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Why North Korea Needs Nuclear Weapons

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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

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February 16, 2013 at 11:23 pm

A Tale of Two Rocket Launches

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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.

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April 22, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Washington comes clean on Iran’s (nonexistent) nuclear weapons program

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By Stephen Gowans

Remind me why sanctions have been imposed on Iran.

Is it because the country is developing nuclear weapons?

If so, US and Israeli officials don’t believe it.

According to the August 19th edition of The New York Times (“U.S. assures Israel that Iran threat is not imminent”), “American and Israeli officials believe breakout” – that is, a transition from enriching uranium for civilian use to developing a workable nuclear weapon – “is unlikely anytime soon.”

Iran, it seems, is having difficulty enriching uranium. That could be because “the United States, Israel and Europe have for years engaged in covert attempts to disrupt the enrichment process by sabotaging (Iran’s) centrifuges. “

Whatever the case, Iran has only “a limited supply of nuclear material, currently enough for two weapons.” And “it would take roughly a year — and perhaps longer — for Iran to complete what one senior official called a ‘dash’ for a nuclear weapon.”

Were Iran to make a dash for a nuclear weapon, would Washington know about it? Yes. “American officials said the United States believed international inspectors would detect an Iranian move toward breakout within weeks, leaving a considerable amount of time for the United States and Israel to consider military strikes.”

Either that or Iran would kick “out international … inspectors, eliminating any ambiguity about Iran’s nuclear plans.”

And “even if Iran were to choose this path, American officials said it would probably take Iran some time to reconfigure its nuclear facilities to produce weapons-grade uranium and ramp up work on designing a nuclear warhead.”

Okay, but let me get this straight.

If Iran ever decides to develop nuclear weapons — that is ever decides to — there will be no ambiguity; its course of action will be clear within weeks.

Moreover, it will take Iran at least a year to develop a workable weapon, allowing other countries plenty of time to intervene. And breakout “is unlikely anytime soon”, if it ever happens at all.

But most importantly, Iran is not currently working on a nuclear weapon.

So, why is Iran being sanctioned?

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August 22, 2010 at 10:57 pm

The Nuclear Posture Review

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Written by what's left

April 15, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Nuclear Posture Review 2010

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Inducing potential victims to surrender their right to self-defense under threat of nuclear annihilation

By Stephen Gowans

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Washington named Iraq, Iran and north Korea as forming an axis of evil. Soon after, the first of these countries was invaded by US and British forces on entirely spurious grounds. The invading forces met little resistance, for Iraq had effectively disarmed under a regime of international sanctions championed by Washington and London that led to the deaths of more than one million over its decade-plus-long existence. The pretext for the aggression was that Iraq retained weapons of mass destruction. It had none.

Around the same time, Washington tore up an accord with north Korea that committed the latter to shuttering its plutonium reactor at Yongbyon and forswearing the pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the former to building light water reactors and delivering fuel oil while the reactors were being built. Washington tarried on the reactor construction, convinced the Juche regime would collapse before the United States had to make good on its commitment. As the date for completion of the reactors drew near, and with only the foundations of the reactors having been built, Washington declared that north Korea had admitted to operating a secret uranium enrichment program. Pyongyang denied the charge. One Bush administration official warned the north Koreans to draw the appropriate lesson from the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. They did. North Korea fired up its Yongbyon reactor and embarked upon development of a nuclear deterrent.

US president Barack Obama has stayed true to form, obscuring his pursuit of his predecessors’ policies beneath honeyed phrases that create the impression of change, where no change of substance exists.

Whether Iran drew the same lesson is unclear. The National Intelligence Estimate, the consensus of the US intelligence community, is that Iran pursued a nuclear weapons program until 2003, the year of the US-British invasion of Iraq, but has since abandoned it. Iran has worked to develop its own capability to generate enriched uranium for use in civilian nuclear power plants, while at the same time working on long range missiles. Irrespective of its nuclear weapons intentions, which Tehran says it doesn’t have, both activities converge on providing the country with the capability of developing nuclear warheads and the means of delivering them. While Tehran is not in the position to present a nuclear deterrent today, it may in the not too distant future be able to rapidly develop one to deter a US or Israeli attack.

There are two conclusions to be drawn from the above and a third that is axiomatic.

1. The United States and Britain have long records of highly provocative behavior based on policies of military aggression, the most conspicuous recent example of which is the invasion of Iraq. Naming countries as forming an axis of evil is a virtual declaration of war. Invading one of them, without provocation and on entirely contrived grounds, is a repugnant act and an international crime of the highest order. North Korea and Iran, the two remaining countries of the US-designated axis, have reasonable cause to fear military aggression by the United States or its proxies.

2. If the case of Iraq is definitive, US policy is to pressure its targets to surrender their means of self-defense to facilitate US pursuit of a subsequent war of aggression.

3. Countries that possess a nuclear weapons capability reduce the Pentagon’s room for manoeuvre and therefore reduce the probability that they will become the object of US military aggression.

From these three points may be drawn a fourth: The United States, as the world’s major agent of military aggression, is the principal cause of nuclear proliferation.

If read superficially, Washington’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) would lead you to believe that US policy makers have finally figured out that the cardinal rule of nonproliferation is to abjure military aggression. Countries that aren’t threatened by nuclear powers have no need to develop nuclear weapons for self-defense. However, a closer reading of the review shows that nothing has changed. US president Barack Obama has stayed true to form, obscuring his pursuit of his predecessors’ policies beneath honeyed phrases that create the impression of change, where no change of substance exists.

The NPR declares “that the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states”, even if they attack the United States, its vital interest or allies and partners with chemical or biological weapons. This differs, but only on the surface, from the policy of preceding administrations which refused to renounce the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. There are a number of reasons why the difference is apparent only.

While nuclear weapons are widely regarded as being unparalleled in their destructive power (and they are), the United States is able to deliver overwhelming destructive force through its conventional military capabilities. A promise not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states is not the same as an assurance not to use or threaten to use devastating military force. Six decades ago it was possible to obliterate a city through conventional means, as the United States and Britain demonstrated in the firebombing of Dresden. If a city could be destroyed by conventional means more than half a century ago, imagine what the Pentagon could do today through conventional forces alone. Indeed, the NPR makes clear that the United States is prepared to shrink its nuclear arsenal partly because “the growth of unrivalled U.S. conventional military capabilities” allows Washington to fulfill its geostrategic goals “with significantly lower nuclear force levels and with reduced reliance on nuclear weapons.”

The NPR also provides a number of escape hatches that allow Washington to continue to dangle a nuclear sword of Damocles over the heads of the two remaining axis of evil countries. One is that nuclear weapons can be used, or their used threatened, against a country that is not “party to the NPT” (the nuclear non-proliferation treaty) even if the country doesn’t yet have nuclear weapons, or it is unclear whether it does. This is the north Korea escape clause. It allows Washington to continue to threaten north Korea (which may or may not have a working crude nuclear weapon) with nuclear obliteration, just as it has done since the early 1990s when the US Strategic Command announced it was re-targeting some of its strategic nuclear missiles on the DPRK (the reason why north Korea withdrew from the NPT.)

Another escape hatch allows Washington to reach for the nuclear trigger whenever it deems a country to have fallen short of “compliance with [its] nuclear non-proliferation obligations,” even if the country doesn’t have nuclear weapons and is a party to the NPT. This is the Iran escape hatch, intended to allow Washington to maintain the threat of nuclear annihilation vis-à-vis Iran or any other country Washington unilaterally declares to be noncompliant with the treaty’s obligations. Washington has a history of fabricating casus belli. 10-100,000 Kosovo Albanian dead and Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, neither of which were ever found, represent recent examples of the United States waging war on entirely fictitious grounds. Washington could readily produce “sexed up” intelligence to declare Iran or any other NPT signatory to be in breach of its treaty obligations, thereby justifying the use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state.

As for the United States’ commitment not to reach for its nuclear arsenal in response to a chemical or biological attack on itself, its vital interests (a term that defies geography and democracy, for how is it that the United States’ vital interests extend to other people’s countries?) its allies and its partners, this too is verbal legerdemain. As a careful reading of the NPR makes clear, the truth of the matter is that the United States will attack any country with nuclear weapons if such an attack is deemed necessary by Washington to protect its interests, which is to say, the interests of the corporations, banks and investors whose senior officials and representatives dominate policy formulation in Washington and provide the major funding, and post-political jobs, to the country’s politicians. According to the NPR, “the United States reserves the right to make any adjustment in [its commitment] that may be warranted…” Translation: We won’t attack non-nuclear weapons states with nuclear weapons unless we decide it’s in our interests to do so.

Washington’s attachment of escape clauses and reservations to its commitment calls to mind Rajani Palme Dutt’s description of how the great powers made a mockery of the Kellog Pact, an agreement to renounce recourse to war as an instrument of foreign policy.

“The United States government exempted from its operation any action for the maintenance of the Monroe Doctrine. The French Government insisted that the pact must not be understood to refer to wars of self-defense or in fulfillment of treaty obligations. The British Government made the most sweeping reservation of all…

“Not content with the ‘defense’ of the Empire, covering a quarter of the world, Britain…reserved for itself full ‘freedom of action’ in any unspecified ‘regions of the world,’ where it might at any time claim ‘a special and vital interest.’ This sweeping claim of British imperialism left the Monroe Doctrine behind as a parochial affair in comparison. Needless to say, this claim was thereafter taken as equally applicable to themselves by the other Powers: thus the Italian representative at Geneva specifically referred to it as justifying Italy’s claim that its war on Abyssinia was no breach of the Kellog Pact.

“What, then, remained of the Kellog Pact even on the day that it was signed? Wars of ‘defense’ were clearly understood to be excluded from its operation. Wars for the maintenance of colonial possession or in execution of treaties were equally understood to be excluded. So were wars on behalf of ‘special and vital interests’ in any ‘regions of the world.’ With these small exceptions the imperialist signatories ‘renounced’ war.” (R. Palme Dutt, World Politics: 1918-1936, Random House, New York, pp. 151-152.)

What, then, remains of the Obama administration’s assurance, even on the day the NPR was published, that Washington won’t attack non-nuclear states with nuclear weapons? Countries that may or may not have nuclear weapons are excluded. Countries that don’t have nuclear arms and are party to the NPT, but which may develop a nuclear arms capability, and importantly, are independent of the United States, are excluded. Countries which, through their pursuit of independent economic development policies, threaten the special and vital interests of the United States in any region of the world, are excluded. With these small exceptions, Washington has renounced the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states.

US foreign policy carries on in its characteristic imperialist and war-like manner, despite the elevation of a black Democrat, and now Nobel Peace Prize winner, to the highest elected office of the land.

The NPR is said to be based on “the President’s agenda for reducing nuclear dangers and pursuing the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.” But it’s clear from the very beginning of the review that US policy stands in the way of the president’s ostensible aim. “As long as nuclear weapons exist,” the review begins, “the United States will maintain a safe, secure, and effective arsenal…to deter potential adversaries…” The implication is that the country to first develop nuclear weapons, and the only country to have ever used them, intends to be the last country to have them, arrogating onto itself the monopoly right to maintain a nuclear arsenal to deter potential adversaries. Only if every other country surrenders their rights to deter potential adversaries, and yields this right exclusively to the United States, can the implications of the president’s aim be realized. But given the United States’ sanguinary history of busting down the doors of weak countries to lay claim to their land, labor, resources and markets on behalf of its economic elite, only the insane, opportunistic, unprincipled, cowardly or co-opted would yield their right to self-defense to such a predatory country. The president’s agenda for reducing nuclear dangers and pursuing the goal of a world without nuclear weapons is more aptly described as an agenda for inducing potential victims to surrender their right of self-defense, and under the threat of nuclear annihilation. In other words, US foreign policy carries on in its characteristic imperialist and war-like manner, despite the elevation of a black Democrat, and now Nobel Peace Prize winner, to the highest elected office of the land.

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April 10, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Obama and New York Times Working to Give Solidity to Groundless Iran Nuclear Weapons Charge

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By Stephen Gowans

I have no idea whether Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program, and neither does the Obama administration, but that hasn’t stopped Obama’s advisers from claiming that Iran remains determined to develop nuclear weapons. Nor has it stopped The New York Times from working with the Obama administration to create the impression that Iran has a covert nuclear arms program, despite the country’s insistence it hasn’t, and absent any compelling evidence it has.

In a January 3 article (“U.S. sees an opportunity to press Iran on nuclear fuel”) New York Times’ reporters Steven Erlanger and William Broad cite the views of U.S. and other Western officials that dispute Tehran’s claim that Iran’s nuclear program is for civilian use only. Erlanger and Broad note that:

o Obama’s strategists believe that “Iran’s top political and military leaders [remain] determined to develop nuclear weapons.”
o “Iran’s insistence that its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only is roundly rejected by Western officials and, in internal reports, by international nuclear inspectors.”
o “After reviewing new documents that have leaked out of Iran and debriefing defectors lured to the West, Mr. Obama’s advisers say they believe the work on weapons design is continuing on a smaller scale — the same assessment reached by Britain, France, Germany and Israel.”
o “In early September, the American ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Glyn Davies, warned that Iran had ‘possible breakout capacity.’”
o “Mr. Obama’s top advisers say they no longer believe the key finding of a much disputed National Intelligence Estimate about Iran, published a year before President George W. Bush left office, which said that Iranian scientists ended all work on designing a nuclear warhead in late 2003.”

In these five paragraphs Erlanger and Broad manage to reveal nothing that isn’t already known: that Iran says it isn’t seeking nuclear weapons and that U.S and Israeli politicians say it is. But they’ve written the article in a way that creates the impression that the existence of a nuclear weapons program in Iran is almost beyond dispute.

At no point do The New York Times’ reporters cite contradictory evidence, except to acknowledge that Iran denies it seeks nuclear weapons. However, they immediately counter Iran’s denial, noting that it is rejected by Western officials.

It is, however, untrue that Iran’s denials are uniformly rejected. The United Nations nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, says there is no solid evidence that Iran has ever had a nuclear arms program. Erlanger and Broad themselves reported this on October 4, 2009. “In September, the IAEA issued a ‘statement cautioning it ‘has no concrete proof’ that Iran ever sought to make nuclear arms, much less to perfect a warhead.’” [1] Added Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief nuclear watchdog at the time: “We have not seen concrete evidence that Tehran has an ongoing nuclear weapons program… But somehow, many people are talking about how Iran’s nuclear program is the greatest threat to the world. In many ways, I think the threat has been hyped.” [2]

While the U.S. intelligence community hasn’t gone so far as to say there is no concrete proof that Tehran ever had a nuclear weapons program, in its 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) it did say that Iran hasn’t had a nuclear weapons program since 2003.

In a September 10, 2009 article, Erlanger reported that “new intelligence reports delivered to the White House say that [Iran] has deliberately stopped short of the critical last steps to make a bomb,” and “The new intelligence information collected by the Obama administration finds no convincing evidence that the design work has resumed.” [3]

It could be that new evidence compiled since September has led the Obama administration to adopt a revised view. Certainly, Obama’s advisers say they no longer believe the NIE, but they’ve been saying that since February. Back then, they acknowledged that “no new evidence (had) surfaced to undercut the findings of the (NIE)” but that they didn’t believe it, all the same. [4]

Significantly, Erlanger and Broad report that, “The administration’s (current) review of Iran’s program … (does) not amount to a new formal intelligence assessment.” In other words, the new intelligence, information from allies, and analyses that have led Obama’s advisers to conclude that Iran remains determined to develop nuclear weapons, isn’t of sufficient weight or credibility to revise the NIE. Just as was true in February.

Sanger and Broad reported as recently as December 16 that the “Institute for Science and International Security, a group in Washington that tracks nuclear proliferation” urged “caution and further assessment” of some of the evidence Obama advisers say has led them to reject the NIE, because “we have seen no evidence of an Iranian decision to build” nuclear weapons. [5]

The Obama administration’s recent actions smack of the former Bush administration’s practice of glomming on to any evidence, no matter how dubious, to make the case that Iraq had banned weapons. Bush may have been replaced by Obama, but the practice of sexing up intelligence to fabricate a case for war, or in this case, more sanctions in the short term — and of The New York Times playing a role in uncritically circulating pretexts for U.S. aggression — continue.

It would appear that while there is no credible evidence to revise the NIE, it is convenient for the Obama administration to claim that Iran is bent on acquiring nuclear arms. So it simply says it has new evidence that Iran is secretly working on building nuclear weapons. The New York Times, frequently complicit in U.S. foreign policy deceptions, plays along.

One other matter: Would an Iran with a nuclear weapons capability be a threat that warrants a pre-emptive strike?

Any nuclear arms capability Iran developed would be rudimentary and pose what U.S. foreign policy critic Edward Herman has called the threat of self-defense. Nuclear weapons would offer Iran a way of making the United States and Israel, both with vastly larger arsenals than Iran could ever develop in decades, and track records of attacking countries that threaten to disturb the balance of power in the Middle East (i.e., that threaten to challenge U.S. domination of the region), to think twice about overt aggression. A few nuclear weapons wouldn’t turn Iran into the new bully on the block, capable of throwing its weight around, and getting its way. Israel, with its estimated 200 nuclear warheads, is the region’s biggest bully, and, backed by the bully extraordinaire, the United States, will continue to be for some time. Iran, even a nuclear-armed one, is a military pipsqueak, by comparison.

As Uzi Rubin, a private defense consultant who ran Israel’s missile shield program in the 1990s, reminds us: Iran “is radical, but radical does not mean irrational … They want to change the world, not commit suicide.” [6] The United States, on the other hand, wants to rule the world, and will resort to whatever baseless charges are necessary to justify its actions.

1. “Report says Iran has data to make a nuclear bomb,” The New York Times, October 4, 2009.
2. http://www.boston.com/news/world/europe/articles/2009/09/02/un_nuclear_watchdog_says_iran_threat_hyped/
3. “US says Iran could expedite nuclear bomb,” The New York Times, September 10, 2009.
4. Greg Miller, “US now sees Iran as pursuing nuclear bombs,” Los Angeles Times, February 12, 2009.
5. “Nuclear memo in Persian puzzles spy agencies,” The New York Times, December 16, 2009.
6. Howard Schneider, “Israel finds strength in its missile defenses,” The Washington Post, September 19, 2009.

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January 5, 2010 at 1:04 am

Iran’s acknowledged nuclear fuel plant and Israel’s secret nuclear weapons plant

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By Stephen Gowans

Western press accounts of the existence of an unfinished Iranian nuclear fuel plant near Qum have subtly changed, drawing closer to a view more compatible with Washington’s aim of marshalling support for stepped up sanctions against Iran.

While early press reports acknowledged that Iran had on Monday, September 22 notified the International Atomic Energy Agency of the plant’s existence [1] (that is, days before the Obama administration drew attention to it) stories in major dailies now omit any mention of the Iranian notification. Instead, the reporting on the issue now creates the impression that the existence of the facility was unknown outside of Iran until US officials revealed it on Friday, September 26. For example, New York Times reporters David E. Sanger and William J. Broad write of “the revelation Friday of the secret facility at a military base near the holy city of Qum.” [2] The facility could hardly be secret, since it existence had been revealed by Iran itself five days earlier.

U.S. media have also omitted any mention of a secret nuclear weapons plant in another West Asian country, Israel.

Israel’s secret nuclear weapons plant, long in existence, is located in the Negev desert near Dimona. [3] I.A.E.A inspectors have never visited it and never will unless Israel becomes a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, a treaty Iran has voluntarily submitted to. (While the United States is a nominal signatory, it acts as if it’s not bound by the treaty’s provisions, and therefore is effectively no more a member than Israel is.)

Neither are Israel and the United States members of the International Criminal Court (sharing non-membership with Russia and China.) I.C.C. non-membership, however, doesn’t mean the court can’t pursue prosecutions in connection with non-member states. It can, if ordered to by the U.N. Security Council (i.e., by the United States, Russia and China, the same countries that won’t join the court themselves.) The Security Council ordered the I.C.C. to investigate crimes committed in connection with fighting in Darfur. That’s why the president of Sudan is wanted by the I.C.C., even though Sudan isn’t a member of the court. Washington’s de jure and de facto power to veto the Security Council (the overwhelming strength of the U.S. military pretty much allows the United States to operate by its own rules) are ultimately the reasons why the former president of the United States, George W. Bush, isn’t wanted by the court and not because Bush is free of the taint of massive war crimes. It only matters that you commit crimes if you aren’t the United States or don’t have its backing. And even then not having Washington’s backing is frequently all that matters. After all, Iraq was attacked, invaded, and occupied even though it wasn’t concealing the banned weapons Washington said it was failing to come clean on.

When the U.N. Human Rights Commission’s fact-finding mission on war crimes committed in Gaza from December 2008 to January 2009 said Israel should carry out serious, independent investigations, and if it didn’t, the Security Council should refer the matter to the I.C.C., [4] Israel immediately rejected the demand. Not widely reported was that the United States said there was no chance it would allow the Security Council to refer the matter to the I.C.C., arguing the U.N. report was “unbalanced.” U.S. officials noted that 85 percent of the commission’s report detailed Israeli war crimes, and only 15 percent those committed by Hamas. [5] But the “imbalance” reflected the imbalance in the struggle, with Israel using its formidable war machine to cause considerable civilian death, injury and destruction, while Hamas fired crude, home-made rockets whose effect was hardly registered. If the report was mostly about Israeli war crimes, it was because Israel committed most the war crimes.

Owing to the protection it receives from Washington, Israel won’t be answering to the I.C.C., and nor will it be sanctioned for failing to sign up to the non-proliferation treaty or for having a secret nuclear weapons program. These penalties are solely reserved for countries that are resisting U.S. domination, not facilitating its extension, the role Israel plays as U.S. attack dog in West Asia and northern Africa.

Israel already has an attack on another country’s nuclear facilities under its belt (the 1981 bombing of Iraq’s Osirak reactor.) Over the last year it has issued a series of military threats against Iran’s civilian nuclear facilities. That is, a nuclear weapons state has repeatedly threatened a non-nuclear weapons state. And yet Iran not Israel is presented in the Western media as dangerous and aggressive.

Israel has always relied on the deception that it is under existential threat to justify its numerous aggressions, when always it has had at its command military force in excess of that its opponents can marshal. This is true even going back to its founding in 1948, when it faced off against ragtag Arab volunteers, and then a disorganized agglomeration of Arab armies, while claiming it was defending itself against a second holocaust.

While it’s true that the government of Iran is hostile to the Zionist occupation of Palestine, Iran poses no serious military threat to Israel, and wouldn’t, even if it were capable of quickly producing nuclear weapons. The best it could do is present a threat of self-defense. It would take years for Iran to match Israel’s current nuclear arsenal, and in the intervening period, Israel could vastly expand its own. Plus, Israel, already possessing a formidable military – it receives $3 billion in U.S. military aid every year — is backed by history’s most formidable military power, the United States. Iran, even with the rudimentary arsenal of nuclear weapons it may have the capability (though perhaps never the intention) of producing at some point, is no match for Israel – and this its leaders know well. The country, remarked Uzi Rubin, a private defense consultant who ran Israel’s missile shield program in the 1990s, “is radical, but radical does not mean irrational. They want to change the world, not commit suicide.” [6]

1. David E. Sanger, “U.S. to accuse Iran of having secret nuclear fuel facility,” The New York Times, September 26, 2009.
2. See for example David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, “U.S. to demand inspection of new Iran plan ‘within weeks’”, The New York Times, September 27, 2009.
3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negev_Nuclear_Research_Center
4. Neil MacFarquhar, “Inquiry finds Gaza war crimes from both sides,” The New York Times, September 16, 2009.
5. Colum Lynch, “U.S. faces doubts about leadership on human rights,” The Washington Post, September 22, 2009.
6. Howard Schneider, “Israel finds strength in its missile defenses,” The Washington Post, September 19, 2009.

Written by what's left

September 28, 2009 at 10:56 pm

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