There are a few facts to keep in mind to understand what’s going on in the wake of the death this week of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
#1. US foreign policy vis-a-vis North Korea has always sought to force the latter’s collapse to pave the way for its absorption into the US-dominated South  — and did so well before Pyongyang began to work on nuclear weapons. US hostility toward North Korea has never been about nuclear weapons. On the contrary, North Korea’s nuclear weapons are a consequence of US hostility. US hostility, now in its seventh decade, is about what it has always been about: putting an end to what Washington mistakenly calls North Korea’s Marxist-Leninist system (Marxism-Leninism has been replaced by Juche ideology—a home-grown doctrine of self-reliance), its non-market system, and its self-directed economic development . None of these offer much latitude for US profit-making at North Korea’s expense, and hence are singled out for demolition.
#2. North Korea only began to seek nuclear weapons after the United States announced in 1993 that it was retargeting some of its strategic nuclear missiles from the former Soviet Union to North Korea. Since then the country has only been able to develop its nuclear capability to a kindergarten level.  The plutonium devices it tested in 2006 and 2009 produced only one-tenth the power of the Hiroshima blast. There is no evidence it has miniaturized a warhead to fit atop a missile. And its missile program is plagued by problems. 
#3. North Korea is a military pipsqueak, whose personnel are deployed in large numbers to agriculture. The military budgets and weapons’ sophistication of its adversaries, the United States, South Korea and Japan, tower over its own. If the Pentagon’s budget is represented by the 6’ 9” basketball player Magic Johnson, North Korea’s military budget is 1”, about the height of a small mouse. South Korea’s is 4.5” and Japan’s 3.9”, multiple times larger than the North’s. 
#4. North Korea has no more military heft to mount a provocation against the United States than a mouse has to beat Magic Johnson on the basketball court. Nor has it the capability to wage a civil war against its southern compatriots and expect to win. North Korea is not an aggressive threat. “In the Obama analysis,” writes New York Times reporter David Sanger, “the North is receding into what the president’s top strategists have repeatedly called a ‘defensive crouch,’ trying to stave off the world with a barrage of missile and nuclear tests…Constantly on the brink of starvation, its military so broke that it cannot train its pilots, it has no illusions about becoming a great power in Asia. Its main goal is survival.” 
#5. Because the United States is a military Gargantua compared to North Korea, and South Korea and Japan have better equipped militaries, they can safely stage provocations against the North, forcing Pyongyang into a defense-spending drain of its treasury, bringing closer the realization of the US goal of tipping the country into crisis and possibly collapse. On the other hand, North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party wants to avoid confrontations at all costs, short of surrendering to the demands that it close up shop, and re-open under South Korean management.
#6. Provocations, then, are all on the other side. There are few acts more provocative than the United States’ targeting of North Korea with strategic nuclear missiles, nor former US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s warning that the Pentagon could turn North Korea into a charcoal briquette . Six decades of Washington-led economic warfare against the country is equally provocative, and a principal cause of North Korea’s impoverishment. Tens of thousands of US troops are deployed along the North’s southern borders, US warships and nuclear missile-equipped submarines prowl the periphery of its territorial waters, and US warplanes menace its airspace. Pyongyang is only the immediate architect of North Korea’s Songun (military-first) policy. Washington is the ultimate architect. Finally, US and South Korean militaries conduct regular war games exercises, one of which, Ulchi Freedom Guardian, is an exercise in invading North Korea. Who’s provoking who?
#7. Kim Jong Il, the recently deceased North Korean leader–literally depicted in South Korean children’s books as a red devil with horns and fangs –has been equally demonized in the Western mass media for starving his people. It is true that food shortages have plagued the country. But the vilifying Kim obituaries don’t mention why North Koreans are hungry. The answer is sanctions.  US foreign policy, like that of the Allied powers in WWI toward Germany, has been to starve its adversary into submission. This isn’t acknowledged, for obvious reasons. First, it would reveal the inhumane lengths to which US foreign policy is prepared to reach to secure its goals. And second, North Korean hunger must be used to discredit public ownership and a central planning as a workable economic model. North Koreans are hungry, the anti-Communist myth goes, because socialism doesn’t work. The truth of the matter is that North Koreans are hungry because Washington has made them so. Not surprisingly, calls by humanitarian groups for the United States to deliver food aid are being brushed aside with a litany of bizarre excuses, the latest being that food aid can’t be delivered because Kim Jong-il’s son, Kim Jong-eun, has succeeded him.  Huh? The real reason food aid won’t be delivered is because it would contradict US foreign policy. The United States once considered the death of half a million Iraqi children “worth it”.  Its leaders would consider the sanctions-produced demise through starvation of as many North Koreans worth it, as well.
#8. The death of Kim Jong-il is a potential boon for US foreign policy. There is a possibility of disorganization within the leadership, and internal conflicts leading to a fraying unity of purpose. Rather than focusing on external threats, the leadership may be divided, and pre-occupied with succession. If so, this is, from the perspective of the United States and South Korea, a pivotal moment—a time when the country may be tipped into collapse. And so, at this moment, who would you expect to unleash a provocation: Pyongyang? Or Washington and Seoul? At the best of times, Pyongyang wants to avoid a fight. At this critical juncture, it absolutely needs to. But the calculus works the other way round for the predators. Now is when North Korea is most vulnerable to predation.
#9. Predators never let on that they’re the hunters. Always they portray themselves as seeking to safeguard their security against the multiple threats of a dangerous world. Through guile and cunning, the mouse might just outmanoeuvre Magic Johnson and sink a basket or two. So it is that the United States, South Korea and Japan are said to be on high alert, in case the North Koreans stage another “provocation,” like the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan (for which the evidence of North Korean involvement is laughably thin at best ) or another Yeonpyeong Island artillery barrage (which the South set off by firing its own artillery into disputed waters, that, under international customary law, belong to the North. )
But as we’ve seen, it makes no sense to expect the scenario of a North Korean-furnished provocation to unfold. The more likely explanation for why US, South Korean and Japanese militaries are on high alert is because now is an ideal time for pressure on Pyongyang to be intensified, and because the triumvirate might be preparing to intervene militarily if conditions become propitious.
1. New York Times reporter David Sanger (“What ‘engagement’ with Iran and North Korea means,” The New York Times, June 17, 2009) notes that “American presidents have been certain they could … speed (North Korea’s) collapse, since the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953.” At the same time, Korea expert Selig S. Harrison has written that “South Korea is once again seeking the collapse of the North and its absorption by the South.” (“What Seoul should do despite the Cheonan”, The Hankyoreh, May 14, 2010.)
2. According to Dianne E. Rennack, (“North Korea: Economic sanctions”, Congressional Research Service, October 17, 2006) many US sanctions have been imposed on North Korea for reasons listed as either “communism”, “non-market economy” or “communism and market disruption.”
3. In an article on Newt Gingrich’s fantasies about North Korea or Iran setting off a nuclear device far above US territory in order to unleash an electromagnetic pulse attack, New York Times’ reporter William J. Broad cites a US military expert who characterizes “the nations in question (as being) at the kindergarten stage of developing nuclear arms.” (“Among Gingrich’s passions, a doomsday vision”, The New York Times, December 11, 2011.)
4. Keith Johnson, “Pyongyang neighbors worry over nuclear arms”, The Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2011
5. The annual military budgets in billions are: United States, $700; North Korea, $10; South Korea, $39; Japan, $34. With the exception of the Pentagon’s budget, annual military expenditures were estimated by multiplying a country’s GDP by its military spending as a percentage of GDP, as estimated by the CIA and reported in its World Factbook. The source for the Pentagon’s military budget is Thom Shanker and Elisabeth Bumiller, “Weighing Pentagon cuts, Panetta faces deep pressures”, The New York Times, November 6, 2011.
6. David Sanger, “What ‘engagement’ with Iran and North Korea means,” The New York Times, June 17, 2009.
7. “Colin Powell said we would…turn North Korea into a ‘charcoal briquette,’ I mean that’s the way we talk to North Korea, even though the mainstream media doesn’t pay attention to that kind of talk. A charcoal briquette.” Bruce Cumings, “Latest North Korean provocations stem from missed US opportunities for demilitarizaton,” Democracy Now!, May 29, 2009.
8. David E. Sanger, “A ruler who turned North Korea into a nuclear state”, The New York Times, December 18, 2011.
9. See Stephen Gowans, “Amnesty International botches blame for North Korea’s crumbling healthcare”, What’s Left, July 20, 2010. http://gowans.wordpress.com/2010/07/20/amnesty-international-botches-blame-for-north-korea%E2%80%99s-crumbling-healthcare/
10. Evan Ramstad and Jay Solomon, “Dictator’s death stokes fears”, The Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2011.
11. Asked about a UN estimate that sanctions had killed 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five, then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said infamously, “It’s a hard choice, but I think, we, think, it’s worth it.” 60 Minutes, May 12, 1996. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbIX1CP9qr4. Retrieved June 19, 2011
12. See Tim Beal’s Crisis in Korea: American, China and the Risk of War. Pluto Press. 2011.
13. See Tim Beal, “Theatre of war: Smoke and mirrors on the Korean peninsula on the anniversary of the Yeonpyeong incident,” Pyongyang Report V13 N2, December 6, 2011 http://www.timbeal.net.nz/geopolitics/Theatre_of_War9.pdf and Stephen Gowans, “US Ultimately to Blame for Korean Skirmishes in Yellow Sea”, What’s Left, December 5, 2010. http://gowans.wordpress.com/2010/12/05/us-ultimately-to-blame-for-korean-skirmishes-in-yellow-sea/
By Stephen Gowans
Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright turned President, came from a prominent, vehemently anti-socialist Prague family. Havel’s father was a wealthy real estate tycoon, who developed a number of Prague properties.
One was the Lucerna Palace, “a pleasure palace…of arcades, theatres, cinemas, night-clubs, restaurants, and ballrooms,” according to Frommer’s. It became “a popular spot for the city’s nouveau riche to congregate,” including a young Havel, who, raised in the lap of luxury by a governess and chauffeured around town, “spent his earliest years on the Lucerna’s polished marble floors.”
Then, tragedy struck – at least, from Havel’s point of view. The Reds expropriated Lucerna and the family’s other holdings, and put them to use for the common good, rather than for the purpose of providing the young Havel with more servants.
Four decades later, Havel, as president –celebrated throughout the West as a champion of intellectual freedom — presided over a mass return of nationalized property, including Lucerna and his family’s other holdings. As a business investment, Havel’s anti-communism proved to be quite profitable.
A champion of intellectual freedom, or the formerly pampered scion of an establishment family who had a material stake in seeing socialism overthrown?
By Jacques R. Pauwels
Myth: The US was forced to declare war on Japan after a totally unexpected Japanese attack on the American naval base in Hawaii on December 7, 1941. On account of Japan’s alliance with Nazi Germany, this aggression automatically brought the US into the war against Germany.
Reality: The Roosevelt administration had been eager for some time to wage war against Japan and sought to unleash such a war by means of the institution of an oil embargo and other provocations. Having deciphered Japanese codes, Washington knew a Japanese fleet was on its way to Pearl Harbor, but welcomed the attack since a Japanese aggression would make it possible to “sell” the war to the overwhelmingly anti-war American public.
An attack by Japan, as opposed to an American attack on Japan, was also supposed to avoid a declaration of war by Japan’s ally, Germany, which was treaty-bound to help only if Japan was attacked. However, for reasons which have nothing to do with Japan or the US but everything with the failure of Germany’s “lightning war” against the Soviet Union, Hitler himself declared war on the US a few days after Pearl Harbor, on December 11, 1941.
By Stephen Gowans
New York Times reporter William J. Broad wrote today about the apocalyptic vision of fiction-writer and Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich.  Gingrich warns that U.S. bêtes noire Iran or North Korea could send the United States back to the Middle Ages, detonating a nuclear missile high above the United States, which would create an electromagnetic pulse that knocks out anything that runs on electricity.
“Millions would die in the first week alone,” Gingrich cautions in the foreword to “One Second After,” a novel written by William R. Forstchen, a Gingrich friend and co-writer with Gingrich of historical novels. The novel describes a calamitous scenario in which an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack cripples the United States.
Gingrich announced before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference in May 2009 that he favored “taking out Iranian and North Korean missiles on their sites” to prevent either country from delivering an EMP Armageddon to the United States.
Gingrich is not alone in calling for strikes on Iran and North Korea.
In a March 30, 2010 piece, Washington Post columnist Walter Pincus wrote that the then head of the US strategic nuclear command, former astronaut General Kevin P. Chilton, had told US senators that “no nuclear power has been conquered or even put at risk of conquest.” Chillingly, Pincus added that Chilton’s observation is something that “others in government ought to ponder as they watch Iran and North Korea seek to develop nuclear capability”…a not so veiled call for wars to prevent North Korea and Iran from eliminating the risk of their being conquered. 
Equally chillingly, in a July 18, 2008 New York Times op-ed, Israeli historian Benny Morris urged the United States “to use bombs to stave off war”…that is, for “the US to use its formidable military to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities”. (Using bombs to stave off war is like using famine to stave off hunger.) To make his case, Morris constructed a fantasy about Israel being “threatened almost daily with destruction by Iran’s leaders,” adding bizarrely that they “are likely to use any bomb they build…because of fear of Israeli nuclear pre-emption.”  In other words, because Israel threatens to pre-empt Iran, Iran must be pre-empted, otherwise it might pre-empt Israel’s pre-emption.
As the Cold War drew to a close, Colin Powell, at the time the top US solider, warned: “I’m running out of demons, I’m running out of villains. I’m down to Castro and (then North Korean leader) Kim Il Sung.”  On the eve of the Soviet Union’s demise, cold warriors Robert McNamara, Carl Kaysen and George W. Rathjens echoed Powell’s warning in an autumn 1991 Foreign Policy piece: “With the end of the Cold War,” they wrote, “it is hard to construct even a semi-plausible military threat to the United States.” 
Keen to keep US taxes flowing to the Pentagon and straight to the bottom lines of Lockheed-Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and other profit-soaked US defense contractors, US officials took on what the cold warriors envisaged as a difficult task. They puffed up military midgets into military Gargantua, and found dire threats—an alleged genocide in Kosovo and WMDs in Iraq—where none existed. 9/11 sealed the deal.
Today Pentagon chief Leon Panetta can cite “North Korea and Iran as persistent threats” which the US military must remain bulked up to “to deter and defeat,”  with few people batting an eye. At $700 billion per year , US military spending is greater than that of the next 19 biggest spending countries combined,  many of which are US allies, and none of which are North Korea or Iran. And the New York Times turn over its pages to the Benny Morrises of the world as a platform to urge the United States to prevent wars by waging more of them. It turns out that Powell’s and McNamara’s fears that the United States had run out of demons to justify the pumping of billions in profits into defense contractors were based on a misjudgment of the prowess of the propaganda system to crank out compelling fiction.
Maybe it was a desire to discredit Gingrich, a Republican whose hand on the tiller of the ship of state may be too frightening for the liberal New York Times to contemplate that led Broad to puncture some of the myths that have been carefully constructed about Iran and North Korea as nuclear menaces–myths the Times itself has been no stranger to lending credence to. Whatever the case, the Broad article ran against form, challenging Gingrich’s fear-mongering.
Broad cited Philip E. Coyle III, a former head of Pentagon arms testing, who has complained that Gingrich and his fellow fear-mongers are puffing up Iran and North Korea “with the capabilities of giants.” Broad then pointed to other military experts who say that North Korea and Iran “are at the kindergarten stage of developing nuclear arms.” To this might be added that it’s far from certain that Iran is even at the kindergarten stage, while North Korea, the most sanctioned country on earth , will find its US-imposed poverty keeps it at the kindergarten stage well into the future.
“To even begin to attempt to do what Mr. Gingrich fears,” Broad writes, Iran and North Korea “would have to perfect big rockets, powerful bombs and surreptitious ways to loft them high above America.” Yet “Iran is having trouble keeping its missile bases from blowing up and North Korea cannot seem to get a big rocket off the ground without it tumbling out of control.”
Broad’s reporting deflates myths about an EMP attack, but it is just as damning to the more widely-circulated myths about North Korea and Iran threatening the United States and its allies with a garden variety nuclear strike.
The Real Threat
Still, it’s true that both countries pose a threat—though not a military one and not to the bulk of US citizens. Iran and North Korea, like Gaddafi’s Libya, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Milosevic’s Yugoslavia, and Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, defy a US-favored regime of free-trade, free-markets and free-enterprise–one that opens doors to US enterprises and keeps foreign profits pouring into Wall Street.
According to the US Congressional Research Service, numerous US sanctions have been imposed on North Korea for reasons listed as either “communism”, “non-market economy” or “communism and market disruption.”  Iran, as the US Congress of Library’s country study documents , favors a host of state-led economic development measures that, like North Korea’s publically-owned and planned economy, walls off large parts of the country’s markets, resources and labor from foreign corporations, banks and investors.
It is the limitations on US elite economic interests, and the threat of their becoming a model for other developing countries, that drives Gingrich, Pincus and others to puff up military pipsqueaks into giants and to elevate kindergarten students into MIT graduates. Transformed into threats, they become seemingly legitimate targets for all manner of aggressions—sabotage, economic warfare, funding of overthrow movements, military harassment, and, at times, overt war. The aim is replace leaders who favor independent, self-directed economic development, with puppets who will throw open the country’s doors to US exports and investment and co-operate with the United States militarily.
Burhan Ghalioun is a fine example of an aspiring puppet. He is the president of the Syrian National Council, an exile group linked to the Movement for Justice and Development . The latter has received $6 million in US government funding to organize opposition to the Assad government, according to a WikiLeaks cable . The supplicant marionette, who has met with Hilary Clinton and has already persuaded French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and British Foreign Secretary William Hague to declare his organization “a legitimate representative of the Syrian people”  is promising US officials that if they bring him to power he will “cut Damascus’s military relationship to Iran and end arms supplies to Middle East militant groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas” while integrating Syria with “the region’s major Arab powers”,  a reference to the Gulf Cooperation Council, the club of US-allied oil tyrannies which recently used military force to crack down on a democratic uprising in Bahrain, a member country, and home to the US 5th Fleet, the main military threat against Iran. (Bahrain, for the record, is a foreign investor’s paradise, ranking number 10 on the Wall Street Journal/Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom). Ghalioun’s eagerness to become entangled with a conspiracy of democracy-abominating absolute monarchies speaks volumes about his commitment to democracy and the direction of a possible Syrian National Council-led revolution in Syria.
1. William J. Broad, “Among Gingrich’s passions, a doomsday vision”, The New York Times, December 11, 2011.
2. Walter Pincus, “As missions are added, Stratcom commander keeps focus on deterrence”, The Washington Post, March 30, 2010.
3. Benny Morris, “Using Bombs to Stave Off War,” New York Times, July 18, 2008.
4. Carl Kaysen, Robert S. McNamara and George W. Rathjens, “Nuclear Weapons After the Cold War”, Foreign Affairs, Fall 1991.
6. Thom Shanker and Elisabeth Bumiller, “Weighing Pentagon cuts, Panetta faces deep pressures”, The New York Times, November 6, 2011.
8. “Defence spending: The world’s biggest armies in stats,” The Daily Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/8002911/Defence-spending-the-worlds-biggest-armies-in-stats.html
9. Then US President George W. Bush had called North Korea “the most sanctioned nation in the world”. U.S. News & World Report, June 26, 2008; The New York Times, July 6, 2008.
10. Dianne E. Rennack, “North Korea: Economic sanctions”, Congressional Research Service, October 17, 2006. http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/crs/rl31696.pdf
11. The Library of Congress. Iran: A Country Study. 2008. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/irtoc.html
12. The leader of the Movement for Justice and Democracy is Anas Al-Abdah. He is a member of the SNC.
13. James Rosen, “U.S. Fears Syrian Reprisals After WikiLeaks Disclosure,” FoxNew.com, April 18, 2011.
14. Jay Solomon, “Clinton Meets With Syrian Opposition”, The Wall Street Journal, December 6, 2011.
15. Jay Solomon and Nour Malas, “Syria would cut Iran military tie, opposition head says”, The Wall Street Journal, December 2, 2011
by Jacques R. Pauwels
World War II started, at least as far as the “European Theatre” was concerned, with the German army steamrolling over Poland in September, 1939. About six months later, even more spectacular victories followed, this time over the Benelux Countries and France. By the summer of 1940, Germany looked invincible and predestined to rule the European continent indefinitely. (Great Britain admittedly refused to throw in the towel, but could not hope to win the war on its own, and had to fear that Hitler would soon turn his attention to Gibraltar, Egypt, and/or other jewels in the crown of the British Empire.) Five years later, Germany experienced the pain and humiliation of total defeat. On April 20, 1945, Hitler committed suicide in Berlin as the Red Army bulldozed its way into the city, reduced to a heap of smoking ruins, and on May 8/9 German surrendered unconditionally. Clearly, then, sometime between late 1940 and 1944 the tide had turned rather dramatically. But when, and where? In Normandy in 1944, according to some; at Stalingrad, during the winter of 1942-43, according to others. In reality, the tide turned in December 1941 in the Soviet Union, more specifically, in the barren plain just west of Moscow. As a German historian, an expert on the war against the Soviet Union, has put it: “That victory of the Red Army [in front of Moscow] was unquestionably the major break [Zäsur] of the entire world war.”