WHAT CNN WON’T TELL YOU—
ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW TO UNDERSTAND NORTH KOREA AND U.S. MOTIVES
Stirring Up Fears About North Korea
A SPECIAL DOSSIER BY MEDIALENS.ORG (A FRATERNAL ORGANIZATION), STEPHEN GOWANS, AND OTHER LEADING ANALYSTS
Problem is, the US economy – that is, capitalism – is driven by an expansionary logic that demands access to markets, raw materials, low-wage labor and investment opportunities, which means sweeping planned economies, state-owned enterprises and tariff barriers aside. If north Korea were allowed to develop unharassed, it would become a model of what can be accomplished outside the strictures of the global capitalist economy, inspiring other Third World countries to follow the same path. Planned, socialist economies fared better in the 20th century than unplanned, dependent capitalist economies in turning stunted countries of the Third World into independent, industrial nations capable of meeting the basic human needs of the whole population.
“North Korean labor camps a ghastly prospect for U.S. journalists” blares the headline on The Los Angeles Times, typical of the sensationalist, warmongering coverage accorded this topic throughout the American press. “If their sentence is carried out, Laura Ling and Euna Lee face possible torture and even death in North Korea’s notorious gulag system, experts say”- proclaims the photo caption.
HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW about the increased political tensions on the Korean peninsula? The answer, even for diligent readers of the mainstream press, is likely to be ‘not much’. In place of serious, penetrating analysis the public has been sold a cartoon version of events based on a well-worn propaganda template. It is a tale spun by journalists who appear to know little of the real issues and who have internalised the key rules of ‘balanced’ reporting: do not point the finger of blame at your own government (or its allies), and do not question your government’s demonisation of official enemies (learn nothing from the past).
The message being delivered is that North Korea is of the James Bond school of cackling, malevolent villains. This is signalled through unsubtle trigger words whose true meaning is hidden but understood. Thus Simon Tisdall writes in the Guardian:
“What is clear is that the grand panjandrums [self-important people] of Pyongyang, the secretive leaders who dwell in the hermit kingdom’s mysterious palaces of smoke and mirrors, have confounded their adversaries once again.” (Tisdall, ‘Analysis: shock waves felt in US, but Kim’s real target may be closer to home,’ The Guardian, May 26, 2009;http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/ 2009/may/25/north-korea-nuclear-test- analysis)
Tim Reid observes in the Times that China is “the reclusive communist state’s only ally”. (‘UN emergency after Korea’s nuclear blast; Obama condemns threat to world peace,’ The Times, May 26, 2009)
In the Observer, Justin McCurry writes of “the secretive regime’s leader” Kim Jong-il. (Justin McCurry, ‘Ex-president facing bribes scandal leaps to death in ravine,’ The Observer, May 24, 2009)
For the Mirror, North Korea is also a “secretive regime”. (Leader, ‘World is watching,’ Daily Mirror, May 26, 2009)
For Tim Shipman in the Daily Mail, North Korea is, variously, a “hardline regime”, “the isolated nation”, the “Stalinist northern neighbour”, “the hardline military” and, inevitably, “the hermit state”. (Shipman, ‘North Korea is condemned for nuclear defiance,’ Daily Mail, May 26, 2009)
For several years now Anne Penketh of the Independent has been unable to mention North Korea without describing it as a “hermit state”. (Penketh, ‘US “exaggerating nuclear threat from North Korea”,’ The Independent, March 3, 2008)
Hermits are not all bad. It is said of the Buddhist hermit Ryokan that has meditations on compassion were such that he became pally even with the lice that afflicted him. Buddhist scholar Peter Harvey writes:
“On early warm winter’s days, he would carefully remove them from his underwear to warm in the sun, and then pop them back.” (Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics, Cambridge University Press, 2000, p.172)
A typical classroom in North Korea. If the Washington imperialists had their way, all of North Korea would soon be turned to rubble, for the sake of democracy and freedom, of course.
And North Korea is surely not alone in being “secretive”. In February, Jack Straw, the justice secretary, took the unprecedented decision to veto the release of cabinet minutes about the 2003 invasion of Iraq on the grounds that it would undermine democratic decision-making. Perhaps the grand panjandrum had other motives – for example, obscuring his role in the criminal conspiracy to invade a sovereign nation. His decision was greeted in the Hose of Commons by calls of “shame” and “disgraceful” from Labour and Conservative MPs. The Conservative MP Edward Leigh commented:
“Surely the people have the right to know the legal basis of a war in which up to 600,000 people died? This whole thing stinks.” (Richard Norton-Taylor, ‘Why we went to war in Iraq remains a secret as Straw blocks the release of cabinet minutes,’ The Guardian, February 25, 2009)
Leigh’s 600,000 figure is now three years, and several hundred thousand corpses, out of date.
The propaganda template demonising states in preparation for punishment, including outright military attack, is far more important to journalists than mere international law. Consider that the UN charter outlaws the use of force with only two exceptions: individual or collective self-defence in response to an armed attack and action authorised by the security council as a collective response to a threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression. Political analyst and activist Milan Rai notes:
“The use of armed force in self-defence is justified in international law, even under Article 51, only when the armed attack is so sudden and extreme that the need for action is ‘instant, over-whelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation’… This definition has stood the test of time, and was relied upon at the Nuremberg Tribunal.” (Rai, War Plan Iraq: Ten Reasons Why We Shouldn’t Launch Another War Against Iraq, Arrow Publications, 2002, p.148)
Compare this with the opening comments in a Times article in response to North Korea’s recent underground nuclear test. Richard Lloyd Parry and Jane Macartney share responsibility with their editors for the words that appeared:
“Even if he [Obama] were not limping out of Iraq and bogged down in Afghanistan, it would be impossible for a US president, or his allies in London, Tokyo and Europe, seriously to entertain a military solution to the North Korean nuclear problem.” (Richard Lloyd Parry; Jane Macartney, ‘It’s hard to bankrupt a country that went bust years ago,’ The Times, May 26, 2009)
But why for goodness sake? Perhaps the concern was for international law or the absurdly disproportionate nature of a violent response? Or perhaps, with Iraq’s many corpses in mind, there were fears for the likely appalling cost to North Korean civilians? The Times explains:
“For all its shortages of fuel and equipment, and even without nuclear weapons, Kim Jong Il’s forces could inflict terrible harm by conventional means alone. The hidden artillery pieces would eventually be taken out, and the bands of fanatical commandos killed, but not before they had inflicted intolerable damage on the industrialised cities of South Korea.“
The first, most obvious resort is ruled out, then, for a newspaper that views the bombing of Third World countries as American as apple pie, as British as strawberries and cream. Lloyd Parry and Macartney continue:
“So what else can the world do to bring to heel the world’s newest and most alarming nuclear power? Two coercive options remain: sanctions and diplomatic arm-twisting by Kim Jong Il’s friends and sponsors. The first have been tried, with little result – it is hard to isolate and bankrupt a country that loves independence and went bust years ago.”
As we will see, the last comments are revealing, but only of Lloyd Parry and Macartney’s ignorance.
The New York Times rehearsed the same view, commenting that “every policy option employed by previous presidents over the past dozen years – whether hard or soft, political or economic – has been fruitless in stopping North Korea from building a nuclear weapon.” (Mark Landler, ‘Leadership Mystery Amid N. Korea’s Nuclear Work,’ New York Times, May 27, 2009)
Perhaps the Independent editors ‘sourced’ the Times in making near-identical comments a day later:
“The world, led by the United States, has tried everything to bring North Korea in from the cold over the past 15 years. President Clinton sought engagement, but to no avail. President Bush adopted a more hostile approach, branding North Korea part of an ‘axis of evil’ and extending the regime’s isolation. But this did nothing to subdue Pyongyang, which responded with its first nuclear test in 2006…. What else is there to try?” (Leader, ‘North Korea might have made a fatal mistake,’ The Independent, May 28, 2009)
Nothing works with the crazed hermits to the North. But there may be a silver lining to the cloud: “what seems like a spasm of dangerous irrationality from Pyongyang could turn out to be the beginning of the death throes of this loathsome regime.”
Given the futility, perhaps the only option was that described by Kerry Brown of the Independent two days earlier: “Let’s hope that after this nasty shock, the DPRK [the North Korean government] will revert to acting rationally for a while.” (Kerry Brown, ‘A chilling reminder of the last Stalinist state’s power,’ The Independent, May 26, 2009)
As the Independent’s editors stressed on the same day, the options are restricted:
“But the truth is that the international community’s options are limited when it comes to dealing with North Korea. The application of military force carries too many risks. The North Korean regime is dysfunctional but, with its million-strong army, it still has the capacity to inflict horrific damage on any invading force. Moreover, the South Korean capital, Seoul, lies well within missile range of the North’s artillery. A repeat of the 1950-53 war could trigger the very nuclear catastrophe the West seeks to prevent.” (Leading article, ‘North Korea returns to its game of nuclear blackmail,’ The Independent, May 26, 2009)
For the liberal Independent, then, like the right-wing Times, violent attack is the first option that comes to mind. The focus is starkly revealing of the militarist mindset that is present throughout the corporate media. When individuals think this way, we call them thugs and psychopaths. Just like a thug, the Independent views the world in absurdly black-and-white terms:
“Yet the world has no other viable option but to keep plugging away with the policy of engagement though the Beijing-hosted six-party framework. Of all the approaches available, this is the one that came closest to delivering success when Pyongyang agreed to close its nuclear reactor two years ago…
“In the longer-term, we must hope that this vicious regime collapses under the weight of its own incompetence and that those nations which have offered the hand of friendship to the people of the North will be able to engineer a peaceful re-unification of the Korean peninsula.”
The idea that the West has offered “the hand of friendship to the people of the North” is a product of the propaganda template: ‘we’, the ‘good guys’, are attempting to talk sense to secretive, reclusive, isolated and self-important hermits, who are quite mad.
This, then, is the view of professional journalism. To be sure, the public has a choice of media sources. But it can only choose between different media corporations that are all tied into the wider state-corporate system, and that are servile to the same elite interests. To paraphrase Jeff in Curb Your Enthusiasm, we are free to take different spoonfuls from the same “big bowl of wrong”.
Beyond Cartoon Korea – Pratfalls And Reversals
Having presented his cartoon depiction of the North Korean state noted above, Tisdall wrote in the Guardian:
“What analysts can agree on is that the situation has deteriorated sharply in the last year or so. In February 2007, the North agreed to abandon its nuclear ambitions in return for western aid, including a gradual end to its isolation. In October that year, the two Koreas held a summit, only the second of its kind, at which a raft of agreements was unveiled. As an earnest of its goodwill, Pyongyang began to dismantle its main nuclear facility at Yongbyon.“
North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear ambitions, we are told, and began to dismantle the Yongbyon facility. Notice that we are not told the extent to which North Korea cooperated. Tisdall continued:
“But then things began to go wrong. The Bush administration insisted on intrusive verification measures. Pyongyang complained that the US was slow to remove it from its list of states sponsoring terrorism. Hawks on both sides tried to undermine the deal. US aid was delayed. Then came this year’s six-party talks walkout over new missile testing, with the North saying it would never return.”
In a rare departure from the media norm, Tisdall even mentioned the influence of South Korean politics (normally ignored as irrelevant):
“The downward spiral seems to have been reinforced by the advent in Seoul of a more hawkish presidency disinclined to pursue the ‘sunshine policy’ of engagement advocated by the late Roh Moo-hyun, who, in an apparent coincidence, killed himself at the weekend.”
It is understandable if, given the torrent of propaganda sampled above, readers are surprised by the suggestion that the West and its South Korean ally might have played some kind of negative role. The BBC was also willing to hint (and only hint) in the same direction:
“It [North Korea] agreed in February 2007 to abandon its nuclear ambitions in return for aid and diplomatic concessions. But the negotiations stalled as it accused its negotiating partners – the US, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia – of failing to meet agreed obligations.”
Curiouser and curioser. The BBC ended several articles with these cryptic words, but has not deigned to reveal whether there was any substance to the accusations. And again, nothing was said about the extent to which the secretive, hermit state cooperated.
We asked Bruce Cumings, Chair of the History Department and Gustavus F. and Ann M. Swift Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago, if he could shed light on the West’s role in the crisis. Cumings is the author of many books on Korea, including The Origins of the Korean War (Princeton University Press, 1981, 1990) and North Korea: Another Country (The New Press, 2004). Specifically, we asked why current South Korean president Lee Myung-bak had ended former president Roh’s “sunshine policy” of positive engagement with the North. Cumings replied:
“When Lee came into office in February 2008 he claimed that Roh and his predecessor, Kim Dae Jung, had given too much away to the North without getting much back. It was part of his campaign for president. Instead he wanted the North to ask for aid first, which is only humiliating of course, and then cozied up to the Bush administration when Bush was a very lame duck. Lee’s base is in right wing elements going back to the era of dictatorships, but so far his new policy toward the North has done nothing but make matters worse–much worse.
“But this is much less important than Bush’s failed policies. He is to blame for helping to destroy the 1994 Framework Agreement in 2002, with no strategy as to what to do after that. The entire plutonium facility [at Yongbyong] had been frozen and under inspection since 1994. But in Oct. 2002 Bush accused the North of having a second program using enriched uranium, a conclusion that later was proved to be based on bad intelligence. And so NK said screw you, and took back its plutonium facility, and 8000 plutonium fuel rods that had been in concrete casks for 8 years. Then AFTER NK’s first nuclear test in October 2006, Bush does a 180-degree flipflop and agrees to direct talks in Berlin in January 2007–and then doesn’t follow things up when the North actually–and very publicly–destroyed the cooling tower of the facility.
“The North had no plutonium with which to build bombs until Bush did this, and Bush also threatened to ‘topple’ the North, put it in the axis of evil, and Rumsfeld tried to get Congress to approve new bunker-busting nukes to go after the NK leadership (this came out in May 2003). So what we are looking at is a totally predictable result of Bush’s pratfalls and reversals.
Bruce” (Email to Media Lens, May 26, 2009)
Compare this with the sanitised BBC version:
“Following UN criticism, Pyongyang announced it was quitting international disarmament talks and restarting its nuclear programme. It has expelled US and UN nuclear monitors. Since a conservative administration, with less appetite for unconditional aid, took over in Seoul last February, the North has cut off all official communication in protest.” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi /asia-pacific/8009434.stm)
What, after all, could be more absurd than offering “unconditional aid”?
A BBC Q&A, ostensibly intended to clarify these issues, asked:
“What is behind the North’s actions?
“North Korea appears to have moved from a posture of negotiation to confrontation – directly challenging the US and South Korean administrations’ policies.” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/2340405.stm)
In fact the South moved from a posture of negotiation to confrontation.
John Feffer is the co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, and is author of several books on Korean politics, including North Korea, South Korea: U.S. Policy at a Time of Crisis (Seven Stories, 2003). Feffer told us:
“There is an inherent asymmetry on the Korean peninsula. North Korea is smaller and poorer, with a less powerful military. The two political systems are very different. And the cultures have diverged substantially as well. To give you one indicator: North Korea spends about half a billion a year on its military while South Korea spends over $20 billion a year. That’s a 40 to 1 ratio.” (Email to Media Lens, May 27, 2009)
“Essentially, Bush abandoned a framework agreement that froze a sophisticated plutonium program in order to go after an enriched uranium program of dubious value. But this wasn’t simply a tactical error. Bush (actually other folks on his foreign policy team) was more interested in destroying the few lines of engagement that existed with North Korea. They believed that the heavy fuel oil sent to Pyongyang was sustaining the regime. The truly faulty intelligence they received early on in the administration was that regime collapse was imminent, a claim that the CIA later retracted.“
Cumings and Feffer are describing a world that is altogether different, and far more complex, than the one presented in the mainstream media. For example, in the Independent, Kerry Brown observed: “North Korea’s predictability in serving up unpredictable nasty surprises continues.” (Kerry Brown, ‘A chilling reminder of the last Stalinist state’s power,’ The Independent, May 26, 2009)
We asked Feffer for his view of media performance:
“The media errs mostly in its shorthand. North Korea is not a communist country in any substantial sense any longer. It’s not unpredictable: in fact, it has been very clear about what it has planned to do (launch a rocket, conduct a second nuclear test). What is unpredictable, perhaps, is that such a small country should stand up to the international community — not only to the United States but to its putative ally China as well. In general, I think the media eventually covered the Bush policy correctly. It took them a couple years, though. What the media hasn’t understood, of course, is how little North Korea has actually gotten out of the Six Party Talks. The negotiations have been portrayed by conservatives as appeasement. But in fact, Pyongyang got very little for dismantling 70-80 percent of its nuclear complex.“
Who would guess from media reporting that North Korea dismantled 70-80 per cent of it nuclear complex and received very little in return? It comes as no surprise to us. Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, former chief UN weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, tirelessly insisted that Iraq had been “fundamentally disarmed” of its weapons of mass destruction by December 1998, with 90-95 per cent eliminated. (Scott Ritter and William Rivers Pitt, War On Iraq, Profile Books, 2002, p.23) The claim seriously interfered with Bush-Blair plans to invade, and could not be refuted by rational argument; so it was simply ignored by the media.
The media habitually place all blame on demonised official enemies, while glossing over the role of the West’s crimes, not least in fomenting crises and military conflicts. When real people die in their hundreds of thousands, or millions, as a result, it is a simple matter for the media to absolve the West of culpability while expressing sincere regret for the tragic loss of life.
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What Drives Washington to Crush North Korea
By Stephen Gowans
Global Research, December 14, 2004
Deterring Threats to US Capital: What Drives Washington to Crush North Korea and Other Foreign Policy Bogeymen
Antiwar poster—totally on the mark when it comes to the actual objectives of US foreign policy.
It’s never good news when a country many times larger puts you on a list of countries targeted for regime change. And the news gets worse when one of the other countries on the list disarms, as a sop, only to be invaded soon after. Unless you’re a slow learner, you arm, not disarm.
Two years after north Korea booted nuclear inspectors out of the country to build what it calls a “nuclear deterrent,” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says it’s “now certain that North Korea’s nuclear material has been converted into fuel for four to six nuclear bombs.” 
Today, Washington says it was never too concerned about north Korea having one or two nuclear bombs, because Pyongyang would always want to keep those bombs for itself, and wouldn’t sell them.  And while it’s implied by Washington but never said directly, north Korea would never launch an unprovoked nuclear attack, because to do so would be to invite instant annihilation.
But with material for four to six bombs, it could sell some, and still have enough in reserve as a deterrent. Explained General Leon J. LaPorte, commander of US forces in south Korea, “North Korea, in its desire for hard currency, could sell weapons-grade plutonium to some terrorist organization.” 
So, if north Korea was a menace before, it’s even more of a menace now. But does this add up?
First, Washington’s professed lack of concern over north Korea having one or two bombs is at odds with its rhetoric. Two years ago, Washington wasn’t so unperturbed about a nuclear-armed north Korea — or so it said. Odds are the non-threat was elevated to a pressing threat to justify an escalation of US harassment (think Iraq), and to provide a pretext for ripping up the Antiballistic Missile Treaty and beginning work on a missile shield.
Second, Washington has carried on a war of intimidation, threat, and economic aggression against north Korea for over 50 years. Trying to bring down the country’s communist government didn’t start the moment Pyongyang became desperate for hard currency and therefore became a possible vendor of nuclear weapons to terrorists. Indeed, Pyongyang’s shortage of hard currency is an outcome of that policy.
So is its poverty. US rhetoric holds that north Korea’s socialism is inherently inefficient; that’s why the country is poor. But the real reason is because north Korea has long been the target of US economic strangulation policies. North Korea’s planned, state-owned economy clashes with US plans for a world open to US exports and investment. By warfare, economic and otherwise, Washington hopes to force Pyongyang to open its economy to domination by US capital.
This isn’t unique to north Korea. Economic domination pervades US foreign policy as a principal, if not the principal, aim. Find a regime that isn’t amenable to carving a wide-open space for US capital, and you’ll find a regime that Washington is hostile to, and will work, through economic warfare, military confrontation, or civil society — and sometimes all three — to overthrow. The aim is to get US capital in, European capital out, and keep the natives down.
Tucked away in Annex B of the Rambouillet Accords, presented by the US to Yugoslavia as an ultimatum on the eve of NATO’s 1999 war of aggression, was a demand that the Kosovan economy be converted to a free market economy, its state-owned assets privatized.  If Washington was only concerned about putting a stop to a civil war in Kosovo, why let economic demands potentially get in the way? Surely the proposal should have been restricted to relevant issues, unless economic transformation was a big part of the reason for the subsequent attack.
What’s more, NATO pilots had a remarkable ability to hit publicly owned enterprises, the core of Yugoslavia’s largely socialist economy, while avoiding privately-owned businesses. NATO bombs destroyed 372 state- and socially- owned firms. Foreign and privately-owned factories escaped unscathed. 
Or take the case of Victor Lukashenko, president of Belarus. Lukashenko is one of Washington’s bogeymen. He’s called “the last dictator of Europe.” US officials will tell you they worry about Lukashenko’s contempt for democracy and human rights, but what really annoys them is that Lukashenko has largely preserved the Soviet state-owned economy intact, and leans toward economic union with Russia, not Europe and the US.  That’s bad for US businesses and investors. Therefore, it’s bad for Washington. Therefore, Lukashenko is portrayed as a demon and US foundations, the US Congress-funded National Endowment for Democracy, and the CIA work quietly behind the scenes to build “civil society” to overthrow him.
How about Iraq? It, like Yugoslavia, had a largely publicly-owned economy — that is, until US proconsul Jerry Bremer arrived on the heels of US troops and started to lay the ground work for a capitalist’s wet dream of a flat tax, no tariff barriers, a privatized economy, and an end to Saddam Hussein’s social welfare programs. CIA asset Ayad Allawi, Bremer’s US-installed successor, is seeing to it that the transformation carries on. The beneficiary: US capital. The losers: Iraqis.
As to north Korea, it’s amazing how US resolutions demanding human rights reforms also come equipped with ultimata demanding open market reforms, as if the former were the Trojan Horse and the latter the invaders hidden deep in its belly.  David Frum, former Bush speechwriter and “axis of evil” inventor, and Richard Perle, top Pentagon advisor, wrote that they didn’t really care whether the communists remained in power in north Korea, so long as they adopted economic reforms, i.e., opened the economy to US economic penetration. 
But let’s assume north Korea isn’t interested in becoming an economic subsidiary of the US, and will continue to build nuclear weapons to deter US efforts to make it cry uncle. If Washington is genuinely concerned about the possibility of north Korea selling bombs to terrorist organizations to alleviate its economic problems, shouldn’t the US lift its sanctions and ease up on its military pressure — the root causes of these problems? The US keeps 37,000 troops on the Korean peninsula, sends its warplanes aloft to spy on the country, deploys its navy along north Korea’s sea frontiers, and leads the Proliferation Security Initiative whose de facto aim is to harass north Korean shipping. As a result of this state of military siege, north Korea is forced to channel a significant share of its limited resources to the military. If it could trade freely and devote its resources fully to the civilian economy, there wouldn’t be any talk of the possibility of north Korea selling bombs to get hard currency.
Problem is, the US economy – that is, capitalism – is driven by an expansionary logic that demands access to markets, raw materials, low-wage labor and investment opportunities, which means sweeping planned economies, state-owned enterprises and tariff barriers aside. If north Korea were allowed to develop unharassed, it would become a model of what can be accomplished outside the strictures of the global capitalist economy, inspiring other Third World countries to follow the same path. Planned, socialist economies fared better in the 20th century than unplanned, dependent capitalist economies in turning stunted countries of the Third World into independent, industrial nations capable of meeting the basic human needs of the whole population. 
But this would deprive US capital of markets and opportunities for investment. And it would limit the pool of labor available for exploitation to the populations of those countries that remained within the capitalist orbit, thereby driving up the cost of labor and strengthening labor’s hand. An unmolested north Korea is a threat to capitalism itself, and, therefore, according to the logic of the US state, must be crushed. But a stifled or crushed north Korea is hardly a boon to labor in the West or to the underdeveloped countries of the global South. We shouldn’t wish fervently for its downfall, but hope for its continued defiance.
1. “North Korea Said to Expand Arms Program,” The New York Times, December 6, 2004.
4. Neil Clark, “The Spoils of Another War,” The Guardian, September 21, 2004.
6. “Voices of Freedom Are Stilled by Europe’s Last Dictator,” The New York Times, October 27, 2004.
7. “Powell and Japan Ask North Korea to Resume Talks,” The New York Times, October 25, 2004.
8. David Frum and Richard Perle, “End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror,” Random House, 2003.
May 31, 2009
Turning the threatened into the aggressor: Media distortions in coverage of north Korea’s nuclear test
Colin Powell said we would…turn north Korea into a ‘charcoal briquette,’ I mean that’s the way we talk to north Korea, even though the mainstream meda doesn’t pay attention to that kind of talk. A charocal briquette. (1)
By Stephen Gowans
Western visitors before a mural of Kim Il Sung and Kim Il Jong, the party dynasty that has ruled the nation since WWII. While the cult of personality is alive and well in the DPRK, this is no reason to turn the nation into a pariah, especially since Washington often allies and empowers mass butchers in all continents.
The following South Korean government statement appeared in the New York Times on May 28, 2009.
“If North Korea stages a provocation, we will respond resolutely. We advise our people to trust our military’s solid readiness and feel safe.”
Inclined to depict south Korea as provocative and belligerent, a headline writer may have written the following to introduce the story:
“South Korea threatens military strikes on North.”
Instead, The New York Times introduced the story this way:
“North Korea threatens military strikes on South.”
In covering north Korea’s latest nuclear test and missile launches, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and other the Western media have presented a set of facts, without necessary context. Through critical omissions, north Korea has been portrayed as “provocative and belligerent,” following the official US account offered by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In this, as always, the US media have operated as an extension of the US state. That the US media mimic, amplify and justify official US foreign policy positions is an inevitable consequence of the interlocks between the mass media, business and government.
Rather than being provocative, belligerent, irrational and unpredictable, north Korea’s recent behavior has been, on the contrary, defensive, rational and completely predictable. It is not north Korea that has provoked and threatened war; it is the United States, and its client regimes in south Korea and Japan that have played the role of Mars. North Korea’s reactions, are sane, defensive and exactly what would be expected of a country that prizes its fiercely won independence and has no intention of surrendering it to international bullying.
The provocations and belligerence of the US and its allies are to be found in their rejection of north Korea’s overtures of peaceful coexistence. Where north Korea has sought to normalize relations with its neighbors and the West, the US and its allies have talked of getting tough and punishing north Korea for its “bad behavior.”
South Korean president Lee Myung-bak reversed the previous government’s policy of rapprochement. Rather than providing aid and collaborating on economic projects, Lee has emphasized a get-tough policy to bring north Korea to heel. From Pyongyang’s perspective, south Korea has “opted for confrontation” and denied “national reconciliation and cooperation.”
And all had seemed to be going well. North Korea had agreed to disable its nuclear facilities, provide a complete declaration of its nuclear programs, and reaffirm its commitment not to transfer nuclear materials, technology, and know-how.
Talks ground to a halt when the US, south Korea, Russia, China and Japan, either failed to honor their side of the bargain, or renounced it altogether. Japan opted out, refusing to deal with north Korea until it came clean on the kidnapping of Japanese citizens. While north Korea acknowledged the crime, Japan insisted all had not been disclosed. This galled the north Koreans, who bristled over Japan making a cause celebre out of the kidnapping of Japanese citizens whose numbers represent an infinitesimal fraction of the number of Koreans who had been transported against their will to Japan as laborers and “comfort women” over the course of a 35 year Japanese colonization of Korea. Whether the Japanese are taking a genuinely principled stand, or merely feigning principled outrage, it is clear Tokyo has placed the kidnapping issue far ahead of normalizing relations. As Korea specialist Bruce Cumings points out, “The Japanese seem to think eight people are more important than finding a solution to north Korea’s atomic bomb.” (2) For Japan, which had dominated, exploited and oppressed Korea, confrontation, not conciliation, is the main point of departure of its DPRK policy.
By July of last year, north Korea had dismantled 80 percent of its nuclear facilities. Pyongyang was keen to complete its end of the bargain. Doing so would relax its decades-long US imposed isolation. The country stands to benefit enormously from normalization of relations and north Koreans were eager to facilitate the process. The necessity of maintaining a permanent war footing to guard against the potential aggression of the United States (which had threatened to turn the country into a charcoal briquette) has meant severe distortions in north Korean society. A sizeable chunk of the country’s limited resources has had to be plowed into the military, denying the country resources for much needed productive investments. US sanctions block north Korean exports and limit access to credit and foreign investment, further stifling north Korea’s economic development. If north Korea’s economy is in trouble – and it is – it’s not so as a consequence of central planning and public ownership (a canard long favored by anti-Communists), but largely because it has been strangled economically by a hostile United States and forced to squander resources on military preparedness. Pyongyang has beseeched Washington repeatedly to formally end the Korean War and sign a lasting peace agreement, only to be rebuffed on every occasion. Talks held out hope – though slim — that north Korea would finally secure some measure of relief from US harassment.
By July of last year only 40 percent of the energy shipments promised by the US and other parties to the talks – intended to compensate for the loss of energy from closing the Yongbyon reactor — had been delivered. Disturbingly, this appeared to portend a repeat of the Clinton administration policy, worked out in connection with an earlier deal, of endless delay, counting on sanctions and embargoes to bring down the government in Pyongyang before US commitments had to be honored. The Clinton administration had promised north Korea fuel oil shipments and light-water reactors in return for Pyongyang shuttering its Yongbyon facilities. North Korea had used the reactor to produce fuel for a nuclear weapon, but only after the US announced it was re-targeting its strategic nuclear weapons on north Korea following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since north Korea had been flattened, literally, by the US Air Force during the Korean War, the north Koreans had reason not to take the threat lightly. Developing nuclear weapons seemed to be the best way to bring about a stalemate and preserve north Korea’s hard-won sovereignty.
On top of falling behind on fuel shipments, the Bush administration refused to honor its promise to remove the DPRK from its Trading with the Enemy Act. Bush assured anti-DPRK conservatives that despite the deal with north Korea a wide array of US sanctions would remain in place for a long time. Normalization was not in the cards.
Washington justified its failure to meet its obligations by adding a new demand, and then announcing it couldn’t move forward until Pyongyang complied with the new conditions. The conditions, however, were never talked about by US officials as if they were new; instead, Washington acted as if north Korea had agreed to them all along, and that it was Pyongyang, not Washington, that was reneging. Now, in addition to making a full declaration of its nuclear program, north Korea was expected to submit to a verification protocol that would allow US inspectors to go anywhere they wanted in north Korea, sizing up military installations and nosing about defensive positions. Pyongyang countered by demanding unfettered access to south Korea, to verify that the US no longer stored tactical nuclear weapons on Korean soil.
Washington insists it doesn’t, but Pyongyang remains sceptical. The US refused, so the DPRK called an end to the talks, having no intention of sacrificing national security. By this point, the US, south Korea and Japan had made clear they had no real commitment to normalization. The talks were simply a way of luring north Korea down a path of surrendering the one thing that kept it from the fate of Ba’athist Iraq – its weapons of mass destruction.
Months later, north Korea would launch a satellite on top of a rocket. Inasmuch as this represented a step forward in the development of a rocket technology that could be used to launch a nuclear warhead, the US persuaded members of the UN Security Council to censure the DPRK. Pyongyang pointed out that it was perfectly within its rights to launch a satellite, and that whatever punitive measures were taken were unjustifiable.
North Korea has never taken military action outside the Korean peninsula. The danger of rocket and nuclear technology in north Korean hands is not one of aggressive war but of north Korea being able to defend itself against the US and Japan, countries with long and bloody histories of waging wars of aggression, on the Korean peninsula and elsewhere. As Bruce Cumings explains,
“The context, going back to the Korean War, for north Korea is that we have targetted north Korea with nuclear weapons since 1950. We are the only power to put nculear weapons into the Korean Peninsula from 1958 to ‘91. And when you look back at Don Rumsfeld’s antics in 2003, when he throught we had won the Iraq war around May or June of 2003, he was asking Congress for new bunker-buster nuclear weapons to go after Kim Jong-Il and the north Korean leadership.” (3)
North Korea’s development of nuclear and rocket technology creates two dangers for Washington and Tokyo: the danger of self-defense against Powell, Rumsfeld and their successors; and the danger of becoming an example to others if it can develop economically outside the strictures of capitalism and imperialism.
Reading about north Korea’s nuclear test in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and other Western media, I have been struck by the similarities in coverage. What one newspaper says is pretty much what every other says, as if reporters read each others’ copy and simply repeat what the others have written. There are benefits to doing this. How can you be taken to task over what you’ve written, if what you’ve written agrees with what everyone else says? Of course, there has to be a starting point. The ideas that journalists swap and pass around and mimic have to come from somewhere. But where? The US State Department and the Council on Foreign Relations are two places journalists look for guidance on foreign policy matters. What officials of these two bodies say are regularly echoed in major media, and in train, by opinion leaders, including university professors. Jeremy Paltiel (4), a professor of political science at a university in the city in which I live, offers a serviceable summary of the ideas journalists have been bandying about on north Korea’s latest nuclear test. Let’s look at them.
Paltiel characterizes north Korea’s underground detonation as a “clear provocation” which tests “the resolve of the international community,” without saying how the detonation is a provocation or what he means by the international community. The world has tested 2,054 nuclear devices, only two of which were north Korean, and most of which belonged to the great powers – the countries which make up the permanent membership of the UN Security Council. These are the countries Paltiel implicitly refers to when he speaks of the “international community.” So, countries of the nuclear club are upset that another country has challenged their cozy monopoly.
“The stakes are high,” writes Paltiel, “not just because Pyongyang’s provocations undermine security in northeast Asia, but also because a crucial issue facing the United States is nuclear proliferation to Iran.” We might ask whose security in northeast Asia is being threatened, and how? The United States has targeted strategic nuclear weapons on north Korea – and did so before north Korea had a nuclear weapons capability. Indeed, it is because it has been targeted, that north Korea acquired a nuclear weapons capability in the first place, as a deterrent. The reality of US missiles trained on north Korea surely threatens north Korea’s security, but Paltiel doesn’t label this a provocation. Somehow, north Korea, with a rudimentary nuclear weapons capability, is provocative, while the United States, with hundreds of nuclear weapons aimed at north Korea, 27,000 US troops on Korean soil and 40,000 in nearby Japan, is not. No one with an unprejudiced mind seriously believes that north Korea is an offensive threat to anyone. With south Korea and Japan under a US nuclear umbrella, the first strike use of a nuclear weapon by north Korea against its neighbours would guarantee its immediate annihilation. This truth is not lost on north Korea’s leadership.
As for nuclear proliferation to Iran, it’s not clear whether Paltiel is referring to Iran’s building of a civilian nuclear power industry, in which case it is incumbent on him to explain why Iran, a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, should be uniquely denied the benefits of nuclear power or forced to depend on the great powers for access to nuclear fuel (access they could turn on or off to extort Iranian concessions.) If he is treating as fact the unsubstantiated allegation that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program, then he has ventured into the field of political fiction. Even the US intelligence community says Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapons program. But if Iran did, could it be blamed for seeking a means to deter the frequent threats of war directed its way by Israel and the United States?
Some will say, but these are threats of preventive attack, responses to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s threat to wipe Israel off the map. The problem is, this is a deliberate misinterpretation of what Ahmadinejad said. What he said was that Israel qua Zionist state would eventually disappear, in the same way South Africa qua apartheid state disappeared. There was no implication in Ahmadinejad’s words of nuclear attack, war or physical destruction. Besides, the US threatened an attack on Iran before Ahmadinejad uttered his misconstrued remarks, when the Bush administration listed Iran as a member of the “axis of evil,” and then attacked the first country on the list, Iraq. It’s not Ahmadinejad that invites Washington’s hostility to Iran.
Paltiel carries on in this vein, arguing that it is a short hop, skimp and jump from north Korea being allowed to keep its nuclear weapons to the destruction of Israel. “Should [n]orth Korea acquire the status of nuclear-weapons state, any effort to prevent the nuclearization of Iran would lose validity,” he writes. It’s news to me that this effort had any validity to begin with. He continues: “And the prospect of a nuclear Iran would unravel U.S. Middle East policy, threatening the survival of Israel as well as the security of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf oil-exporting states.” All of this is very vague. It’s not clear how a nuclear Iran would unravel US Middle East policy, or how an unravelling US Middle East policy would lead to the destruction of Israel, unless Paltiel is suggesting that without US support, Israel qua colonial settler state, is dead. If so, this could hardly be something to dread; since it would represent the defeat of a racist ideology, it should, on the contrary, be welcomed as a gain for humanity.
Paltiel’s next step is to explain why north Korea detonated a nuclear device. His argument has been repeated in all major media, or, to put it another way, Paltiel repeats an argument all major media have made. That is that north Korea’s acquisition of a nuclear-weapons capability has nothing to do with the US’s, south Korea’s and Japan’s confrontational stance; nothing to do with the great powers stepping up sanctions on north Korea over the DPRK exercising its right to launch a satellite; nothing to do with US strategic nuclear weapons being targeted on north Korea; nothing to do with the provocative war games exercises the US and south Korea recently held on north Korea’s borders; nothing to do with the tens of thousands of US troops stationed nearby; nothing to do with the need to deter the US, a country which has demonstrated repeatedly that it is prepared to launch aggressive wars, and once did in Korea; in fact, none of these things Paltiel mentions, though they’re surely all highly relevant. Instead, Paltiel attributes north Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons to “the Kim family dynasty’s determination to secure its survival.” If ever there was a violation of Occam’s Razor, this is it. How does the acquisition of nuclear weapons secure the Kim family’s survival? I’m sure Paltiel could weave an elaborate tapestry of arguments to explain the connection between the DPRK’s nuclear test and the Kim family’s leadership aspirations, but why do so when a simple, compelling, explanation of why north Korea tested a nuclear device is close at hand? The reason why is because attribution of north Korea’s development of a nuclear deterrent to the personal qualities of its leadership, rather than to situational factors, deflects attention from the real reasons for north Korea’s behavior. This sets the stage to mobilize public opinion for action to “liberate” north Koreans from Kim’s “power-hungry” and “reckless rule.”
That Paltiel is about five steps removed from reality becomes plain when he frets about “US President Barack Obama’s dream of a nuclear-weapons-free future” evaporating “into a mushroom cloud.” Earth to Paltiel. Obama may dream of a nuclear-weapons-free future, but the chances of the US leading the way by relinquishing or even seriously reducing its nuclear arsenal are about as good as the chances of Kim Jong Il playing opposite Jennifer Aniston in a romantic comedy. Were Obama truly interested in a nuclear-weapons-free future, he would reverse his country’s targeting of non-nuclear states – the very reason for nuclear proliferation to north Korea – while renouncing the United States’ addiction to conquering weaker countries. If he did these things, the necessity for threatened countries of acquiring a nuclear weapons capability to protect themselves against US aggression would be eliminated. That’s the route to a nuclear-weapons-free future.
Paltiel’s article was written before south Korea announced it would join the Proliferation Security Initiative, a US-led program to intercept north Korean ships on the high seas, to inspect their cargo for so called contraband goods, the rockets north Korea sells to other countries to earn much needed foreign currency. Pyongyang pointed out correctly that this amounted to a declaration of war, since interfering with another country’s shipping is an act of war. Commit an act of war against us, warned the north Koreans reasonably, and we’ll retaliate. Paltiel, we can be assured, would have joined in the clamor that met north Korea’s warning, by characterizing the warning as a belligernet and provocative act against south Korea. The accustomed practice in journalistic circles has been to declare that north Korea threatened to attack the south, the journalists only later acknowledging that the DPRK did so only after the south threatened to commit an act of war against the north. Indeed, south Korea threatened north Korea, which then threatened to retaliate. Belligerent and provocative or self-defensive?None of this is clear from the stories carried in Western newspapers, because these stories critically omit context and surrounding events. The facts are correct, but they’re organized within a framework that defines north Korea as provocative and belligerent. It is the purest political fiction, in which black becomes white, night becomes day, and self-defense becomes provocation. “If you’re not careful,” warned Malcolm X, “the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing”…and believing the aggressors are the threatened.
1. Bruce Cumings, “Latest North Korean provocations stem from missed US opportunities for demilitarizaton,” Democracy Now!, May 29, 2009.
4. Jeremy Paltiel, “Chimerica must rise to Kim Jong Il’s challenge,” The Globe and Mail (Toronto), May 25, 2009.
Washington seeks justification to return north Korea to terrorism list
By Stephen Gowans
The Bush administration removed north Korea last year from its list of states deemed to support international terrorism. Washington placed north Korea on the list in 1988, when it claimed the country’s “agents were implicated in the bombing of a South Korean airliner that killed 115 people.” (1) The US agreed to remove north Korea from the list as part of a deal that saw Pyongyang begin to dismantle its nuclear facilities.
Yesterday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington will consider reinstating north Korea to the list “as the Obama administration looks for ways to ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang after recent nuclear and missile tests.” (2)
“’We’re going to look at it’,” Clinton said on ABC’s ‘This Week’ when asked about a letter last week from Republican senators demanding that North Korea be put back on the list. ‘There’s a process for it. Obviously we would want to see recent evidence of their support for international terrorism.’” (3)
In other words, Washington has no evidence of north Korean support for international terrorism and no legitimate reason to restore north Korea to the list. But the Obama administration needs to find “ways to ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang,” and re-listing north Korea seems to fit the bill.
But how much additional pressure will re-listing north Korea create?
Last summer, The Los Angeles Times noted that Washington’s removal of north Korea from the list would “have little practical effect…given the raft of economic sanctions currently in force against Pyongyang.” It went on to point out that then US president George W. Bush said the move would have “’little impact on North Korea’s financial and diplomatic isolation’ and that sanctions related to human rights violations, past nuclear testing and weapons proliferation would remain.” (4)
“North Korea is the most sanctioned nation in the world,” Bush said, “and will remain the most sanctioned nation in the world.” (5)
Bush’s promises made two things plain: (a) north Korea’s removal from the list was largely symbolic and (b) the US had no intention of normalizing its relations with north Korea, despite the deal it had struck with Pyongyang at the six party talks promising to do just that.
Indeed, it could be said that Washington agreed to remove north Korea from the list precisely because the move was symbolic and would not, therefore, weaken US efforts to topple the Communist government in Pyongyang. North Korea would remain the most sanctioned country on earth, whether it dismantled its nuclear capabilities or not.
So, if Washington’s removal of north Korea from the terrorism list was symbolic, then re-instating north Korea to the list must also be symbolic, and therefore hardly a means of ratcheting up real pressure.
Instead, the move seems to have everything to do with reinforcing the recent steps taken to return north Korea to its accustomed role as bogeyman of US foreign policy, a role it occupies rhetorically for reasons related to its supposed belligerence and in reality for its challenging US hegemony, interfering with US geopolitical aspirations, and denying the US a clear sphere of investment and export opportunity on the northern half of the Korean peninsula. Demonizing north Korea allows Washington to mobilize public opinion to support whatever non-symbolic measures it deems necessary to truly ratchet up pressure.
Clinton’s looking to see whether “there’s recent evidence of (north Korea’s) support for international terrorism” is the Obama administration’s equivalent of Dick Cheney looking to see whether there was evidence of Baghdad hiding weapons of mass destruction and forging ties to al Qaeda. The point is not to formulate foreign policy to accommodate the facts, but to accommodate the facts to a pre-determined foreign policy, one whose rationale is protecting and promoting the profit-making interests of the US economic elite.
There can be little doubt that if Washington sets out to find “evidence” of north Korea supporting international terrorism, it will find something, no matter how flimsy, to satisfy its demand. Given Washington and the Western media’s transformation of north Korea into a looming threat from its reality as an impoverished country that has been beleaguered by embargo and continually harassed by the United States for over fifty years, there is little doubt that whatever contrived evidence Washington discovers will be seized upon as further evidence of the need to ratchet up the pressure.
1. Peter Finn, “US to weigh returning North Korea to terror list,” The Washington Post, June 9, 2009. 2. Ibid. 3. Ibid. 4. Los Angeles Times, June 27, 2008. 5. The New York Times, July 6, 2008.
Dateline: June 6, 2009
North Korea’s nuclear test, reaction to danger of US foreign policy
By Stephen Gowans
Following are questions posed by Brasil de Fato and my answers to them.
Q. The corporate media say that Kim Jong Il is a crazy man who has the atomic bomb. What is the real purpose of North Korea’s atomic tests?
A. Kim Jong Il is portrayed as irrational and unpredictable, because that’s the only way north Korea can be made to appear to pose a threat. Depicting north Korea as a threat allows Washington to mobilize public opinion against north Korea and for US efforts to crush the Communist government in Pyongyang. North Korea, with a crude nuclear device, would never strike first, because it would be obliterated in seconds by countries that have far larger nuclear arsenals, and the means to deliver an annihilating nuclear blow. Depicting the north Korean leader as insane is a way of saying, “Look, Kim Jong Il won’t be deterred by the prospect of his own destruction. Be very afraid. And support the measures we implement to deal with the threat.”
Q. What is your opinion about the reaction of the West to these tests?
A. North Korea’s nuclear test isn’t an offensive threat. It’s a defensive threat. With a nuclear deterrent, the West is less able to bully north Korea. That’s why the West’s rhetorical reaction has been so strong. Washington needs to mobilize public opinion to support whatever measures are necessary to deal with north Korea. The rhetoric, consequently, is overheated to make a non-threat appear to be a major threat.
Q. There is an agreement between north Korea and the USA. But the US side of the agreement hasn’t been fulfilled. Is this the reason for the nuclear tests?
A. While north Korea dismantled 80 percent of its nuclear facilities by July of last year, and, as required under an agreement reached in the six party talks, made a full declaration of its nuclear program, the United States delayed fuel oil shipments and refused to normalize relations, as it had pledged to do. North Korea concluded correctly, I think, that the US has no real interest in arriving at a settlement, and is only interested in luring the country down the path of surrendering its nuclear weapons capability. Getting north Korea to give up its nuclear weapons capability may seem like a good thing if you believe north Korea is a threat, but it takes on an entirely different character when you recognize that US foreign policy is the real danger in the world, and that north Korea’s nuclear tests are simply reactions to the threats the US poses to the country’s security.
Q. What do you think about the way the Obama’s administration is dealing with this problem?
A. First, we should ask, who is this a problem for? It’s not a problem for north Korea. On the contrary, for the north Koreans, it’s a solution to a problem – that of securing some measure of security from US threats. It’s not a problem for you and me, because the chances of north Korea using its nuclear weapons in an offensive way are approximately zero. It is a problem for Washington, because Washington’s options in how it can pursue the goal of getting rid of the Communist government in Pyongyang have narrowed.
Without the US having destroyed every structure over one story in north Korea during the Korean War, without the US having targeted strategic nuclear missiles on north Korea in 1993, (before north Korea ever had nuclear weapons), without the US holding annual war games exercises on north Korea’s borders, north Korea wouldn’t have nuclear weapons. If we’re really concerned about north Korea’s nuclear weapons, we should examine the reasons why north Korea acquired them in the first place.
Regarding the Obama administration’s approach to north Korea: it is much the same as that of other administrations. The tactics may change, but the goal is always the same: the end of the Communist government in north Korea.
Q. Is this diplomatic crisis a consequence of the Korean War, as Kim Jong Il says?
A. The crisis is ultimately rooted in the United States’ determination to dominate the Korean peninsula, which led to the Korean War, so, in that sense, yes.
Q. Who provides (and why) the technology and material resources to “non-developed” countries that have nuclear weapons, like Pakistan, India and North Korea?
A. The source of the technology and know-how comes from different places, depending on the country. Israel, for example, received much of its nuclear technology and know-how from France in return for joining the Anglo-French war on Egypt in 1956, known as the Suez Canal Crisis. North Korea acquired an experimental reactor from the Soviet Union. This formed the basis of its current nuclear capabilities.
Q. Does north Korea’s nuclear test mean a real danger to the world? What are the consequences?
A. North Korea’s nuclear test is not a danger to the world. It is a danger to the US goal of dominating the Korean peninsula. The US, it should be recalled, literally flattened north Korea during the Korean War, targeted north Korea with strategic nuclear missiles after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Colin Powell talked of turning north Korea into a charcoal briquette, and George W. Bush listed north Korea as part of an axis of evil, which was more or less a hit list of countries the US was prepared to conquer militarily or at least wanted to intimidate. US foreign policy is the real danger to the world, not north Korea’s nuclear test. North Korea’s nuclear test is only a reaction to that danger.
Q. There are other countries with nuclear weapons, like France. Why is the reaction against the north Korean tests bigger than the reaction against France’s last nuclear tests under Jacques Chirac?
A. The reaction isn’t against the nuclear test per se, but against what it means. It means a reduction in US options to bully north Korea. Countries with nuclear weapons are the first to deplore proliferation, but behave in ways that guarantee it. If you target non-nuclear countries with nuclear weapons, they’ll build deterrents. If you launch aggressive wars, as the US and Britain have done in Iraq and Afghanistan, deterrents will be sought by other countries anxious to preserve their independence from Western attack. These aren’t belligerent and provocative acts, as the Western media describe them, but legitimate acts of self-defense.
It might be said, “Well, maybe the US targeted north Korea because it poses a threat.” That’s absurd. North Korea’s military budget is an infinitesimal fraction of the Pentagon’s, and is smaller than that of south Korea. A north Korean attack on south Korea would invite north Korea’s complete destruction. At best, the north Koreans can hope they’re strong enough to inflict a blow of sufficient strength to deter south Korea and its US patron from launching an attack, but they could never hope to take south Korea or survive a war without massive destruction. Pyongyang has approached Washington repeatedly about formally ending the Korean War, signing a peace treaty, and normalizing relations.
On every occasion, it has been rebuffed. Washington will not tolerate anti-private property regimes and therefore will always be looking for a way to end the Communist government in north Korea. The only way it will arrive at a modus vivende with north Korea, is if it’s compelled to by the fact that it can’t push the country around with impunity. And even then, US attempts to destabilize north Korea will be unrelenting. That was the case with the Soviet Union.
There’s a principle at issue, here. Should countries be free from control and domination from outside? If so, should they be able to preserve their independence by building nuclear weapons as a deterrent, if necessary? If not, the implication is that preventing proliferation is a higher good than sovereignty, and that countries should submit to domination by outside forces to uphold the higher principle of non-proliferation. Powers that have the means to enforce their domination over other countries will, quite naturally, support this view and place great rhetorical emphasis on the need to prevent proliferation. So too will the citizens of these countries. The sovereignty of their country isn’t threatened; the military already has access to nuclear weapons; proliferation to them, therefore, seems to be the larger issue.
On the other hand, sovereignty and freedom from domination may be regarded by others (the north Koreans principal among them) as a higher good than non-proliferation, in which case, the struggles of independent countries to maintain their independence by any means, even by acquiring nuclear weapons, will be accepted as legitimate and defensible. Korea lost its sovereignty to Japan from 1910 to 1945, and lost its brief independence to the United States, in the south, in 1945, when US forces imposed a military government, and later recruited the truculently anti-Communist Syngman Rhee to head a US puppet government. Having been dominated by outside forces for a significant period of the 20th century, the Koreans who built north Korea prize their country’s sovereignty and are prepared to fiercely defend it. For them, sovereignty is more important than proliferation.
The way to achieve non-proliferation and sovereignty together is to stop the US and other nuclear-armed countries from behaving in ways that encourage other countries to build deterrent arsenals, which, as it turns out, is equivalent to stopping the same countries from threatening the sovereignty of other countries. The critical issue here is to understand why countries like the United States, Britain, France and others seek to dominate other countries. In my view, there are systemic imperatives that drive these countries to behave in aggressive ways, and that these systemic imperatives are ultimately rooted in the capitalist system. Western media, which are, of course, ardently pro-capitalist, direct attention away from these critical questions, and have a bias to seek explanations in the character of individuals alone, rather than in situational factors and material conditions, or in the interplay of the personal and situational. That’s one reason for the media’s emphasis on the personality of Kim Jong Il, rather than on the history of US attempts to dominate the Korean peninsula and the conditions that encouraged north Korea to acquire a nuclear weapons capability. If you believe that north Korea armed itself with nuclear weapons because Kim Jong Il is insane and power-mad and wants to continue a family dynasty, you’re two steps removed from thinking about what drives the US to behave in ways that forced the north Koreans to test a nuclear weapon. In other words, as a consequence of the media’s misdirection, you’re not even aware of what the problem is, and without awareness of the problem, you can’t even begin to glimpse the solution.