Tag: north korea

North Korea is *not* the provocateur

By Daniel Margrain

Now is the Time for Talks with North Korea

As each day passes, a major conflict between the United States and North Korea looks increasingly likely. The ratcheting-up of tensions between Washington and Pyongyang is being perpetuated by a corporate media that is reinforcing the myth that North Korea is provoking the conflict and is a barrier to peace. The solution is one that is deemed to require a military response from the Trump administration. The Council on Foreign Relations, appear to reaffirm this is the consensus position in Washington.

According to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, we’re moving toward a collision on the Korean Peninsula, that’s like two trains rushing toward each other. Furthermore, William Perry, the former defense secretary and Bill Clinton’s ambassador for North Korea in the late 1990s, also said that he thought a train wreck was coming.

The backdrop to these shenanigans was the test last month by North Korea of a intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The country is being characterized as an existential threat to the US – a characterization that has been massively exaggerated for propaganda purposes.

Tim Beal adds some flesh to the bones:

“The balance of military power between the US and its ‘allies’ (the imperial alliance structure is a major part of American power) scarcely needs elaboration or documentation. South Korea on its own has a military budget perhaps 30 times that of the North, has, generally speaking, much more advanced and modern equipment (it buys more weapons from the US than even Saudi Arabia) and, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), can field two and a half times more troops (standing army plus reservists) than the North. Bring in the US and its allies, including especially Japan, and the imbalance is astounding: a combined military budget of roughly $1 trillion against North Korea’s $1.2 to $10 billion.  The portrayal of North Korea as a threat to the US is not merely wrong, it is preposterously and diametrically at variance with reality.”

That the government in Pyongyang undertook the ICBM test against a situation in which China and North Korea offered a plan to de-escalate tensions, subsequently rejected by the US, was a scenario that had been quietly overlooked by the media. North Korean foreign minister, Bang Kwang Hyok said that unless the US fundamentally abandons its hostile policy towards his country, its weapons programme “will never be up for negotiation.”

The war of words continued a month later (August 8, 2017), after Trump promised North Korea “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” in response to reports that the country had developed the ability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead so that it can be placed on a missile.

Tensions were further escalated two days later when Trump said that his ‘fire and fury’ comments were perhaps not “tough enough” and refused to rule out what he called a “preventive” strike against the country.

Historical context

The context underlying the continuing US hostility towards North Korea, stems from June, 1950 when the US imposed sanctions on the country and engaged in military exercises that involved the flying of nuclear warheads over Korean air space after the American administration had actually dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

These ‘war games’ are also the context in which the US dropped napalm and white phosphorus on North Korea completely destroying it from 1950-53. Up to 4 million Koreans would have lived had not the US instigated their war of aggression.

US General Douglas MacArthur testified to Congress in 1951 that:

‘The war in Korea has already destroyed that nation of 20,000,000 people. I have never seen such devastation. I have seen, I guess, as much blood and disaster as any living man, and it just curdled my stomach, the last time I was there. After I looked at that wreckage and those thousands of women and children and everything, I vomited.”(‘Napalm – An American Biography’ by Robert Neer, Belknap Press, 2013, p. 100, quoted by Media Lens).

US Air Force General Curtis LeMay wrote:

“We burned down just about every city in North Korea and South Korea both…we killed off over a million civilians and drove several million more from their homes, with the inevitable additional tragedies bound to ensue.” (Ibid., p. 100, quoted by Media Lens).

This, and the imposition by the US of a military dictatorship on South Korea that imprisoned, tortured and killed political opponents, is also the reason why many people in Korea view Pyongyang’s relationship with the Americans from a position of defense rather than offense.

The ‘war games’ continue to be played decades later as a result of the expansion by the US of its military bases throughout the pacific region. From North Korea’s perspective, Washington’s provocation is akin to Russia or China deploying strategic nuclear weapons and thousands of their troops on the US-Mexico border and rehearsing military exercises that simulate the potential collapse of Washington.

Numerous other countries test their nuclear weapons – the United States included – but none elicit the kind of punishment that’s being meted out to North Korea. Pyongyang has done nothing to threaten Washington, rather the threats are the other way around. The aggressive US stance is, of course, in no way related to the probability, as Business Insider pointed out, that North Korea’s “mountainous regions are thought to sit on around 200 different minerals, including, crucially, a large number of rare earth metals… thought to be worth more than $6 trillion.

China

Trump has attempted to divert US culpability by insisting that China has not played a sufficient enough role in trying to de-escalate the situation. But China does not have the leverage to prevent North Korea from developing its nuclear weapons programme.

Writer Hyun Lee raised the legitimate point that China does not want a pro-US Korea led by the south because that would result in US troops “pushing up to the Chinese border.” North Korea has always acted as a convenient buffer state for China in much the same way that the former Soviet Union provided a counter-balance to US imperial ambitions. In other words, it makes no sense to expect China to resolve the impasse because both the US and China have very different strategic interests in the region.

From China’s perspective, a nuclear weapons-free Korea clearly presents a potential threat to its interests. It is worth reminding readers that twenty years ago North Korea didn’t possess any ICBM weapons. It was only from the Bush administration onward that tensions were once again ratcheted up between the two nations as part of Washington’s geopolitical agenda of full-spectrum dominance.and the “war on terrorism” narrative that accompanied it.

Bush Doctrine

Critical in widening the focus of this narrative has, of course, been the policy of associating terrorism with states that are then presented as legitimate targets of military action. In his State of the Union address on January 29, 2002, G W Bush reaffirmed that “our war on terror is just the beginning.” In addition to attacking terrorist networks, he said, “our second goal is to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction”, and named Iran, Iraq and North Korea as “an axis of evil”.

John Bolton subsequently extended the net, identifying Libya, Syria and Cuba as “state sponsors of terrorism that are pursuing or have the potential to pursue weapons of mass destruction.” The full scale of Bush’s “axis of evil” speech was revealed four months later in an address he made at West Point in what the Financial Times announced as “an entirely fresh doctrine of pre-emptive action.” This Bush Doctrine of (as one administration official put it) “pre-emptive retaliation” is enshrined in the National Security Strategy:

“While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting pre-emptively.”

Central to the strategy of the US throughout the Cold War was a policy of containment – that is, the resistance by America of any attempts to extend the bloc carved out by the Soviets in Central and Eastern Europe during the latter phases of the Second World War. Containment survived the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The same logic applies to Trumps strategy in relation to North Korea. Any future Pre-emptive “retaliatory” strike by the US against the country is premised on the notion that any state foolish enough to mount a nuclear, chemical or biological strike against America would be committing national suicide. Assuming that Kim Jong Un is not insane (there is no evidence to suggest he is), therefore, makes the argument that a pre-emptive strike against Korea is imperative, somewhat redundant.

Might is right

The country learned from the experiences of Iraq and Libya and from its negotiations with Washington, that the only thing the US appears to respond to is military might and so logically determined that only the threat of nuclear weapons would deter the world’s biggest nuclear superpower from a hostile attack.

There was some hope for a lasting peaceful resolution to the conflict between the two countries following a deal brokered by former president Jimmy Carter in 1994 under the Clinton administration only for this to subsequently be scuppered by G W Bush.

Noam Chomsky provides some detail:

“George W. Bush came in and immediately launched an assault on North Korea—you know, “axis of evil,” sanctions and so on. North Korea turned to producing nuclear weapons. In 2005, there was an agreement between North Korea and the United States, a pretty sensible agreement. North Korea agreed to terminate its development of nuclear weapons. In return, it called for a nonaggression pact. So, stop making hostile threats, relief from harsh sanctions, and provision of a system to provide North Korea with low-enriched uranium for medical and other purposes—that was the proposal. George Bush instantly tore it to shreds. Within days, the U.S. was imposing—trying to disrupt North Korean financial transactions with other countries through Macau and elsewhere. North Korea backed off, started building nuclear weapons again. I mean, maybe you can say it’s the worst regime in history, whatever you like, but they have been following a pretty rational tit-for-tat policy.”

Against a situation in which North Korea continues to adopt a rational policy to defend its sovereignty from the hostile acts and sanctions of an overarching aggressor, and with a US president remaining bellicose by refusing to engage in diplomacy, it’s clear that the world is currently at the edge of a precipice.

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Drumbeating For War: Clinton’s ‘Tonkin’ Incident?

The American media’s tendency for replicating official government propaganda as a means of justifying US government-initiated warfare, has a long established history that pre-dates Iraq by at least 40 years. On August 5, 1964 a Washington Post headline announced “American Planes Hit North Vietnam After Second Attack on Our Destroyers; Move Taken to Halt New aggression” (http://www.cah.utexas.edu/services/finding_items/newspapers_gannett.php).

On the same day, the front page of the New York Times reported: “President Johnson has ordered retaliatory action against gunboats and ‘certain supporting facilities in North Vietnam’ after renewed attacks against American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin” (ibid).

But there was no “second attack” by North Vietnam — no “renewed attacks against American destroyers.” By reporting official claims as absolute truths, American journalism opened the floodgates for the bloody Vietnam War and the  over 50,000 American deaths and millions of Vietnamese casualties that followed.

The official story was that North Vietnamese torpedo boats launched an “unprovoked attack” against a U.S. destroyer on “routine patrol” in the Tonkin Gulf on August 2 — and that North Vietnamese PT boats followed up with a “deliberate attack” on a pair of U.S. ships two days later.

The truth was very different.

Rather than being on a routine patrol, the U.S. destroyer Maddox was actually engaged in aggressive intelligence-gathering maneuvers — in sync with coordinated attacks on North Vietnam by the South Vietnamese navy and the Laotian air force in “retaliation” for a North Vietnamese torpedo attack that never happened.

One of the Navy pilots flying overhead on the night of the alleged North Vietnamese attack was squadron commander James Stockdale, who gained fame later as a POW and then Ross Perot’s vice presidential candidate. “I had the best seat in the house to watch that event,” recalled Stockdale, “and our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets — there were no PT boats there…. There was nothing there but black water and American fire power” (http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/coldwar/interviews/episode-11/stockdale1.html).

On the night of 26 March, 2010, 40 years or so later, the South Korean navy ship Cheonan split in half and sank while patrolling not far from the North Korean coast. Although the definitive cause is still unclear, the South Korean and US governments are keen to convince the world that North Korea was responsible.

On 20 May, South Korea announced it had “overwhelming evidence” that a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine sank one of its warships, the Cheonan, in March with the loss of 46 sailors (http://www.democracynow.org/2010/5/27/nk).

The Korea Times reported the “overwhelming evidence” to be a propeller that “had been corroding at least for several months,” In April, the director of South Korea’s national intelligence, Won Se-hoon, told a parliamentary committee that there was no evidence linking the sinking of the Cheonan to North Korea. The defence minister agreed. And the head of South Korea’s military marine operations said, “No North Korean warships have been detected [in] the waters where the accident took place.” The reference to an “accident” suggests the warship struck a reef and broke in two (http://watchingthewarmakers.org.uk/).

US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, urged Pyongyang to halt its “policy of belligerence.” She went on to say that this amounted to “unacceptable provocation by North Korea” and urged China to back the international community and chastise North Korea for its actions (http://www.democracynow.org/2010/5/27/nk).

Hillary Clinton-JKZ-003178.jpg

Meanwhile, the world’s media have been virtually silent about the fact that the US and South Korea were holding a joint naval exercise around 60 miles to the south of where the alleged incident occured, and that Hillary Clinton has been backing the regime of South Korean president Lee Myung-bak who has been ratcheting up tensions on the peninsula (http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=21402).

This is the same language that was used when the US accused the North of unprovoked aggression when the Korean War started sixty years ago. Then, as now, tensions are being ratcheted-up to the extent that, according to historian Bruce Cumings, a second Korean War is a possiblity (http://www.democracynow.org/2010/5/27/nk).

One possible explanation of the North’s alleged attack, not apparently being considered by the US government and the media, is that the North Korean’s had fired on the Cheonanin in response to having initially been fired on themselves. A second outcome not being considered, is North Korea’s denial that it was involved in the sinking, and the parallel with the lies used to justify the occupation of Iraq (http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6581TW20100609?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews).

What is certain is that US government had failed to point out the background to the tragedy which has a bearing on what happened. For instance, in 1999, a North Korean ship went down with thirty sailors lost and maybe seventy wounded. And last November, a North Korean ship went down in flames. Both happened in a no man’s land, or waters, off the west coast of Korea that both North and South claim and where the US and South Korea demarcated a so-called Northern limit line unilaterally.

The North has never accepted this demarcation line which it claims is under the joint jurisdiction of the North and South Korean militaries. Moreover, US intelligence is aware that North Korean and South Korean fishermen continually fight over the issue of who is entitled to the fishing rights in this area.

The Cheonan ship was sailing in these disputed waters when it was allegedly hit by the North Korean’s.

Furthermore, the US recently completed Operation Full Eagle, an annual joint military exercise with the South Koreans, including naval exercises south of this particular region involving 26,000 soldiers. According to historian Bruce Cumings, these exercises are regarded by the North Koreans as a prelude to a possible attack (http://www.democracynow.org/2010/5/27/nk).

These contextual issues have rarely, if at all, been reported in the corporate mainstream media.

The greatest of all the “elephants in the room” however, is the fact that US imperialism lies behind the 1945 division of the Korean peninsula and the ongoing conflict between the two Koreas described above. Using its huge military bases in Japan and South Korea, the US wants to maintain its increasingly precarious dominance in East Asia and keep China hemmed in (http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=21402).

But North Korea has remained a thorn in America’s side, continuing to “defy the international community” over its nuclear testing and maintain its independence despite its economic collapse (http://www.onebigdog.net/north-korea-defies-international-community/).

Essentially, the US is using its ally South Korea in a dangerous game of  “imperial chess” in the region. The South is one of the world’s biggest military spenders and second only to Israel as a buyer of US arms. Under these circumstances, the South is aware that it is able to flex its political and military muscle in the region with impunity.

But the South is also caught in a vortex of power relations between other powerful players – Japan, Russia and China. Hillary Clinton is aware that the latter is a veto-wielding member of the Security Council and a North Korean ally. Hence, as the New York Times reported, the US would be unlikely to impose new sanctions on the North (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/27/world/asia/27diplo.html).

Nevertheless, South Korea and the US are using this latest incident to put pressure on the North whether the North was involved or not. After flying to Seoul on the 26 May, where she demanded that the “international community must respond” to “North Korea’s outrage”, Clinton flew on to Japan. Here the new “threat” from North Korea conveniently eclipsed the briefly independent foreign policy of Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama, elected last year with popular opposition to America’s permanent military occupation of Japan (http://www.newstatesman.com/middle-east/2010/06/north-korea-vietnam-pilger).

To the American media, North Korea’s guilt is beyond doubt, just as North Vietnam’s guilt was beyond doubt, just as Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, just as Israel can terrorise with impunity. However, unlike Vietnam and Iraq, both North Korea and South Korea have nuclear weapons. This is why, the US games are dangerous and the consequences of  a war therefore unimaginable for all of the 70 million Koreans caught in the crosshairs.

Copyright: Daniel Margrain.