what's left

Seoul and Washington play dangerous game with Korean lives

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By Stephen Gowans

Does this sound familiar?

“In South Korea, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that marines based on Yeonpyeong Island, a tiny fishing community with military bases near the Koreas’ disputed sea border, will stage one-day live-fire drills.” [1]

The “Marines will fire artillery to the southwest, away from North Korea” [2] but into North Korea’s customary law-defined territorial waters.

The North Koreans responded by notifying the South Korean military that it should “stop the provocative planned shelling from (Yeonpyeong Island)” otherwise it would unleash a “self-defensive blow” to protect its “inviolable territorial waters.” [3]

It should sound familiar. This is the sequence of events that led to the November 23 exchange of artillery fire between the two Koreas.

But the reports cited above aren’t from November. They’re from yesterday and today.

Yes, the South Koreans – who would have you believe they’re innocents struggling with a highly provocative and bellicose neighbor — are replaying the provocation that set off the artillery exchange of only a few weeks ago.

If Seoul were really interested in peace, you would think it would carry out its military drills in a less sensitive area.

Remember, North Korea isn’t a military giant looming threateningly over a cowering pipsqueak. Seoul’s military budget is many times larger than Pyongyang’s and the South Korean military is integrated into the world’s largest military machine; which explains why the South Koreans appear to have little fear of provoking the North Koreans again — and in exactly the same way.

“It is appalling,” says Korea expert Leonid Petrov. “If it was a bona fide need for artillery practice they have plenty of islands in the Western sea. This is simply sending a message that the South is putting pressure on the North.” [4]

Turning up the heat, “South Korea and the United States have agreed to bomb North Korea using aircraft if North Korea launches additional provocations” [5] – that is, if it responds to live-fire into its territorial waters as it did on November 23.

An idle threat? Perhaps. But it’s clear that South Korea – and its US patron – are playing a dangerous game.

This was acknowledged by General James Cartwright, vice-chairman of the US Joints Chiefs of Staff. “What you don’t want to happen out of that is for us to lose control of the escalation,” he told reporters at the Pentagon. [6] Notice the words “us” “control” and “escalation”.

To place this in context, South Korea plans to fire live artillery into waters that, according to international law, belong to North Korea, but according to a unilaterally defined sea border drawn by the United States in 1953, belong to South Korea.

The US-defined sea border – called the Northern Line Limit – is illegitimate, a point acknowledged by then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in a 1975 classified cable. Kissinger said the US-drawn sea border was “clearly contrary to international law.” [7]

And in 1973, the US ambassador to South Korea pointed out that many would see South Korea and the United States as “in the wrong” if they clashed with North Korea in the disputed waters. [8]

The latest US-South Korean provocation is not an isolated event. Because open war with North Korea would prove too costly, Washington uses economic warfare, diplomatic isolation, and military pressure to achieve what open war would be intended to achieve: the collapse of the North Korean state.

A long list of sanctions, some dating from as long ago as 1950, keep North Koreans hungry and starved of inputs necessary to run modern agricultural and health care systems. North Korea, George W. Bush once reminded us, is the most sanctioned country on earth.

Military pressure – which keeps the North Koreans on a continual war footing – cripples their economy by diverting what would otherwise be productive resources into non-productive – though necessary – military spending.

It’s hoped that all this will sabotage North Korea’s unique brand of anti-imperialism and socialism — in the short-term to discredit it and in the long-term to make the North Korean communists go away so that the United States can secure domination of the Korean peninsula up to the Chinese border.

Washington’s junior partner on the peninsula, Seoul, will absorb the North if US policy succeeds. In preparation, the South Korean government has established the post of minister of unification. The current minister, Hyun In-taek, has talked of the necessity of “carv[ing] out the future of the Korean Peninsula” with “freedom, human rights, democracy and market economy as values.” [9]

There can be little doubt that had Pyongyang appointed a minister of “unification” and declared its intention to carve out the future of the Korean peninsula — with anti-imperialism and a command economy as its values — this would have been denounced far and wide as tantamount to a declaration of war. And so it would be.

War may or may not come from the latest planned South Korean provocation of its northern neighbor. But either way, the lives of millions of Koreans, of both north and south, are at risk. It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that Koreans are being treated as expendable lives to be cavalierly sacrificed to Washington’s quest to dominate every inch of the world’s territory it doesn’t already control. But then Korean lives – in the millions – have been sacrificed to US geopolitical ambitions before.

1. Hyung-jin Kim, Christopher Bodeeng and Matthew Lee, “US governor visits NKorea in bid to calm tensions”, Associated Press, December 16, 2010.
2. Ibid.
3. “S. Korean puppet military warned to cancel its plan for shelling from Yonphyong Island”, KCNA, December 17, 2010.
4. Tania Branigan, “South Korea to start live-fire drill on shelled island”, The Guardian (UK), December 16, 2010.
5. Kwon Tae-ho, “S.Korea, U.S. and Japan convene tripartite talks”, The Hankyoreh, December 8, 2010.
6. “US governor visits NKorea in bid to calm tensions”
7. Daniel Ten Kate and Peter S. Green, “Defending Korea line seen contrary to law by Kissinger remains U.S. policy”, Bloomberg, December 17, 2010.
8. Ibid.
9. “KCNA Blasts Puppet Minister of Unification’s Outbursts”, KCNA, December 15, 2010.

Written by what's left

December 17, 2010 at 11:35 pm

3 Responses

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  1. What I find just as remarkable as the perception summarized in your final par, is the apparent ease with which the US and its South Korean stooges were able to shape the exquisitely-timed Cheonan accident/incident into a vehicle for spooking the South Koreans into voting for US-friendly regime change. It wasn’t much of a surprise when the forces of darkness replaced the inappropriately wistful and optimistic Sunshine policy with a fear-driven, Ozarks-inspired, Moonshine policy – replete with South Korean politicians behaving like drunken sailors.

    Neil M

    December 18, 2010 at 3:20 pm

  2. North Korea’s decision to opt for a measured response, by dismissing the provocation as a childish prank, was clever and correct – especially in the wake of having threatened violent retaliation. The threat enhanced media interest in, and coverage of, NK’s verbatim response – a significant victory for craftiness over Western media micro-management.
    A small and sane step in the right direction for North Korea, imo.

    Neil M

    December 21, 2010 at 1:24 am

    • It is a correct line for the DPRK to take. Choose not to retaliate, allow UN inspectors into the region, build up better trade relations. A smart step towards peace.

      BJ Murphy

      December 21, 2010 at 10:16 pm


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