to as evidence of Washington’s hostility to Zimbabwe’s agenda of investing its liberation struggle with substantive content. (Zimbabweans want more than their own flag. They want control of their land and resources, too.) The ZDERA bill was readily available for all to see, in black and white, tangible evidence of the sanctions regime the United States denied existed. Requiring the MDC to climb aboard the anti-sanctions bandwagon, which already included the South African Development Community and the African Union, made the task of crippling Zimbabwe’s economy and blaming it on Mugabe all the more difficult.

Zimbabweans want more than their own flag. They want control of their land and resources, too.

All of this has given rise to the need to discard the discredited ZDERA, to remove an obvious target that critics of US foreign policy have been able to point to, to mobilize opposition to US economic warfare against Zimbabwe. The success of these critics has rankled Feingold, who whines that the attacks on ZDERA are nothing more than ”Mugabe’s propaganda” which allow Zanu-PF “to win local regional support.”

At the same time, the United States wants to step up assistance to the MDC, which, while part of the coalition government, is not in a strong enough position to roll back Zanu-PF’s land reforms. With the MDC now controlling some levers of government, the United States has the option of directing advice, material assistance and loans and credit to MDC-controlled ministries, freezing out ministries under Zanu-PF control.

Out of these requirements has come the Zimbabwe Transition to Democracy and Economic Recovery Act. The aim is to do exactly what ZDERA (which Feingold had had a hand in drafting) aims to do: strengthen the MDC and weaken Zanu-PF, in order to clear the way for the MDC to come to power to carry out the US agenda of restoring property rights.

It is no accident that Feingold’s new bill, and the statement accompanying its introduction, dwell on Zanu-PF’s “continued disrespect…for property rights,” a reference to the expropriation of settler farms and their redistribution to landless indigenous Zimbabweans. It’s no accident because that’s precisely what the new act, and ZDERA as well, is intended to overturn: the negation of private property rights to serve public policy goals, in this case, redress of an historical iniquity and recovery of indigenous sovereignty.

As the world’s hegemonic power, the United States has taken on the role of policing the globe to keep it safe for investors, bankers, bondholders and transnational corporations. In keeping with the domination of the US state by corporate executives, corporate lawyers, and investment bankers (i.e., people who own and control productive property), US foreign policy aims to keep the world open to foreign investment and trade and its riches in the hands of those who are already wealthy. This means, among other things, upholding private ownership claims to productive property, and defining as intolerable, even criminal, any violation of this principle. Expropriation of productive property, including of settler farms, especially where it is done without compensation, is a clear violation, (though the original expropriation of indigenous farmland at the point of a gun by European settlers merits no indemnification, apology, or corrective action by the global hegemon. Since Britain and the United States refused to assist in the redress of the original colonial expropriation — indeed, did all they could to hinder it — Zimbabweans took it upon themselves to remedy the wrong themselves. The United States polices the world on behalf of the property rights of those who are wealthy, not the dispossessed the wealthy robbed.)

US policy, then, brooks no abridgment of the right of individuals who currently hold productive property to continue to enjoy that property, and acts to vouchsafe their property against its being brought under public control, as socialist or communist governments may do, or being transferred to local business people (including landless families), as economic nationalist governments may do. The violation of the principle of private property by the 99 percent of the world that has none, has always been sufficient to arouse the hostility of the US government, which has always acted on behalf the remaining one percent. Feingold’s new bill is a continuation of this tradition.

Written by what's left

May 15, 2010 at 9:26 pm

Posted in Zimbabwe

A failed system’s failed promises

with one comment

By Stephen Gowans

With Communism’s demise, and the return of Warsaw Pact countries to the capitalist fold, the world was promised a new age of peace and prosperity. The shadow of war would lift. Military expenditures would be cut back, and troops would be brought home from Cold War postings. There would be more money for new wars — on poverty and homelessness, this time. And capitalism, the single sustainable model of success (it had, after all, emerged triumphant in a decades-long battle with Communism) would deliver the poor from poverty, and bless the world with a bonanza of consumer goods.

Talk about failed predictions.

In place of peace, we got the lone remaining superpower waging war to sweep up the few remaining stragglers that continued to resist integration into the US dominated global economy. Iraq was conquered, at the expense of countless dead, homeless, mangled and ruined; campaigns of intrigue and bombing in the former Yugoslavia pushed the region into the US orbit; and a war on Afghanistan continues to blast away thousands of peasants but cements a US military presence in a Central Asia pregnant with the promise of oil and gas wealth. Wars on Iran and north Korea are real possibilities.

Today, the United States is asserting its military might over the face of the globe more audaciously than ever. There are 368,000 US troops deployed in nearly 130 countries around the world. (1) US citizens think their military protects their interests abroad and defends host countries from threats. They rarely pause to wonder whether what’s called “their” interests are really their own personal interests or those of people who live in bigger houses and get bigger tax breaks and have sizeable investment portfolios. Nor do they make a habit of wondering how it is that with the US exercising a virtual military monopoly over the world, host countries could be under a threat so imminent they would require a US force presence. Exactly which of the tiny collection of countries not hosting US troops are threatening the remaining 130?

Could it be that US troops gird the globe to enforce the access of US firms and investors to the land, labor, markets and resources of others? Do “our” interests equate to Iraq’s oil, Indochina’s tin, Central Asia’s natural gas, Kosovo’s mines, the Balkan’s pipeline routes, Africa’s treasure trove of minerals and oil, and Indonesia’s sweatshops? “A lot of people forget,” remarked Alexander Haig, former Supreme Commander of NATO and Secretary of State in the Reagan administration, that the presence of US troops in Europe is “the bona fide of our economic success…it keeps European markets open to us. If those troops weren’t there, those markets would probably be more difficult to access.” (2) A lot of people forget, because they were told something quite different: That US troops were stationed in Europe to deter a Soviet invasion, not to put a gun to the head of Europeans to keep their markets invitingly open to US firms and investors. The obvious question, With the threat of a Soviet invasion long passed, why are US troops still there?, is rarely asked. So it doesn’t really matter that we’ve forgotten. The most blatant of Washington’s latest exercises in imperialism run amok has a similar character. It was said that the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein was hiding banned weapons. None were found. But US forces stay in Iraq anyway, to ensure the conquered country remains the refashioned paragon of free markets and free trade Washington’s policy makers have turned it into.

Which is to say, the emergence of US capitalism triumphant hasn’t given us peace, as promised; it has given us a bold US military prepared to wage war. And it seems to be waging war to facilitate US capital settling everywhere, nestling everywhere and establishing connections everywhere, to paraphrase a shockingly topical passage from the Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, a document whose irrelevance was said to have been established beyond a shadow of a doubt when the Berlin Wall was razed to the ground. Yet, today, it seems to be more relevant than ever; certainly more relevant than when a competing ideology forced the stewards of capitalism to tidy up the image of their vaunted system lest the rabble get it into their heads that they could do better. It’s said in newspapers and on TV that Washington’s wars have to do with fighting terrorism, but the documents which define the US national security strategy are long on paeans to free markets and free trade and capitalism and short on concrete measures to protect the lives of US citizens from attacks by radicalized West Asians bearing legitimate grievances against the United states. On the contrary, the strategy is a recipe for provoking terrorist attacks.

Marx and Engels: While the irrelevance of Communist Manifesto was said to have been established beyond a shadow of a doubt when the Berlin Wall was razed to the ground, today it seems to be more relevant than ever

Bourgeois society,” to use Marx’s and Engels’ phrase, hasn’t given us prosperity either, unless by “us,” you mean the people who own and control the economy. For the bulk of humanity things are a lot worst materially than they were when communists, socialists, and nationalists kept upsetting the capitalist apple cart by bringing vast tracks of national economies under public control, and putting the public welfare ahead of the profit interests of bondholders and investors.

According to the United Nations, 54 countries are poorer today than they were in 1990, about the time Communism was declared failed, and capitalism lionized as the single sustainable model of success. More children under the age of five are dying in 14 countries, and enrollment in primary schools is down in 12. Extreme poverty remains the fate of over one billion people. And in former Soviet republics — cradle to what has been dismissed as a failed system — poverty had tripled one decade into their liberation from Communism. Seventeen countries in Eastern Europe and the countries that made up the former Soviet Union have hardly become dynamos of prosperity, which should leave anyone with an ounce of gray matter wondering by what standard success is measured; surely not by the majority’s well-being. (3)

After having been demonized for decades by a capitalist establishment bent on making Communism radioactive (along with anyone so cavalier about their standing in polite society to utter a kind word about it) it’s sometimes forgotten, if ever apprehended in the first place, how impressive Communism’s economic achievements were…and still are, considering the barren and poisoned ground in which the lone holdouts have been forced to eke out precarious existences.

Let’s start with the most reviled of the hold-outs: north Korea. The idea that north Korea is a threat to the United States is about as believable as the idea that a colony of ants is a threat to the elephant whose foot hovers three inches over its hill. North Korea hasn’t a single solider stationed outside its borders. Washington, on the other hand, has 37,000 troops deployed, on, or near, the north Korean border, 65,000 troops stationed in nearby Japan, the Seventh Fleet lurking in nearby waters, and bombers within striking distance. It has dismissed Pyongyang’s pleas to sign a nonaggression treaty, declaring bizarrely that it will not succumb to blackmail. And what has north Korea done to threaten the United States (or to blackmail the country)? It has fired up a mothballed nuclear reactor capable of producing weapons grade material, and withdrawn from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but only after Washington reneged on an agreement to build light water reactors and provide fuel oil shipments. And only after Washington issued a virtual declaration of war, designating north Korea part of “an axis of evil.”

Could a north Korea with one or two crude nuclear bombs pose much of a threat to the United States poised to strike with overwhelming force? Quite the other way around. Indeed, north Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons can be said to be a rational response to an overwhelming US threat. And there have been plenty of signs the threat is real.

“This is just the beginning,” a Bush administration official told the New York Times, after US and British troops marched on Baghdad. “I would not rule out the same sequence of events for Iran and north Korea as for Iraq.” (4) The Pak Tribune cited CIA sources that revealed a “list of countries where replacement of government has been declared essential.” (5) The list included north Korea. US undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, John Bolton, warned Pyongyang to “draw the appropriate lesson from Iraq.” (6) It has. “The DPRK (north Korea) would have already met the same miserable fate as Iraq’s had it compromised its revolutionary principle and accepted the demand raised by the imperialists and its followers for ‘nuclear inspection’ and disarmament,” declared the official daily of the ruling Korean Workers Party, Rodong Sinmun. (7) Later, the government issued this statement: “The Iraqi war teaches a lesson that in order to prevent a war and defend the security of a country and the sovereignty of a nation it is necessary to have a powerful physical deterrent.” (8)

Washington ultra-hawk, Paul Wolfowitz, anticipating similar words US Secretary of state Hilary Clinton would utter seven years later, warned, “north Korea is headed down a blind alley. Its pursuit of nuclear weapons will not protect it from the real threat to its security, which is the (internal) implosion brought about by the total failure of its system. Indeed the diversion of scarce resources to nuclear weapons and other military programs can only exacerbate the weakness of the (government).” (9) So what’s the choice? Head down a blind alley, or turn over the country to Washington, and the multinational corporations it represents? Who’s the blackmailer?

History has not been kind to the tiny country. The mountainous north was once the center of the peninsula’s heavy industry, the south its breadbasket. The Korean War, which saw US bombers destroy every building in the north over one story, changed that. The north was reduced to rubble. But it rebuilt, and until the 1980s, outpaced the south economically. By 1961, it was self-sufficient in agriculture. North Korean children were better vaccinated than their counterparts in the United States, according to the World Health Organization and United Nations, who commended the country for its delivery of health care. And life expectancy was higher than in the capitalist south. (10)

Then disaster struck. The socialist trading bloc collapsed, depriving Pyongyang of its major trading partners. Oil subsidies from Russia ended. And if that weren’t enough, floods and droughts ravaged crops. Famine followed. But, for a time, the country had enjoyed impressive material gains, an affirmation of what can be achieved outside the capitalist system, even where resources are diverted to defense against an unrelenting foe than remains poised on your borders to strike. Imagine what the country could have achieved without the United States breathing fire down its neck.

Cuba, in many respects, fits the same mold: Astonishing social and economic gains under a communist government, the implacable and unrelenting hostility of the United States, and some backsliding after the collapse of its major trading partners. (The United States has maintained an economic blockade for half a century.) Still, despite these challenges, Cuba is a much kinder and egalitarian place today than it was before the revolution, under the rule of the US-backed Batista regime, when the country’s economy was an appendage of that of the United States. The United States fears Cuba, journalist Seamus Milne observes, not because it is a threat to the safety of US citizens, but because it’s an example of what can be accomplished outside the US dominated capitalist model. (11 )

In 1953, the illiteracy rate in Cuba exceeded 22 percent. Today it is under one percent. Three percent of those over the age of 10 had a secondary school education. Today, almost 60 percent do. Back then, at the height of the sugar harvest, when unemployment was lowest, eight percent were jobless. Today, the unemployment rate is three percent, making Cuba one of the few countries in the world to boast full employment.

Well over 80 percent own their own homes, and pay no taxes. The remainder pays a nominal rent.

No other country has as many teachers per capita. Education is free through university. The country also provides free university educations to 1,000 Third World students every year. And classroom sizes put those of Western industrialized countries to shame.

Health care is free. And while the United States has deployed over 300,000 troops in almost 130 countries to keep markets open to US investment, Cuba has sent 50,000 doctors to work for free in 93 Third World countries to heal the sick. (12)

Infant mortality is lower than in any other Third World country and even some Western capitalist countries (it’s higher in Washington, DC.) Life expectancy is 76 years, and is expected to rise. (13) By comparison, the return of capitalism has pushed life expectancy down in former communist countries.

These gains, seldom mentioned in the United States, place the country head and shoulders above other Latin American countries firmly ensconced in the US orbit, for which Washington’s single sustainable model of success continues to deliver grinding poverty, misery, and gross inequality, but the profits necessary to keep the capitalist system afloat and the capitalist class awash in mansions, retinues of servants, stables of luxury cars, exclusive schools and private clubs.

There are elections, and, contrary to Washington’s anti-Cuba propaganda, Cubans do vote. But they don’t choose among two largely identical parties, as in the United States, where the parties, and their candidates, are almost invariably in thrall to, or are representatives of, the capitalist class. As for human rights, Cuba stands as a model of what can be achieved by way of economic and social rights, the basic rights to food, housing, clothing, health care, education and jobs, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but not recognized as human rights in the United States. (14) Washington, on the other hand, has made a fetish of civil and political liberties, which, in the case of its relations with Cuba, has everything to do with giving its agents in the country, mistakenly called “independent” journalists and “independent” librarians (they’re not independent of Washington, which bankrolls their activities), room to maneuver to organize destabilization, with the object of overthrowing the revolution and banishing economic and social rights in favor of investors’ rights. That Cuba, a poor country, has been able to guarantee the right to food, clothing, shelter, health care, education and jobs, despite trying economic circumstances and US hostility, can be seen as extraordinary, or simply what can be readily accomplished outside the strictures of capitalism. If a poor Third World country, harassed by a powerful neighbor, can deliver high quality health care and education for free, why can’t the world’s richest country do the same? The answer: Capitalism drives towards better profits, not better lives.

Ever since the US-dominated global economy has, with the collapse of Eastern Bloc Communism over 10 years ago, more boldly sought purchase everywhere, US military imperialism has run amok, wars of aggression have been started, and poor, and formerly communist, countries have become poorer. The leaders of the Western world declare capitalism to be the single sustainable model of success, but countries that rejected capitalism, and committed to egalitarianism, have done better in terms of guaranteeing economic and social rights than comparison countries, despite difficult circumstances. Meanwhile, those that have rejected egalitarianism in favor of a return to capitalism have regressed. The promises of peace and prosperity that attended Communism’s collapse were a fraud based in the self-interest of a narrow band of wealthy people in the world’s richest countries. That it is a fraud is richly evident in the failed promises and dismal record of the post-communist era.

1. “Where are the Legions? Global Deployments of US Forces,” GlobalSecurity.Org, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/global-deployments.htm)
2. UPI, January 7, 2002.
3. “UN report says one billion suffer extreme poverty,” World Socialist Web Site, July 28, 2003.
4. “Pre-emption: Idea With a Lineage Whose Time Has Come,” The New York Times, March 23, 2003.
5. “Iran to be US next target: CIA report,” Pak Tribune (Online) March 24, 2003.
6. “U.S. Tells Iran, Syria, N. Korea ‘Learn from Iraq,” Reuters, April 9, 2003.
7. “North Korea vows to make no concessions,” Agence France-Presse, March 29, 2003.
8. “Administration Divided Over North Korea,” The New York Times, April 21, 2003.
9. “Wolfowitz Visits US Military Base In Korean Buffer Zone,” AFP, June 1, 2003.
10. “Peace, the real resolution to famine in North Korea, ZNet, July 23, 2003.
11. “Why the US fears Cuba,” The Guardian, July 31, 2003.
12. Ibid.
13. Speech by Fidel Castro on the 50th anniversary of the attack on the Moncada barracks, July 26, 2003.
14. Karen Lee Wald, “Democracy, Cuba-Style,” Canadian Dimension, July/August, 2003.

Originally written in August 2003, revised and updated May 2010.

Written by what's left

May 9, 2010 at 10:41 pm

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