Archive for January 2010
Peace is “not what we’re offering,” says U.S. secretary of state
By Stephen Gowans
North Korea recently let Washington know that it will dismantle its nuclear weapons if the United States signs a formal peace treaty ending the Korean War. This, offered Pyongyang, could be negotiated through bilateral talks between the United States and north Korea.
Alternatively, Pyongyang said it was prepared to return to six-nation talks, aimed at denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, if the United Nations removes the sanctions it imposed after north Korea launched a satellite and conducted a nuclear test.
North Korea regards the sanctions as unjust, and with good reason – they are. Neither the satellite launch nor the nuclear test were illegal under international law.
No law prohibits a country from launching satellites, or even testing ballistic missiles — what Washington accuses north Korea of doing under cover of a satellite launch.
And since north Korea is no longer a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – it withdrew after the United States re-targetted some of its strategic nuclear weapons from the defunct Soviet Union to north Korea in the early 1990s — it is not prohibited from developing and testing nuclear arms.
The reality that north Korea’s satellite launch and nuclear test were not illegal, did not, however, stop the United Nations Security Council from imposing sanctions, while at the same time overlooking Washington’s repeated violations of international law, a double-standard made inevitable by Washington’s veto and domination of the council.
North Korea says that it would not have built nuclear weapons had the United States not threatened it with military aggression. This is almost certainly true.
In the early 1990s, long before north Korea developed a rudimentary nuclear weapons capability, Washington announced it was targeting north Korea with nuclear weapons. A month later, Pyongyang withdrew from the non-proliferation treaty. Cause and effect.
Washington, which quashed the basis for a nascent independent Korean government in 1945, has stationed tens of thousands of troops on Korean soil since (but for a single brief hiatus.) U.S. warships patrol the fringes of north Korea’s territorial waters, and U.S. warplanes patrol the margins of north Korean airspace … and not infrequently, intrude upon it. The U.S. military conducts annual war games with south Korea – the south’s military budget is much larger than the north’s – keeping the north off balance and on an unremitting war footing.
Soon after 9/11, the United States ratcheted up its sabre rattling when the Bush administration listed north Korea as one of three countries making up an axis of evil, along with Iraq and Iran. The illegal invasion of Iraq, carried out soon after and for fabricated reasons, made two things clear:
• North Korea could be next.
• Disarming – as Iraq had done – was not a good idea.
In the face of Washington’s threats — indeed, because of them — Pyongyang stepped up its entreaties to Washington to sign a peace treaty.
At the same time, it worked on developing a nuclear weapons capability that would make the Pentagon think twice about another illegal war.
But Washington was dismissive of Pyongyang’s overtures of peace. Colin Powell, then Secretary of State, said “We don’t do peace treaties.”
Today, a U.S. administration led by a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who wages wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, says it will only discuss a peace treaty if north Korea dismantles its nuclear weapons first. Washington promises only to discuss, not sign, a peace treaty. If Pyongyang delivers what the United States demands, Washington will think about signing a peace treaty…maybe. The United States, of course, won’t be dismantling its own nuclear weapons.
Washington also says that north Korea’s “appalling” human rights record stands in the way of normalizing relations, even though the appalling human rights records of Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Colombia and Afghanistan, hasn’t prevented Washington from maintaining normal, if not favored, relations with these countries, including showering Israel, Egypt and Colombia with billions of dollars in annual aid. And that’s to say nothing about Washington’s own appalling human rights record – one replete with restrictions on mobility rights (i.e., travel to Cuba), secret prisons, prisoner abuse, extrajudicial assassination, unlawful detention and torture.
Clearly, the United States is not interested in peace on the Korean peninsula. Its military intimidation leaves north Korea no option, short of surrender, but to allocate a punishingly high percentage of its meagre budget to defense, with unhappy consequences for the well-being of north Koreans and the civilian economy.
Washington uses north Korea (and a few other sanctioned and threatened countries) to send a message about what happens when countries try to chart an independent course, especially one that is a top-to-bottom alternative to Washington’s prescribed US investor-friendly free market, free trade, and free enterprise regime.
Washington’s real interest is to engineer the collapse or surrender of the pro-independence government in the north, to clear the way for U.S. domination of the Korean peninsula up to China’s borders.
And so it is that an offer of peace and denuclearization on the Korean peninsula – one that would seem to appeal to any administration led by a deserving Nobel Peace Prize laureate – has been summarily rejected. “That is what they want,” sniffed the peace prize-winning warmonger’s secretary of state, “but that is not what we’re offering.”
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.’”  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.” 
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.” 
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. 
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. 
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.”  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.
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.