UN Report on North Korea could be about the United States or South Korea

February 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

By Stephen Gowans

Surely one could be forgiven for thinking that when the Washington Post’s Chico Harlan (February 17) described the conclusions reached by the UN Human Rights Commission’s investigation into North Korea that he was really describing his own country, the United States. Harlan wrote, “The report makes for devastating reading, laying out the way North Korea conducts surveillance on its citizens (see Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA’s spying on US citizens…and everyone else), bans them from travel (anyone up for a visit to Cuba?), discriminates against them based on supposed ideological impurities (has the United States ever been kind to Marxist-Leninists?), tortures them (water boarding and Abu Ghraib) and sometimes banishes them to isolated prison camps, where they are held incommunicado” (recently Guantanamo and other CIA torture camps around the world to which opponents of the US regime have been rendered, more distantly, the incarceration of German-, Italian- and Japanese-Americans during WWII.)

The report recommends that North Korea be referred to the International Criminal Court at The Hague, but if the charges against North Korea are true, then surely the case for referring the United States to the same court is at least as compelling. Add the United States’ record of extrajudicial assassination, its world-leading rate of incarceration, its illegal wars, and its support for the most vile human rights violators on the planet, among them Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Bahrain, and the case for referring US leaders to The Hague is overwhelming.

The UN report says that North Korea is committing human rights violations “without any parallel in the contemporary world,” a conclusion that could only be reached by wilful blindness to the human rights violations of the United States, its democracy-abominating allies in the Gulf, and its south Korean neo-colony. South Korea, whose affronts against human rights are passed over largely in silence by the Western media (and it seems by the UN Human Rights Commission too), conducts surveillance on its citizens, bans them from travel to North Korea, discriminates against them if they hold views sympathetic to North Korea, its official Juche ideology or Marxism-Leninism, and uses its highly repressive National Security Law to lock up and intimidate anyone who has a good word to say about North Korea.

The UN report can hardly be taken seriously. It is a transparent effort to discredit a government that has, for more than half a century, been in the cross-hairs of a US program of military intimidation, economic warfare, diplomatic isolation and ideological assault, targeted for regime change for rejecting participation in a US-superintended global capitalist order. More than that, by passing over regimes that do what North Korea is accused of doing, it sanitizes the behavior of the United States and its allies, buttressing the ideological fiction that anti-capitalist governments are uniquely human rights violators, while upholders of global capitalism are uniquely champions of human rights.

If a case is to be pressed to refer North Korea to the ICC, then referrals of the United States, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea to The Hague—to start—are long overdue. Until this oversight is rectified, it is impossible to regard the UN report—and the western media’s coverage of it—as anything but sops to the propaganda imperatives of US foreign policy.

Washington’s “playbook” on provoking North Korea

April 4, 2013 § 15 Comments

By Stephen Gowans

In an April 3 Wall Street Journal article, “U.S. dials back on Korean show of force,” reporters Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes revealed that the White House approved a detailed plan, called ‘the playbook,’ to ratchet up tension with North Korea during the Pentagon’s war games with South Korea.

The war games, which are still in progress, and involve the deployment of a considerable amount of sophisticated US military hardware to within striking distance of North Korea, are already a source of considerable tension in Pyongyang, and represent what Korean specialist Tim Beal dubs “sub-critical” warfare.

The two-month-long war games, directed at and carried out in proximity to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, force the North Korean military onto high alert, an exhausting and cripplingly expensive state of affairs for a small country whose economy has already been crippled by wide-ranging sanctions. North Korea estimates that sanctions and US military aggression have taken an incalculable toll on its economy. [1]

The playbook was developed by the Pentagon’s Pacific Command, to augment the war games that began in early March, and was discussed at several high-level White House meetings, according to the Wall Street Journal reporters.

The plan called for low-altitude B-52 bomber flights over the Korean peninsula, which happened on March 8. A few weeks later, two nuclear-capable B-2 bombers dropped dummy payloads on a South Korean missile range. The flights were deliberately carried out in broad daylight at low altitude, according to a U.S. defense official, to produce the intended minatory effect. “We could fly it at night, but the point was for them to see it.” [2]

A few days ago, the Pentagon deployed two advanced F-22 warplanes to South Korea, also part of the ‘play-book’ plan to intimidate Pyongyang.

According to Entous and Barnes, the White House knew that the North Koreans would react by threatening to retaliate against the United States and South Korea.

In a March 29 article, Barnes wrote that “Defense officials acknowledged that North Korean military officers are particularly agitated by bomber flights because of memories of the destruction wrought from the air during the Korean War.” [3] During the war, the United States Air Force demolished every target over one story. It also dropped more napalm than it did later in Vietnam. [4]

The reality, then, is exactly opposite of the narrative formulated in the Western mass media. Washington hasn’t responded to North Korean belligerence and provocations with a show of force. On the contrary, Washington deliberately planned a show of force in order to elicit an angry North Korean reaction, which was then labelled “belligerence” and “provocation.” The provocations, coldly and calculatingly planned, have come from Washington. North Korea’s reactions have been defensive.

Pressed to explain why North Korea, a military pipsqueak in comparison to the United States, would deliberately provoke a military colossus, Western journalists, citing unnamed analysts, have concocted a risible fiction about Pyongyang using military threats as a bargaining chip to wheedle aid from the West, as a prop to its faltering “mismanaged” economy. The role of sanctions and the unceasing threat of US military intervention are swept aside as explanations for North Korea’s economic travails.

However, Entous’s and Barnes’s revelations now make the story harder to stick. The North Koreans haven’t developed a nuclear program, poured money into their military, and made firm their resolve to meet US and South Korean aggression head-on, in order to inveigle aid from Washington. They’ve done so to defend themselves against coldly calculated provocations.

According to the Wall Street Journal staffers, the White House has dialled back its provocations for now, for fear they could lead to a North Korean “miscalculation.” In street language, Washington challenged the DPRK to a game of chicken, and broke it off, when it became clear the game might not unfold as planned.

1. According to the Korean Central News Agency, March 26, 2013, “The amount of human and material damage done to the DPRK till 2005 totaled at least 64,959 854 million U.S. dollars.”

2. Jay Solomon, Julian E. Barnes and Alastair Gale, “North Korea warned”, The Wall Street Journal, March 29, 2013

3. Julian E. Barnes, “U.S. pledges further show of force in Korea”, The Wall Street journal, March 29, 2013

4. Bruce Cumings. The Korean War: A History. Modern Library. 2010.

Armistice Agreement Withdrawal: North Korean Belligerence?

March 16, 2013 § 10 Comments

By Stephen Gowans

Why has North Korea withdrawn from an armistice agreement that has kept overt hostilities on the Korean peninsula at bay since 1953? Does the withdrawal portend an imminent North Korean aggression? Hardly. North Korea is in no position to launch an attack on its Korean neighbour, or on the United States, at least not one that it would survive. North Korean forces are dwarfed by the US and South Korean militaries in size, sophistication and fire-power. The withdrawal serves, instead, as a signal of North Korean resolve to defend itself against growing US and South Korean harassment, both military and economic.

US provocations

For decades, North Korea has been subjected to the modern form of the siege. “The aim of the siege is to reduce the enemy to such a state of starvation and deprivation that they open the gate, perhaps killing their leaders in the process and throw themselves on the mercy of the besiegers.” [1] North Korea withstood the siege, and even flourished, during the years it was able to trade with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe’s socialist countries. But with the demise of Soviet socialism, the country has bent, but not broken, under the pressure of US-led sanctions of mass destruction.

Sanctions against North Korea are multi-form, and include a trade blockade and financial isolation. Significantly, no country in history has been menaced by such wide-ranging sanctions for so long. North Korea is, as then US president George W. Bush once remarked, the most sanctioned nation on earth. [2] Sanctions, military harassment (which I’ll come back to in a moment), and the US nuclear threat—Washington has threatened North Korea with nuclear annihilation on countless occasions [3]—have forced the North Koreans to bulk up militarily, build ballistic missiles, and test nuclear devices in order to survive.

Led by Washington, the UN Security Council has authored a number of resolutions to deny North Korea rights of self-defense and other rights that other countries are free to exercise: the rights to: build ballistic missiles; withdraw from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty; launch satellites; sell arms abroad; and transfer nuclear technology to other countries. These are rights that every permanent member of the UN Security Council exercises freely. They are also rights that many other countries enjoy with impunity.

On top of besieging North Korea, Washington and South Korea have for decades kept up a campaign of unrelenting military harassment in the form of regular war games. The latest war games began March 1 and will last for two months. Undertaken as practice in mobilizing US troops and military hardware from abroad for rapid deployment to the Korean peninsula, the war games this year have activated not only US and South Korean militaries, but British, Canadian, and Australian forces, as well. While labelled “defensive,” the war games force the North Koreans onto a permanent war footing. It can never be clear to North Korean generals whether the latest US-South Korean mobilization is a drill or preparation for an invasion. The effect is to force Pyongyang to maintain its military on high alert, an exhausting and expensive exercise.

The view propagated by Western officials and, in train, the Western mass media, is that the sanctions are aimed at correcting North Korea’s “bad behaviour” and that the war games are carried out to deter North Korean aggression. But what’s called “bad behaviour”—the building of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles—is Pyongyang’s reaction to the US-led permanent state of siege. A tiny country with a military budget dwarfed by South Korea’s and the United States’ [4] is not credibly an offensive threat to Washington and Seoul, but the United States and South Korea are unquestionably offensive threats to the DPRK (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name.)

After the UN manoeuvred the Security Council to slap still more sanctions on North Korea, and began its latest round of war games, the Wall Street Journal alerted the world that “North Korea [had] moved to further stoke tensions with South Korea…” [5] On the contrary, the United States had further stoked tensions with North Korea.

A dead letter

There are three reasons to regard the armistice agreement as existing in form alone, and not substance.

First, the purpose of the agreement was to set the stage for a permanent peace. Despite North Korea repeatedly asking Washington to enter into a peace agreement, none has been struck. After one North Korean entreaty for peace, then US secretary of state Colin Powell said “We don’t do non-aggression pacts or treaties, things of that nature.” [6]

Second, the agreement was to be followed by the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the Korean peninsula. The Chinese withdrew, as did most members of the UN forces. But US forces, which have remained in South Korea for the last 60 years, have become a permanent fixture on the peninsula. Incredibly, South Korean forces remain under US command.

Third, the agreement prohibits “the introduction into Korea of reinforcing combat aircraft, armoured vehicles, weapons and ammunition…” The US violated the agreement by introducing nuclear weapons into South Korea in 1958. And it’s questionable whether the war games-related deployment of massive amounts of US military hardware to Korea doesn’t violate the agreement, as well.

What Washington wants from North Korea

On March 11, U.S. national security adviser Tom Donilon announced publicly that what Washington wants from North Korea is open markets and the country’s integration into the US-led system of global capitalist exploitation. At least, that’s what he meant when he said, “I urge North Korea’s leaders to reflect on Burma’s experience.” [7]

Burma (Myanmar) turned its self-directed, locally-, and largely publicly-owned economy into a capitalist playground for foreign investors.

When Myanmar’s military took power in a 1962 coup, it nationalized most industries and brought the bulk of the economy under government control, which is the way it stayed until three years ago. Major utilities were state-owned and health-care and education were publicly provided. Private hospitals and private schools were unheard of. Ownership of land and local companies was limited to the country’s citizens. Companies were required to hire Myanmar workers. And the central bank was answerable to the government. In other words, Myanmar’s economy, inasmuch as it markets, labor and natural resources were used for the country’s self-directed development, was very much like North Korea’s. And like North Korea, Myanmar was an object of US hostility, subject to sanctions, and targeted by US-orchestrated low-level warfare.

Bowing to US pressure, Myanmar’s government began in the last few years to sell off government buildings, its port facilities, its national airline, mines, farmland, the country’s fuel distribution network, and soft drink, cigarette and bicycle factories. The doors to the country’s publicly-owned health care and education systems were thrown open, and private investors were invited in. A new law was drawn up to give more independence to the central bank, making it answerable to its own inflation control targets, rather than directly to the government.

To top it all off, a foreign-investment law was drafted to allow foreigners to control local companies and land, permit the entry of foreign telecom companies and foreign banks, allow 100 percent repatriation of profits, and exempt foreign investors from paying taxes for up to five years. What’s more, foreign enterprises would be allowed to import skilled workers, and wouldn’t be required to hire locally.

With Myanmar signalling its willingness to turn over its economy to outside investors, US hostility abated and the sanctions were lifted. President Obama dispatched then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton to meet with Myanmar’s leaders, the first US secretary of state to visit in more than 50 years. William Hague soon followed, the first British foreign minister to visit since 1955. Other foreign ministers beat their own paths to the door of the country’s military junta, seeking to establish ties with the now foreign investment-friendly government on behalf of their own corporations, investors, and banks. And business organizations sent their own delegations, including four major Japanese business organizations, all looking to cash in on Myanmar’s new opening. Announcing the easing of US sanctions, then US secretary of state Hilary Clinton enthused, “Today we say to American business: Invest in Burma!” [8]

That, then, is what the United States wants for North Korea: for a US secretary of state to one day announce, “Today we say to American business: Invest in North Korea!”

Effects, not causes

In the US view, North Korea is a militaristic, aggressive state, bent on provoking South Korea and its American overlords and setting the peninsula aflame, for reasons that are never made clear. Pyongyang must, therefore, be deterred by sanctions and displays of US military “resolve.” Yet North Korea has never pursued an aggressive foreign policy, hasn’t the means to do so, and unlike the United States and South Korea, has never sent troops into battle on foreign soil. (South Korea hired out its military to the United States as a mercenary force to battle nationalists seeking independence in Vietnam.) By contrast, the DPRK’s militarism, expressed in its Songun (military first) policy, is defensive, not aggressive, mercenary or imperialist.

It is a misconception that the incursion of North Korean forces into the south in 1950, marking the formal start of the Korean War, was an invasion across an international border. The boundary dividing the two Koreas had been drawn unilaterally by the United States in 1945, and never agreed to by Koreans. The Korean War was a civil war in which sovereigntists, and collaborators with the Japanese, now with the Americans, battled over control of their country, aided by foreign militaries. Had the United States not intervened the country would have been re-united under a socialist government committed to independence.

The US view, far from providing an accurate account of North Korea and its relationship with the United States, turns reality on its head. The reality is that US public policy, including foreign policy, is largely shaped by corporations, banks, and elite investors, through lobbying, the funding of think tanks, and placement of corporate officers, Wall Street lawyers, and ambitious politicians dependent on the wealthy for campaign financing and lucrative post-political job opportunities, into key positions in the state.

US foreign policy seeks to protect and enlarge the interests of the class that shapes it, by safeguarding existing, and securing new, foreign investment opportunities, opening markets abroad for US goods and services, and ensuring business conditions around the world are conducive to the profit-making imperatives of US corporations.

From the perspective of the goals of US foreign policy, North Korea’s publicly-owned, planned economy commits the ultimate sin: it reserves North Korean labor, markets and natural resources for the country’s own welfare and self-development. Accordingly, US foreign policy aims to reduce North Korea to such a level of deprivation and misery that the people overthrow their leaders and open the gate, or the leaders capitulate and heed Donilon’s urging to follow Myanmar’s capitulatory path. All attempts to resist integration into the US-superintended global capitalist system are deceptively presented by the United States as evidence of North Korea’s bellicosity, rather than what they are: acts of self-defense against an imperialist predator.

1. Tim Beal. Crisis in Korea: America, China and the Risk of War. Pluto Press, 2011, p. 180.

2. U.S. News & World Report, June 26, 2008; The New York Times, July 6, 2008.

3. For more on US threats of nuclear annihilation against North Korea see Stephen Gowans, “Why North Korea needs nuclear weapons”, what’s left, February 16, 2013.

4. The combined US-South Korean 2010 military budget was $739B (US, $700B; South Korea, $39K), 74 times greater than North Korea’s $10B expenditure. For more see Stephen Gowans, “Wars for Profits: A No-Nonsense Guide to Why the United States Seeks to Make Iran an International Pariah,” what’s left, November 9, 2011.

5. Alastair Gale, “Kim’s visit to bases raises tension”, The Wall Street Journal, March 12, 2013.

6. New York Times, August 14, 2003.

7. Alastair Gale and Keith Johnson, “North Korea declares war truce ‘invalid’”, The Wall Street Journal, March 12, 2013.

8. On Myanmar’s transition to open markets and free enterprise see Stephen Gowans, “Myanmar learns the lesson of Libya,” what’s left, May 20, 2012.

Why North Korea Needs Nuclear Weapons

February 16, 2013 § 18 Comments

By Stephen Gowans

Is North Korea’s recent nuclear test, its third, to be welcomed, lamented or condemned? It depends on your perspective. If you believe that a people should be able to organize their affairs free from foreign domination and interference; that the United States and its client government in Seoul have denied Koreans in the south that right and seek to deny Koreans in the north the same right; and that the best chance that Koreans in the north have for preserving their sovereignty is to build nuclear weapons to deter a US military conquest, then the test is to be welcomed.

If you’re a liberal, you might believe that the United States should offer the DPRK (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name) security guarantees in return for Pyongyang completely, permanently and verifiably eliminating its nuclear weapons program. If so, your position invites three questions.

• Contrary to the febrile rhetoric of high US officials, the United States is not threatened by North Korea. North Korea’s nuclear weapons capability is a defensive threat alone. The DPRK’s leaders are not unaware that a first-strike nuclear attack would trigger an overwhelming US nuclear retaliatory strike, which, as then US president Bill Clinton once warned, “would mean the end of their country as we know it”. Since a North Korean first-strike would be suicidal (and this is not lost on the North Korean leadership), whether Pyongyang has or doesn’t have nuclear weapons makes little difference to US national security. What, then, would motivate Washington to offer genuine security guarantees? It can’t be argued that US national security considerations form the basis of the guarantees, since the threat to the United States of a nuclear-armed North Korea is about the same as a disarmed North Korea—approximately zero.

• How credible could any security guarantee be, in light of the reality that since 1945 Washington has invested significant blood and treasure in eliminating all expressions of communism and anti-imperialism on the Korean peninsula. The argument that the United States could issue genuine security guarantees would have to explain what had transpired to bring about a radical qualitative shift in US policy from attempting to eliminate communism in Korea to détente with it.

• Why is it incumbent on North Korea alone to disarm? Why not the United States too?

The conservative view, on which I shall not tarry, is simple. Anything North Korea does, except surrender, is blameworthy.

Finally, you might lament Pyongyang’s nuclear test for running counter to nuclear non-proliferation, invoking the fear that growth in the number of countries with nuclear weapons increases the risk of war. But this view crumbles under scrutiny. The elimination of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq didn’t reduce the chances of US military intervention in that country—it increased them. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s voluntary elimination of his WMD didn’t prevent a NATO assault on Libya—it cleared the way for it. The disarming of countries that deny the US ruling class access to markets, natural resources, and investment opportunities, in order to use these for their own development, doesn’t reduce the risk of wars of conquest—it makes them all the more certain.

The radical view locates the cause of wars of conquest since the rise of capitalism in the drive for profits. This compulsion chases the goods, services and capital of corporate-dominated societies over the face of the globe to settle everywhere, nestle everywhere, and establish connections everywhere, irrespective of the wishes, interests, development needs and welfare of the natives. If territories aren’t voluntarily opened to capital penetration through trade and investment agreements, their doors are battered down by the Pentagon, the enforcer of last resort of a world economic order supporting, as its first commitment, the profit-making interests of the US ruling class.

Background

Because North Korea has long been vilified and condemned by the Western press as bellicose, provocative and unpredictable, it’s difficult to cut through the fog of vituperation that obscures any kind of dispassionate understanding of the country to grasp that the DPRK represents something praiseworthy: a tradition of struggle against oppression and foreign domination, rooted in the experience of a majority of Koreans dating back to the end of WWII and the period of Japanese colonial rule. This tradition found expression in the Korean People’s Republic, a national government, created by, for, and of Koreans, that was already in place when US troops landed at Inchon in September, 1945. The new government was comprised of leftists who had won the backing of the majority, partly because they had led the struggle against Japan’s colonial occupation, and partly because they promised relief from exploitation by landlords and capitalists. The USSR, which occupied the north of the country until 1948, worked with the KPR in its occupation zone, but the United States suppressed the KPR in the south, worked to exterminate leftist forces in its zone, and backed conservatives reviled by Koreans for their oppressions and collaboration with the Japanese. By 1948, the peninsula was divided between a northern government led by guerrillas and activists who fought to liberate Korea from Japanese rule, and a southern government led by a US-installed anti-communist backed by conservatives tainted by collaboration with colonial oppression. For the next 65 years, the essential character of the competing regimes has remained the same. Park Geun-hye, the incoming South Korean president is the daughter of a former president, Park Chung-hee, who came to power in a military coup in 1961. The elder Park had served in the Japanese Imperial Army. Kim Il Sung, grandfather of North Korea’s current leader, Kim Jong-eun, was an important guerrilla leader who, unlike the collaborator Park, fought, rather than served, the Japanese. The North represents the traditions of struggle against foreign domination, both political and economic, while the South represents the tradition of submission to and collaboration with a foreign hegemon. Significantly, there are no foreign troops stationed in North Korea, but are in South Korea. North Korean troops have never fought abroad, but South Korea’s have, odiously in Vietnam, in return for infusions of mercenary lucre from the Americans, and later in Iraq. As regards repression, South Korea’s authoritarianism on behalf of rightist causes is long and enduring, typified in the virulently anti-communist National Security Law, which metes out harsh punishment to anyone who so much as publicly utters a kind word about North Korea. The South Korean police state also blocks access to pro-North Korean websites, bans books, including volumes by Noam Chomsky and heterodox (though pro-capitalist) economist Ha Joon-chang, and imprisons anyone who travels to the North.

Pressure

Since the Korean War the United States and South Korea have maintained unceasing pressure on North Korea through subversion, espionage, propaganda, economic warfare and threats of nuclear attack and military invasion. Low-intensity warfare sets as its ultimate objective the collapse of the North Korean government. Unremitting military pressure forces Pyongyang to maintain punishingly high expenditures on defense (formalized in the country’s Songun, or “army first” policy). Massive defense expenditures divert critical resources from the civilian economy, retarding economic growth. At the same time, trade and financial sanctions heap further harm on the economy. Economic dislocations disrupt food supplies, make life harsh for many North Koreans, and breed discontent. Discontent in turn engenders political opposition, which is beaten back and contained by measures of repression and restriction of civic and political liberties. In response, Washington disingenuously deplores Pyongyang’s military expenditures at a time North Koreans “are starving”; denounces Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program as a “provocation” (rather than a defense against US military threat); dishonestly attributes the country’s economic difficulties to allegedly inherent weaknesses in public ownership and central planning (rather than sanctions and financial strangulation); and chastises the DPRK for its repressive measures to check dissent (ultimately traceable to US pressures.) In other words, the regrettable features of North Korea that Washington highlights to demonize and discredit the DPRK are the consequences, not the causes, of US North Korea policy. To view US policy as a reaction to the DPRK’s nuclear weapons program, economic difficulties, and repressions is to get the causal direction wrong.

US foreign policy

US foreign policy aims to secure and defend access to foreign markets, natural resources and investment opportunities and deny communists and nationalists control because access might be blocked, limited or freighted with social welfare and domestic development considerations.

As a general rule, the American government’s attitude to governments in the Third World …depends very largely on the degree to which these governments favour American free enterprise in their countries or are likely to favour it in the future…In this perspective, the supreme evil is obviously the assumption of power by governments whose main purpose is precisely to abolish private ownership and private enterprise…Such governments are profoundly objectionable not only because their actions profoundly affect foreign-owned interests and enterprises or because they render future capitalist implantation impossible [but also] because the withdrawal of any country from the world system of capitalist enterprise is seen as constituting a weakening of that system and as providing encouragement to further dissidence and withdrawal. [1]

North Korea is one of the few countries left that commits “the supreme evil.” Allowed to develop in peace, unimpeded by military pressure and economic warfare, it might become an inspiration for other countries to follow. From the perspective of the US ruling class, the United States’ North Korea policy must have one overarching objective: the DPRK’s demise. Asked by The New York Times to explain the aim of US policy on North Korea, then US under secretary of state for arms control John Bolton “strode over to a bookshelf, pulled off a volume and slapped it on the table. It was called ‘The End of North Korea.'” “‘That,’ he said, ‘is our policy.'” [2]

On top of profit-making goals, and crippling North Korea economically, politically and socially to prevent its emergence as an inspiring example to other countries, Washington seeks to maintain access to its strategic position on a peninsula whose proximity to China and Russia provides a forward operating base from which to pressure these two significant obstacles to the United States’ complete domination of the globe.

Threats of nuclear war

According to declassified and other US government documents, some released on the 60th-anniversary of the Korean War, from “the 1950s’ Pentagon to today’s Obama administration, the United States has repeatedly pondered, planned and threatened the use of nuclear weapons against North Korea.” [3] These documents, along with the public statements of senior US officials, point to an ongoing pattern of US nuclear intimidation of the DPRK.

• The United States introduced nuclear weapons to the Korean peninsula as early as 1950. [4]

• During the Korean War, US president Harry Truman announced that the use of nuclear weapons was under active consideration; US Air Force bombers flew nuclear rehearsal runs over Pyongyang; and US commander General Douglas MacArthur planned to drop 30 to 50 atomic bombs across the northern neck of the Korean peninsula to block Chinese intervention. [5]

• In the late 1960s, nuclear-armed US warplanes were maintained on 15-minute alert to strike North Korea. [6]

• In 1975, US defense secretary James Schlesinger acknowledged for the first time that US nuclear weapons were deployed in South Korea. Addressing the North Koreans, he warned, “I do not think it would be wise to test (US) reactions.” [7]

• In February 1993, Lee Butler, head of the US Strategic Command, announced the United States was retargeting hydrogen bombs aimed at the old USSR on North Korea (and other targets.) One month later, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. [8]

• On July 22, 1993, US president Bill Clinton said if North Korea developed and used nuclear weapons “we would quickly and overwhelmingly retaliate. It would mean the end of their country as we know it.” [9]

• In 1995, Colin Powell, who had served as chairman of the US joints chiefs of staff and would later serve as US secretary of state, warned the North Koreans that the United States had the means to turn their country into “a charcoal briquette.” [10]

• Following North Korea’s first nuclear test on October 9, 2006, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice reminded North Korea that “the United States has the will and the capability to meet the full range—and I underscore full range of its deterrent and security commitments to Japan [emphasis added].” [11]

• In April 2010, US defense secretary Leon Panetta refused to rule out a US nuclear attack on North Korea, saying, “all options are on the table.” [12]

• On February 13, 2013, Panetta described North Korea as “a threat to the United States, to regional stability, and to global security.” He added: “Make no mistake. The US military will take all necessary steps to meet our security commitments to the Republic of Korea and to our regional allies [emphasis added].” [13]

As the North Koreans put it, “no nation in the world has been exposed to the nuclear threat so directly and for so long as the Koreans.”[14]

“For over half a century since early in the 1950s, the US has turned South Korea into the biggest nuclear arsenal in the Far East, gravely threatening the DPRK through ceaseless manoeuvres for a nuclear war. It has worked hard to deprive the DPRK of its sovereignty and its right to exist and develop….thereby doing tremendous damage to its socialist economic construction and the improvement of the standard of people’s living.” [15]

Economic warfare

The breadth and depth of US economic warfare against North Korea can be summed up in two sentences:

• North Korea is “the most sanctioned nation in the world” — George W. Bush. [16]

• …”there are few sanctions left to apply.” – The New York Times [17]

From the moment it imposed a total embargo on exports to North Korea three days after the Korean War began in June 1950, the United States has maintained an uninterrupted regimen of economic, financial, and diplomatic sanctions against North Korea. These include:

o Limits on the export of goods and services.
o Prohibition of most foreign aid and agricultural sales.
o A ban on Export-Import Bank funding.
o Denial of favourable trade terms.
o Prohibition of imports from North Korea.
o Blocking of any loan or funding through international financial institutions.
o Limits on export licensing of food and medicine for export to North Korea.
o A ban on government financing of food and medicine exports to North Korea.
o Prohibition on import and export transactions related to transportation.
o A ban on dual-use exports (i.e., civilian goods that could be adapted to military purposes.)
o Prohibition on certain commercial banking transactions. [18]

In recent years, US sanctions have been complemented by “efforts to freeze assets and cut off financial flows” [19] by blocking banks that deal with North Korean companies from access to the US banking system. The intended effect is to make North Korea a banking pariah that no bank in the world will touch. Former US president George W. Bush was “determined to squeeze North Korea with every financial sanction possible” until its economy collapsed. [20] The Obama administration has not departed from the Bush policies.

Washington has also acted to sharpen the bite of sanctions, pressing other countries to join its campaign of economic warfare against a country it faults for maintaining a Marxist-Leninist system and non-market economy. [21] This has included the sponsoring of a United Nations Security Council resolution compelling all nations to refrain for exporting dual-use items to North Korea (a repeat of the sanctions regime that led to the crumbling of Iraq’s healthcare system in the 1990s.) Washington has even gone so far as to pressure China (unsuccessfully) to cut off North Korea’s supply of oil. [22]

Drawing the appropriate lesson

On the day Baghdad fell to invading US forces, John Bolton warned Iran, Syria and North Korea to “draw the appropriate lesson from Iraq.” [23] There can be no doubt that Pyongyang drew a lesson, though not the one Bolton intended. The North Koreans did not conclude, as Bolton hoped, that peace and security could be achieved by relinquishing WMDs. Instead, the North Koreans couldn’t fail to grasp the real lesson of the US assault on Iraq. The United States had invaded Iraq only after Saddam Hussein had cleared the way by complying with US demands to destroy his weapons of mass destruction. Had he actually retained the weapons he was falsely accused of hiding and holding in reserve, the Americans would likely have never attacked.

Subsequent events in Libya have only reinforced the lesson. Muammar Gaddafi had developed his own WMD program to protect Libya from Western military intervention. But Gaddafi also faced an internal threat—Islamists, including jihadists linked to Al Qaeda, who sought to overthrow him to create an Islamist society in Libya. After 9/11, with the United States setting out to crush Al Qaeda, Gaddafi sought a rapprochement with the West, becoming an ally in the international battle against Al Qaeda, to more effectively deal with his own Islamist enemies at home. The price of being invited into the fold was to abandon his weapons of mass destruction. When Gaddafi agreed to this condition he made a fatal strategic blunder. An economic nationalist, Gaddafi irritated Western oil companies and investors by insisting on serving Libyan interests ahead of the oil companies’ profits and investors’ returns. Fed up with his nationalist obstructions, NATO teamed up with Gaddafi’s Islamist enemies to oust and kill the Libyan leader. Had he not surrendered his WMDs, Gaddafi would likely still be playing a lead role in Libya. “Who would have dared deal with Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein if they had a nuclear capability?” asks Major General Amir Eshel, chief of the Israeli army’s planning division. “No way.” [24]

Having unilaterally disarmed, Gaddafi was hailed in Western capitals, and world leaders hastened to Tripoli to sign commercial agreements with him. Among Gaddafi’s visitors was the South Korean minister of foreign affairs, and Ban Ki-moon, later to become the UN secretary general. Both men urged the “rehabilitated” Libyan leader to persuade the North Koreans to give up their nuclear weapons. [25] Whether Gaddafi acceded to the Koreans’ request is unclear, but if he did, his advice was wisely ignored. In the North Korean view, Gaddafi fell prey to a “bait and switch.” The lesson the DPRK drew from Libya was that the only guarantee of peace on the Korean peninsula is a powerful military, backed by nuclear weapons. [26]

This is neither an irrational view, nor one the West, for all its pieties about nuclear non-proliferation (for others), rejects for itself. Britain, for example, justifies its own nuclear weapons program with reference to the need “to deter and prevent nuclear blackmail and acts of aggression against our vital interests that cannot be countered by other means.” [27] If the UK requires nuclear weapons to deter and prevent nuclear blackmail and acts of aggression, then surely the North Koreans—long on the receiving end of these minatory pressures—do as well. Indeed, the case can be made that the North Koreans have a greater need for nuclear arms than the British do, for whom nuclear blackmail and acts of aggression are only hypotheticals.

General Kevin P. Chilton, head of the US Strategic Command from 2007 to 2011, told Washington Post columnist Walter Pincus in 2010 that, “Throughout the 65-year history of nuclear weapons, no nuclear power has been conquered or even put at risk of conquest.” [28] On the other hand, countries that comply with demands to abandon their WMDs soon find themselves conquered, by countries with nuclear weapons aplenty and no intention of giving them up. Pincus used Chilton’s words to advocate a pre-emptive strike on North Korea to prevent the country from developing a large enough nuclear arsenal to make itself invulnerable to conquest. That no nuclear power has been conquered or put at risk of conquest is “a thought others in government ought to ponder as they watch Iran and North Korea seek to develop nuclear capability,” Pincus wrote. [29]

Conclusion

Nuclear arms have political utility. For countries with formidable nuclear arsenals and the means of delivering warheads, nuclear weapons can be used to extort political concessions from non-nuclear-armed states through terror and intimidation. No country exploits the political utility of nuclear weapons as vigorously as the United States does. In pursuing its foreign policy goals, Washington threatened other countries with nuclear attack on 25 separate occasions between 1970 and 2010, and 14 occasions between 1990 and 2010. On six of these occasions, the United States threatened the DPRK. [30] There have been more US threats against North Korea since. (The United States’ record of issuing threats of nuclear attack against other countries over this period is: Iraq, 7; China, 4; the USSR, 4; Libya, 2; Iran, 1; Syria, 1. Significantly, all these countries, like the DPRK, were under communist or economically nationalist governance when the threats were made.)

Nuclear weapons also have political utility for countries menaced by nuclear and other military threats. They raise the stakes for countries seeking to use their militaries for conquest, and therefore reduce the chances of military intervention. There is little doubt that the US military intervention in Iraq and NATO intervention in Libya would not have been carried out had the targets not disarmed and cleared the way for outside forces to intervene with impunity.

A North Korean nuclear arsenal does not increase the chances of war—it reduces the likelihood that the United States and its South Korean marionette will attempt to bring down the communist government in Pyongyang by force. This is to be welcomed by anyone who opposes imperialist military interventions; supports the right of a people to organize its affairs free from foreign domination; and has an interest in the survival of one of the few top-to-bottom, actually-existing, alternatives to the global capitalist system of oppression, exploitation, and foreign domination.

1. Ralph Miliband, The State in Capitalist Society, Merlin Press, 2009, p. 62.

2. “Absent from the Korea Talks: Bush’s Hard-Liner,” The New York Times, September 2, 2003.

3. Charles J. Hanley and Randy Hershaft, “U.S. often weighed N. Korea nuke option”, The Associated Press, October 11, 2010.

4. Hanley and Hershaft.

5. Hanley and Hershaft.

6. Hanley and Hershaft.

7. Hanley and Hershaft.

8. Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History, W.W. Norton & Company, 2005. p. 488-489.

9. William E. Berry Jr., “North Korea’s nuclear program: The Clinton administration’s response,” INSS Occasional Paper 3, March 1995.

10. Bruce Cumings, “Latest North Korean provocations stem from missed US opportunities for demilitarization,” Democracy Now!, May 29, 2009.

11. Lou Dobbs Tonight, October 18, 2006.

12. Hanley and Hershaft.

13. Choe Sang-hun, “New leader in South criticizes North Korea,” The New York Times, February 13, 2013.

14. “Foreign ministry issues memorandum on N-issue,” Korean Central News Agency, April 21, 2010.

15. Korean Central News Agency, February 13, 2013.

16. U.S. News & World Report, June 26, 2008; The New York Times, July 6, 2008.

17. Neil MacFarquhar and Jane Perlez, “China looms over response to nuclear test by North Korea,” The New York Times, February 12, 2013.

18. Dianne E. Rennack, “North Korea: Economic sanctions”, Congressional Research Service, October 17, 2006. http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/crs/rl31696.pdf

19. Mark Landler, “Envoy to coordinate North Korea sanctions”, The New York Times, June 27, 2009.

20. The New York Times, September 13, 2006.

21. According to Rennack, the following US sanctions have been imposed on North Korea for reasons listed as either “communism”, “non-market economy” or “communism and market disruption”: prohibition on foreign aid; prohibition on Export-Import Bank funding; limits on the exports or goods and services; denial of favorable trade terms.

22. The Washington Post, June 24, 2005.

23. “U.S. Tells Iran, Syria, N. Korea ‘Learn from Iraq,” Reuters, April 9, 2003.

24. Ethan Bronner, “Israel sense bluffing in Iran’s threats of retaliation”, The New York Times, January 26, 2012.

25. Chosun Ilbo, February 14, 2005.

26. Mark McDonald, “North Korea suggests Libya should have kept nuclear program”, The New York Times, March 24, 2011.

A February 21, 2013 comment by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency (“Nuclear test part of DPRK’s substantial countermeasures to defend its sovereignty”) noted that,

“The tragic consequences in those countries which abandoned halfway their nuclear programs, yielding to the high-handed practices and pressure of the U.S. in recent years, clearly prove that the DPRK was very far-sighted and just when it made the option. They also teach the truth that the U.S. nuclear blackmail should be countered with substantial countermeasures, not with compromise or retreat.”

An article in the February 22, 2013 issue of Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of North Korea’s ruling Workers Party (“Gone are the days of US nuclear blackmail”) observed that “Had it not been the nuclear deterrence of our own, the U.S. would have already launched a war on the peninsula as it had done in Iraq and Libya and plunged it into a sorry plight as the Balkan at the end of last century and Afghanistan early in this century.”

27. http://www.mod.uk/NR/rdonlyres/AC00DD79-76D6-4FE3-91A1-6A56B03C092F/0/DefenceWhitePaper2006_Cm6994.pdf

28. Quoted in Walter Pincus, “As missions are added, Stratcom commander keeps focus on deterrence,” The Washington Post, March 30, 2010.

29. Pincus.

30. Samuel Black, “The changing political utility of nuclear weapons: Nuclear threats from 1970 to 2010,” The Stimson Center, August 2010, http://www.stimson.org/images/uploads/research-pdfs/Nuclear_Final.pdf

A Tale of Two Rocket Launches

April 22, 2012 § 3 Comments

North Korea launched a rocket on April 13 to loft a satellite into space–part of the country’s civilian space program. The rocket, based on ballistic missile technology, broke up only minutes after launch. Western state officials and media rebuked Pyongyang for directing part of its strained budget to a rocket launch when it depends on outside food aid. Along with other countries, India “voiced deep concern.” [1]

Six days later, India launched Agni-V, a ballistic missile capable of delivering a 1.5 ton nuclear warhead to any point in China. India–which the American Federation of Scientists estimates has an arsenal of 80 to 100 nuclear weapons—boasted that the launch represented “another milestone” in its “quest to add to the credibility” of its “security and preparedness.” [2]

Both launches violated UN Security Council resolutions. Security Council Resolution 1172 (1998) calls upon India “to cease development of ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” [3] Security Council Resolutions 1718 (2006) [4] and 1874 (2009) [5] direct North Korea to do the same.

On April 16, North Korea was censured by the Security Council for violating resolutions 1718 and 1874. [6] India has not been censured for violating resolution 1172. Indeed, that a Security Council resolution exists which prohibits India’s ballistic missile program has been almost completely ignored.

What’s more, while North Korea was savagely attacked in the Western media for its satellite launch, the same media treated India’s long-range ballistic missile test with either indifference or approval. India’s massive poverty was not juxtaposed against its decision to allocate resources to building nuclear warheads and the missiles to carry them.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons

The United States was the first country to introduce nuclear weapons to the Korean peninsula, in the form of tactical battlefield weapons. Later, when the USSR dissolved, Lee Butler, the head of the US Strategic Command, announced that the United States would retarget some of its strategic ballistic nuclear missiles from the former Soviet Union to North Korea. One month later, Pyongyang withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. [7]

A cardinal principle of nuclear nonproliferation is that countries with nuclear weapons should not target countries without them. Doing so provides the targeted country with a reason to develop its own nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

After North Korea’s first underground nuclear test, on October 9, 2006, the UN Security Council met to impose sanctions. At the meeting, North Korean ambassador Pak Gil Yon explained that North Korea initiated its nuclear weapons program because it felt compelled to protect itself from the danger of war from the United States.

This was hardly paranoid. Washington’s desire to see the collapse of North Korea is undoubted. An ideological competitor vis-à-vis the United States whose zeal for economic and political independence is second to none, North Korea remains one of the few remaining challenges to the US-led neo-liberal world economic order. In an attempt to crush the fiercely independent state, Washington has made North Korea the most heavily sanctioned country on earth—and hasn’t relieved the pressure in six decades.

This, on top of tactical and strategic nuclear weapons threats, nearly 30,000 US troops on the Korean peninsula, the incessant visits of nuclear weapons-equipped US warships and warplanes to South Korean ports and airbases, and the Pentagon’s de facto control of the South Korean military in peacetime and de jure control in wartime, constitutes a significant existential threat to North Korea.

In 2003, the Bush administration ratcheted up the threat by naming North Korea as part of an “axis of evil.” It then invaded the first country on its list, Iraq, and warned the other two to “draw the appropriate lesson.” [8] In light of this, Pak’s explanation that North Korea conducted the nuclear test to “bolster its self-defense” and that it “wouldn’t need nuclear weapons if the US dropped its hostile policies” rings true. [9]

Since then, the United States has delivered an additional reason for Pyongyang to draw the appropriate lesson—though not the one it hoped. Nato’s intervention in Libya on behalf of al-Qaeda-connected rebels likely wouldn’t have happened had the country’s leader, Muammar Gaddafi, not given up his chemical and nuclear weapons programs in exchange for reversal of sanctions and Western investment.

Hypocrisy

Washington says that it believes China sold North Korea the chassis for a missile-transport vehicle displayed in a North Korean military parade shortly after the failed satellite launch and would use “the episode to tighten pressure to better enforce United Nations sanctions forbidding the sale of weapons or technology to North Korea that would aid its ballistic missile and technology program.” [10]

Security Council resolution 1718 directs member states not to supply North Korea with battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, missiles or missile systems. A truck chassis hardly fits the list, and is clearly not a nuclear weapon or technology.

But why does a resolution—which concerns a nuclear test—ban sales to North Korea of conventional military equipment? Resolution 1172, dealing with India’s and Pakistan’s nuclear tests, imposed no similar sanctions on these countries. The likely explanation is that the resolution aims to deny Pyongyang an effective means of self-defense, both nuclear and conventional. In other words, the Security Council used North Korea’s efforts to tighten its security as a pretext to block its access to the equipment, technology and materials it needs for self-defense. By contrast, since the United States dropped its sanctions on India last decade, the latter has been permitted to add to the credibility of its security and preparedness without impediment.

Moreover, why was North Korea sanctioned at all? Having withdrawn from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty under the threat posed by US strategic missiles, Pyongyang was bound by no international covenant prohibiting it from developing nuclear weapons. The Security Council justified the sanctions on the grounds that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is a threat to international peace and security. Invoking authority to prevent possible outbreaks of war between nations, however, has become a convenient way for the Security Council to legitimize arbitrary actions. It simply describes some incident as a threat to peace between nations—whether it is or not–and thereby hands itself authority to act.

Have North Korea’s nuclear tests truly represented a threat to international peace and security, or only a threat to the ability of certain permanent Security Council members to target North Korea with nuclear weapons free from the risk of nuclear retaliation? The United States, Britain and other countries that have nuclear weapons emphasize the deterrent nature of their nuclear arsenals. Rather than threatening international peace and security, these countries maintain that their WMDs preserve it. Why, then, should WMDs in the hands of countries threatened with nuclear annihilation constitute threats, while in the hands of the countries that pose the threat, nuclear weapons are considered a buttress to international peace and security? It seems more likely that peace and security between nations would be strengthened were the United States to cease targeting North Korea with nuclear weapons or were it deterred by Pyongyang’s possible nuclear retaliation.

Obviously (though not so obviously to Washington) a truck chassis is not a nuclear weapon or technology, but it is not unknown for Washington to broaden the definition of banned items to turn ostensibly narrow sanctions into broad-based ones. [11] UN Security Resolutions 1718 and 1874 do the same. While they appear to be limited to prohibiting North Korea from developing ballistic missile technology for military use, they have been interpreted by the Security Council to prohibit civilian use, as well. Hence, in censuring Pyongyang for its satellite launch, the president of the Security Council noted that any rocket launch that uses ballistic missile technology, even for civilian use, is a violation of the UN Security Council resolutions. [12] This means that as far as the Security Council is concerned, North Korea cannot have a civilian space program.

The United States’ criticism of China for selling North Korea a truck chassis, on grounds that the sale is a violation of a Security Council resolution, is not only baseless, it’s hypocritical. Washington has agreed to sell India spent nuclear fuel and nuclear technology, not only to “bring tens of billions in business to the United States” but to also cement “a new partnership between the two nations to counter China’s rise.” [13] Yet Security Council resolution 1172 directs “all States to prevent the export of equipment, materials or technology that could in any way assist programs in India or Pakistan for nuclear weapons.” Hence, while the United States accuses China of violating a Security Council resolution by selling the North Koreans truck parts, Washington itself has cleared the way to export equipment, material and technology to India to assist its nuclear program in violation of a Security Council resolution. Canada, too, which is selling uranium to India, is violating the same Security Council resolution. [14]

There are, then, four sets of double-standards that mark the West’s reaction to North Korea’s satellite launch.

• North Korea was censured by the Security Council for launching a satellite as part of a civilian space program, but India escaped censure for launching a ballistic missile whose purpose would be to destroy Chinese cities. Both launches violated Security Council resolutions, but the Security Council and Western media ignore the resolution prohibiting India’s ballistic missile program.

• North Korea’s attempt to loft a satellite into space was reviled by Western media and presented as a threat, while India’s launch of a long-range missile capable of carrying a payload to wipe Chinese cities off the map merited few critical remarks.

• North Korea was rebuked for what was widely described as an extravagant expenditure on a rocket launch at a time Pyongyang is dependent on outside help to feed its people [15], while India’s widespread and profound poverty hardly seemed a consideration to a Western media that could find little critical to say about India’s expensive nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.

• China has been criticized by the United States for selling truck parts to North Korea, presumably in violation of a Security Council resolution prohibiting sales of conventional military equipment to Pyongyang, while it has approved the sale of spent nuclear fuel and nuclear technology to India in violation of Security Council Resolution 1172.

India’s efforts to add to the credibility of its security and preparedness are accepted as legitimate by Western governments and media because they’re directed at China. Pyongyang’s efforts to add to the credibility of its security and preparedness are reviled and censured because they’re aimed at bolstering North Korea’s defense against hegemonic threats. India’s actions—insofar as they contribute to the United States’ new military strategic focus of containing the challenge of China’s rise—is in Wall Street’s interests. North Korea’s actions—in challenging the United States’ ability to forcibly integrate the country into the US-led neo-liberal world economic order—is against Wall Street’s interests. Accordingly, one rocket launch is condoned, the other condemned.

1. “India’s role in Asia-Pacific enormously important: US”, The Economic Times, April 17, 2012.
2. Simon Denyer, “India tests missile capable of reaching Beijing”, The Washington Post, April 19, 2012.
3. http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N98/158/60/PDF/N9815860.pdf?OpenElement
4. http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N06/572/07/PDF/N0657207.pdf?OpenElement
5. http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N09/368/49/PDF/N0936849.pdf?OpenElement
6. http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N12/295/91/PDF/N1229591.pdf?OpenElement
7. Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History, W.W. Norton & Company, 2005. 488-489.
8. The warning was issued by US Undersecretary of State John Bolton. The other country on the list was Iran, now subjected to economic warfare, assassinations, sabotage, incursions by US reconnaissance drones, attacks by proxy terrorist armies, destabilization and threats of military intervention by the United States, its invariable cobelligerent Britain, and Israel.
9. http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N06/572/07/PDF/N0657207.pdf?OpenElement
10. Mark Landler, “Suspected sale by China stirs concern at White House”, The New York Times, April 20, 2012.
11. Similarly, Nato bombing campaigns notoriously broaden the definition of legitimate military targets to cover civilian infrastructure, including roads, bridges, TV and radio broadcasting facilities, factories and even farms.
12. The combined implication of the resolutions is that:

• North Korea cannot lawfully defend itself against the threat of nuclear attack;
• It cannot lawfully be sold conventional military equipment for self-defense;
• It cannot lawfully have a civilian space program.
13. Simon Denyer and Pama Lakshmi, “U.S.-India nuclear deal drifts dangerously”, The Washington Post, July 15, 2011.
14. Bill Curry, “Canada signs nuclear deal with India”, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), June 27, 2010.
15. Sanctions contribute heavily to North Korea’s food security problems.

Kim Jong-il’s Death is a Danger for North Korea, not its Neighbors

December 20, 2011 § 4 Comments

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 [1] — 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 [2]. 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. [3] 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. [4]

#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. [5]

#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.” [6]

#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 [7]. 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 [8]–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. [9] 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. [10] 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”. [11] 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 [12]) 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. [13])

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/

Kindergarten Threats

December 12, 2011 § 5 Comments

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. [1] 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. [2]

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.” [3] In other words, because Israel threatens to pre-empt Iran, Iran must be pre-empted, otherwise it might pre-empt Israel’s pre-emption.

Creating Fictions

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.” [4] 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.” [5]

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,” [6] with few people batting an eye. At $700 billion per year [7], US military spending is greater than that of the next 19 biggest spending countries combined, [8] 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.

Getting Gingrich

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 [9], 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.” [10] Iran, as the US Congress of Library’s country study documents [11], 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.

Marionettes

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 [12]. The latter has received $6 million in US government funding to organize opposition to the Assad government, according to a WikiLeaks cable [13]. 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” [14] 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”, [15] 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.
5. Ibid.
6. Thom Shanker and Elisabeth Bumiller, “Weighing Pentagon cuts, Panetta faces deep pressures”, The New York Times, November 6, 2011.
7. Ibid.
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

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