Archive for the ‘north Korea’ Category
By Adam Taylor
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.
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.
One 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  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.” 
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.  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.” 
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,”  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. 
• 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. 
• In the late 1960s, nuclear-armed US warplanes were maintained on 15-minute alert to strike north Korea. 
• 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.” 
• 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. 
• 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.” 
• 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.” 
• 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.” 
• 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.” 
• 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.” 
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.”
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.  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.” 
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.”  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.” 
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. 
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.”  US warplanes had demolished every target over one story. They also dropped more napalm in Korea than they did later in Vietnam.  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.
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 . Food scarcity, however, has been a problem (though a diminishing one), and conditions appear to be less favorable in the countryside than in Pyongyang.  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.
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.”  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.  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. 
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.  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.
By Stephen Gowans
Surely one could be forgiven for thinking that when the Washington Post’s Chico Harlan (February 17) described the conclusions reached by the UN Human Rights Commission’s investigation into North Korea that he was really describing his own country, the United States. Harlan wrote, “The report makes for devastating reading, laying out the way North Korea conducts surveillance on its citizens (see Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA’s spying on US citizens…and everyone else), bans them from travel (anyone up for a visit to Cuba?), discriminates against them based on supposed ideological impurities (has the United States ever been kind to Marxist-Leninists?), tortures them (water boarding and Abu Ghraib) and sometimes banishes them to isolated prison camps, where they are held incommunicado” (recently Guantanamo and other CIA torture camps around the world to which opponents of the US regime have been rendered, more distantly, the incarceration of German-, Italian- and Japanese-Americans during WWII.)
The report recommends that North Korea be referred to the International Criminal Court at The Hague, but if the charges against North Korea are true, then surely the case for referring the United States to the same court is at least as compelling. Add the United States’ record of extrajudicial assassination, its world-leading rate of incarceration, its illegal wars, and its support for the most vile human rights violators on the planet, among them Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Bahrain, and the case for referring US leaders to The Hague is overwhelming.
The UN report says that North Korea is committing human rights violations “without any parallel in the contemporary world,” a conclusion that could only be reached by wilful blindness to the human rights violations of the United States, its democracy-abominating allies in the Gulf, and its south Korean neo-colony. South Korea, whose affronts against human rights are passed over largely in silence by the Western media (and it seems by the UN Human Rights Commission too), conducts surveillance on its citizens, bans them from travel to North Korea, discriminates against them if they hold views sympathetic to North Korea, its official Juche ideology or Marxism-Leninism, and uses its highly repressive National Security Law to lock up and intimidate anyone who has a good word to say about North Korea.
The UN report can hardly be taken seriously. It is a transparent effort to discredit a government that has, for more than half a century, been in the cross-hairs of a US program of military intimidation, economic warfare, diplomatic isolation and ideological assault, targeted for regime change for rejecting participation in a US-superintended global capitalist order. More than that, by passing over regimes that do what North Korea is accused of doing, it sanitizes the behavior of the United States and its allies, buttressing the ideological fiction that anti-capitalist governments are uniquely human rights violators, while upholders of global capitalism are uniquely champions of human rights.
If a case is to be pressed to refer North Korea to the ICC, then referrals of the United States, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea to The Hague—to start—are long overdue. Until this oversight is rectified, it is impossible to regard the UN report—and the western media’s coverage of it—as anything but sops to the propaganda imperatives of US foreign policy.
By Stephen Gowans
In an April 3 Wall Street Journal article, “U.S. dials back on Korean show of force,” reporters Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes revealed that the White House approved a detailed plan, called ‘the playbook,’ to ratchet up tension with North Korea during the Pentagon’s war games with South Korea.
The war games, which are still in progress, and involve the deployment of a considerable amount of sophisticated US military hardware to within striking distance of North Korea, are already a source of considerable tension in Pyongyang, and represent what Korean specialist Tim Beal dubs “sub-critical” warfare.
The two-month-long war games, directed at and carried out in proximity to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, force the North Korean military onto high alert, an exhausting and cripplingly expensive state of affairs for a small country whose economy has already been crippled by wide-ranging sanctions. North Korea estimates that sanctions and US military aggression have taken an incalculable toll on its economy. 
The playbook was developed by the Pentagon’s Pacific Command, to augment the war games that began in early March, and was discussed at several high-level White House meetings, according to the Wall Street Journal reporters.
The plan called for low-altitude B-52 bomber flights over the Korean peninsula, which happened on March 8. A few weeks later, two nuclear-capable B-2 bombers dropped dummy payloads on a South Korean missile range. The flights were deliberately carried out in broad daylight at low altitude, according to a U.S. defense official, to produce the intended minatory effect. “We could fly it at night, but the point was for them to see it.” 
A few days ago, the Pentagon deployed two advanced F-22 warplanes to South Korea, also part of the ‘play-book’ plan to intimidate Pyongyang.
According to Entous and Barnes, the White House knew that the North Koreans would react by threatening to retaliate against the United States and South Korea.
In a March 29 article, Barnes wrote that “Defense officials acknowledged that North Korean military officers are particularly agitated by bomber flights because of memories of the destruction wrought from the air during the Korean War.”  During the war, the United States Air Force demolished every target over one story. It also dropped more napalm than it did later in Vietnam. 
The reality, then, is exactly opposite of the narrative formulated in the Western mass media. Washington hasn’t responded to North Korean belligerence and provocations with a show of force. On the contrary, Washington deliberately planned a show of force in order to elicit an angry North Korean reaction, which was then labelled “belligerence” and “provocation.” The provocations, coldly and calculatingly planned, have come from Washington. North Korea’s reactions have been defensive.
Pressed to explain why North Korea, a military pipsqueak in comparison to the United States, would deliberately provoke a military colossus, Western journalists, citing unnamed analysts, have concocted a risible fiction about Pyongyang using military threats as a bargaining chip to wheedle aid from the West, as a prop to its faltering “mismanaged” economy. The role of sanctions and the unceasing threat of US military intervention are swept aside as explanations for North Korea’s economic travails.
However, Entous’s and Barnes’s revelations now make the story harder to stick. The North Koreans haven’t developed a nuclear program, poured money into their military, and made firm their resolve to meet US and South Korean aggression head-on, in order to inveigle aid from Washington. They’ve done so to defend themselves against coldly calculated provocations.
According to the Wall Street Journal staffers, the White House has dialled back its provocations for now, for fear they could lead to a North Korean “miscalculation.” In street language, Washington challenged the DPRK to a game of chicken, and broke it off, when it became clear the game spin out of control.
1. According to the Korean Central News Agency, March 26, 2013, “The amount of human and material damage done to the DPRK till 2005 totaled at least 64,959 854 million U.S. dollars.”
2. Jay Solomon, Julian E. Barnes and Alastair Gale, “North Korea warned”, The Wall Street Journal, March 29, 2013
3. Julian E. Barnes, “U.S. pledges further show of force in Korea”, The Wall Street journal, March 29, 2013
4. Bruce Cumings. The Korean War: A History. Modern Library. 2010.
By Stephen Gowans
Why has North Korea withdrawn from an armistice agreement that has kept overt hostilities on the Korean peninsula at bay since 1953? Does the withdrawal portend an imminent North Korean aggression? Hardly. North Korea is in no position to launch an attack on its Korean neighbour, or on the United States, at least not one that it would survive. North Korean forces are dwarfed by the US and South Korean militaries in size, sophistication and fire-power. The withdrawal serves, instead, as a signal of North Korean resolve to defend itself against growing US and South Korean harassment, both military and economic.
For decades, North Korea has been subjected to the modern form of the siege. “The aim of the siege is to reduce the enemy to such a state of starvation and deprivation that they open the gate, perhaps killing their leaders in the process and throw themselves on the mercy of the besiegers.”  North Korea withstood the siege, and even flourished, during the years it was able to trade with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe’s socialist countries. But with the demise of Soviet socialism, the country has bent, but not broken, under the pressure of US-led sanctions of mass destruction.
Sanctions against North Korea are multi-form, and include a trade blockade and financial isolation. Significantly, no country in history has been menaced by such wide-ranging sanctions for so long. North Korea is, as then US president George W. Bush once remarked, the most sanctioned nation on earth.  Sanctions, military harassment (which I’ll come back to in a moment), and the US nuclear threat—Washington has threatened North Korea with nuclear annihilation on countless occasions —have forced the North Koreans to bulk up militarily, build ballistic missiles, and test nuclear devices in order to survive.
Led by Washington, the UN Security Council has authored a number of resolutions to deny North Korea rights of self-defense and other rights that other countries are free to exercise: the rights to: build ballistic missiles; withdraw from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty; launch satellites; sell arms abroad; and transfer nuclear technology to other countries. These are rights that every permanent member of the UN Security Council exercises freely. They are also rights that many other countries enjoy with impunity.
On top of besieging North Korea, Washington and South Korea have for decades kept up a campaign of unrelenting military harassment in the form of regular war games. The latest war games began March 1 and will last for two months. Undertaken as practice in mobilizing US troops and military hardware from abroad for rapid deployment to the Korean peninsula, the war games this year have activated not only US and South Korean militaries, but British, Canadian, and Australian forces, as well. While labelled “defensive,” the war games force the North Koreans onto a permanent war footing. It can never be clear to North Korean generals whether the latest US-South Korean mobilization is a drill or preparation for an invasion. The effect is to force Pyongyang to maintain its military on high alert, an exhausting and expensive exercise.
The view propagated by Western officials and, in train, the Western mass media, is that the sanctions are aimed at correcting North Korea’s “bad behaviour” and that the war games are carried out to deter North Korean aggression. But what’s called “bad behaviour”—the building of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles—is Pyongyang’s reaction to the US-led permanent state of siege. A tiny country with a military budget dwarfed by South Korea’s and the United States’  is not credibly an offensive threat to Washington and Seoul, but the United States and South Korea are unquestionably offensive threats to the DPRK (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name.)
After the UN manoeuvred the Security Council to slap still more sanctions on North Korea, and began its latest round of war games, the Wall Street Journal alerted the world that “North Korea [had] moved to further stoke tensions with South Korea…”  On the contrary, the United States had further stoked tensions with North Korea.
A dead letter
There are three reasons to regard the armistice agreement as existing in form alone, and not substance.
First, the purpose of the agreement was to set the stage for a permanent peace. Despite North Korea repeatedly asking Washington to enter into a peace agreement, none has been struck. After one North Korean entreaty for peace, then US secretary of state Colin Powell said “We don’t do non-aggression pacts or treaties, things of that nature.” 
Second, the agreement was to be followed by the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the Korean peninsula. The Chinese withdrew, as did most members of the UN forces. But US forces, which have remained in South Korea for the last 60 years, have become a permanent fixture on the peninsula. Incredibly, South Korean forces remain under US command.
Third, the agreement prohibits “the introduction into Korea of reinforcing combat aircraft, armoured vehicles, weapons and ammunition…” The US violated the agreement by introducing nuclear weapons into South Korea in 1958. And it’s questionable whether the war games-related deployment of massive amounts of US military hardware to Korea doesn’t violate the agreement, as well.
What Washington wants from North Korea
On March 11, U.S. national security adviser Tom Donilon announced publicly that what Washington wants from North Korea is open markets and the country’s integration into the US-led system of global capitalist exploitation. At least, that’s what he meant when he said, “I urge North Korea’s leaders to reflect on Burma’s experience.” 
Burma (Myanmar) turned its self-directed, locally-, and largely publicly-owned economy into a capitalist playground for foreign investors.
When Myanmar’s military took power in a 1962 coup, it nationalized most industries and brought the bulk of the economy under government control, which is the way it stayed until three years ago. Major utilities were state-owned and health-care and education were publicly provided. Private hospitals and private schools were unheard of. Ownership of land and local companies was limited to the country’s citizens. Companies were required to hire Myanmar workers. And the central bank was answerable to the government. In other words, Myanmar’s economy, inasmuch as it markets, labor and natural resources were used for the country’s self-directed development, was very much like North Korea’s. And like North Korea, Myanmar was an object of US hostility, subject to sanctions, and targeted by US-orchestrated low-level warfare.
Bowing to US pressure, Myanmar’s government began in the last few years to sell off government buildings, its port facilities, its national airline, mines, farmland, the country’s fuel distribution network, and soft drink, cigarette and bicycle factories. The doors to the country’s publicly-owned health care and education systems were thrown open, and private investors were invited in. A new law was drawn up to give more independence to the central bank, making it answerable to its own inflation control targets, rather than directly to the government.
To top it all off, a foreign-investment law was drafted to allow foreigners to control local companies and land, permit the entry of foreign telecom companies and foreign banks, allow 100 percent repatriation of profits, and exempt foreign investors from paying taxes for up to five years. What’s more, foreign enterprises would be allowed to import skilled workers, and wouldn’t be required to hire locally.
With Myanmar signalling its willingness to turn over its economy to outside investors, US hostility abated and the sanctions were lifted. President Obama dispatched then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton to meet with Myanmar’s leaders, the first US secretary of state to visit in more than 50 years. William Hague soon followed, the first British foreign minister to visit since 1955. Other foreign ministers beat their own paths to the door of the country’s military junta, seeking to establish ties with the now foreign investment-friendly government on behalf of their own corporations, investors, and banks. And business organizations sent their own delegations, including four major Japanese business organizations, all looking to cash in on Myanmar’s new opening. Announcing the easing of US sanctions, then US secretary of state Hilary Clinton enthused, “Today we say to American business: Invest in Burma!” 
That, then, is what the United States wants for North Korea: for a US secretary of state to one day announce, “Today we say to American business: Invest in North Korea!”
Effects, not causes
In the US view, North Korea is a militaristic, aggressive state, bent on provoking South Korea and its American overlords and setting the peninsula aflame, for reasons that are never made clear. Pyongyang must, therefore, be deterred by sanctions and displays of US military “resolve.” Yet North Korea has never pursued an aggressive foreign policy, hasn’t the means to do so, and unlike the United States and South Korea, has never sent troops into battle on foreign soil. (South Korea hired out its military to the United States as a mercenary force to battle nationalists seeking independence in Vietnam.) By contrast, the DPRK’s militarism, expressed in its Songun (military first) policy, is defensive, not aggressive, mercenary or imperialist.
It is a misconception that the incursion of North Korean forces into the south in 1950, marking the formal start of the Korean War, was an invasion across an international border. The boundary dividing the two Koreas had been drawn unilaterally by the United States in 1945, and never agreed to by Koreans. The Korean War was a civil war in which sovereigntists, and collaborators with the Japanese, now with the Americans, battled over control of their country, aided by foreign militaries. Had the United States not intervened the country would have been re-united under a socialist government committed to independence.
The US view, far from providing an accurate account of North Korea and its relationship with the United States, turns reality on its head. The reality is that US public policy, including foreign policy, is largely shaped by corporations, banks, and elite investors, through lobbying, the funding of think tanks, and placement of corporate officers, Wall Street lawyers, and ambitious politicians dependent on the wealthy for campaign financing and lucrative post-political job opportunities, into key positions in the state.
US foreign policy seeks to protect and enlarge the interests of the class that shapes it, by safeguarding existing, and securing new, foreign investment opportunities, opening markets abroad for US goods and services, and ensuring business conditions around the world are conducive to the profit-making imperatives of US corporations.
From the perspective of the goals of US foreign policy, North Korea’s publicly-owned, planned economy commits the ultimate sin: it reserves North Korean labor, markets and natural resources for the country’s own welfare and self-development. Accordingly, US foreign policy aims to reduce North Korea to such a level of deprivation and misery that the people overthrow their leaders and open the gate, or the leaders capitulate and heed Donilon’s urging to follow Myanmar’s capitulatory path. All attempts to resist integration into the US-superintended global capitalist system are deceptively presented by the United States as evidence of North Korea’s bellicosity, rather than what they are: acts of self-defense against an imperialist predator.
1. Tim Beal. Crisis in Korea: America, China and the Risk of War. Pluto Press, 2011, p. 180.
2. U.S. News & World Report, June 26, 2008; The New York Times, July 6, 2008.
3. For more on US threats of nuclear annihilation against North Korea see Stephen Gowans, “Why North Korea needs nuclear weapons”, what’s left, February 16, 2013.
4. The combined US-South Korean 2010 military budget was $739B (US, $700B; South Korea, $39K), 74 times greater than North Korea’s $10B expenditure. For more see Stephen Gowans, “Wars for Profits: A No-Nonsense Guide to Why the United States Seeks to Make Iran an International Pariah,” what’s left, November 9, 2011.
5. Alastair Gale, “Kim’s visit to bases raises tension”, The Wall Street Journal, March 12, 2013.
6. New York Times, August 14, 2003.
7. Alastair Gale and Keith Johnson, “North Korea declares war truce ‘invalid’”, The Wall Street Journal, March 12, 2013.
8. On Myanmar’s transition to open markets and free enterprise see Stephen Gowans, “Myanmar learns the lesson of Libya,” what’s left, May 20, 2012.