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Is the United States Credible as a Guarantor of International Peace and Security?

May 31, 2016

By Stephen Gowans

On, March 2, 2016 the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on North Korea, citing the DPRK’s:

• Nuclear test of January 6, 2016;
• Its satellite launch of February 7, 2016, which the Security Council said relied on ballistic missile technology which could be used as a nuclear weapons delivery system. (Is it possible to launch a satellite without ballistic missile technology?)

UN Security Council Resolution 2270, championed by the United States, was approved unanimously by all 15 Security Council members, both permanent, and non-permanent, including Venezuela and Angola.

There is nothing in international law that says:

• A country cannot have nuclear weapons. True, there exists a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but it is only binding on the parties to it, not on those who declined to join it, (like Israel), or have, (as North Korea has done), withdrawn from it.
• There is nothing in international law that says a country cannot have ballistic missiles.
• There is nothing in international law that says a country cannot launch a satellite.

So, on what grounds has the Security Council imposed sanctions on North Korea?

The Security Council defined the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as their means of delivery, as threats to international peace and security, and therefore branded North Korea’s nuclear test and satellite launch as grave concerns. The Security Council also determined that North Korea’s nuclear test posed a danger “to peace and stability in the region and beyond.”

Article 39 of the UN Charter authorizes the Security Council to “determine the existence of any threat to peace” and to take appropriate measures to eclipse it.

North Korea objected, and for the following—I think, very compelling— reasons:

• The Security Council’s definition of what constitutes a threat to international peace and security makes no reference to violations of international law. All that North Korea has done wrong, it seems, is to have engaged in activities the Security Council doesn’t like, but which all of its permanent members have, themselves, engaged in.
• The resolution uniquely defines the DPRK’s nuclear test and satellite launch as threats to peace, but does not define the nuclear tests or satellite launches of its permanent members in the same way.

This naturally raises the question: Why is launching a satellite, developing ballistic missile technology, and nuclear weapons testing, threats when pursued by North Korea, but not when pursued by the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia—or any other country the Security Council chooses not to single out?

Let me suggest two answers.

#1. The first has to do with what the anthropologist Hugh Gusterson called nuclear Orientalism—the idea that we can live with nuclear weapons in the hands of the five permanent members of the Security Council, but proliferation to Third World countries is enormously dangerous. People in the Third World, according to this view, cannot be trusted to make responsible decisions.

The term Orientalism can be confusing, so let’s use another term—“us vs. them thinking.” That’s really what Gusterson means. In us versus them thinking, “they” are defined as the polar opposite of us. We’re rational, dispassionate, responsible, and adults. They’re irrational, lack impulse control, are irresponsible, and are children, requiring a guiding hand. We can be trusted with nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. They cannot.

The Security Council engages in us vs. them thinking when it expresses great concern that Pyongyang is “diverting” resources to “the pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles while DPRK citizens have great unmet needs.” But Gusterson points out that this argument—which was once used against Pakistan and India when they first acquired nuclear weapons— can be applied just as strongly to Western countries.

For example, the United States spends hundreds of billions of dollars on its military, far in excess of what’s required for national defense, while two million US citizens live without shelter, and another 36 million live below the official poverty line. So why isn’t the Security Council expressing great concern that Washington is “diverting” resources to “the pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles while US citizens have great unmet needs”?

#2. Another reason for uniquely declaring North Korea’s nuclear test and rockets as threats to international peace and security, but not those of the permanent members of the Security Council, is the wish to enforce a nuclear apartheid, the idea of limiting the means of self-defense through nuclear deterrence to a small elite of nations—the permanent members of the Security Council, and a key US military asset, Israel—which can then use their privileged positions as holders of the world’s most formidable weapons to threaten the security, independence and sovereignty of non-nuclear states.

We might like to think of the UN Charter as the best way to promote peace and stability in the world, but whatever its merits as a charter for peace, it is also an instrument for the domination of small countries by the largest and most powerful states. What’s to protect those small states which seek to chart a course of independent self-development outside the orbit of the world’s imperial powers from the depredations of the Security Council’s permanent members? Certainly not the UN Charter, since it accords the Security Council—the world’s largest powers—illimitable authority to penalize small states simply for engaging in activities it doesn’t like, including developing the means to defend themselves, and to launch their own satellites rather than having to depend on large powers to do so on their behalf, for a profit.

And does anyone seriously think that the United States—whose leaders worship the cult of Mars, and which has spread death and destruction from Korea to Vietnam to Afghanistan to Iraq and points in between—can credibly act as the primus inter pares member of a council authorized to preserve peace and international security?

As the political scientist Kenneth Waltz has argued controversially, but not without cogency, the greatest deterrent to war may be nuclear weapons. War against a nuclear armed opponent makes the cost of aggression too incalculable and too uncertain to pursue. Yet, it is precisely the only effective means of deterrence against conquest available to North Korea—a country incessantly threatened by the United States and Washington’s neo-colony South Korea, and soon by its former colonial master, Japan (if Washington has its way)—which the UN Security Council seeks to deny the DPRK.

Is it a concern for peace and international security that motivates the United States and its Security Council cohorts to penalize North Korea ? No. UN Security Council Resolution 2270 originates in a desire–particularly that of the United States–to dominate.

North Korea Challenges Legal Basis for Latest UN Sanctions Resolution

May 26, 2016

By Stephen Gowans

The DPRK (North Korea) has asked the UN Secretary General to explain the legal grounds on which the Security Council issued a sanctions resolution branding the country’s recent satellite launch and nuclear test as a “threat to international peace and security.”

On May 23, the DPRK permanent representative to the UN, Pak Kil-yon, posed the following questions in a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. The questions were formulated in light of the DPRK’s finding that nowhere “in related international laws, including the UN Charter, the UN General Assembly resolutions, the CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty), the NPT (Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty), (or) the Outer Space Treaty” are nuclear tests or satellite launches deemed a “threat to international peace and security.”

Pak asked:

o The UN Secretary General to clarify “the legal ground for determining the DPRK’s nuclear tests and satellite and ballistic rocket launches as a “threat to international peace and security.”
o Why “the UN Security Council … never made an issue of, nor enforced any, sanctions on the United States and other countries,” which have tested nuclear weapons and have “regular satellite and ballistic rocket launches,” if indeed these activities are truly considered threats to international peace and security.

The letter ends with a conclusion that it would be difficult for anyone of an unbiased mind not to draw, namely, that “the UN Security Council has gone beyond (its) powers,” and that those of its members who have themselves launched satellites and tested nuclear weapons have “committed an act of double standard.”

Indeed, the UN Security Council resolutions respecting North Korea’s nuclear tests and satellite launch can be, and ought to be, denounced as “nuclear orientalism” (the racist, colonialist idea that nuclear weapons are the most dangerous when in the hands of Third World leaders) and an attempt to enforce a “nuclear apartheid” (limiting the means of self-defense through nuclear deterrence to a small elite of nations, which can then use their privileged positions as holders of the world’s most formidable weapons to threaten the security, independence and sovereignty of non-nuclear states. This, the United States has done on innumerable occasions, and in doing so has created the structural logic that has compelled the DPRK to develop a nuclear deterrent.)

Written by what's left

May 26, 2016 at 2:41 pm

Why UN Sanctions Against North Korea Are Wrong

What the U.S. really wants is not the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula but the Americanization of the Korean peninsula.” [1]

March 7, 2016

By Stephen Gowans

After successfully concluding negotiations with China to craft a new raft of international sanctions against North Korea, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power stepped in front of reporters to declare that the northeast Asian country, “one of the most brutal regimes the world has ever known,” would not be allowed to achieve “its declared goal of developing nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles. The international community cannot allow” this to happen, she said. “The United States will not allow this to happen.” [2]

A week later, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) issued a resolution imposing the new tranche of sanctions on “the most sanctioned nation in the world,” as George W. Bush had once called North Korea. [3] “The resolution,” noted the Wall Street Journal, “mandates countries to inspect all cargo to and from North Korea, cut off shipments of aircraft and rocket fuel, ban all weapons sales and restrict all revenues to the government unless for humanitarian purposes.” [4] Bush had promised that “the most sanctioned nation in the world” would “remain the most sanctioned nation in the world.” [5] The Security Council agreed.

Since 1998, North Korea has conducted four nuclear tests, the latest on January 6, and has launched six rockets capable of carrying satellites into orbit (which the United States has called disguised ballistic missile tests.) But over the same period, the United States has developed new precision-guided “dial-a-yield” nuclear weapons to make their use more thinkable, built new non-nuclear weapons of mass destruction, and spent $8 billion annually to maintain and modernize its nuclear arsenal. At the same time, numerous countries have launched satellites into orbit and some have tested long range ballistic missiles. So why is North Korea singled out, while the United States and a number of its allies continue to test rocket technology and bolster their nuclear arsenals?

There are no legitimate grounds which justify the March 2, 2016 round of sanctions the Security Council imposed on North Korea. The beleaguered country’s nuclear weapons testing and satellite launch violate no international law and present no realistic threat to the United States or its allies, a reality acknowledge by its own generals and the country’s newspaper of record. North Korea legitimately withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which bans countries which do not have nuclear weapons from developing them in exchange for assistance in developing peaceful applications of nuclear energy. North Korea is therefore under no international obligation to refrain from using nuclear technology for military purposes. Neither is the country in violation of any law prohibiting the use of rockets to loft satellites into orbit. No such law exists. And while the rocket North Korea used to launch a satellite last month was not a ballistic missile, there are no laws which prohibit ballistic missile development, possession, or testing.

Many countries use rockets to launch satellites, and several have developed or possess ballistic missiles. A number of countries have nuclear weapons, most of which, the United States excepted, maintain their nuclear arsenals with the sole stated intention of deterring aggression and preventing nuclear blackmail. North Korea says its nuclear weapons are purely defensive. This is credible. Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal is too small, and its means of delivering warheads too uncertain, for the country to initiate a nuclear exchange and hope to survive. The United States, in contrast, refuses to rule out the first-use deployment of nuclear arms and has repeatedly threatened North Korea with nuclear annihilation, the principal reason the northeast Asian country has taken recourse to developing a nuclear weapons program as a means of self-defense.

North Korea has faced repeated threats of nuclear and conventional attack by the United States.

• In 1993, the U.S. Strategic Command announced it was targeting some of its ICBMs on North Korea. [6]
• In 2001, the Bush administration identified North Korea as a possible target of nuclear attack (along with Libya, Syria, China, Russia, Iran and Iraq.) [7]
• According to the Stimson Center, a U.S. public policy think-tank, from 1970 to 2010, the United States threatened North Korea with nuclear destruction on six separate occasions. [8]
• On one occasion the United States’ top soldier, Colin Powell, warned North Korea that the United States could turn it into a “charcoal briquette.” [9]

Additionally, the United States issued a virtual declaration of war against North Korea in 2002, when the Bush administration declared the country part of an “Axis of Evil,” along with Iran and Iraq. One of these countries, Iraq, was soon invaded and occupied by the United States and Britain on the basis of a tissue of lies. The United States and Britain alleged that the country had concealed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in defiance of a Security Council resolution ordering their destruction. In fact, Iraq had eliminated its WMD arsenals, leaving itself virtually defenceless against attack, a vulnerability Washington and London exploited. Following the invasion, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, John Bolton, warned North Korea to draw the appropriate lesson [10], strengthening the threat of aggression implied in the original designation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea’s official name, or DPRK) as an Axis of Evil state.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

North Korea joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1985. The treaty, in force since March 5, 1970, commits treaty members “to pursue negotiations in good faith on measures relating to…nuclear disarmament.” The treaty divides signatories into two categories: Nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear weapon states, based on whether they have “manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to 1 January, 1967.” States with pre-1967 nuclear weapons are designated nuclear weapon states, and include the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France. Countries that had no nuclear weapons prior to 1967 are called non-nuclear weapon states, even if they acquired nuclear weapons subsequent to that date.

The treaty requires that non-nuclear weapon states (at least while they remain members of the treaty) refrain from manufacturing or otherwise acquiring nuclear weapons. In exchange for making this commitment, they are to receive technical advice, know-how and other assistance from nuclear weapon states in developing peaceful applications of nuclear energy.

For their part, nuclear weapon states are under a number of obligations: first, to help members who don’t have nuclear technology to develop civilian nuclear energy industries if they want them; and second, to pursue negotiations in good faith on measures relating to nuclear disarmament. The preamble of the treaty also obligates all states to forebear from using the threat of force in their relations with other countries. The preamble specifically recalls “that, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, states must refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”

Have the nuclear weapon states fulfilled their treaty obligations? Given the scant progress in nuclear disarmament over the 46 years the treaty has been in force, one would be hard pressed to answer in the affirmative. Despite lofty rhetoric about a nuclear-free world, none of the nuclear weapon states has taken any serious steps to significantly reduce their nuclear arsenals, to say nothing of moving toward disarmament. What’s more, the prohibition against the use of military threat in international relations promulgated in the UN Charter, and referenced in the treaty’s preamble, is regularly ignored.

US Threats Against North Korea

In 1993, the US Strategic Command announced that it was retargeting some of its strategic nuclear weapons away from the former Soviet Union to North Korea. A month later, Pyongyang announced that it would withdraw from the NPT, signaling that if Washington was going to dangle a nuclear sword of Damocles over its head, North Korea would take steps to counter the threat. [11] This spurred a series of negotiations which led Pyongyang to reverse its decision and to remain in the treaty. It eventually made another volte-face, announcing its intention to exit the treaty following US President George W. Bush’s January 29, 2002 designation of North Korea as part of an Axis of Evil.

Bush’s virtual declaration of war against the DPRK was only the tip of an iceberg of threats Washington had directed at the DPRK as part of its long running Cold War against the Communist country. In March 2002, the Los Angeles Times revealed classified Pentagon information listing seven countries as possible targets of a US nuclear strike. Among the targets was North Korea. The Pentagon’s nuclear strike list also included Russia, China, Syria, Libya, Iran, and Iraq. [12] North Korean officials explained their withdrawal from the NPT by pointing to the “Bush administration’s nuclear attack plan” which “showed that the United States…is pursuing world domination with force of arms and that the United States is not hesitant in launching a nuclear attack on any nation if it is regarded as an obstacle to this end.” [13]

Echoing these concerns, a North Korean diplomat explained his country’s decision to exit the NPT and embark on the development of nuclear weapons.

The NPT clearly states that nuclear power states cannot use nuclear weapons for the purpose of threatening or endangering non-nuclear states. So the DPRK thought that if we joined the NPT, we would be able to get rid of the nuclear threat from the US. Therefore we joined. However, the US never withdrew its right of pre-emptive nuclear strike. They always said that, once US interests are threatened, they always have the right to use their nuclear weapons for pre-emptive purposes. [14]

He added:

The world situation changed again after 11 September 2001. After this, Bush said that if the US wants to protect its safety, then it must remove the ‘Axis of Evil’ countries from the earth. The three countries he listed as members of this ‘Axis of Evil’ were Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Having witnessed what happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, we came to realise that we couldn’t put a stop to the threat from the US with conventional weapons alone. So we realised that we needed our own nuclear weapons in order to defend the DPRK and its people. [15]

The NPT allows states to exit the accord if they believe their continued participation in it is injurious to their highest interests. “Each Party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country.” Clearly, Washington’s overt hostility, the listing of North Korea as a target of a possible nuclear strike, and the Bush administration’s virtual declaration of war, constituted “extraordinary events” which jeopardized the DPRK’s “supreme interests.”

Why Do Countries Develop Nuclear Weapons?

North Korea says it developed nuclear weapons “to protect its sovereignty and vital rights from the U.S. nuclear threat and hostile policy which have lasted for more than half a century” [16] and which culminated in the Bush administration’s nuclear saber rattling and threat of war.

Compare North Korea’s reasons for having nuclear weapons with those of Britain, one of the NPT’s nuclear weapon states. The UK government’s 2006 White Paper, “The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent,” states that “The primary responsibility of any government is to ensure the safety and security of its citizens,” and that “For 50 years (Britain’s) independent nuclear deterrent has provided the ultimate assurance of (the country’s) national security.” “The UK’s nuclear weapons,” the document concludes, are designed “to deter and prevent nuclear blackmail and acts of aggression against our vital interests that cannot be countered by other means.” [17]

Russia, also a nuclear weapon state, invokes the same rationale for maintaining a nuclear arsenal. The country’s president, Vladimir Putin, says Russia needs nuclear arms to preserve its deterrent and strategic stability in the face of threats. [18] Similarly, Washington’s 2015 National Security Strategy declares that “the United States must invest the resources necessary to maintain….a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent that preserves strategic ability.”

The rationale of nuclear weapon states for maintaining a stock of nuclear weapons “applies with even greater force to weak states that may come under threat from stronger ones. The smaller and weaker the state, the greater the need for nuclear weapons to make potential aggressors think twice before threatening or invading them.” Pointing specifically to Britain, researcher David Morrison argues, if “one of the strongest states in this world needs to have nuclear weapons in order to deter potential aggressors, then no state in the world should be without them, if at all possible.” Morrison caps his point by speculating that: “Had Iraq succeeded in developing nuclear weapons, the US/UK would not have invaded in March 2003 (and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died as a consequence would still be alive).” [19]

Of course, it’s impossible to know how history would have unfolded had Iraq been in a position to present the possibility of a nuclear counter-strike as a deterrent to Washington’s drive to war, but the idea that nuclear weapons can deter aggression is not implausible. In 2010, General Kevin P. Chilton, at the time head of US Strategic Command, reminded Washington Post columnist Walter Pincus that, “Throughout the 65-year history of nuclear weapons, no nuclear power has been conquered or even put at risk of conquest.” [20] Explaining the grim logic that compels threatened and beleaguered countries like North Korea to reach for a nuclear sword, Putin wrote in RIA Novosti on February 27, 2012: “If I have the A-bomb in my pocket, nobody will touch me because it’s more trouble than it is worth. And those who don’t have the bomb might have to sit and wait for ‘humanitarian intervention’. Whether we like it or not, foreign interference suggests this train of thought.” [21] Echoing Putin’s analysis, the chief of the Israeli army’s planning division, Major General Amir Eshel, observed “Who would have dared deal with Qaddafi or Saddam Hussein if they had a nuclear capability? No way.” [22]

Learning The Lesson Of Iraq (And Libya)

On the day Baghdad fell to invading US forces, one of the Bush administration’s chief war mongers, John Bolton, warned Iran, Syria and North Korea to “draw the appropriate lesson.” [23] North Korea drew a lesson, though not the one Bolton intended. The real lesson, namely, that disarming is an invitation to an invasion, was reinforced eight years later when NATO secretly armed Islamist militants and launched an air war to oust Muamar Gaddafi in 2011, after the Libyan leader, in a misguided attempt to curry favor with the West, dismantled his weapons of mass destruction, leaving his country vulnerable to attack. Saddam Hussein made the same blunder in Iraq a decade earlier. DPRK diplomat Yongho Thae asks:

What happened to Libya? When Gaddafi wanted to improve Libya’s relations with the US and UK, the imperialists said that in order to attract international investment he would have to give up his weapons programs. Gaddafi even said that he would visit the DPRK to convince us to give up our nuclear program. But once Libya dismantled all its nuclear programs and this was confirmed by Western intelligence, the West changed its tune. [24]

Rudiger Frank, a professor of East Asian Economy and Society at the University of Vienna, argues that three signal events in the last two decades have underscored for Pyongyang that the decision it took to develop nuclear weapons was the right one.

The first such instance was Gorbachev’s foolish belief that his policies to end the arms race and confrontation with the West would be rewarded by respect for the Soviet Union’s existence and support for its faltering economy. On the contrary, his empire was destroyed piece by piece by Western support of anti-communist governments in its European satellites and independence movements in various (now former) Soviet Republics. In the end, the reformer was ousted, NATO was expanded, and his once mighty country was weakened and ridiculed. Others had an even less desirable fate, such as Romania’s Ceausescu or East Germany’s Honecker.

The second instance was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Humiliated after a quick defeat in the First Gulf War, Hussein accepted Western control over about half of his airspace in 1991 and had to suffer regular small-scale attacks on ground targets for more than a decade. Sanctions led to the “oil for food” program of 1995. However, his compliance did not save Hussein’s regime from allegations of hiding weapons of mass destruction, and ultimately from complete annihilation in the Second Gulf War.

Now, there is Libya’s Gaddafi. It was not so long ago that it was popular in political circles to urge Kim Jong Il to follow Gaddafi’s example. On February 14, 2005, the conservative South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo even reported that then ROK Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and current UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, was sent to Libya to urge Mr. Gaddafi to visit North Korea and persuade Kim Jong Il to abandon his nuclear weapons. The Libyan dictator as an ambassador of disarmament and peace—how was that possible? In December 2003, after long negotiations with the West, Libya had surprisingly announced that it would give up its programs for developing weapons of mass destruction and allow unconditional inspections. This earned Gaddafi immediate praise from Washington and London, followed by a prestigious invitation to Paris in December 2007, where he met President Sarkozy twice. [25]

The culmination of Gaddafi’s attempts to ingratiate himself with the West was his murder at the hands of NATO’s proxy jihadists, but not before one of their number sodomized him with a knife.

None of this was lost on the North Koreans. A February 21, 2013 commentary by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency 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.” [26] An article in the February 22, 2013 issue of Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the DPRK’s ruling Workers Party 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 (Yugoslavia) at the end of the last century and Afghanistan early in this century.“ [27]

The North Koreans make the case, not unconvincingly, that far from increasing the likelihood of war on the Korean peninsula, its development of nuclear weapons has done the opposite; it has deterred the US drive to use military force to topple a government which rejects its hegemony. “After the US/UK invasion of Iraq in March 2003, North Korea’s foreign ministry declared that ‘the Iraqi war shows that to allow disarmament through inspections does not help avert a war, but rather sparks it,’ concluding that ‘only a tremendous military deterrent force’ can prevent attacks on states the US dislikes.” [28] In April 2010, the KCNA declared that, “The DPRK’s access to nukes provided so effective a deterrent that the danger of outbreak of a war drastically dwindled on the Korean Peninsula. This represented the efforts exerted by the DPRK to defuse the nuclear threat at the present phase of deterring the U.S. nukes with its own nukes, not making a verbal appeal only.” [29] And in August 2013, the news agency noted that, “The U.S. nuclear warmongers have threatened more than once that it would mount a pre-emptive nuclear attack on the DPRK without prior warning. A nuclear war has not broken out on the peninsula entirely because the DPRK has steadily bolstered up its war deterrence.” [30]

Double Standards

“It is ironic,” noted Walter Pincus, that the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, “meeting in Baghdad to dissuade Iran from moving toward a nuclear weapon, are all modernizing their stockpiles.” And now these same nuclear weapon states have imposed new sanctions on North Korea to punish it for doing the same. And yet, the “United States has a multi-billion-dollar program to upgrade its three major nuclear warheads and a more costly effort to build new land, sea and air strategic delivery systems. France is modernizing its nuclear bombs and missiles as well as its strategic submarine… Russia and China are modernizing, too.” [31] So much for nuclear weapon states working toward disarmament, as the NPT requires.

US President Barack Obama has “promised…to spend $80 billion over 10 years to maintain and modernize the nation’s nuclear arsenal…” [32] while ally Britain “announced contract awards of $595 million to begin design of replacements for its four nuclear submarines that carry Trident sub-launched ballistic missiles,” even though it is “in the midst of an austerity program that includes cutting education, health and retirement programs.” [33]

Not only is the United States modernizing its nuclear weapons arsenal, it is also developing new WMD. The Pentagon has been working on a precision-guided atom bomb designed, as the New York Times puts it, “with problems like North Korea in mind.” The “bomb’s explosive force can be dialed up or down depending on the target, to minimize collateral damage.” Owing to the weapon’s “smaller yields and better targeting,” it is more tempting to use. The bomb, called the B61, “is the first of five new warhead types planned as part of an atomic revitalization estimated to cost up to $1 trillion over three decades. As a family, the weapons and their delivery systems move toward the small, the stealthy and the precise,” making their use “more thinkable.” [34]

The Pentagon is also at work on non-nuclear WMD “approaching the level of strategic nuclear arms in their strike capability.” [35] The new class of weapons, termed “`Prompt Global Strike` could be fired from the United States and hit a target anywhere in less than an hour.” The new weapons would “give the president a non-nuclear option for, say, a … pre-emptive attack on…North Korea,” achieving the effects of a nuclear weapon, without, it is hoped, “turning a conventional war into a nuclear one. “[36]

The United States, unlike North Korea, refuses to disavow the first strike use of nuclear weapons. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein pressed Barack Obama in 2010 to declare that the sole purpose of the United States` nuclear arsenal is to deter the threat of nuclear attack. The White House refused. The furthest it would go was to say that deterring nuclear aggression was the primary purpose of the arsenal, but not the only one. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who claims he aspires to a world without nuclear weapons, was not even willing to say that the United States wouldn’t be the first to use nuclear arms, or to refrain from using them against non-nuclear weapon states. [37]

Satellite Launch

“More than 100 space vehicles are put into the orbit around the earth by carrier rockets in a year on an average worldwide,” [38] but only North Korea’s satellite launch has been singled out for condemnation by the Security Council. Even India’s 2012 test of a long-range ballistic missile (different from North Korea’s satellite launch vehicle in having a military and not peaceful intent), which Indian officials boasted gave them “the capability of sending a nuclear warhead as far as China’s capital, Beijing, for the first time,” was not condemned. On the contrary, NATO expressed no opposition while Washington praised India’s “’solid’ non-proliferation record,” [39] an altogether incomprehensible accolade to bestow on a country that has never belonged to the NPT, is estimated to have 90-110 warheads [40], and now has the ability to deliver them over long ranges.

A distinction should be made between a space launch vehicle used to loft a satellite, space station, or manned vehicle into space, and a ballistic missile, used to send an explosive to a distant point on earth. Both use ballistic rockets, but a ballistic missile has a different guidance system and a heat shield to protect its payload from burning up on re-entering earth’s atmosphere.

In order for its nuclear weapons to act as a deterrent against aggression, North Korea needs a means to deliver a warhead. Since it has no long-range bombers, an obvious choice is an intercontinental ballistic missile, of the kind India tested, and which the United States, Russia, France, and China have, and which Israel is suspected to have. An ICBM relies on ballistic rocket technology. Hence, any country that successfully develops a space launch vehicle is part way to developing a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear payload. But it hasn’t quite got there. It also needs to develop an appropriate guidance system and a heat shield. Plus, it would have to work out how to miniaturize a warhead to fit atop the missile. It’s not clear how far away North Korea is from developing a miniaturized warhead and an ICBM on top of which to place it, but the United States aims to stop it from getting there for the obvious reason that with a reliable means of delivering a nuclear payload the deterrent value of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is all the stronger.

International law does not prohibit countries from using rocket technology for the peaceful use of outer space, and it surely doesn’t prohibit North Korea uniquely. Nor are there laws banning the testing of ballistic missiles. The Security Council, in passing a resolution imposing sanctions on Pyongyang, in part, for Pyongyang’s satellite launch, has acted ultra vires, that is, beyond its authority. “Where in the UN Charter is the mandate investing the UNSC with the right to deprive an individual UN member nation of the right to use space for peaceful purposes, a right specified in international law, stipulated?” asks North Korea’s Foreign Ministry. [41] “The DPRK’s H-bomb and satellite launch are being termed a breach of the previous ‘resolutions’ of the UNSC but, in essence, those ‘resolutions’ are a product of high-handedness practiced beyond the mandate of the UNSC.” [42]

The Security Council has arrogated onto itself authority to dictate who can and cannot launch a satellite, who can and cannot test ballistic missiles, and who can and cannot have nuclear weapons; in other words, it has unilaterally assigned to itself without the consent of the UN member states the authority to decide which state has and does not have a sovereign right to defend itself. The Security Council has no basis in international law to exercise this authority. “If the UNSC has the mandate to ban an individual country from conducting a nuclear test,” asks the North Koreans tartly, “what does the NPT exist for and what is the nuclear test ban treaty necessary for?” [43]

A Brutal Regime?

In declaring that the United States will never allow North Korea to develop nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles, Samantha Power called the DPRK “one of the most brutal regimes the world has ever known.“ Is it?

North Korea has a publicly-owned, planned, economy directed toward satisfying the material needs of its citizens while preserving its sovereignty. With a history of colonization by Japan and alienated from its compatriots in the south by the United States’ division of the peninsula, North Korea holds independence as an especially important goal. US troops have been almost continually present in South Korea since 1945, and the Pentagon retains wartime command of the South Korean military. By contrast, there are no foreign troops or bases in North Korea, and North Korean troops have never fought beyond Korean borders, unlike South Korea’s military, which took on a mercenary role in the Vietnam War, joining the United States in an aggression to suppress the independence struggle of another people which had suffered colonization, the Indo-Chinese. From 1964 to 1973, approximately 312,000 South Korean troops were deployed to Vietnam, and were paid 23 times their base pay by the United States. It is not without justification that North Korea reviles South Korea as a puppet state. And while South Korea nestles under a US nuclear umbrella, North Korea has never been protected by the nuclear weapons of another state’s military.

The DPRK offers attractions typical of communist countries: free health care, free education, free housing, and virtually free public transportation. [44] A pastiche of half-truths and outright distortions circulate in the Western media about North Korea, distinguished only by their contempt for the intelligence of the public. Events regarded as anodyne in the West are presented in dark and menacing hues when they happen in the DPRK. This has long been true. Observers of North Korea have for decades complained about deceptions in Western media and discourse about North Korea, aimed at tarring the country’s reputation rather than illuminating its politics, history and economy. Anna Louise Strong wrote “In days to come, Korea will continue to supply headlines. Yet there is little public knowledge about the country and most of the headlines distort rather than reveal the facts.” [45] That was in 1949. Little has changed. But then, propagandistic treatment of communist, socialist and economically nationalist states is the accustomed practice of Western media, whose owners’ interests have always been against states which insist on exercising economic sovereignty in preference to subordination to the profit-making interests of Western financial and business concerns.

There’s more than a little hypocrisy in Power claiming that the United States spearheaded a Security Council resolution out of opposition to a “brutal regime,” when Washington counts the brutal regimes of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Israel, and Colombia among its favored satellites, not only sheltering these oppressors and bellicists from sanction, but facilitating their brutalities. The words Hiroshima, Korea, Vietnam, the Bay of Pigs, Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, 100 or more prisoners tortured to death in US detention in the ‘war on terror’, extra-judicial assassinations by drone strike, to say nothing of the genocide of North America’s aboriginal people and the brutal slavery of Africans on which the country was founded, make the United States truly one of the most brutal regimes the world has ever known. It is followed closely by its allies, and fellow Security Council permanent members, Britain and France, on whose empires the sun never set and blood never dried.

What’s Washington’s Real Problem With North Korea?

The pretext for singling North Korea out for sanction is that it is a threat, but this, like the claim that Saddam Hussein had concealed WMD in defiance of a UNSC resolution, is pure eye-wash. It has no truth-value, only value as propaganda for justifying continuing US aggression against a country that refuses to give up public ownership and economic planning or surrender its political and economic sovereignty to the United States. In his February 23, 2016 testimony before the Senate Committee on Armed Services, the Commander of the US Pacific Command Harry B. Harris Jr. said that “North Korea is not an existential threat to the United States.” [46] US establishment journalist David E. Sanger, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a de facto though informal Wall Street think tank for the US State Department, explained that neither are North Korea’s nuclear weapons a threat to South Korea or Japan, “because North Korean officials know their government would be decimated in minutes or hours” if they attacked either of these two US allies. [47] As to the threat posed by North Korea’s conventional forces, Korea specialist Tim Beal points out that,

The available evidence shows that North Korea is in most respects much weaker militarily than the South, and the balance between the two shifts hugely in the South’s favor in the crucial aspect of advanced technology equipment. But a limited comparison of North and South is really meaningless because this is essentially a question of North Korea versus the United States – an attack by North Korea on the South would inevitably be a declaration of war against the United States. The U.S. has “operational command” of the South Korean military in the event of war, there are 28,500 U.S. military personnel (and considerably more civilians) stationed there and there is the over-riding geopolitical imperative – the U.S. would not tolerate the establishment of an independent Korea by force.

What is certain, however, is that North Korea cannot use nuclear weapons in an offensive manner because the retaliation would be overwhelming. One cannot use a handful of nuclear weapons, of uncertain efficacy and with unproven delivery systems, against an adversary with thousands of nuclear weapons and well-tested delivery systems. North Korean cannot effectively threaten the United States or indeed South Korea (because of the U.S. nuclear umbrella) with nuclear weapons. [48]

The relationship of the United States to North Korea is a complex and multi-dimensional one. Wall Street-dominated Washington sees the DPRK as offering nothing in the way of profit-making opportunities to please U.S. investors, and hence, has no motivation to accept the North Korean status quo. This explains why for decades the United States has maintained sanctions on the DPRK for the reason that it has “a Marxist-Leninist economy.” David Straub, director of the State Department’s Korea desk from 2002 to 2004 explained that “U.S. administrations have never considered and will never consider establishing a strategic relationship with the DPRK. North Korea’s closed economic and social system means the country has virtually nothing of value to offer the United States.” [49]

Presenting North Korea as a threat allows the US military-industrial complex to justify massive defense spending and to reap huge profits from US taxpayers through a fraud at whose center reposes the myth of the North Korean threat. Colin Powell, as the United States’ top soldier, once infamously remarked that after the demise of the Soviet Union he was down to only a few demons, Castro and (North Korea’s) Kim Il-Sung. [50] Portraying North Korea as belligerent, provocative and threatening justifies the United States’ continued military presence on the Korean peninsula, where, as Tim Beal observes, “China, Japan, Russia and the United States meet and contest and as such is the most strategically valuable place on earth.” [51]

China is the main target. “The focus of our rhetoric is North Korea,” observes Steven Hildreth, a researcher with the Congressional Research Service, a think-tank for the US Congress. “The reality is that we’re also looking longer term at the elephant in the room, which is China.” [52] The Pentagon is eager to deploy a Lockheed Martin manufactured anti-ballistic missile system called THAAD (terminal high altitude area defense) on the Korean peninsula, and is using North Korea as a pretext. THAAD is obviously aimed at neighboring China—at least that’s how the Chinese see it, a suspicion strengthened by the United States’ strategic shift to the Asia-Pacific region to “balance” China’s rise. Pyongyang also sees THAAD as targeted against China, but also itself and Russia. [53] We need not wonder what the reaction of the United States would be to China deploying an anti-ballistic missile system in Cuba or Mexico.

The only domain in which North Korea is a threat is ideology. Some background, to explain. The history of world economic development is one of income divergence, not convergence. The core capitalist countries of Western Europe and North America have grown faster than the rest of the world over the last two centuries, a period during which the world economy became increasingly integrated under the domination of the Great Powers of Europe and the United States, which carved up the world among themselves in formal colonial and later neo-colonial arrangements. Rather than bringing the poorer countries closer to the rich ones, the integration of the poor countries into a Western-led global capitalist economy has spelled lower rates of growth for the poor countries than capitalist core countries have enjoyed themselves, suggesting a process of exploitation and transfer of wealth from the periphery to the core. Only “a few countries that were poor in 1800 have joined the prosperous,” notes economic historian Robert C. Allen. “These include Japan, its former colonies South Korea and Taiwan.” [54] To the list can be added China.

The Soviet Union broke free of the world capitalist economic system, partly of its own volition, but largely because it was shunned by the capitalist world, to chart an independent course of economic development based on public-ownership and planning and enjoyed high rates of growth as a consequence from 1928, the point its economy became socialist, through the 1970s, with the exception of the extraordinary years of WWII. It continued on a path of unremitting positive growth while capitalist countries went through boom and bust cycles, alternately swelling and shrinking their labor forces, regularly tossing people who needed jobs on the scrap heap. By contrast, the Soviet Union’s socialist system maintained a full-employment, monotonically expanding economy right up to the point Mikhail Gorbachev dismantled socialism in a misguided and spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to spur growth rates in the late 1980s. Only when Gorbachev dismantled socialism did the Soviet economy collapse. [55]

South Korea and Taiwan also enjoyed high rates of growth and, in some respects, for the same reasons the Soviet Union did. The United States was willing to give these former Japanese colonies a degree of economic freedom it was unwilling to tolerate elsewhere. As these countries were on the front line of the Cold War, it was necessary that they become showcases for the capitalist system. South Korea profited immensely from US investment during the Vietnam War. Additionally, it was allowed to adopt a Soviet model of multi-year planning and state investment in heavy industry to spur growth. US officials were willing to indulge South Korea because until the 1970s it embarrassed Washington by lagging behind its Communist compatriots in the north, hardly a paean to the merits of the capitalist system South Korea’s US patrons so desperately sought.

China, for all the talk of its going capitalist, has also managed to follow a path of high growth, through a program of dirigisme scorned under the Washington Consensus of free-enterprise, free-trade and free-markets. The Chinese government, under the leadership of the Communist Party, remains enormously involved in the Chinese economy, through state-owned enterprises which dominate the country’s economic life and through state planning.

As for Japan, it had the advantage of developing a capitalist system in a part of the world that was relatively remote from Western Europe and North America, thus partly sheltering it from Western attempts to yoke its labor, markets and resources to the economic interests of capitalists in Europe and the United States. Emulating the Western imperialist powers, Japan expanded its economic lebensraum, battling Russia for domination of Manchuria and Korea, colonizing Taiwan, and finally conquering much of East Asia. After Japan’s defeat in World War II, the United States bolstered the economic growth of its former foe, fearing Japan would follow China, North Korea and North Vietnam down the Communist road unless high rates of growth and prosperity were achieved.

Hence, in order to build economies that serve the interests of their people, rather than those of investors and bankers abroad, the leaders of several poor countries mobilized their people to free themselves from the oppressions of imperialism. During the 1960s and 1970s the Soviet development model inspired former colonies that fought for and won their political independence. Many of these countries received substantial aid from the Soviet Union and its socialist allies.

There are only a few countries left in that tradition, and all of them are targets of a post-Cold War US mopping up operation, designed to bring the few remaining countries that have remained outside the United States’ informal empire into Washington’s—or more precisely, Wall Street’s— orbit. Economically, US rulers have an interest in bringing North Korea into a US-superintended sphere of exploitation accessible to Wall Street and corporate America, one in which the DPRK’s “Marxist-Leninist” economy is supplanted by an arrangement presided over by South Korea-style puppets eagerly prepared to sell out the country to foreign investors. More importantly, the United States has a motivation to make Communist, independent, North Korea suffer, stifle its development, cripple its economy and sabotage its growth, in order to falsely attribute the ensuing travails to “economic mismanagement” and the “inefficiencies of socialism.” The goal is to sustain the longstanding capitalist ideological project of defiling the reputation of public-ownership and economic planning so that North Korea is seen as a living example of socialism as a failed model.

What Should the UNSC Have Done Differently?

If the instigator and lead author of the punitive Security Council resolution against North Korea, the United States, was really interested in nuclear weapons non-proliferation, it would desist from issuing threats to launch wars of aggression and abandon its program of carrying them out around the globe. It would no longer dangle nuclear swords of Damocles over countries, or threaten to turn them into charcoal briquettes. It would end the practice of creating target lists of countries for possible nuclear attack. It would renounce the first strike use of nuclear weapons and take seriously its commitment under the NPT to undertake negotiations in good faith toward nuclear disarmament. And on the Korean peninsula, it would abandon its practice of conducting annual war games—which have the effect of forcing the DPRK onto a permanent war footing—and accept Pyongyang’s pleas to supplant the armistice which ended hostilities in 1953 with an official treaty of peace. In other words, it would stop creating the conditions which compel threatened countries to arm themselves with nuclear weapons in order to protect their economic and political sovereignty. Finally, it would withdraw its forces from Korea and allow Koreans to enjoy full sovereignty for the first time in 111 years.

The United States should do all these things, but won’t, because it is under the compulsion of a capitalist economic and political system which drives it to assert leadership over—which is to say, to negate the sovereignty of—other countries. It does this in order to absorb their markets, resources, land, and labour for the aggrandizement of its corporate owning class rooted in Wall Street.

As to the other members of the Security Council, including Russia and China, they ought to refrain from participating in the undemocratic exercise of arrogating onto themselves authority beyond that consented to by UN member states and expressed in the UN Charter, to act as a dictatorial cabal, arbitrarily deciding who does, and does not, have a right of sovereignty and self-defense. These rights cannot be abrogated by the Security Council, and that North Korea has stood resolutely against the body’s abuse of its authority and refuses to surrender to the multiple pressures thrust upon it by a raptorial United States, is surely worthy of the admiration and support of people who care about the fight to rid the world of imperialist oppression and the exploitation of man by man. Few nation states champion these goals—or stand up to bullies—anymore. North Korea does.

1. “DPRK foreign minister reiterates its commitment to lasting peace and security on Korean peninsula and region,” KCNA, August 12, 2015.
2. Samantha Power, Remarks at the Security Council stakeout following consultations on the DPRK, February 25, 2016.
3. The New York Times, July 6, 2008.
4. Farnaz Fassihi, “U.N. adopts new sanctions against North Korea,” The Wall Street Journal, March 2, 2016.
5. The New York Times, July 6, 2008.
6. Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History, W.W. Norton & Company, 2005. p. 488-489.
7. “Report: Nuclear weapons policy review names potential targets,” CCN.com, March 10, 2002.
8. 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
9. Bruce Cumings, “Latest North Korean provocations stem from missed US opportunities for demilitarization,” Democracy Now!, May 29, 2009.
10. “U.S. Tells Iran, Syria, N. Korea ‘Learn from Iraq,” Reuters, April 9, 2003. Bolton, by the way, described US policy toward North Korea as ending the country. Asked by The New York Times to explain the aim of US policy on North Korea, 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.’” 11. “Absent from the Korea Talks: Bush’s Hard-Liner,” The New York Times, September 2, 2003.
11. Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History, W.W. Norton & Company, 2005. p. 488-489.
12. “Report: Nuclear weapons policy review names potential targets,” CCN.com, March 10, 2002.
13. KCNA January 22, 2003.
14. Yongho Thae, Minister of the Embassy of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in London, “Understanding and defending North Korea,” Invent the Future, November 15, 2013.
15. Ibid.
16. “FM spokesman slams U.S. for deliberately linking negotiations with Iran over nuclear issue with DPRK,” Rodong Sinmun, July 22, 2015.
17. David Morrison, “Britain’s ‘dependent’ nuclear deterrent,” http://www.david-morrison.org.uk/nuclear-weapons/deterrent-dependent.htm
18. “Peter Nicholas and William Boston, “Obama’s nuclear proffer gets Russian rebuff”, The Wall Street Journal, June 19, 2013.
19. David Morrison, “Britain’s ‘dependent’ nuclear deterrent,” http://www.david-morrison.org.uk/nuclear-weapons/deterrent-dependent.htm
20. Walter Pincus, “As missions are added, Stratcom commander keeps focus on deterrence,” The Washington Post, March 30, 2010.
21. Cited in David Morrison, “Britain’s ‘dependent’ nuclear deterrent,” http://www.david-morrison.org.uk/nuclear-weapons/deterrent-dependent.htm).
22. Ethan Bronner, “Israel sense bluffing in Iran’s threats of retaliation”, The New York Times, January 26, 2012.
23. “U.S. Tells Iran, Syria, N. Korea ‘Learn from Iraq,” Reuters, April 9, 2003.
24. Yongho Thae, Minister of the Embassy of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in London, “Understanding and defending North Korea,” Invent the Future, November 15, 2013.
25. Rudiger Frank, “Libyan lessons for North Korea: A case of déjà vu”, 38 North, March 21, 2011.
26. “Nuclear test part of DPRK’s substantial countermeasures to defend its sovereignty,” KCNA, February 21, 2013.
27. “Gone are the days of US nuclear blackmail,” Rodong Sinmun, February 22, 2013.
28. Cited in David Morrison, “Nuclear weapons: The ultimate insurance policy,” (http://www.david-morrison.org.uk/nuclear-weapons/ultimate-insurance-policy.htm))
29. (“Foreign ministry issues memorandum on N-issue”. Korean Central News Agency, April 21, 2010.)
30. “DPRK will bolster up war deterrence in every way, Rodong Sinmun”, KCNA, August 11, 2013.
31. Walter Pincus, “Nuclear weapons just don’t make sense”, The Washington Post, May 23, 2012.
32. (Peter Baker, “Obama expands modernization of nuclear arsenal”, The New York Times, May 13, 2010)
33. Walter Pincus, “Nuclear weapons just don’t make sense”, The Washington Post, May 23, 2012.
34. William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, “As U.S. modernizes nuclear weapons, ‘smaller’ leaves some uneasy,” The New York Times, January 11, 2015.
35. Peter Nicholas and William Boston, “Obama’s nuclear proffer gets Russian rebuff”, The Wall Street Journal, June 19, 2013.
36. David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker, “White House is rethinking nuclear policy,” The New York Times, February 28, 2010.
37. David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker, “White House is rethinking nuclear policy,” The New York Times, February 28, 2010; David E. Sanger and Peter Baker, “Obama limits when U.S. would use nuclear arms”, The New York Times, April 5, 2010.
38. Cited in Tim Beal, “North Korean satellites and rocket science,” NK News, February 3, 2016.
39. Simon Denyer, “India tests missile capable of reaching Beijing”, The Washington Post, April 19, 2012.
40. Paul Sonne, “As tensions with West rise, Russia increasingly rattles nuclear saber,” The Wall Street Journal, April 5, 2015.
41. “DPRK foreign ministry spokesman rejects UNSC ‘resolution on sanctions’” Rodong Sinmun, March 5, 2016.
42. Ibid.
43. Ibid.
44. Yongho Thae, Minister of the Embassy of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in London, “Understanding and defending North Korea, Invent the Future, November 15, 2013; John Peter Daly, “Socialist construction in North Korea”, PSLWeb.org, December 15, 2006.
45. Anna Louise Strong, In North Korea: First Eye-Witness Report, Soviet Russia Today, New York, 1949.
46. Congressional Testimony, Statement of Harry B. Harris Jr., Commander U.S. Pacific Command, Committee on Senate Armed Services, February 23, 2016.
47. David E. Sanger, “With U.S. eyes on Iran, North Korea’s nuclear arsenal expanded,” The New York Times, May 7, 2015.
48. Tim Beal, “The North Korean threat – the myth and its makers,” NK News, January 21, 2016.
49. Kim Hyun, “US Has No Intention to Build Close Ties with N Korea: Ex-official,” Yonhap News, September 2, 2009.
50. Quoted in Carl Kaysen, Robert S. McNamara and George W. Rathjens, “Nuclear weapons after the Cold War,” Foreign Affairs, Fall, 1991.
51. Tim Beal, “The North Korean threat – the myth and its makers,” NK News, January 21, 2016.
52. Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes, “U.S. plans new Asia missile defenses”, The Wall Street Journal, August 23, 2012.
53. “Who is deployment of THAAD aimed at?” Rodong Sinmun, March 4, 2016.
54. Robert C, Allen, “A reassessment of the Soviet Industrial Revolution.” Comparative Economic Studies, Vol. 47, Issue 2, pp. 315-332, 2005
55. Stephen Gowans, Do Publicly Owned, Planned Economies Work? What’s left, December 21, 2012.

If the BBC reported on the royal family like it did on North Korea

By Adam Taylor
Washington Post
October 19, 2015

You wouldn’t expect a BBC report on Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday to suggest that “it was a birthday celebration, but it felt more like a cult meeting in adoration of the leader.” Nor would you expect talk of “fearsome missiles” or a “snarling martial threat” in the military parade that accompanied the celebrations.

And yet that’s what the footage above, uploaded to YouTube last week, appears to show.

Appearances can be deceiving. Although the footage in the video is from the Trooping the Color ceremony at Buckingham Palace — a military parade that accompanies the queen’s official birthday each year — the audio comes from a BBC radio report by Stephen Evans, a foreign correspondent who covers extravagant North Korean military parades for the news organization.

It appears that the YouTube user who uploaded the video created it with satirical intentions (it is also worth noting that the video was the only one uploaded by the account, which is under the name John Smith — a common placeholder name).

The altered video succeeds in showing just how different things can appear from a different perspective. Many Britons accept lavish military parades in honor of a hereditary head of state as part of British life. North Koreans can understand that.

Written by what's left

October 21, 2015 at 11:11 pm

Posted in north Korea

US- S. Korea Exploiting DMZ Mine Incident to Divert Attention from Anti-N Korea Provocations

August 18, 2015

By Stephen Gowans

I have no idea how it transpired that mines linked to the DPRK (north Korea) that severed the legs of two south Korean soldiers in the demilitarized zone earlier this month came to be where they were, anymore than Washington, Seoul or The New York Times does. But I do know that the set of possible explanations contains more than the single explanation favored by the south Korean and US governments and the Western media, that the mines were deliberately planted by north Korean soldiers as part of an “ongoing pattern of provocation.” I also know that neither Seoul nor Washington are likely to let any opportunity pass to resolve ambiguity into the certainty that the north Koreans, repeatedly denounced in Western propaganda as “belligerent”, have deliberately provoked tensions. The Western propaganda system has a confirmatory bias. All acts of north Koreans must be construed as belligerent, with every act so construed reinforcing the theory.

But there are alternative, and more likely, explanations.

korea-hot-spot-horizontal-large-galleryOne offered immediately after the event was that flooding or shifting soil had led mines to drift from another location. The New York Times’ Korea correspondent Choe Sang-hun reported on August 10 [1] that “Old mines loosed by floodwaters … pose a risk for soldiers serving in the zone. In 2010, dozens of North Korean land mines moved into the South through floodwaters, killing one villager and scaring vacationers away from rivers and beaches near the border.” Indeed, so heavily mined is the area “that wild deer sometimes step on them, causing blasts.” What’s more, “116 villagers have been killed by mines in Gangwon, one of the two South Korean provinces on the border with the North.”

In light of the large number of mines in the zone, and the scores of accidental deaths the mines have caused, it hardly seems that an accident is completely out of the question as an explanation for the tragedy of August 4. On the contrary, it seems to be a probable explanation.

Nevertheless, the probable explanation has been “ruled out” without explanation by Seoul and the “U.N. Command”, the latter presented in press reports as a neutral body, when, indeed, it is none other than the US military. The attempted deception of portraying US occupying forces as impartial observers is necessary to invest the accusation against north Korea with weight, since no one of an unbiased mind reasonably expects Washington to have a neutral attitude toward a country whose government it has been trying to bring down for the past 65 years.

By blaming north Korean for the tragedy, the US-led duo, patron and client, is deflecting attention from its own actual provocations of north Korea by inventing provocations on the north Korean side.

August 17 marked the beginning of joint US-south Korean war games targeted at north Korea, known as Ulji Freedom Guardian. These follow north Korea-targeted war games carried out earlier this year by the United States, south Korea, Britain, Australia and Canada. North Korea poses a vanishingly small offensive military threat to the US client state on the south of the peninsula. At $39 billion annually, Seoul’s military budget towers over Pyongyang’s comparatively meagre $10 billion annual expenditure. Adding decisively to the imbalance is the presence of nearly 30,000 US troops—and advanced US military hardware—on Korean soil, to say nothing of 45,000 US troops in nearby Japan, or the strategic nuclear missiles the United States targets on north Korea.

Contrary to a favored Western deception, the US war games on the Korean peninsula are not defensive; they’re part of a decades-long effort of low intensity warfare carried out by the United States and its client regime whose aim is to sabotage the small north Korean economy by forcing Pyongyang onto a perpetual war footing in which scarce resources are diverted from the civilian economy to defense. North Korea’s small economy can hardly support the expenditures on a conventional military necessary to deter aggression by south Korea and its behemoth patron. But this it must do, and is part of the reason why it has developed a nuclear shield.

The north Koreans face an unenviable choice: to keep up their guard at the expense of their economy, or let it down and face invasion and coerced absorption into the United States’ informal empire. As north Korea’s Workers’ Party puts it, “In actuality, the U.S. is plugging the DPRK into an arms race through ceaseless war drills and arms build-up in a sinister bid to throw hurdles in its efforts to develop its economy and improve the standard of its people’s living.” [2]

Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons, much are they’re portrayed to be provocative, are not a threat to Washington or Seoul. There’s much talk of “denuclearizing” the Korean peninsula, which is nothing more than a call for north Korea to remove a formidable obstacle to the United States fulfilling its agenda of chasing the anti-imperialists out of Pyongyang. Korea will never be denuclearized in any meaningful way so long as US strategic nuclear weapons are, or are able to be, targeted on north Korea—which is to say, so long as the United States maintains a nuclear arsenal. And since there’s no chance that Washington will voluntarily relinquish its nuclear weapons anytime soon, if ever, all talk of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula is simply a conversation about north Korea’s capitulation.

Fortunately, the disasters visited upon Gaddafi in Libya and Saddam in Iraq in voluntarily disarming under US pressure have not gone unnoticed by Pyongyang, which recognizes the advantages of having, in a very small quantity, the WMD the United States possesses in vast numbers. 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. [3] Others have acknowledged this, as well. “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.” [4]

Calling for north Korea to denuclearize, without first calling for the United States to do the same, is logically indefensible. Since the cause of Pyongyang’s possession of nuclear weapons is to deter an aggressive nuclear armed predatory state, it follows that the only way in which the Korean peninsula can be disarmed meaningfully is to remove the root cause of its nuclearization, which means bilateral disarmament, and not north Korea surrendering its nuclear weapons unilaterally while the United States retains the capability to turn north Korea into a “charcoal briquette,” as a former head of the Pentagon once threatened. And just to be clear about who the aggressor is, consider that, according to declassified and other US government documents, 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,” [5] and importantly, during most of those years north Korea was a non-nuclear weapons state. 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. [6]

• 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. [7]

• In the late 1960s, nuclear-armed US warplanes were maintained on 15-minute alert to strike north Korea. [8]

• 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.” [9]

• 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. [10]

• 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.” [11]

• 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.” [12]

• 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.” [13]

• 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.” [14]

• 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.” [15]

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.”[16]

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. [17] 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.)

Since the United States is one of the most aggressive countries in history, not out of place in a category that contains Nazi Germany and militarist Japan, we should hardly passively accept its status as the world’s #1 possessor of WMD. As for north Korea, whose only military aggression (if it can be called that) has occurred as part of a just and legitimate civil war to achieve real independence by liberating the south from the rule of the United States and the Japanese collaborators it recruited to staff its puppet state, it seems to me that lamenting Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal while accepting Washington’s is completely backward. It’s like deploring the symptoms while accepting the virus.

Inasmuch as Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal helps the DPRK stop the juggernaut of US imperialism, those who deplore imperialist predation ought to welcome north Korea’s own observation that the “army and people of the DPRK are no longer what they used to be in the past when they had to counter the U.S. nukes with rifles.” [18]

On top of war games, south Korea has elevated its provocations by resuming, after an 11 year hiatus, propaganda broadcasts, broadcast into north Korea by giant speakers placed at the border, ostensibly in retaliation for the mine incident. The south Korean military has pressed into service “newly developed digital mobile speakers” that “have a range of over 20 kilometers, or double that of the old model.” [19] The DPRK threatened to attack the loudspeakers, eliciting an Orwellian demand from south Korean president Park Geun-hye for Pyongyang to stop “military provocations on the border.” [20]

Two years ago, the Wall Street Journal revealed that the White House approved a detailed plan, called ‘the playbook,’ to ratchet up tension with north Korea. The playbook was developed by the Pentagon’s Pacific Command, and was discussed at several high-level White House meetings. The plan called for low-altitude B-52 bomber flights over the Korean peninsula. Two nuclear-capable B-2 bombers dropped dummy payloads on a south Korean missile range. The flights were deliberately carried out one spring day in 2013 in broad daylight at low altitude. “We could fly it at night, but the point was for them to see it,” said a US military official. A few days later, the Pentagon deployed two advanced F-22 warplanes to south Korea, also part of the ‘play-book’ plan to intimidate Pyongyang. [21]

According to the Wall Street Journal, the White House knew that the north Koreans would react by threatening to retaliate against the United States and south Korea. US “Defense officials acknowledged that north Korean military officers (were) particularly agitated by bomber flights because of memories of the destruction wrought from the air during the Korean War.” [22] US warplanes had demolished every target over one story. They also dropped more napalm in Korea than they did later in Vietnam. [23] The death toll reached into the millions.

The reality, then as now, is exactly opposite of the narrative formulated in Washington and reliably propagated by the Western mass media. Washington and Seoul haven’t responded to north Korean belligerence and provocations; they’ve deliberately planned a show of force in order to elicit an angry north Korean reaction, which is then labelled “belligerent” and “provocative.” The provocations, coldly and calculatingly planned, have come from Washington and south Korea. North Korea’s reactions have been defensive and necessary.

As for the DMZ mine incident, it seems likely that it was accident and Washington and Seoul have decided to turn it into an opportunity to further demonize north Korea, to use it as a pretext to ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang by resuming propaganda broadcasts across the border, and to divert attention from the true provocations on the peninsula—their regular and robust anti-DPRK war games.

1. Choe Sang-hun, “South Korea accuses the north after land mines maim two soldiers in DMZ”, The New York times, August 10, 2015.

2. US-S. Korean Ulji Freedom Guardian joint military drills under fire,” Rodong Sinmun, August 14, 2015.

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

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

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

6. Hanley and Hershaft.

7. Hanley and Hershaft.

8. Hanley and Hershaft.

9. Hanley and Hershaft.

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

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

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

13. Lou Dobbs Tonight, October 18, 2006.

14. Hanley and Hershaft.

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

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

17. 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

18. Rodong Sinmum, August 17, 2015.

19. “More leaflet launches by conservative groups during inter-Korean impasse,” The Hankyoreh, August 14, 2015.

20. Choe Sang-hun, “South Korean leader marks anniversary of war’s end with warning to north Korea,” The New York Times, August 15, 2015.

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

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

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

Written by what's left

August 18, 2015 at 10:53 pm

Promoting Plutocracy: U.S.-Led Regime Change Operations and the Assault on Democracy

with one comment

January 11, 2015

PROMOTING PLUTOCRACY
By Stephen Gowans

Chapter 1. What the West’s Position on Iran Reveals about its Foreign Policy
Chapter 2. Democracy
Chapter 3. Foreign Policy and Profits
Chapter 4. The State in Capitalist Society
Chapter 5. Concealing the Influence of the Corporate Elite on Foreign Policy
Chapter 6. Syria: Eradicating an Ideological Fixation on Socialism
Chapter 7. Ukraine: Improving the Investment Climate
Chapter 8. Kosovo: Privatizing the Economy
Chapter 9. Afghanistan: Investment Opportunities in Pipelines and Natural Resources
Chapter 10. The Military-Industrial Complex, Foreign Aid and Marionettes
Chapter 11. How Foreign Policy Hurts Workers
o Divide and Rule
o Socializing the Costs, Privatizing the Benefits
o The Assault on Substantive Democracy in Korea
o The Terrorism of the Weak
o Bulking Up the Police State
o Obviating the Terrorism of the Weak
Chapter 12. The West’s Foreign Policy Priorities

How and Why the Western News Media Get North Korea’s Economy Wrong

with 4 comments

January 2, 2015

By Stephen Gowans

It is the accustomed practice of Western news media to refer to North Korea’s official news agency, KCNA, as a propaganda outlet, by which is implied that it is a source of self-serving lies. It would be more accurate to say that KCNA propagates the point of view of the North Korean government, which is unquestionably self-serving, or at least intended to be. It is hardly likely that anyone would express a point of view that was deliberately self-damaging. And as far as lies go, while I have no evidence that the North Korean government lies, it would come as no surprise to discover that it has, from time to time, backed its point of view with deceptions, both deliberate and unintended. Humans, as a rule, are not unfailingly honest or free from cognitive biases that sometimes make it difficult for them to see what others see, and North Koreans are as human as anyone else.

All the same, were KCNA to carry reports completely devoid of deception, it seems very likely that it would still be the case that the Western news media would label the news agency a propaganda outlet, in the sense of passing off deliberate lies as truth. This is so because the North Korean view is so often at odds with the spin pumped out in Western capitals by officials of state and reported and passed along by Western news media that it must seem to the purveyors of the Western point of view than the North Korean alternative must be wrong and deliberately so.

If we define propaganda as propagating a self-interested point of view, then entirely absent in Western journalistic commentary on the official news agencies of the foreign states that Western governments are hostile to is any recognition that they, themselves, i.e., the Western news media, are indistinguishable from the foreign news agencies they discredit. As much as the KCNA, Western news media propagate the official viewpoints of states, in their case the points of view of Western states, expressed by presidents, prime ministers, secretaries of defense, Pentagon generals, heads of intelligence agencies, and so on, whose words are carefully reproduced and reported, almost always uncritically, in Western newspapers and TV and radio broadcasts. Asked by the journalist and film-maker John Pilger to explain how his news organization failed to challenge official deceptions about Iraq’s mythical weapons of mass destruction, the pretext for the 2003 Anglo-US invasion and occupation of Iraq, a senior news executive replied that it is not the job of the news media to question what state officials say, only to report their words. This amounts to admitting what left critics have long contended: that the Western news media are merely stenographers for those in power.

Moreover, the fact that Western news media are mainly privately-owned and not run by the state does not make them disinterested and neutral. For the most part, Western news media are owned by an ultra-wealthy business elite. Accordingly, these media promote positions that are compatible with and conducive to the interests of the larger corporate community to which they belong. The view that the news media reflect corporate community interests because they are part of the corporate community is almost axiomatic. There would be no controversy in the claim that a newspaper owned by labor unions would promote positions that are compatible with the interests of labor. Nor would there be much disagreement with the view that a news network owned by environmentalists would take a dim view of fracking. Clearly, then, we should expect media owned by wealthy business owners to reflect the viewpoint of wealthy business owners.

Indeed, it would be naive to accept the deception implied in the phrase “independent media” that media that are independent of the state are neutral, unbiased, and therefore uniquely authoritative. They may be independent of the state, but that does not make them independent; they’re still dependent on their owners. But concealing their dependency allows the news media’s business owners to smuggle their interests into the ways the news is reported behind a facade of journalistic neutrality. Hence, a pro-business point of view is seen to be common sense, since it is disseminated by news media which profess to be independent and therefore impartial, unbiased, and objective. However, the truth of the matter is that privately-owned news media have a point of view, i.e., that of the corporate elite which own them. The same corporate elite dominates the state and the public policy process through: lobbying; funding think tanks to prepare policy recommendations for governments; political campaign contributions; and over-representation relative to their numbers in the legislative, executive and bureaucratic branches of the state. This explains why the Western news media uncritically echo the viewpoint of state officials: they’re both working for the same masters.

The function of the Western news media in propagating a point of view that favors its owners is evident in its propagation of certain ideas about North Korea as incontestable truths, though which in fact are far from incontestable, but which have the congenial effect from the perspective of the corporate elite of seeming to uphold the superiority of the capitalist system and the necessity of governments catering to foreign investors if they’re to secure prosperity for their citizenry.

These ideas, or myths, come in two parts:

1. The idea that North Korea is desperately poor.
2. The attribution of its alleged poverty to the public ownership and central planning of its economy and failure to establish an attractive climate for foreign investment.

Visitors to Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital city, are often struck by the contrast between the city as it is (clean, modern, and teeming with well-dressed and seemingly prosperous residents) and North Korea as it is portrayed by the Western news media (impoverished, rundown, gloomy, on the verge of collapse.) Pyongyang is not the horror of poverty that Western news media make it out to be.

A recent article in the South Korean newspaper The Hankyoreh paints a picture wildly at odds with the Western news media’s gloomy view.

Three years after Kim Jong-un came to power in North Korea, the streets of Pyongyang look much different. The streets of the city are lined with new 40-floor skyscrapers, and taxis drive down them. Before, they had been dark at night, but now they are illuminated by bright lights, while smartphone-toting women are dressed more smartly than before.

The Hankyoreh quotes a recent visitor to North Korea, Jin Zhe, Director of Northeast Asia Studies for the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences: “The economy appears to be moving briskly in Pyongyang these days. What particularly stood out were the large apartment buildings being built in various parts of the city and the bustling activity at the markets. You can really feel how much it’s thriving.”

The North Korean economy is growing and production of industrial and agricultural goods is on the rise [1]. Food scarcity, however, has been a problem (though a diminishing one), and conditions appear to be less favorable in the countryside than in Pyongyang. [2] The existence of food scarcity is almost invariably attributed by Western reporters and editorial writers to the alleged inefficiencies of public ownership and planning or to North Korea’s investment in its military, allegedly at the expense of its people. Both attributions are facile.

Pyongyang. Source: Daily Mail, May 29, 2014

Pyongyang. Source: Daily Mail, May 29, 2014

Until the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, North Korea experienced no food insecurity under an economic system based on public ownership and planning. It was only after the demise of communism in Eastern Europe that food security became a problem. As in Cuba, the crash of the Eastern European socialist states created an economic shock, as North Korea’s trading relationships and economic interconnections with these states broke down. Agricultural production suffered as inputs became scarce. Food production was further set back by a series of natural calamities.

The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe had two additional effects on North Korea’s economy.

First, it allowed the United States to ramp up its military intimidation of North Korea. In 1991, the top US military official at the time, Colin Powell, complained that “I’m running out of demons. I’m running out of villains. I’m down to Castro and Kim Il Sung.” [3] With the Warsaw Pact out of the way, the United States could now concentrate on eliminating other communist states. In February 1993, Lee Butler, head of the US Strategic Command, announced that the United States was retargeting hydrogen bombs aimed at the old USSR on North Korea (and other targets), though at the time, North Korea was a non-nuclear weapons state. One month later, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. [4] Already on a permanent war footing—the Korean War had never officially ended and the United States had tens of thousands of troops garrisoned across the border in South Korea and in nearby Japan—North Korea was forced to devote a crushingly large part of its resources to its military and self-defense. Now the pressure on the North Korean economy was being ratcheted up further.

Second, the United States and its allies had maintained a wide-ranging system of sanctions on North Korea—more accurately described as a campaign of economic warfare, aimed at wrecking the North Korean economy. With the option open prior to 1990 of establishing economic ties and trading relationships with communist allies, North Korea was largely able to side-step the effects of the US-led campaign of economic warfare. However, after 1991 the door was closed, except for North Korea’s relationship with its neighbor China.

John Mueller and Karl Mueller explain:

During the Cold War the effect of economic sanctions was generally limited because when one side imposed them the other side often undermined them. Thus the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba was substantially mitigated for decades by compensatory Soviet aid. But in the wake of the Cold War, sanctions are more likely to be comprehensive and thus effective, in causing harm if not necessarily in achieving political objectives. So long as they can coordinate their efforts, the big countries have at their disposal a credible, inexpensive, and potent weapon to use against small and medium-sized foes. The dominant powers have shown that they can inflict enormous pain at remarkably little cost to themselves or the global economy. Indeed, in a matter of months or years whole economies can be devastated. [5]

Western news media almost never attribute the economic difficulties experienced by countries that have been subjected to campaigns of economic warfare to the effects of those campaigns. Instead, their economic difficulties are almost invariably imputed to economic mismanagement (which is equated to expropriation of privately-owned productive assets or failing to compete for, cater to, and indulge foreign investors) or to the targeted government’s socialist policies (and always, targeted governments pursue policies the US State Department would decry as socialist, though they’re often more accurately labelled as economically nationalist.) The aim of this deception is obvious: to discredit economic policy that fails to comport with the profit-making interests of the Western corporate community.

Much has been said by the political left about the devastating effects of the US embargo on Cuba and of the millions of Iraqis who died as a result of disruptions caused by Western sanctions throughout the 1990s. But very little has been said about sanctions in connection with North Korea, despite the reality that North Korea is the most heavily sanctioned country on earth and has been menaced by a campaign of unremitting US-led economic warfare since 1950. Policy-makers in Washington now despair of having any levers left to exert pressure on North Korea. The country is under such a heavy burden of sanctions, and so thoroughly menaced by military pressure, that there are few levers left to reach for.

In a December 26 Washington Post op-ed former US president Jimmy Carter opened a tiny crack in the near total embargo on mentioning sanctions and their effects on North Korea’s economy. Carter acknowledged that the “U.S. embargo, imposed 64 years ago at the start of the Korean War, has been more strictly enforced, with every effort made to restrict or damage North Korea’s economy.” Carter then went on to draw the link between US policy aimed at “destroying the (North Korean) economy” and “the plight of people,” arguing for economic warfare that didn’t attack “the living conditions” of North Koreans. [6] What he didn’t espouse (not unexpectedly, but which needs to be argued for) is the complete removal of sanctions on North Korea. The US-led campaign of economic warfare on the country has no legitimate grounds. Its ultimate aim, working in conjunction with US-led military pressure, is to force the North Korean government to jettison its system of public ownership and planning and to fold itself into South Korea, where it can become part of a larger US neo-colony. There are no legal or moral grounds for this policy. Its existence is rooted entirely in the profit-making interests of the West’s corporate elite. The more immediate goal of the campaign is to limit and disrupt the North Korean economy in order to discredit alternatives to capitalism and US free enterprise. Achieving this aim critically depends on the cooperation of the Western news media. They must ignore the effects of the sanctions (as well as US military pressure) and attribute North Korea’s economic difficulties to its economic and defense policies.

If propaganda amounts to the propagation of a self-serving narrative, the Western news media need look no further than themselves and their owners to find the perfect model. North Korea, according the propaganda system of the West, is desperately poor, when in fact, at least in Pyongyang, it is anything but. North Korea’s alleged poverty, according to the same model, is due to it military policies, with no mention made of how they are legitimate self-defensive measures taken to resist the very real military threat posed by the United States and its allies. Similarly, North Korea’s alleged indigence is imputed to its economic system, with the effect of economic warfare whose object is the destruction of the North Korean economy totally ignored.

What Western propaganda must miss is the most compelling story of all—how a country born off a guerrilla struggle against Japanese occupation holds on, and even, by some measures, has managed to thrive, despite being subjected to 64 years of economic warfare and military threat, including the threat of nuclear annihilation, by the most powerful and predatory state on the planet.

1. “After three years of Kim Jong-un, skyscrapers popping up on Pyongyang skyline,” The Hankyoreh, December 29, 2014.
2. In his New Years 2015 address, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un referred to his country’s “food problem” as well as “the shortage of electricity.”
3. Quoted in Carl Kaysen, Robert S. McNamara and George W. Rathjens, “Nuclear weapons after the Cold War,” Foreign Affairs, Fall 1991.
4. Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History, W.W. Norton & Company, 2005. p. 488-489.
5. John Mueller and Karl Mueller, “Sanctions of Mass Destruction,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 1999.
6. Jimmy Carter, “Cuba, North Korea, and getting sanctions right,” The Washington Post, December 26, 2014.

Written by what's left

December 30, 2014 at 5:55 pm

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