Archive for the ‘Sanctions’ Category
“What the U.S. really wants is not the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula but the Americanization of the Korean peninsula.” 
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.” 
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.  “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.”  Bush had promised that “the most sanctioned nation in the world” would “remain the most sanctioned nation in the world.”  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. 
• In 2001, the Bush administration identified North Korea as a possible target of nuclear attack (along with Libya, Syria, China, Russia, Iran and Iraq.) 
• 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. 
• On one occasion the United States’ top soldier, Colin Powell, warned North Korea that the United States could turn it into a “charcoal briquette.” 
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 , 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.  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.  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.” 
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. 
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. 
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”  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.” 
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.  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).” 
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.”  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.”  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.” 
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.”  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. 
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. 
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.”  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.“ 
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.”  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.”  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.” 
“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.”  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…”  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.” 
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.” 
The Pentagon is also at work on non-nuclear WMD “approaching the level of strategic nuclear arms in their strike capability.”  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. “
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. 
“More than 100 space vehicles are put into the orbit around the earth by carrier rockets in a year on an average worldwide,”  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,”  an altogether incomprehensible accolade to bestow on a country that has never belonged to the NPT, is estimated to have 90-110 warheads , 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.  “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.” 
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?” 
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.  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.”  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.”  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.  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. 
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.” 
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.  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.” 
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.”  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.  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.”  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. 
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.
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.
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.
January 2, 2015
By Stephen Gowans
It is the accustomed practice of Western news media to refer to North Korea’s official news agency, KCNA, as a propaganda outlet, by which is implied that it is a source of self-serving lies. It would be more accurate to say that KCNA propagates the point of view of the North Korean government, which is unquestionably self-serving, or at least intended to be. It is hardly likely that anyone would express a point of view that was deliberately self-damaging. And as far as lies go, while I have no evidence that the North Korean government lies, it would come as no surprise to discover that it has, from time to time, backed its point of view with deceptions, both deliberate and unintended. Humans, as a rule, are not unfailingly honest or free from cognitive biases that sometimes make it difficult for them to see what others see, and North Koreans are as human as anyone else.
All the same, were KCNA to carry reports completely devoid of deception, it seems very likely that it would still be the case that the Western news media would label the news agency a propaganda outlet, in the sense of passing off deliberate lies as truth. This is so because the North Korean view is so often at odds with the spin pumped out in Western capitals by officials of state and reported and passed along by Western news media that it must seem to the purveyors of the Western point of view than the North Korean alternative must be wrong and deliberately so.
If we define propaganda as propagating a self-interested point of view, then entirely absent in Western journalistic commentary on the official news agencies of the foreign states that Western governments are hostile to is any recognition that they, themselves, i.e., the Western news media, are indistinguishable from the foreign news agencies they discredit. As much as the KCNA, Western news media propagate the official viewpoints of states, in their case the points of view of Western states, expressed by presidents, prime ministers, secretaries of defense, Pentagon generals, heads of intelligence agencies, and so on, whose words are carefully reproduced and reported, almost always uncritically, in Western newspapers and TV and radio broadcasts. Asked by the journalist and film-maker John Pilger to explain how his news organization failed to challenge official deceptions about Iraq’s mythical weapons of mass destruction, the pretext for the 2003 Anglo-US invasion and occupation of Iraq, a senior news executive replied that it is not the job of the news media to question what state officials say, only to report their words. This amounts to admitting what left critics have long contended: that the Western news media are merely stenographers for those in power.
Moreover, the fact that Western news media are mainly privately-owned and not run by the state does not make them disinterested and neutral. For the most part, Western news media are owned by an ultra-wealthy business elite. Accordingly, these media promote positions that are compatible with and conducive to the interests of the larger corporate community to which they belong. The view that the news media reflect corporate community interests because they are part of the corporate community is almost axiomatic. There would be no controversy in the claim that a newspaper owned by labor unions would promote positions that are compatible with the interests of labor. Nor would there be much disagreement with the view that a news network owned by environmentalists would take a dim view of fracking. Clearly, then, we should expect media owned by wealthy business owners to reflect the viewpoint of wealthy business owners.
Indeed, it would be naive to accept the deception implied in the phrase “independent media” that media that are independent of the state are neutral, unbiased, and therefore uniquely authoritative. They may be independent of the state, but that does not make them independent; they’re still dependent on their owners. But concealing their dependency allows the news media’s business owners to smuggle their interests into the ways the news is reported behind a facade of journalistic neutrality. Hence, a pro-business point of view is seen to be common sense, since it is disseminated by news media which profess to be independent and therefore impartial, unbiased, and objective. However, the truth of the matter is that privately-owned news media have a point of view, i.e., that of the corporate elite which own them. The same corporate elite dominates the state and the public policy process through: lobbying; funding think tanks to prepare policy recommendations for governments; political campaign contributions; and over-representation relative to their numbers in the legislative, executive and bureaucratic branches of the state. This explains why the Western news media uncritically echo the viewpoint of state officials: they’re both working for the same masters.
The function of the Western news media in propagating a point of view that favors its owners is evident in its propagation of certain ideas about North Korea as incontestable truths, though which in fact are far from incontestable, but which have the congenial effect from the perspective of the corporate elite of seeming to uphold the superiority of the capitalist system and the necessity of governments catering to foreign investors if they’re to secure prosperity for their citizenry.
These ideas, or myths, come in two parts:
1. The idea that North Korea is desperately poor.
2. The attribution of its alleged poverty to the public ownership and central planning of its economy and failure to establish an attractive climate for foreign investment.
Visitors to Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital city, are often struck by the contrast between the city as it is (clean, modern, and teeming with well-dressed and seemingly prosperous residents) and North Korea as it is portrayed by the Western news media (impoverished, rundown, gloomy, on the verge of collapse.) Pyongyang is not the horror of poverty that Western news media make it out to be.
A recent article in the South Korean newspaper The Hankyoreh paints a picture wildly at odds with the Western news media’s gloomy view.
Three years after Kim Jong-un came to power in North Korea, the streets of Pyongyang look much different. The streets of the city are lined with new 40-floor skyscrapers, and taxis drive down them. Before, they had been dark at night, but now they are illuminated by bright lights, while smartphone-toting women are dressed more smartly than before.
The Hankyoreh quotes a recent visitor to North Korea, Jin Zhe, Director of Northeast Asia Studies for the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences: “The economy appears to be moving briskly in Pyongyang these days. What particularly stood out were the large apartment buildings being built in various parts of the city and the bustling activity at the markets. You can really feel how much it’s thriving.”
The North Korean economy is growing and production of industrial and agricultural goods is on the rise . Food scarcity, however, has been a problem (though a diminishing one), and conditions appear to be less favorable in the countryside than in Pyongyang.  The existence of food scarcity is almost invariably attributed by Western reporters and editorial writers to the alleged inefficiencies of public ownership and planning or to North Korea’s investment in its military, allegedly at the expense of its people. Both attributions are facile.
Until the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, North Korea experienced no food insecurity under an economic system based on public ownership and planning. It was only after the demise of communism in Eastern Europe that food security became a problem. As in Cuba, the crash of the Eastern European socialist states created an economic shock, as North Korea’s trading relationships and economic interconnections with these states broke down. Agricultural production suffered as inputs became scarce. Food production was further set back by a series of natural calamities.
The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe had two additional effects on North Korea’s economy.
First, it allowed the United States to ramp up its military intimidation of North Korea. In 1991, the top US military official at the time, Colin Powell, complained that “I’m running out of demons. I’m running out of villains. I’m down to Castro and Kim Il Sung.”  With the Warsaw Pact out of the way, the United States could now concentrate on eliminating other communist states. In February 1993, Lee Butler, head of the US Strategic Command, announced that the United States was retargeting hydrogen bombs aimed at the old USSR on North Korea (and other targets), though at the time, North Korea was a non-nuclear weapons state. One month later, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.  Already on a permanent war footing—the Korean War had never officially ended and the United States had tens of thousands of troops garrisoned across the border in South Korea and in nearby Japan—North Korea was forced to devote a crushingly large part of its resources to its military and self-defense. Now the pressure on the North Korean economy was being ratcheted up further.
Second, the United States and its allies had maintained a wide-ranging system of sanctions on North Korea—more accurately described as a campaign of economic warfare, aimed at wrecking the North Korean economy. With the option open prior to 1990 of establishing economic ties and trading relationships with communist allies, North Korea was largely able to side-step the effects of the US-led campaign of economic warfare. However, after 1991 the door was closed, except for North Korea’s relationship with its neighbor China.
John Mueller and Karl Mueller explain:
During the Cold War the effect of economic sanctions was generally limited because when one side imposed them the other side often undermined them. Thus the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba was substantially mitigated for decades by compensatory Soviet aid. But in the wake of the Cold War, sanctions are more likely to be comprehensive and thus effective, in causing harm if not necessarily in achieving political objectives. So long as they can coordinate their efforts, the big countries have at their disposal a credible, inexpensive, and potent weapon to use against small and medium-sized foes. The dominant powers have shown that they can inflict enormous pain at remarkably little cost to themselves or the global economy. Indeed, in a matter of months or years whole economies can be devastated. 
Western news media almost never attribute the economic difficulties experienced by countries that have been subjected to campaigns of economic warfare to the effects of those campaigns. Instead, their economic difficulties are almost invariably imputed to economic mismanagement (which is equated to expropriation of privately-owned productive assets or failing to compete for, cater to, and indulge foreign investors) or to the targeted government’s socialist policies (and always, targeted governments pursue policies the US State Department would decry as socialist, though they’re often more accurately labelled as economically nationalist.) The aim of this deception is obvious: to discredit economic policy that fails to comport with the profit-making interests of the Western corporate community.
Much has been said by the political left about the devastating effects of the US embargo on Cuba and of the millions of Iraqis who died as a result of disruptions caused by Western sanctions throughout the 1990s. But very little has been said about sanctions in connection with North Korea, despite the reality that North Korea is the most heavily sanctioned country on earth and has been menaced by a campaign of unremitting US-led economic warfare since 1950. Policy-makers in Washington now despair of having any levers left to exert pressure on North Korea. The country is under such a heavy burden of sanctions, and so thoroughly menaced by military pressure, that there are few levers left to reach for.
In a December 26 Washington Post op-ed former US president Jimmy Carter opened a tiny crack in the near total embargo on mentioning sanctions and their effects on North Korea’s economy. Carter acknowledged that the “U.S. embargo, imposed 64 years ago at the start of the Korean War, has been more strictly enforced, with every effort made to restrict or damage North Korea’s economy.” Carter then went on to draw the link between US policy aimed at “destroying the (North Korean) economy” and “the plight of people,” arguing for economic warfare that didn’t attack “the living conditions” of North Koreans.  What he didn’t espouse (not unexpectedly, but which needs to be argued for) is the complete removal of sanctions on North Korea. The US-led campaign of economic warfare on the country has no legitimate grounds. Its ultimate aim, working in conjunction with US-led military pressure, is to force the North Korean government to jettison its system of public ownership and planning and to fold itself into South Korea, where it can become part of a larger US neo-colony. There are no legal or moral grounds for this policy. Its existence is rooted entirely in the profit-making interests of the West’s corporate elite. The more immediate goal of the campaign is to limit and disrupt the North Korean economy in order to discredit alternatives to capitalism and US free enterprise. Achieving this aim critically depends on the cooperation of the Western news media. They must ignore the effects of the sanctions (as well as US military pressure) and attribute North Korea’s economic difficulties to its economic and defense policies.
If propaganda amounts to the propagation of a self-serving narrative, the Western news media need look no further than themselves and their owners to find the perfect model. North Korea, according the propaganda system of the West, is desperately poor, when in fact, at least in Pyongyang, it is anything but. North Korea’s alleged poverty, according to the same model, is due to it military policies, with no mention made of how they are legitimate self-defensive measures taken to resist the very real military threat posed by the United States and its allies. Similarly, North Korea’s alleged indigence is imputed to its economic system, with the effect of economic warfare whose object is the destruction of the North Korean economy totally ignored.
What Western propaganda must miss is the most compelling story of all—how a country born off a guerrilla struggle against Japanese occupation holds on, and even, by some measures, has managed to thrive, despite being subjected to 64 years of economic warfare and military threat, including the threat of nuclear annihilation, by the most powerful and predatory state on the planet.
1. “After three years of Kim Jong-un, skyscrapers popping up on Pyongyang skyline,” The Hankyoreh, December 29, 2014.
2. In his New Years 2015 address, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un referred to his country’s “food problem” as well as “the shortage of electricity.”
3. Quoted in Carl Kaysen, Robert S. McNamara and George W. Rathjens, “Nuclear weapons after the Cold War,” Foreign Affairs, Fall 1991.
4. Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History, W.W. Norton & Company, 2005. p. 488-489.
5. John Mueller and Karl Mueller, “Sanctions of Mass Destruction,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 1999.
6. Jimmy Carter, “Cuba, North Korea, and getting sanctions right,” The Washington Post, December 26, 2014.
“Economic sanctions are, at their core, a war against public health.”
–The New England Journal of Medicine 
By Stephen Gowans
While campaigns are organized to deter the United States and Israel from acting on threats to launch an air war against Iran, both countries, in league with the European Union (winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize) carry on a low-intensity war against Iran that is likely to be causing more human suffering and death than strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities would. This is a war against public health, aimed at the most vulnerable: cancer patients, hemophiliacs, kidney dialysis patients, and those awaiting transplants. Its victims are unseen, dying anonymously in hospitals, not incinerated in spectacular explosions touched off by cruise missiles and bunker buster bombs. But ordinary Iranians who can’t get needed medications are every bit as much victims of war as those blown apart by bombs. And yet, we think, that as long as the bombs don’t rain down, that peace has been preserved. Perhaps it has, in formal terms, but bleeding to death in the crater of a bomb, or bleeding to death because you can’t get hemophilia drugs, is, in either case, death.
In Iran today there is an acute shortage of pharmaceuticals for kidney dialysis and transplants and for treating cancer, hemophilia, thalessemia, multiple sclerosis, and other disorders. Hospital equipment is breaking down for want of spare parts. And raw materials used by domestic pharmaceutical manufacturers—blocked by Western sanctions—are in short supply. It adds up to a healthcare crisis. The United States and European Union say their sanctions don’t apply to drugs and medical equipment, but US and European banks are unwilling to handle financial transactions with Iran. If they do, the US Treasury Department will deny them access to the US banking system. Since isolation from the world’s largest economy would guarantee their demise, banks comply and shun Iran. As a consequence, few goods from the West make their way into the country, the exemptions for drugs and medical equipment being nothing more than a public relations ruse to disguise the barbarity of the sanctions. Not that Washington is denying that its sanctions are hurting ordinary Iranians. It’s just that responsibility for their consequences is denied. US president Barak Obama “has said the Iranian people should blame their own leaders.”  For what—failing to knuckle under?
“In contrast to war’s easily observable casualties, the apparently nonviolent consequences of economic intervention seem like an acceptable alternative. However…economic sanctions can seriously harm the health of persons who live in targeted nations.”  This has been well established and widely accepted in the cases of Iraq in the 1990s and the ongoing US blockade of Cuba. Political scientists John Mueller and Karl Mueller wrote an important paper in Foreign Affairs, in which they showed that economic sanctions “may have contributed to more deaths during the post-Cold War era than all weapons of mass destruction throughout history.” 
“The dangers posed today by such enfeebled, impoverished, and friendless states as Iraq and North Korea are minor indeed”, they wrote in 1999. It might be added that the dangers posed by Iran to the physical safety of US citizens are not only minor but infinitesimally small. Notwithstanding the fevered fantasies of rightwing commentators, Iran has neither the means, nor the required death wish, to strike the United States. Nor Israel, which has the means—an arsenal of 200 nuclear weapons—to wipe Iran off the face of the earth. However, the danger the country poses to the idea of US domination – and hence, to the banks, corporations, and major investors who dominate US policy-making – are admittedly somewhat greater.
“Severe economic sanctions”, the Muellers contend, ought to be “designated by the older label of ‘economic warfare’”. “In past wars economic embargoes caused huge numbers of deaths. Some 750,000 German civilians may have died because of the Allied naval blockade during World War I.” 
“So long as they can coordinate their efforts,” the two political scientists continue, “the big countries have at their disposal a credible, inexpensive and potent weapon for use against small and medium-sized foes. The dominant powers have shown that they can inflict enormous pain at remarkably little cost to themselves or the global economy. Indeed, in a matter of months or years whole economies can be devastated…”  And with devastated economies, come crumbling healthcare systems and failure to provide for the basic healthcare rights of the population.
We might ask, then, why the United States and European Union, practitioners of economic warfare against Iran, are bent on destroying Iran’s economy, along with its public health system. “Sanctions,” New York Times’ reporter Rick Gladstone writes, have subjected “ordinary Iranians” to “increased deprivations” in order to “punish Iran for enriching uranium that the West suspects is a cover for developing the ability to make nuclear weapons.”  In other words, Iran is suspected of having a secret nuclear weapons program, and so must be sanctioned to force it to abandon it.
Contrary to Gladstone, the West doesn’t really believe that Tehran has a secret nuclear weapons program, yet even if we accept it does believe this, the position is indefensible. Why should Iranians be punished for developing a capability that the countries that have imposed sanctions already have?
The reason why, it will be said, is because Iranians are bent on developing nuclear weapons to destroy Israel. Didn’t Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threaten to “wipe Israel off the map”?
Regurgitated regularly by US hawks and Israeli politicians to mobilize support for the bombing of Iran, the claim is demagogic rubbish. Ahmadinejad predicted that Israel as a Zionist state would someday disappear much as South Africa as an apartheid state did. He didn’t threaten the physical destruction of Israel and expressed only the wish that historic Palestine would become a multinational democratic state of Arabs and the Jews whose ancestors arrived in Palestine before Zionist settlers. 
No less damaging to the argument that Iranians aspire to take Israel out in a hail of nuclear missiles is the reality that it would take decades for Iran to match Israel’s already formidable nuclear arsenal, if indeed it aspires to. For the foreseeable future, Israel is in a far better position to wipe Iran off the map. And given Israel’s penchant for flexing its US-built military muscle, is far more likely to be the wiper than wipee. Already it has almost wiped an entire people from the map of historic Palestine.
But this is irrelevant, for the premise that the West suspects Iran of developing a nuclear weapons capability is false. To be sure, the mass media endlessly recycle the fiction that the West suspects Iran’s uranium enrichment program is a cover for a nuclear weapons program, but who in the West suspects this? Not high officials of the US state, for they have repeatedly said that there’s no evidence that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program.
The consensus view of the United States’ 16 intelligence agencies is that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program years ago. Director of US intelligence James Clapper “said there was no evidence that (Iran) had made a decision on making a concerted push to build a weapon. David H. Petraeus, the C.I.A. director, concurred with that view…. Other senior United States officials, including Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have made similar statements.” 
Rather than weakening this conclusion, stepped up US espionage has buttressed it. Iran’s leaders “have opted for now against…designing a nuclear warhead,” said one former intelligence official briefed on US intelligence findings. “It isn’t the absence of evidence, it’s the evidence of an absence. Certain things are not being done”  that would indicate that Iran is working on nuclear weapons. Even Mossad, Israeli’s intelligence agency “does not disagree with the US on the weapons program,” according to a former senior US intelligence official. 
So, contrary to the claim that the West “suspects” Iran of concealing a nuclear weapons program, no one in a position of authority in the US state believes this to be true. Neither does Israeli intelligence. Why, then, is the United States and its allies subjecting ordinary Iranians to increased deprivations through sanctions?
The answer, according to Henry Kissinger, is because US policy in the Middle East for the last half century has been aimed at “preventing any power in the region from emerging as a hegemon.” This is another way of saying that the aim of US Middle East policy is to stop any Middle Eastern country from challenging its domination by the United States. Iran, Kissinger points out, has emerged as the principal challenger. 
Indeed, it did so as long ago as 1979, when the local extension of US power in Iran, the Shah, was overthrown, and the country set out on a path of independent economic and political development. For the revolutionaries’ boldness in asserting their sovereignty, Washington pressed Saddam Hussein’s Iraq into a war with Iran. This served the same purpose as today’s economic warfare, sabotage, threats of military intervention, and assassinations of Iran’s nuclear scientists: to weaken the country and stifle its development; to prevent it from thriving and thereby becoming an example to other countries of development possibilities outside US domination.
Uranium enrichment has emerged as point of conflict for two reasons.
First, a civilian nuclear power industry strengthens Iran economically and domestic uranium enrichment provides the country with an independent source of nuclear fuel. Were Iran to depend on the West for enriched uranium to power its reactors, it would be forever at the mercy of a hostile US state. Likewise, concern over energy security being in the hands of an outside power has led Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and South Korea to insist over US objections that they be allowed to produce nuclear fuel domestically, without sanction. With US nuclear reactor sales hanging in the balance, it appears that their wishes will be respected.  Iran will be uniquely denied.
Secondly, uranium enrichment provides Tehran with the capability of developing nuclear weapons quickly, if it should ever feel compelled to. Given Washington’s longstanding hostility to an independent Iran, there are good reasons why the country may want to strengthen its means of self-defense. The hypocrisy of the United States championing counter-proliferation—and only selectively since no one is asking Israel to give up its nuclear weapons, and the United States hasn’t the slightest intention of ever relinquishing its own—reveals the illegitimacy of the exercise.
The reason, then, for waging war on Iran’s public health, a war that intensifies the suffering of the sick and kills cancer, kidney dialysis and other patients, is not because their government has a secret nuclear weapons program —which no one in the US intelligence community believes anyway—but because a developing Iran with independent energy, economic and foreign policies threatens Washington’s preferred world political order—one in which the United States has unchallenged primacy. Primacy is sought, not to satisfy ambitions for power for power’s sake, or to provide ordinary US citizens with economic opportunities at home, or to protect them from dangers that originate abroad, but to secure benefits for the plutocrats who dominate US public policy. The benefits uniquely accrue to plutocrats: opportunities to squeeze more for themselves from our labor, our land, and our resources and from those of our brethren abroad—the 99% in other lands, with whom we’re linked by a common economic position and interests. If the plutocrats and their loyal political servants in Washington and Brussels have to kill numberless Iranians to secure these benefits, they will. And are.
1. Eisenberg L, “The sleep of reason produces monsters—human costs of economic sanctions,” New England Journal of Medicine, 1997; 336:1248-50.
2. Thomas Erdbrink, “Iran sanctions take unexpected toll on medical imports”, The New York times, November 2, 2012; Najmeh Bozorgmehr, “In Iran, sanctions take toll on the sick”, The Washington Post, September 4, 2012
3. Karine Morin and Steven H. Miles, “Position paper: The health effects of economic sanctions and embargoes: The role of health professionals”, Annals of Internal Medicine, Volume 132, Number 2, 18 January 2000.
4. John Mueller and Karl Mueller, “Sanctions of mass destruction”, Foreign Affairs, Volume 78, Number 3, May/June 1999.
7. Rick Gladstone, “Iranian President Says Oil Embargo Won’t Hurt”, The New York Times, April 10, 2012.
8. Glenn Kessler, “Did Ahmadinejad really say Israel should be ‘wiped off the map’?” The Washington Post, October 6, 2011.
9. James Risen and Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. agencies see no move by Iran to build a bomb”, The New York Times, February 24, 2012.
10. Joby Warrick and Greg Miller, “U.S. intelligence gains in Iran seen as boost to confidence”, The Washington Post, April 7, 2012.
11. James Risen, “U.S. faces a tricky task in assessment of data on Iran”, The New York Times, March 17, 2012.
12. Henry A. Kissinger, “A new doctrine of intervention?” The Washington Post, March 30, 2012.
13. Carol E. Lee and Jay Solomon, “Obama to discuss North Korea, Iran”, The Wall Street Journal, March 21, 2012.
By Stephen Gowans
The received wisdom among Western governments, journalists and some concerned progressive scholars is that there have been no broad-based, economic sanctions imposed upon Zimbabwe. Instead, in their view, there are only targeted sanctions, with limited effects, aimed at punishing President Robert Mugabe and the top leadership of the Zanu-PF party. The sanctions issue, they say, is a red herring Mugabe and his supporters use to divert attention from the true cause of Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown: redistribution of land from white commercial farmers to hundreds of thousands of indigenous families, a program denigrated as “economic mismanagement”.
Yet, it has always been clear to anyone willing to do a little digging that there are indeed broad-based economic sanctions against Zimbabwe; that there have been since 2001, when US president George W. Bush signed them into law; that they were imposed in response to Zimbabwe’s land reform program; and that Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown happened after sanctions were imposed, not before.
US sanctions, implemented under the US Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, effectively block Zimbabwe’s access to debt relief and balance of payment support from international financial institutions. In addition, the EU and other Western countries have imposed their own sanctions.
On occasion, Mugabe’s detractors have been caught out in their deceptions about sanctions being targeted solely at a few highly placed members of Zanu-PF rather than the economy, and therefore Zimbabweans, as a whole. At those times, they have countered that while sanctions may exist, they have had little impact, and anyway, they play into Mugabe’s hands. As progressive scholar Horace Campbell put it: “The Zimbabwe government is very aware of the anti-imperialist and anti-racist sentiments among oppressed peoples and thus has deployed a range of propagandists inside and outside the country in a bid to link every problem in Zimbabwe to international sanctions by the EU and USA.”
Campbell turns reality on its head. The fact of the matter is that the US government has deployed a range of propagandists, both within and outside Zimbabwe, in a bid to link every problem in Zimbabwe to the alleged folly of redistributing land stolen by European settlers to the descendants of the original owners.
Campbell’s argument echoes similar sophistry used to excuse the US blockade on Cuba. Economic sanctions on Cuba, the Castros’ detractors argue, have had little impact on the island’s economy, and are used by the Cuban government to falsely link its economic difficulties to US economic warfare. The Castros, they say, stay in power by diverting attention from their own mismanagement and laying blame for their country’s economic problems at Washington’s doorstep. That this argument holds no water is evidenced by the reality that Washington could easily deprive the Cuban communists of their alleged diversionary tactics by lifting the sanctions, but choose not to.
The idea that power-hungry leaders exploit mild sanctions as a dishonest manoeuvre to disguise their failings is insupportable. Far from having little impact, economic sanctions devastate economies; that’s their purpose. Denying the role they play in ruining economies is tantamount to denying that dropping napalm on villages creates wastelands. John Mueller and Karl Mueller pointed out in a famous 1999 article titled “Sanctions of Mass Destruction” – it appeared in the May/June 1999 issue of the uber-establishment journal Foreign Affairs — that:
…the big countries have at their disposal a credible, inexpensive, and potent weapon for use against small and medium-sized foes. The dominant powers have shown that they can inflict enormous pain at remarkably little cost to themselves or the global economy. Indeed, in a matter of months or years whole economies can be devastated…
The improbable idea that sanctions have little impact invites the question: If they make little difference, why do Western governments deploy them so often? Supporters of the view that sanctions are minor inconveniences that punish a few powerful leaders, who then exploit them to draw attention away from their own economic management, expect us to believe that the leaders of major powers are simpletons who devise ineffective sanctions policies – and that they persist despite their sanctions playing into the hands of the sanctions’ targets.
If the sanctions supporters’ laughable logic and the reality that US sanction legislation is on the public record for all to see weren’t enough, legislation brought forward by US Senator Jim Inhofe ought to lay to rest the deception that sanctions haven’t torpedoed Zimbabwe’s economy.
The title of Inhofe’s bill, the Zimbabwe Sanctions Repeal Act of 2010, makes clear that sanctions have indeed been imposed on Zimbabwe and have had deleterious effects. According to the bill, now that the Western-backed Movement for Democratic Change holds senior positions in Zimbabwe’s power-sharing government, US sanctions against Zimbabwe need to be repealed “in order to restore fully the economy of Zimbabwe.” In other words, sanctions are preventing Zimbabwe’s economy from flourishing – the same point Mugabe has been making for years, cynically say his critics.
Yet, while the implication of Inhofe’s bill is that sanctions have undermined Zimbabwe’s economy (otherwise, why would economic recovery require their repeal?) Inhofe tries to disguise the role US sanctions originally played in creating an economic catastrophe in Zimbabwe, arguing that the sanctions were imposed only after Mugabe allegedly turned Zimbabwe into a basket case by democratizing patterns of land ownership. But it makes more sense to say that sanctions ruined the economy. After all, the purpose of economic sanctions is to wreak economic havoc. And what would be the point of trying to devastate Zimbabwe’s economy after Mugabe had allegedly already ruined it? Finally, in pressing for the repeal of sanctions to allow for economic recovery, Inhofe acknowledges that the sanctions do indeed have crippling consequences.
Inhofe may be able to argue (improbably) that the sanctions were imposed to punish Zimbabwe for Harare’s economic mismanagement (which would mean that Washington expected Zimbabweans to suffer an additional blow on top of the one already meted out by Harare’s alleged mismanagement — a pointless cruelty, if true); but he can’t argue that the sanctions didn’t undermine the country’s economy: his bill acknowledges this very point
Finally, the fact that Inhofe’s legislation seeks repeal of the sanctions because the MDC holds key positions in the Zimbabwean government, reveals that the MDC, as much as sanctions, is an instrument of US foreign policy. Sanctions were rolled out in response to land redistribution with the aim of crippling the economy so that the ensuing economic chaos could be attributed to land reform itself. With MDC members brought into a power-sharing government in key posts, it has become necessary in the view of Inhofe and others that sanctions be lifted to allow an economic recovery. If the bill is ratified and signed into law, the ensuing recovery will be attributed to the efforts of the MDC cabinet members, an attribution that that will be just as misleading as linking the destructive effects of sanctions to Zanu-PF’s efforts to fulfill the land redistribution aspirations of the national liberation struggle. The major part of Zimbabwe’s economic troubles – and a large part of the prospects for economic recovery – are sanctions-related.
“Economic sanctions are, at their core, a war against public health.”
–The New England Journal of Medicine 
By Stephen Gowans
Amnesty International has released a report condemning the North Korean government for failing to meet “its obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the right to health of its citizens”, citing “significant deprivation in (North Koreans’) enjoyment of the right to adequate care, in large part due to failed or counterproductive government policies.” The report documents rundown healthcare facilities which “operate with frequent power cuts and no heat” and medical personnel who “often do not receive salaries, and many hospitals (that) function without medicines and essentials.” Horrific stories are recounted of major operations carried out without anaesthesia. Blame for this is attributed solely to the North Korean government.  While unstated, the implication is that DPR Korea is a failed state, whose immediate demise can only be fervently wished for (or worked toward.)
The attack is joined by Barbara Demick, the Beijing bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times and author of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, writing in the British newspaper, The Guardian. She acknowledges the DPR Korea’s considerable social achievements – an acknowledgement that would never have been permitted in the pages of a major Western newspaper in the depths of the Cold War – but does so only in order to show how far the country has regressed.
“The country once had an enviable healthcare system,” Demick writes, “with a network of nearly 45,000 family practioners. Some 800 hospitals and 1,000 clinics were almost free of charge for patients. They still are, but you don’t get much at the hospital these days.” Demick continues: “The school system that once allowed North Korea’s founder Kim Il-Sung (father of the current leader) to boast his country was the first in Asia to eliminate illiteracy has now collapsed. Students have no books, no paper, no pencils.” 
Nowhere is the role of sanctions mentioned in Demick’s account of North Korea’s “giant leap backwards”  or in Amnesty’s condemnation of Pyongyang for failing to safeguard the basic healthcare rights of its citizens. Instead, Demick and Amnesty point to a botched currency reform, as if it alone accounts for the country’s deep descent into poverty. Neither mention that no country has been subjected to as long and determined a campaign of economic warfare as North Korea, or that in recent years, a UN sanctions regime little different from the one that destroyed the healthcare system of Iraq in the 1990s, and led to the deaths of half a million Iraqi children under the age of five from 1991 to 1998 , has been imposed on a country that has struggled with food shortages since the collapse of the Soviet-led socialist trading community and as a result of a series of natural calamities. No mention either is made of Washington’s efforts to “squeeze North Korea with every financial sanction possible” with the aim of bringing about the collapse of the country’s economy,  and with it, its public healthcare and educational systems. What’s more, while Demick acknowledges that South Korea and other countries have sharply reduced food aid to the North, she blames North Korea’s leadership for refusing to dismantle its nuclear program and for “provocations” against the South, for inviting the aid reduction. (The provocations Demick refers to include the sinking of a South Korean corvette in March, attributed, with not a lot of evidence – and over the initial denials of the South Korean military  – to a North Korean submarine.) Demick and Amnesty could have condemned South Korea and the United States for using food as a weapon. Instead, Demick censures North Korea for putting itself in the position of being sanctioned, while Amnesty counsels major donors not to base food aid on political considerations, without acknowledging that this is exactly what major donors have done.
Both Amnesty and Demick operate within the framework of Western propaganda. As the North Korea specialist Tim Beal points out, Western propaganda invokes economic mismanagement as the explanation for North Korea’s collapsing economy, despite an obvious alternative explanation: sanctions. “The results — those malnourished babies,” Beal wrote prophetically three years ago, “can be blamed on the Koreans, which in turn is produced as evidence that the sanctions are desirable and necessary.” 
Sanctions of Mass Destruction
“In contrast to war’s easily observable casualties, the apparently nonviolent consequences of economic intervention seem like an acceptable alternative. However, recent reports suggest that economic sanctions can seriously harm the health of persons who live in targeted nations.”  This has been well established and widely accepted in the cases of Iraq in the 1990s and the ongoing US blockade of Cuba. Political scientists John Mueller and Karl Mueller wrote an important paper in Foreign Affairs, in which they showed that economic sanctions “may have contributed to more deaths during the post-Cold War era than all weapons of mass destruction throughout history.” 
“The dangers posed today by such enfeebled, impoverished, and friendless states as Iraq and North Korea are minor indeed”, they wrote in 1999. It might be added that the dangers posed by North Korea to the physical safety of US citizens are not only minor but infinitesimally small. Notwithstanding the fevered fantasies of rightwing commentators, North Korea has neither the means, nor the required death wish, to strike the United States. However, the danger the country poses to the idea of US domination – and hence, to the banks, corporations, and major investors who dominate US policy-making – are admittedly somewhat greater.
“Severe economic sanctions”, the Muellers contend, ought to be “designated by the older label of ‘economic warfare’”. “In past wars economic embargoes caused huge numbers of deaths. Some 750,000 German civilians may have died because of the Allied naval blockade during World War I.” 
“So long as they can coordinate their efforts,” the two political scientists continue, “the big countries have at their disposal a credible, inexpensive and potent weapon for use against small and medium-sized foes. The dominant powers have shown that they can inflict enormous pain at remarkably little cost to themselves or the global economy. Indeed, in a matter of months or years whole economies can be devastated…”  And with devastated economies, come crumbling healthcare systems and failure to provide for the basic healthcare rights of the population.
Sixty Years of Sanctions
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 regime 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. 
In recent years, US sanctions have been complemented by “efforts to freeze assets and cut off financial flows”  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.  The Obama administration has not departed from the Bush policies of financial strangulation.
Washington has also acted to broaden 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.  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. 
Dual-Use Sanctions: 1990s Iraq Redux
The Amnesty report blames Pyongyang for a shortage of syringes at hospitals. Yet in the 1990s Iraq suffered from a similar shortage, not due to failed government policies, but because “the importation of some desperately needed materials [had] been delayed or denied because of concerns that they might contribute to Iraq’s WMD programs. Supplies of syringes were held up for half a year because of fears they might be used in creating anthrax spores.”  Like Iraq in the 1990s, North Korea is under sanctions that ban dual use items – goods that have important civilian uses but might also be used in the production of weapons. “Medical diagnostic techniques that use radioactive particles, once common in Iraq, [were] banned under the sanctions, and plastic bags needed for blood transfusions [were] restricted.”  On October 14, 2006 the United Nations Security Council banned the export to DRP Korea of any goods, including those used for civilian purposes, which could contribute to WMD-related programs – the very same sanctions that led, at minimum, to hundreds of thousands of deaths in 1990s Iraq when the export of potentially weapons-related material, also essential to the maintenance of sanitation, water treatment and healthcare infrastructure, was held up or blocked. Not a word of the escalating sanctions regime against North Korea is mentioned in the Amnesty report, an omission so glaring as to resemble a report on the post-World War II devastation of Europe that says nothing of the string of Nazi aggressions that caused it.
Kaesong, the vast industrial park of South Korean factories employing North Korean workers situated near the South Korea-North Korea border, provides an example of how ridiculously wide the dual-use sanctions net can be cast. “U.S. officials blocked the installation of a South Korean switchboard system at Kaesong on grounds that the equipment contained components that could have been adapted for military use. As a result…the 15 companies operating at Kaesong share a single phone line, and messages must often be hand-delivered across the border.”  While dual-use sanctions may appear to be targeted, just about any item required for the provision of basic healthcare, sanitation, and educational rights – chlorine, syringes, x-ray equipment, medical isotopes, blood transfusion bags, even graphite for pencils – can be construed to have military uses and therefore banned for export.
Most of North Korea’s trade after the fall of the Soviet Union was with China, Japan and South Korea. In 2002, Japan banned the export of rice to North Korea and effectively prohibited North Korean ships from using Japanese ports.  In 2009, Tokyo went further, imposing a total ban on exports to the beleaguered country.  No wonder former US President George W. Bush called North Korea “the most sanctioned nation in the world”. 
Food as a Weapon
The Amnesty report recommends that “major donors and neighbouring countries…ensure that the provision of humanitarian assistance in North Korea is based on need and is not subject to political conditions”. In making this recommendation, the rights organization tacitly acknowledges that humanitarian assistance has indeed been subject to political conditions. (If this practice was unheard of, why make the recommendation?) In fact, the United States, Japan and South Korea have used food aid as a weapon. “After Pyongyang test-fired missiles in July (2006), South Korea announced plans to eliminate the 500,000 tons in annual food aid it provides directly to North Korea.” At the same time, food aid from China dropped one-third.  And in 2005, the Bush administration cut off all food aid to North Korea.  In all instances, humanitarian assistance was withheld to exact concessions from Pyongyang.
Amnesty International and Imperialism
The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognized in 1997 that sanctions “often cause significant disruptions in the distribution of food, pharmaceuticals and sanitation supplies, jeopardize the quality of food and the availability of clean drinking water, severely interfere with the functioning of basic health and educational systems, and undermine the right to work.”  These disruptions were evident in Iraq in the 1990s, and led to the crumbling of the country’s healthcare system, contributing to what the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, Denis Halliday, called “a de facto genocide.”  Additionally, the deleterious effects of US economic warfare on the Cuban healthcare system are uncontested except by anti-Castro émigrés and the US government.  If we recognize that “economic sanctions are, at their core, a war against public health” and acknowledge, as a former US president has, that North Korea is “the most sanctioned nation in the world,” it is difficult not to draw the obvious conclusion: that North Korea’s crumbling healthcare system and “great leap backwards” are not due in large measure to Pyongyang’s “failed or counterproductive” policies, but to the inhumane policies of the United States, Japan and South Korea.
Amnesty’s failure to point to the role played by the United States and its allies in undermining the conditions that would allow Pyongyang to fulfill the healthcare and other rights of North Koreans, and its willingness to play a part in legitimizing Washington’s foreign policy agenda, is not without precedent. While Amnesty was critical of the human rights record of apartheid South Africa, it alone among human rights organizations refused to denounce apartheid itself.  The organization also refused to condemn the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia , even though it was an exercise in imperial predation that denied the rights of many innocent Yugoslavs to life, security of the person and employment. Amnesty excused its inaction on grounds that it is not an antiwar organization, as if war and human rights are not often inextricably bound. The war on Yugoslavia certainly was, at least rhetorically, since NATO invoked the language of human rights to justify its attack. But Amnesty’s most egregious service to the propaganda requirements of US foreign policy came in 1991, when the rights group released a report in the run-up to the Gulf War claiming that Iraqi soldiers had thrown Kuwaiti babies from incubators. This was a hoax, perpetrated by the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States, orchestrated by the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, which had been hired to launch a propaganda campaign to galvanize public support for a US war on Iraq. When US President George H.W. Bush appeared on television to announce that he was readying for war on Iraq, he had a copy of the Amnesty report in his hands. 
A Western-based organization, Amnesty has proven itself time and again to be incapable of operating outside the propaganda system of Western governments, and at times has acted to justify the imperialism of dominant powers or turned a blind eye to it. In its latest North Korea report it has made an invaluable contribution to the campaign of the United States and its East Asian allies to bring down one of the world’s few remaining top-to-bottom alternatives to capitalism and Third World dependency on the United States and former colonial powers. It has done so by fulfilling the two requirements needed for an anti-North Korea propaganda campaign to work: First, to cover up the role played by the United States, Japan and South Korea in starving the country’s healthcare and educational systems of necessary inputs, and second, to blame the ensuing chaos on the North Korean government. The action of Amnesty in misdirecting responsibility for this tragedy is no less shameful than that of the governments that have perpetrated it.
1. Eisenberg L, “The sleep of reason produces monsters—human costs of economic sanctions,” New England Journal of Medicine, 1997; 336:1248-50. http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/short/336/17/1247
2. Amnesty International, “The crumbling state of health care in North Korea”, July 2010. http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ASA24/001/2010/en/13a097fc-4bda-4119-aae5-73e0dd446193/asa240012010en.pdf
3. Barbara Demick, “North Korea’s giant leap backwards”, The Guardian (UK), July 17, 2010. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jul/17/north-korea-famine-fears
5. “Iraq surveys show ‘humanitarian emergency’”, UNICEF.org, August 12, 1999. http://www.unicef.org/newsline/99pr29.htm
6. The New York Times, September 13, 2006.
7. Stephen Gowans, “The sinking of the Cheonan”, PSLweb.org, May 27, 2010. http://www.pslweb.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=14044&news_iv_ctrl=2801
8. Tim Beal, “Invisible WMD- the effect of sanctions”, Pyongyang Report, Volume 9, Number 4, October 2007. http://www.vuw.ac.nz/~caplabtb/dprk/pyr9_4.mht
9. Karine Morin and Steven H. Miles, “Position paper: The health effects of economic sanctions and embargoes: The role of health professionals”, Annals of Internal Medicine, Volume 132, Number 2, 18 January 2000. http://www.annals.org/content/132/2/158.abstract
10. John Mueller and Karl Mueller, “Sanctions of mass destruction”, Foreign Affairs, Volume 78, Number 3, May/June 1999.
13. Dianne E. Rennack, “North Korea: Economic sanctions”, Congressional Research Service, October 17, 2006. http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/crs/rl31696.pdf
15. Mark Landler, “Envoy to coordinate North Korea sanctions”, The New York Times, June 27, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/27/world/americas/27diplo.html?partner=rss&emc=rss
16. The New York Times, September 13, 2006.
17. 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.
18. The Washington Post, June 24, 2005.
19. Mueller and Mueller.
21. The Washington Post, November 16, 2005.
23. “KCNA dismisses Japan’s frantic anti-DPRK racket”, KCNA, June 23, 2009.
24. U.S. News & World Report, June 26, 2008; The New York Times, July 6, 2008.
25. The Los Angeles Times, October 25, 2006.
26. The Washington Post, May 16, 2008.
27. United Nations Economic and Social Council, “The relationship between economic sanctions and respect for economic, social and cultural rights”, December 12, 1997. http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/0/974080d2db3ec66d802565c5003b2f57?Opendocument
28. Denis J. Halliday, “The Deadly and Illegal Consequences of Economic Sanctions on the People of Iraq”, Brown Journal of World Affairs, Winter/Spring 2000 – Volume VII, Issue 1. http://www.watsoninstitute.org/bjwa/archive/7.1/Essays/Halliday.pdf
29. Richard Garfield and Sarah Santana, “The Impact of the Economic Crisis and US Embargo on Health in Cuba”, American Journal of Public Health, January 19997, Volume 87, Number 1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1380757/
30. Francis A. Boyle and Dennis Bernstein, “Interview with Francis Boyle. Amnesty on Jenin”, Covert Action Quarterly, Summer, 2002. http://cosmos.ucc.ie/cs1064/jabowen/IPSC/php/art.php?aid=4573
31. Alexander Cockburn, “How the US State Dept. Recruited Human Rights Groups to Cheer On the Bombing Raids: Those Incubator Babies, Once More?” Counterpunch, April 1-15, 1999. http://cosmos.ucc.ie/cs1064/jabowen/IPSC/articles/article0005098.html
32. Boyle and Bernstein.
By Stephen Gowans
Tony Hawkins, a professor of economics at the University of Zimbabwe, thinks that Western sanctions on Zimbabwe should be maintained but that their effects “are minimal” and that “their continued existence really plays into the hands of some people in Zanu-PF.”
You would think, then, that Hawkins would favor the lifting of sanctions. After all, why continue to play into the hands of Zanu-PF, if, like Hawkins, you’re opposed to the party, its direction and its program, and the sanctions’ effects are minimal anyway?
For decades, supporters of the U.S. economic war on Cuba have lied that a near total U.S. blockade of the island has had little effect on the Cuban economy. On the contrary, they say, the blockade has actually worked against the U.S., by handing Fidel Castro, and now his brother, Raul, a way of diverting attention from their “failed” economic policies. The Castros, they say, blame Cuba’s problems on the blockade and thus evade responsibility for their much larger role in crippling the island’s economy.
Yet none of these people has recommended that the blockade be lifted, a measure you would think Cuba-opponents would immediately latch onto for its supposed benefits in making clear to Cubans that socialism, not the U.S. blockade, is the source of their poverty, something that might impel them to fulfill U.S. foreign policy goals by overturning socialism. So, why aren’t these people, if they truly believe what they’re saying, pressing for the blockade to be lifted?
The answer is simple: they don’t really believe the blockade has minimal effects, but have to say it does, so they can blame Cuba’s poverty on the Castros.
Likewise, people like Hawkins don’t really believe sanctions on Zimbabwe have minimal effects, but have to say they do, so they can blame Zimbabwe’s economic troubles on Zanu-PF policies, particularly land reform.
Hawkins acknowledges his position is “a bit of a contradiction” (a bit?) but that he opposes the lifting of sanctions because ending them “would convince Zanu-PF that they are winning and make them even more intransigent than they are already.”
But you would think that if the effects of the sanctions were truly minimal, that Hawkins could scarcely care if lifting them allowed Zanu-PF something so insignificant as to think it was winning, when, by being denied the sanctions issue, it would really be losing. For how could Zanu-PF blame Zimbabwe’s troubles on sanctions if sanctions no longer existed? Surely, Hawkins can see that ending the sanctions has little downside (the effects are minimal anyway, he says) and a huge upside (Mugabe would no longer be able to blame the country’s difficulties on sanctions.)
To be effective, a sanctions regime requires more than sanctions alone. It also requires an understanding of the sanctions’ effects: are they devastating the economy or only creating inconvenience for a few highly placed political operatives? And what is the cause of the country’s economic woes: sanctions or failed policies?
The purpose of sanctions is to force a change of government. It’s critical that the people the sanctions are imposed on attribute the effects of the sanctions to their government’s policies, not to the sanctions themselves, otherwise, they won’t act to change their government, as the imposers of the sanctions intend.
This is where Hawkins comes in. Washington, London and the E.U. impose sanctions to wreck the economy. Hawkins’ task is to persuade Zimbabweans that sanctions aren’t devastating, and that the problems Zimbabweans face, come from within the country (Zanu-PF’s policies), not outside (sanctions). But in trying to make his case, he ties himself into knots – just as proponents of the U.S. blockade on Cuba do.
Hawkins wants Zanu-PF gone for the same reason the U.S. State Department, Whitehall and other supporters of the U.S. blockade on Cuba want the Castros gone: to create political jurisdictions congenial to Western investors, where the interests of the domestic population don’t matter. Hawkins says Zimbabweans “need a return to conditions that will attract investment that will foster confidence and so on.”
A return? Does he mean to go backward, to a time when the land and resources were in the hands of the British and their descendants, when indigenous Zimbabweans were relegated to roles as farm-workers, miners and employees, never owners?
It should be recalled that the British government, in the person of Clare Short, refused to back Zimbabwe’s fast-track land reform program because returning the land to the people British settlers stole it from would, she said, damage “prospects for attracting investment.”
Returning to conditions that will attract investment is code for undoing Zimbabwe’s land reform program, and giving the country back to the British. Making the case for so regressive a program could only rest on the kind of sophistry Hawkins, and other promoters of neo-colonialism, are prepared to try to bamboozle the Zimbabwe population with. Pity for them they keep tripping over their own contradictions.