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Archive for the ‘Nuclear proliferation’ Category

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binding on the parties to it, not on those who declined to join it, (like Israel), or have, (as North Korea has done), withdrawn from it.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.

Why North Korea Needs Nuclear Weapons

with 20 comments

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–Rodong Sinmun, August 17, 2015

February 16, 2013
Updated August 17, 2015

By Stephen Gowans

Is North Korea’s recent nuclear test, its third, to be welcomed, lamented or condemned? It depends on your perspective. If you believe that a people should be able to organize their affairs free from foreign domination and interference; that the United States and its client government in Seoul have denied Koreans in the south that right and seek to deny Koreans in the north the same right; and that the best chance that Koreans in the north have for preserving their sovereignty is to build nuclear weapons to deter a US military conquest, then the test is to be welcomed.

If you’re a liberal, you might believe that the United States should offer the DPRK (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name) security guarantees in return for Pyongyang completely, permanently and verifiably eliminating its nuclear weapons program. If so, your position invites three questions.

• Contrary to the febrile rhetoric of high US officials, the United States is not threatened by North Korea. North Korea’s nuclear weapons capability is a defensive threat alone. The DPRK’s leaders are not unaware that a first-strike nuclear attack would trigger an overwhelming US nuclear retaliatory strike, which, as then US president Bill Clinton once warned, “would mean the end of their country as we know it”. Since a North Korean first-strike would be suicidal (and this is not lost on the North Korean leadership), whether Pyongyang has or doesn’t have nuclear weapons makes little difference to US national security. What, then, would motivate Washington to offer genuine security guarantees? It can’t be argued that US national security considerations form the basis of the guarantees, since the threat to the United States of a nuclear-armed North Korea is about the same as a disarmed North Korea—approximately zero.

• How credible could any security guarantee be, in light of the reality that since 1945 Washington has invested significant blood and treasure in eliminating all expressions of communism and anti-imperialism on the Korean peninsula. The argument that the United States could issue genuine security guarantees would have to explain what had transpired to bring about a radical qualitative shift in US policy from attempting to eliminate communism in Korea to détente with it.

• Why is it incumbent on North Korea alone to disarm? Why not the United States too?

The conservative view, on which I shall not tarry, is simple. Anything North Korea does, except surrender, is blameworthy.

Finally, you might lament Pyongyang’s nuclear test for running counter to nuclear non-proliferation, invoking the fear that growth in the number of countries with nuclear weapons increases the risk of war. But this view crumbles under scrutiny. The elimination of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq didn’t reduce the chances of US military intervention in that country—it increased them. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s voluntary elimination of his WMD didn’t prevent a NATO assault on Libya—it cleared the way for it. The disarming of countries that deny the US ruling class access to markets, natural resources, and investment opportunities, in order to use these for their own development, doesn’t reduce the risk of wars of conquest—it makes them all the more certain.

The radical view locates the cause of wars of conquest since the rise of capitalism in the drive for profits. This compulsion chases the goods, services and capital of corporate-dominated societies over the face of the globe to settle everywhere, nestle everywhere, and establish connections everywhere, irrespective of the wishes, interests, development needs and welfare of the natives. If territories aren’t voluntarily opened to capital penetration through trade and investment agreements, their doors are battered down by the Pentagon, the enforcer of last resort of a world economic order supporting, as its first commitment, the profit-making interests of the US ruling class.

Background

Because North Korea has long been vilified and condemned by the Western press as bellicose, provocative and unpredictable, it’s difficult to cut through the fog of vituperation that obscures any kind of dispassionate understanding of the country to grasp that the DPRK represents something praiseworthy: a tradition of struggle against oppression and foreign domination, rooted in the experience of a majority of Koreans dating back to the end of WWII and the period of Japanese colonial rule. This tradition found expression in the Korean People’s Republic, a national government, created by, for, and of Koreans, that was already in place when US troops landed at Inchon in September, 1945. The new government was comprised of leftists who had won the backing of the majority, partly because they had led the struggle against Japan’s colonial occupation, and partly because they promised relief from exploitation by landlords and capitalists. The USSR, which occupied the north of the country until 1948, worked with the KPR in its occupation zone, but the United States suppressed the KPR in the south, worked to exterminate leftist forces in its zone, and backed conservatives reviled by Koreans for their oppressions and collaboration with the Japanese. By 1948, the peninsula was divided between a northern government led by guerrillas and activists who fought to liberate Korea from Japanese rule, and a southern government led by a US-installed anti-communist backed by conservatives tainted by collaboration with colonial oppression. For the next 65 years, the essential character of the competing regimes has remained the same. Park Geun-hye, the incoming South Korean president is the daughter of a former president, Park Chung-hee, who came to power in a military coup in 1961. The elder Park had served in the Japanese Imperial Army. Kim Il Sung, grandfather of North Korea’s current leader, Kim Jong-eun, was an important guerrilla leader who, unlike the collaborator Park, fought, rather than served, the Japanese. The North represents the traditions of struggle against foreign domination, both political and economic, while the South represents the tradition of submission to and collaboration with a foreign hegemon. Significantly, there are no foreign troops stationed in North Korea, but are in South Korea. North Korean troops have never fought abroad, but South Korea’s have, odiously in Vietnam, in return for infusions of mercenary lucre from the Americans, and later in Iraq. As regards repression, South Korea’s authoritarianism on behalf of rightist causes is long and enduring, typified in the virulently anti-communist National Security Law, which metes out harsh punishment to anyone who so much as publicly utters a kind word about North Korea. The South Korean police state also blocks access to pro-North Korean websites, bans books, including volumes by Noam Chomsky and heterodox (though pro-capitalist) economist Ha Joon-chang, and imprisons anyone who travels to the North.

Pressure

Since the Korean War the United States and South Korea have maintained unceasing pressure on North Korea through subversion, espionage, propaganda, economic warfare and threats of nuclear attack and military invasion. Low-intensity warfare sets as its ultimate objective the collapse of the North Korean government. Unremitting military pressure forces Pyongyang to maintain punishingly high expenditures on defense (formalized in the country’s Songun, or “army first” policy). Massive defense expenditures divert critical resources from the civilian economy, retarding economic growth. At the same time, trade and financial sanctions heap further harm on the economy. Economic dislocations disrupt food supplies, make life harsh for many North Koreans, and breed discontent. Discontent in turn engenders political opposition, which is beaten back and contained by measures of repression and restriction of civic and political liberties. In response, Washington disingenuously deplores Pyongyang’s military expenditures at a time North Koreans “are starving”; denounces Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program as a “provocation” (rather than a defense against US military threat); dishonestly attributes the country’s economic difficulties to allegedly inherent weaknesses in public ownership and central planning (rather than sanctions and financial strangulation); and chastises the DPRK for its repressive measures to check dissent (ultimately traceable to US pressures.) In other words, the regrettable features of North Korea that Washington highlights to demonize and discredit the DPRK are the consequences, not the causes, of US North Korea policy. To view US policy as a reaction to the DPRK’s nuclear weapons program, economic difficulties, and repressions is to get the causal direction wrong.

US foreign policy

US foreign policy aims to secure and defend access to foreign markets, natural resources and investment opportunities and deny communists and nationalists control because access might be blocked, limited or freighted with social welfare and domestic development considerations.

As a general rule, the American government’s attitude to governments in the Third World …depends very largely on the degree to which these governments favour American free enterprise in their countries or are likely to favour it in the future…In this perspective, the supreme evil is obviously the assumption of power by governments whose main purpose is precisely to abolish private ownership and private enterprise…Such governments are profoundly objectionable not only because their actions profoundly affect foreign-owned interests and enterprises or because they render future capitalist implantation impossible [but also] because the withdrawal of any country from the world system of capitalist enterprise is seen as constituting a weakening of that system and as providing encouragement to further dissidence and withdrawal. [1]

North Korea is one of the few countries left that commits “the supreme evil.” Allowed to develop in peace, unimpeded by military pressure and economic warfare, it might become an inspiration for other countries to follow. From the perspective of the US ruling class, the United States’ North Korea policy must have one overarching objective: the DPRK’s demise. Asked by The New York Times to explain the aim of US policy on North Korea, then US under secretary of state for arms control John Bolton “strode over to a bookshelf, pulled off a volume and slapped it on the table. It was called ‘The End of North Korea.'” “‘That,’ he said, ‘is our policy.'” [2]

On top of profit-making goals, and crippling North Korea economically, politically and socially to prevent its emergence as an inspiring example to other countries, Washington seeks to maintain access to its strategic position on a peninsula whose proximity to China and Russia provides a forward operating base from which to pressure these two significant obstacles to the United States’ complete domination of the globe.

Threats of nuclear war

According to declassified and other US government documents, some released on the 60th-anniversary of the Korean War, from “the 1950s’ Pentagon to today’s Obama administration, the United States has repeatedly pondered, planned and threatened the use of nuclear weapons against North Korea.” [3] These documents, along with the public statements of senior US officials, point to an ongoing pattern of US nuclear intimidation of the DPRK.

• The United States introduced nuclear weapons to the Korean peninsula as early as 1950. [4]

• During the Korean War, US president Harry Truman announced that the use of nuclear weapons was under active consideration; US Air Force bombers flew nuclear rehearsal runs over Pyongyang; and US commander General Douglas MacArthur planned to drop 30 to 50 atomic bombs across the northern neck of the Korean peninsula to block Chinese intervention. [5]

• In the late 1960s, nuclear-armed US warplanes were maintained on 15-minute alert to strike North Korea. [6]

• In 1975, US defense secretary James Schlesinger acknowledged for the first time that US nuclear weapons were deployed in South Korea. Addressing the North Koreans, he warned, “I do not think it would be wise to test (US) reactions.” [7]

• In February 1993, Lee Butler, head of the US Strategic Command, announced the United States was retargeting hydrogen bombs aimed at the old USSR on North Korea (and other targets.) One month later, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. [8]

• On July 22, 1993, US president Bill Clinton said if North Korea developed and used nuclear weapons “we would quickly and overwhelmingly retaliate. It would mean the end of their country as we know it.” [9]

• In 1995, Colin Powell, who had served as chairman of the US joints chiefs of staff and would later serve as US secretary of state, warned the North Koreans that the United States had the means to turn their country into “a charcoal briquette.” [10]

• Following North Korea’s first nuclear test on October 9, 2006, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice reminded North Korea that “the United States has the will and the capability to meet the full range—and I underscore full range of its deterrent and security commitments to Japan [emphasis added].” [11]

• In April 2010, US defense secretary Leon Panetta refused to rule out a US nuclear attack on North Korea, saying, “all options are on the table.” [12]

• On February 13, 2013, Panetta described North Korea as “a threat to the United States, to regional stability, and to global security.” He added: “Make no mistake. The US military will take all necessary steps to meet our security commitments to the Republic of Korea and to our regional allies [emphasis added].” [13]

As the North Koreans put it, “no nation in the world has been exposed to the nuclear threat so directly and for so long as the Koreans.”[14]

“For over half a century since early in the 1950s, the US has turned South Korea into the biggest nuclear arsenal in the Far East, gravely threatening the DPRK through ceaseless manoeuvres for a nuclear war. It has worked hard to deprive the DPRK of its sovereignty and its right to exist and develop….thereby doing tremendous damage to its socialist economic construction and the improvement of the standard of people’s living.” [15]

Economic warfare

The breadth and depth of US economic warfare against North Korea can be summed up in two sentences:

• North Korea is “the most sanctioned nation in the world” — George W. Bush. [16]

• …”there are few sanctions left to apply.” – The New York Times [17]

From the moment it imposed a total embargo on exports to North Korea three days after the Korean War began in June 1950, the United States has maintained an uninterrupted regimen of economic, financial, and diplomatic sanctions against North Korea. These include:

o Limits on the export of goods and services.
o Prohibition of most foreign aid and agricultural sales.
o A ban on Export-Import Bank funding.
o Denial of favourable trade terms.
o Prohibition of imports from North Korea.
o Blocking of any loan or funding through international financial institutions.
o Limits on export licensing of food and medicine for export to North Korea.
o A ban on government financing of food and medicine exports to North Korea.
o Prohibition on import and export transactions related to transportation.
o A ban on dual-use exports (i.e., civilian goods that could be adapted to military purposes.)
o Prohibition on certain commercial banking transactions. [18]

In recent years, US sanctions have been complemented by “efforts to freeze assets and cut off financial flows” [19] by blocking banks that deal with North Korean companies from access to the US banking system. The intended effect is to make North Korea a banking pariah that no bank in the world will touch. Former US president George W. Bush was “determined to squeeze North Korea with every financial sanction possible” until its economy collapsed. [20] The Obama administration has not departed from the Bush policies.

Washington has also acted to sharpen the bite of sanctions, pressing other countries to join its campaign of economic warfare against a country it faults for maintaining a Marxist-Leninist system and non-market economy. [21] This has included the sponsoring of a United Nations Security Council resolution compelling all nations to refrain for exporting dual-use items to North Korea (a repeat of the sanctions regime that led to the crumbling of Iraq’s healthcare system in the 1990s.) Washington has even gone so far as to pressure China (unsuccessfully) to cut off North Korea’s supply of oil. [22]

Drawing the appropriate lesson

On the day Baghdad fell to invading US forces, John Bolton warned Iran, Syria and North Korea to “draw the appropriate lesson from Iraq.” [23] There can be no doubt that Pyongyang drew a lesson, though not the one Bolton intended. The North Koreans did not conclude, as Bolton hoped, that peace and security could be achieved by relinquishing WMDs. Instead, the North Koreans couldn’t fail to grasp the real lesson of the US assault on Iraq. The United States had invaded Iraq only after Saddam Hussein had cleared the way by complying with US demands to destroy his weapons of mass destruction. Had he actually retained the weapons he was falsely accused of hiding and holding in reserve, the Americans would likely have never attacked.

Subsequent events in Libya have only reinforced the lesson. Muammar Gaddafi had developed his own WMD program to protect Libya from Western military intervention. But Gaddafi also faced an internal threat—Islamists, including jihadists linked to Al Qaeda, who sought to overthrow him to create an Islamist society in Libya. After 9/11, with the United States setting out to crush Al Qaeda, Gaddafi sought a rapprochement with the West, becoming an ally in the international battle against Al Qaeda, to more effectively deal with his own Islamist enemies at home. The price of being invited into the fold was to abandon his weapons of mass destruction. When Gaddafi agreed to this condition he made a fatal strategic blunder. An economic nationalist, Gaddafi irritated Western oil companies and investors by insisting on serving Libyan interests ahead of the oil companies’ profits and investors’ returns. Fed up with his nationalist obstructions, NATO teamed up with Gaddafi’s Islamist enemies to oust and kill the Libyan leader. Had he not surrendered his WMDs, Gaddafi would likely still be playing a lead role in Libya. “Who would have dared deal with Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein if they had a nuclear capability?” asks Major General Amir Eshel, chief of the Israeli army’s planning division. “No way.” [24]

Having unilaterally disarmed, Gaddafi was hailed in Western capitals, and world leaders hastened to Tripoli to sign commercial agreements with him. Among Gaddafi’s visitors was the South Korean minister of foreign affairs, and Ban Ki-moon, later to become the UN secretary general. Both men urged the “rehabilitated” Libyan leader to persuade the North Koreans to give up their nuclear weapons. [25] Whether Gaddafi acceded to the Koreans’ request is unclear, but if he did, his advice was wisely ignored. In the North Korean view, Gaddafi fell prey to a “bait and switch.” The lesson the DPRK drew from Libya was that the only guarantee of peace on the Korean peninsula is a powerful military, backed by nuclear weapons. [26]

This is neither an irrational view, nor one the West, for all its pieties about nuclear non-proliferation (for others), rejects for itself. Britain, for example, justifies its own nuclear weapons program with reference to the need “to deter and prevent nuclear blackmail and acts of aggression against our vital interests that cannot be countered by other means.” [27] If the UK requires nuclear weapons to deter and prevent nuclear blackmail and acts of aggression, then surely the North Koreans—long on the receiving end of these minatory pressures—do as well. Indeed, the case can be made that the North Koreans have a greater need for nuclear arms than the British do, for whom nuclear blackmail and acts of aggression are only hypotheticals.

General Kevin P. Chilton, head of the US Strategic Command from 2007 to 2011, told Washington Post columnist Walter Pincus in 2010 that, “Throughout the 65-year history of nuclear weapons, no nuclear power has been conquered or even put at risk of conquest.” [28] On the other hand, countries that comply with demands to abandon their WMDs soon find themselves conquered, by countries with nuclear weapons aplenty and no intention of giving them up. Pincus used Chilton’s words to advocate a pre-emptive strike on North Korea to prevent the country from developing a large enough nuclear arsenal to make itself invulnerable to conquest. That no nuclear power has been conquered or put at risk of conquest is “a thought others in government ought to ponder as they watch Iran and North Korea seek to develop nuclear capability,” Pincus wrote. [29]

Conclusion

Nuclear arms have political utility. For countries with formidable nuclear arsenals and the means of delivering warheads, nuclear weapons can be used to extort political concessions from non-nuclear-armed states through terror and intimidation. No country exploits the political utility of nuclear weapons as vigorously as the United States does. In pursuing its foreign policy goals, Washington threatened other countries with nuclear attack on 25 separate occasions between 1970 and 2010, and 14 occasions between 1990 and 2010. On six of these occasions, the United States threatened the DPRK. [30] There have been more US threats against North Korea since. (The United States’ record of issuing threats of nuclear attack against other countries over this period is: Iraq, 7; China, 4; the USSR, 4; Libya, 2; Iran, 1; Syria, 1. Significantly, all these countries, like the DPRK, were under communist or economically nationalist governance when the threats were made.)

Nuclear weapons also have political utility for countries menaced by nuclear and other military threats. They raise the stakes for countries seeking to use their militaries for conquest, and therefore reduce the chances of military intervention. There is little doubt that the US military intervention in Iraq and NATO intervention in Libya would not have been carried out had the targets not disarmed and cleared the way for outside forces to intervene with impunity.

A North Korean nuclear arsenal does not increase the chances of war—it reduces the likelihood that the United States and its South Korean marionette will attempt to bring down the communist government in Pyongyang by force. This is to be welcomed by anyone who opposes imperialist military interventions; supports the right of a people to organize its affairs free from foreign domination; and has an interest in the survival of one of the few top-to-bottom, actually-existing, alternatives to the global capitalist system of oppression, exploitation, and foreign domination.

1. Ralph Miliband, The State in Capitalist Society, Merlin Press, 2009, p. 62.

2. “Absent from the Korea Talks: Bush’s Hard-Liner,” The New York Times, September 2, 2003.

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

4. Hanley and Hershaft.

5. Hanley and Hershaft.

6. Hanley and Hershaft.

7. Hanley and Hershaft.

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

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

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

11. Lou Dobbs Tonight, October 18, 2006.

12. Hanley and Hershaft.

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

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

15. Korean Central News Agency, February 13, 2013.

16. U.S. News & World Report, June 26, 2008; The New York Times, July 6, 2008.

17. Neil MacFarquhar and Jane Perlez, “China looms over response to nuclear test by North Korea,” The New York Times, February 12, 2013.

18. Dianne E. Rennack, “North Korea: Economic sanctions”, Congressional Research Service, October 17, 2006. http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/crs/rl31696.pdf

19. Mark Landler, “Envoy to coordinate North Korea sanctions”, The New York Times, June 27, 2009.

20. The New York Times, September 13, 2006.

21. According to Rennack, the following US sanctions have been imposed on North Korea for reasons listed as either “communism”, “non-market economy” or “communism and market disruption”: prohibition on foreign aid; prohibition on Export-Import Bank funding; limits on the exports or goods and services; denial of favorable trade terms.

22. The Washington Post, June 24, 2005.

23. “U.S. Tells Iran, Syria, N. Korea ‘Learn from Iraq,” Reuters, April 9, 2003.

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

25. Chosun Ilbo, February 14, 2005.

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

A February 21, 2013 comment by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency (“Nuclear test part of DPRK’s substantial countermeasures to defend its sovereignty”) noted that,

“The tragic consequences in those countries which abandoned halfway their nuclear programs, yielding to the high-handed practices and pressure of the U.S. in recent years, clearly prove that the DPRK was very far-sighted and just when it made the option. They also teach the truth that the U.S. nuclear blackmail should be countered with substantial countermeasures, not with compromise or retreat.”

An article in the February 22, 2013 issue of Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of North Korea’s ruling Workers Party (“Gone are the days of US nuclear blackmail”) observed that “Had it not been the nuclear deterrence of our own, the U.S. would have already launched a war on the peninsula as it had done in Iraq and Libya and plunged it into a sorry plight as the Balkan at the end of last century and Afghanistan early in this century.”

27. http://www.mod.uk/NR/rdonlyres/AC00DD79-76D6-4FE3-91A1-6A56B03C092F/0/DefenceWhitePaper2006_Cm6994.pdf

28. Quoted in Walter Pincus, “As missions are added, Stratcom commander keeps focus on deterrence,” The Washington Post, March 30, 2010.

29. Pincus.

30. Samuel Black, “The changing political utility of nuclear weapons: Nuclear threats from 1970 to 2010,” The Stimson Center, August 2010, http://www.stimson.org/images/uploads/research-pdfs/Nuclear_Final.pdf

Written by what's left

February 16, 2013 at 11:23 pm

A Tale of Two Rocket Launches

with 3 comments

North Korea launched a rocket on April 13 to loft a satellite into space–part of the country’s civilian space program. The rocket, based on ballistic missile technology, broke up only minutes after launch. Western state officials and media rebuked Pyongyang for directing part of its strained budget to a rocket launch when it depends on outside food aid. Along with other countries, India “voiced deep concern.” [1]

Six days later, India launched Agni-V, a ballistic missile capable of delivering a 1.5 ton nuclear warhead to any point in China. India–which the American Federation of Scientists estimates has an arsenal of 80 to 100 nuclear weapons—boasted that the launch represented “another milestone” in its “quest to add to the credibility” of its “security and preparedness.” [2]

Both launches violated UN Security Council resolutions. Security Council Resolution 1172 (1998) calls upon India “to cease development of ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” [3] Security Council Resolutions 1718 (2006) [4] and 1874 (2009) [5] direct North Korea to do the same.

On April 16, North Korea was censured by the Security Council for violating resolutions 1718 and 1874. [6] India has not been censured for violating resolution 1172. Indeed, that a Security Council resolution exists which prohibits India’s ballistic missile program has been almost completely ignored.

What’s more, while North Korea was savagely attacked in the Western media for its satellite launch, the same media treated India’s long-range ballistic missile test with either indifference or approval. India’s massive poverty was not juxtaposed against its decision to allocate resources to building nuclear warheads and the missiles to carry them.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons

The United States was the first country to introduce nuclear weapons to the Korean peninsula, in the form of tactical battlefield weapons. Later, when the USSR dissolved, Lee Butler, the head of the US Strategic Command, announced that the United States would retarget some of its strategic ballistic nuclear missiles from the former Soviet Union to North Korea. One month later, Pyongyang withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. [7]

A cardinal principle of nuclear nonproliferation is that countries with nuclear weapons should not target countries without them. Doing so provides the targeted country with a reason to develop its own nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

After North Korea’s first underground nuclear test, on October 9, 2006, the UN Security Council met to impose sanctions. At the meeting, North Korean ambassador Pak Gil Yon explained that North Korea initiated its nuclear weapons program because it felt compelled to protect itself from the danger of war from the United States.

This was hardly paranoid. Washington’s desire to see the collapse of North Korea is undoubted. An ideological competitor vis-à-vis the United States whose zeal for economic and political independence is second to none, North Korea remains one of the few remaining challenges to the US-led neo-liberal world economic order. In an attempt to crush the fiercely independent state, Washington has made North Korea the most heavily sanctioned country on earth—and hasn’t relieved the pressure in six decades.

This, on top of tactical and strategic nuclear weapons threats, nearly 30,000 US troops on the Korean peninsula, the incessant visits of nuclear weapons-equipped US warships and warplanes to South Korean ports and airbases, and the Pentagon’s de facto control of the South Korean military in peacetime and de jure control in wartime, constitutes a significant existential threat to North Korea.

In 2003, the Bush administration ratcheted up the threat by naming North Korea as part of an “axis of evil.” It then invaded the first country on its list, Iraq, and warned the other two to “draw the appropriate lesson.” [8] In light of this, Pak’s explanation that North Korea conducted the nuclear test to “bolster its self-defense” and that it “wouldn’t need nuclear weapons if the US dropped its hostile policies” rings true. [9]

Since then, the United States has delivered an additional reason for Pyongyang to draw the appropriate lesson—though not the one it hoped. Nato’s intervention in Libya on behalf of al-Qaeda-connected rebels likely wouldn’t have happened had the country’s leader, Muammar Gaddafi, not given up his chemical and nuclear weapons programs in exchange for reversal of sanctions and Western investment.

Hypocrisy

Washington says that it believes China sold North Korea the chassis for a missile-transport vehicle displayed in a North Korean military parade shortly after the failed satellite launch and would use “the episode to tighten pressure to better enforce United Nations sanctions forbidding the sale of weapons or technology to North Korea that would aid its ballistic missile and technology program.” [10]

Security Council resolution 1718 directs member states not to supply North Korea with battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, missiles or missile systems. A truck chassis hardly fits the list, and is clearly not a nuclear weapon or technology.

But why does a resolution—which concerns a nuclear test—ban sales to North Korea of conventional military equipment? Resolution 1172, dealing with India’s and Pakistan’s nuclear tests, imposed no similar sanctions on these countries. The likely explanation is that the resolution aims to deny Pyongyang an effective means of self-defense, both nuclear and conventional. In other words, the Security Council used North Korea’s efforts to tighten its security as a pretext to block its access to the equipment, technology and materials it needs for self-defense. By contrast, since the United States dropped its sanctions on India last decade, the latter has been permitted to add to the credibility of its security and preparedness without impediment.

Moreover, why was North Korea sanctioned at all? Having withdrawn from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty under the threat posed by US strategic missiles, Pyongyang was bound by no international covenant prohibiting it from developing nuclear weapons. The Security Council justified the sanctions on the grounds that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is a threat to international peace and security. Invoking authority to prevent possible outbreaks of war between nations, however, has become a convenient way for the Security Council to legitimize arbitrary actions. It simply describes some incident as a threat to peace between nations—whether it is or not–and thereby hands itself authority to act.

Have North Korea’s nuclear tests truly represented a threat to international peace and security, or only a threat to the ability of certain permanent Security Council members to target North Korea with nuclear weapons free from the risk of nuclear retaliation? The United States, Britain and other countries that have nuclear weapons emphasize the deterrent nature of their nuclear arsenals. Rather than threatening international peace and security, these countries maintain that their WMDs preserve it. Why, then, should WMDs in the hands of countries threatened with nuclear annihilation constitute threats, while in the hands of the countries that pose the threat, nuclear weapons are considered a buttress to international peace and security? It seems more likely that peace and security between nations would be strengthened were the United States to cease targeting North Korea with nuclear weapons or were it deterred by Pyongyang’s possible nuclear retaliation.

Obviously (though not so obviously to Washington) a truck chassis is not a nuclear weapon or technology, but it is not unknown for Washington to broaden the definition of banned items to turn ostensibly narrow sanctions into broad-based ones. [11] UN Security Resolutions 1718 and 1874 do the same. While they appear to be limited to prohibiting North Korea from developing ballistic missile technology for military use, they have been interpreted by the Security Council to prohibit civilian use, as well. Hence, in censuring Pyongyang for its satellite launch, the president of the Security Council noted that any rocket launch that uses ballistic missile technology, even for civilian use, is a violation of the UN Security Council resolutions. [12] This means that as far as the Security Council is concerned, North Korea cannot have a civilian space program.

The United States’ criticism of China for selling North Korea a truck chassis, on grounds that the sale is a violation of a Security Council resolution, is not only baseless, it’s hypocritical. Washington has agreed to sell India spent nuclear fuel and nuclear technology, not only to “bring tens of billions in business to the United States” but to also cement “a new partnership between the two nations to counter China’s rise.” [13] Yet Security Council resolution 1172 directs “all States to prevent the export of equipment, materials or technology that could in any way assist programs in India or Pakistan for nuclear weapons.” Hence, while the United States accuses China of violating a Security Council resolution by selling the North Koreans truck parts, Washington itself has cleared the way to export equipment, material and technology to India to assist its nuclear program in violation of a Security Council resolution. Canada, too, which is selling uranium to India, is violating the same Security Council resolution. [14]

There are, then, four sets of double-standards that mark the West’s reaction to North Korea’s satellite launch.

• North Korea was censured by the Security Council for launching a satellite as part of a civilian space program, but India escaped censure for launching a ballistic missile whose purpose would be to destroy Chinese cities. Both launches violated Security Council resolutions, but the Security Council and Western media ignore the resolution prohibiting India’s ballistic missile program.

• North Korea’s attempt to loft a satellite into space was reviled by Western media and presented as a threat, while India’s launch of a long-range missile capable of carrying a payload to wipe Chinese cities off the map merited few critical remarks.

• North Korea was rebuked for what was widely described as an extravagant expenditure on a rocket launch at a time Pyongyang is dependent on outside help to feed its people [15], while India’s widespread and profound poverty hardly seemed a consideration to a Western media that could find little critical to say about India’s expensive nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.

• China has been criticized by the United States for selling truck parts to North Korea, presumably in violation of a Security Council resolution prohibiting sales of conventional military equipment to Pyongyang, while it has approved the sale of spent nuclear fuel and nuclear technology to India in violation of Security Council Resolution 1172.

India’s efforts to add to the credibility of its security and preparedness are accepted as legitimate by Western governments and media because they’re directed at China. Pyongyang’s efforts to add to the credibility of its security and preparedness are reviled and censured because they’re aimed at bolstering North Korea’s defense against hegemonic threats. India’s actions—insofar as they contribute to the United States’ new military strategic focus of containing the challenge of China’s rise—is in Wall Street’s interests. North Korea’s actions—in challenging the United States’ ability to forcibly integrate the country into the US-led neo-liberal world economic order—is against Wall Street’s interests. Accordingly, one rocket launch is condoned, the other condemned.

1. “India’s role in Asia-Pacific enormously important: US”, The Economic Times, April 17, 2012.
2. Simon Denyer, “India tests missile capable of reaching Beijing”, The Washington Post, April 19, 2012.
3. http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N98/158/60/PDF/N9815860.pdf?OpenElement
4. http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N06/572/07/PDF/N0657207.pdf?OpenElement
5. http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N09/368/49/PDF/N0936849.pdf?OpenElement
6. http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N12/295/91/PDF/N1229591.pdf?OpenElement
7. Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History, W.W. Norton & Company, 2005. 488-489.
8. The warning was issued by US Undersecretary of State John Bolton. The other country on the list was Iran, now subjected to economic warfare, assassinations, sabotage, incursions by US reconnaissance drones, attacks by proxy terrorist armies, destabilization and threats of military intervention by the United States, its invariable cobelligerent Britain, and Israel.
9. http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N06/572/07/PDF/N0657207.pdf?OpenElement
10. Mark Landler, “Suspected sale by China stirs concern at White House”, The New York Times, April 20, 2012.
11. Similarly, Nato bombing campaigns notoriously broaden the definition of legitimate military targets to cover civilian infrastructure, including roads, bridges, TV and radio broadcasting facilities, factories and even farms.
12. The combined implication of the resolutions is that:

• North Korea cannot lawfully defend itself against the threat of nuclear attack;
• It cannot lawfully be sold conventional military equipment for self-defense;
• It cannot lawfully have a civilian space program.
13. Simon Denyer and Pama Lakshmi, “U.S.-India nuclear deal drifts dangerously”, The Washington Post, July 15, 2011.
14. Bill Curry, “Canada signs nuclear deal with India”, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), June 27, 2010.
15. Sanctions contribute heavily to North Korea’s food security problems.

Written by what's left

April 22, 2012 at 10:38 pm

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

with 2 comments

By Stephen Gowans

Remind me why sanctions have been imposed on Iran.

Is it because the country is developing nuclear weapons?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, but let me get this straight.

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

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

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

So, why is Iran being sanctioned?

Written by what's left

August 22, 2010 at 10:57 pm

The Nuclear Posture Review

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Written by what's left

April 15, 2010 at 10:53 pm

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