what's left

Guilty as charged: North Korea’s conviction of US journalists Ling and Lee

Posted in Media, north Korea by what's left on June 21, 2009

By Stephen Gowans

There are probably four reasons why Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the US journalists arrested, convicted and jailed by north Korean authorities, received harsh sentences: They entered north Korea illegally, and not inadvertently and innocently as US officials and the Ling and Lee families maintain; they intended to produce video footage that would add to the Western campaign of demonizing north Korea; Pyongyang wants to deter others from sneaking across its borders and a harsh sentence was seen as a way of delivering a warning; Ling and Lee were working with a right-wing evangelist who is trying to destabilize north Korea. It didn’t help, either, that the pair snuck across the Chinese-DPRK border at a time of high tension between Washington and Pyongyang.

Ling and Lee were arrested on March 17, after setting off from Tuman, a town in northeast China near the Chinese-DPRK border. [1] They were on assignment for Current TV, a cable and Internet TV company founded by former US vice-president Al Gore and businessman Joel Hyatt. Ling, a Chinese-American, is a correspondent, while Lee, a Korean-American, is a film editor. Ling is also vice president of Current’s Vanguard journalism department. Her more widely known older sister, Lisa, is also a TV correspondent, who was co-host of ABC’s The View, host of National Geographic Explorer, and a correspondent for The Oprah Winfrey Show and CNN. [2]

Sometime that morning Ling, Lee, their cameraman, Mitch Koss, along with their Chinese guide, crossed the Tuman river, which forms one-third of north Korea’s border with China, into north Korea. The river is about 20 to 30 yards wide, [3] and on the north Korean side, there are guard posts every couple of hundred yards. [4] The river bed is shallow and would have been frozen that morning. [5]

US officials refer to Lee and Ling as “inadvertently” crossing the north Korea border. Their families talk of the pair “wandering” across the border, as if it were all quite accidental and innocent. [6] And US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dismisses the charges against the pair as “baseless.” [7] But there are a few reasons to believe that Lee and Ling knew exactly where the border was and deliberately crossed it.

First, Ling had a model. Three years earlier, her sister, Lisa, had snuck across the Chinese border into north Korea to secretly film a documentary for National Geographic. Unlike her younger sister, she didn’t get caught. [8]

Second, it’s difficult to stumble across a border, when the border is a river, and there are guard posts every couple of hundreds yards on the opposite shore. To believe Ling and Lee innocently wandered across the border is a bit like believing Mexicans inadvertently wander across the Rio Grande into the United States.

Third, Chun Ki-won, a south Korean evangelist who helped arrange the journalists’ trip (and about whom more later) suggested they may have become too ambitious, hazarding a trip across the border, rather than staying on the Chinese side. [9]

Fourth, and most damaging to the notion that the border crossing was accidental and innocent, Lee, Ling and Koss were accompanied by an ethnic Korean Chinese guide. [10] Any guide worth his salt would have been familiar with the terrain and know exactly where the border is.

Moreover, there’s reason to believe the guide was hired precisely to help the three journalists sneak into north Korea. Chun operates an “underground railroad” that smuggles people in and out of north Korea. [11] Since he helped arrange the trip, it’s likely he selected the guide. The guide may have been selected because he had experience in unauthorized border crossings.

Fifth, on June 16, the north Korea official news agency, KCNA, said north Korean officials had confiscated videotape in which someone (presumably Ling) could be heard saying “We have just entered north Korean territory without permission.” [12]

One doesn’t set off with a guide and cross a river that acts as border without knowing precisely what one is doing. The idea that Ling and Lee innocently stumbled into north Korea is implausible.

Here’s what seems to have happened next. The journalists and their guide were discovered by north Korean border guards. When the four failed to produce documentation authorizing their presence on north Korean soil, the guards tried to arrest them. Koss and the guide fled, crossing the Tuman back into China. As Koss stepped onto Chinese soil, he was arrested by Chinese border guards, and detained for two days, before being released. [13]

Koss knows exactly what happened that morning, but has provided no account I can find. Indeed, it is rarely mentioned in Western press reports that Ling and Lee had company on their trip, and that a third American journalist, Koss, escaped. One would think there would be an enormous interest in his story. Instead, silence.

So, what of Chun Ki-won? Chun is founder of an organization named Durihana. Durihana means “one from two”, a reference to the organization’s goal of building one Korea from its current two parts, north and south. But Chun’s idea of unification is hardly one north Koreans would endorse. What he means by unification is annexation – specifically, a Christian (and Buddhist) south absorbing a godless north. [14]

Chun aims to Christianize north Korea. He works to achieve this by smuggling economic migrants out of north Korea, converting them to Christianity, and sending them back to convert others. The goal: to bring down the north Korean government from inside, so the gospel of Christ can be spread throughout the length and breadth of the Korean peninsula. [15]

National Geographic described Chun as belonging “to a diverse group of activists, humanitarians, traffickers and fellow missionaries who operate an Asian underground railway. Some hope to precipitate the collapse of North Korea; others want to convert North Koreans to Christianity.” [16] Chun, it seems, wants to do both. We can be sure that anyone associated with him – including US journalists on a mission to produce a documentary whose content would almost certainly have been unfriendly to north Korea – are likely to be regarded with intense hostility and suspicion by Pyongyang.

Ling and Lee, then, had three strikes against them.

1. They entered north Korea illegally.
2. They were on a mission that could only be regarded by Pyongyang as hostile, for their documentary, had it been completed, would inevitably have demonized north Korea.
3. They were aided by an anti-DPRK evangelist whose aim is to bring down the north Korean government by training and deploying an evangelical Christian fifth column.

For these reasons Ling and Lee were convicted of illegal entry and committing a hostile act. They were sentenced to 12 years hard labor. [17]

The US media, US state officials and ordinary US citizens have reacted to the arrest, conviction and sentencing of the two journalists with outrage. This is partly due to the State Department and US media portraying Ling and Lee as innocents who either mistakenly stumbled across the border or were abducted on Chinese soil by north Korean border guards. Acknowledging that the pair deliberately crossed the border illegally might reduce the outpouring of sympathy.

The arrest, conviction and sentencing of Ling and Lee have played into the hands of propagandists who cite the event as an example of north Korea’s disdain for press freedom. This is partly a red herring. Part of their sentence was related to their unlawful intrusion into north Korea. This has nothing whatever to do with press freedom. Press freedom does not give journalists carte blanche to cross international borders without authorization.

The other part of their sentence relates to a hostile act. This is closer to the idea of repressing press freedom, for it appears the hostile act the pair was convicted of pertains to the collection of documentary footage, while on north Korean soil, that would be used to vilify the country. Demonization is standard operating procedure for Western journalists covering north Korea. What Western press report on north Korea hasn’t begun with the assumption the country is belligerent, provocative, mismanaged, and repressive? While vilifying north Korea may be standard operating procedure, this doesn’t make it acceptable or any less intolerable to north Koreans. Vilification provides Western ruling class forces with openings to mobilize public opinion at home to justify economic warfare against, and military confrontation with, north Korea. While we may think of the words and ideas journalists wield as innocuous, their words and ideas have very real – and potentially devastating – consequences for the lives, safety, and well-being of north Koreans.

Denunciations of north Korea by US sources for arresting, trying and jailing the journalists are hypocritical. While it appears otherwise on the surface, Washington’s tolerance of press freedom is no greater than that of Pyongyang. Both countries deny advocacy rights to hostile media. North Korea punishes journalists whose intentions are to smear its reputation. For its part, the United States denies press freedom to organizations that may, through their control of mass media, mobilize people against what Washington deems to be its interests. For example, Washington bans the Hezbollah TV station, Al Manar, on the ground that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization.[18] Let’s suppose it is. Is there a reason why a terrorist organization (and I don’t accept the designation) should be denied press freedom? The answer, from Washington’s point of view, is yes. Press freedom should only be extended to those whose advocacy is within what Washington defines as acceptable bounds. Hezbollah is considered out of bounds because it advocates the use of violence against a US ally (Israel) to achieve a political goal (self-defense) deemed by Washington to be hostile to its interests. Likewise, Pyongyang takes a dim view of press freedom used to advocate positions deemed hostile to its interests. The critical question is not whether press freedom is an absolute value to be fought for, but whose interests are at stake when press freedoms are abridged? Press freedoms are abridged in Western countries when imperialist or capitalist interests are seriously threatened; in anti-imperialist countries, when values of sovereignty are threatened. Since anti-imperialist countries are under constant threat, the need to abridge press freedom is unremitting. Since serious threats to imperialist countries are weaker and only occasional, press freedom in the West, and advocacy rights generally, are abridged less often.

Shouldn’t ideas rise and fall on their own intrinsic merit? If ideas rose and fell on their own intrinsic merits, perhaps, yes. But they don’t. Ideas rise and fall on more than intrinsic merit alone. They also rise and fall depending on how persuasively they’re communicated, and, importantly, how loudly, how often and how widely. It’s easy to accept a communist or anti-capitalist press, if it is small, under-funded, and marginal. The ideas it communicates, no matter their merit, will pose little threat, and will be overwhelmed by a cascade of competing ideas that are so ubiquitous they seem to constitute the common sense. What’s more, the very fact a communist press exists can be pointed to as evidence a society is free and open. And the notion that ideas rise and fall on their own merit can be invoked to explain why the communist press is marginal and why its ideas are not widely embraced. Press freedom, then, is an easy concept to accept, if you own the only truly visible, ubiquitous, press, and competing presses are small, under-funded and marginal.

Another question is whether the intrinsic merits of an idea are universal, or only particular to a specific group. Free trade may have intrinsic merit to the owners of an industrialized country, but not to the residents of an underdeveloped country. Slavery has intrinsic merit to slave-owners, but not to slaves. Occupying Iraq militarily has merit to decision-makers in Washington, but not to Iraqis on the ground. There are few ideas that have an intrinsic merit for all people at all times. Slavery as an idea was dominant in slave-owning societies, both because it had intrinsic merit (for slave-owners) and also because slave-owners had the means to propagate and justify the idea. Slavery has no legitimacy in a capitalist society because it has no intrinsic merits to the capitalist class, and because the capitalist class has the means to propagate and justify competing ideas until they achieve the status of common sense.

What’s more, there are abridgements of advocacy rights that most everyone accepts as desirable. Many countries prohibit advocacy of Nazism and hate-speech. Would we accept advocacy of slavery, the legal distribution of child pornography, or the hunting of racial minorities for sport? Some might, if they could be assured the advocates of these ideas would be marginalized by lack of access to platforms to mobilize support for their ideas on a mass scale. It’s doubtful, however, that their commitment to advocacy rights in the absolute would stand the test of these vile views being broadcast widely. Commitment to advocacy rights in the absolute is, except in the case of a tiny group of rights fanatics, conditional on the exercise of these rights making no meaningful challenge to one’s cherished views.

It’s instructive to consider the consequences of absolute press freedom being achieved at a time when titanic corporations in imperialist countries control vast media monopolies. These media reach far and wide, penetrating even those countries in which working class or national liberation forces (or both) have control of the state. On a world scale, in these times, absolute press freedom offers imperialism a means to perpetuate its domination by controlling most of the levers by which public opinion and people’s perceptions and values are shaped. What hope have anti-imperialist countries to survive, if the vile ideas the imperialist mass media propagate are given free rein?

The parallel is free trade. Free trade benefits dominant industrial powers, which have, as a consequence, always favored free trade as a universal principle (until they lose their dominance.) Britain, once the workshop of the world, promoted free trade as an absolute, until its industrial monopoly was eclipsed by the United States, Germany and Japan. These countries rejected free trade as inimical to their own development. They used state ownership, tariffs, subsidies, and other forms of preferential treatment of domestic industry, to develop industrially. Had they accepted Britain’s favored principle of free trade, their development would have stalled and Britain would have continued in its dominant position. Once it lost its status as workshop of the world, Britain rejected free trade and embraced imperial tariffs.

In the same way, imperialism promotes advocacy rights as an absolute. Because capitalist forces in the imperialist countries control the bulk of the world’s mass media, and therefore are able to shape public opinion, perceptions and values on a world scale, they are generally in favour of a free press. A free press means their version of reality holds sway. It is only when opposing forces begin to challenge their monopoly by developing their own mass media that the principle of advocacy rights as an absolute is abandoned. Just as the United States, Germany and Japan challenged Britain’s industrial monopoly by rejecting free trade as a universal principle, so must anti-imperialist and working class forces challenge capitalist and imperialist domination by disrupting advocacy of reactionary positions.

There are other limits on press freedom in the United States. Al Jazeera’s English-language broadcasting can be seen in over 100 countries, but the network faces a virtual ban in the United States, where it is only available from cable providers in Burlington, Vermont, Toledo, Ohio, and Washington. D.C. [19]

In Canada, the British politician George Galloway, who is an effective and passionate advocate of the rights of Palestinians, was denied entry to the country in order to disrupt a planned speaking tour. Canadian officials feared Galloway would mobilize support for Palestinians and against a Canadian ally, Israel. While the ban had little practical effect, since Galloway was able to speak to Canadian audiences through remote broadcasts, this demonstrates that Canada is prepared to limit advocacy rights when faced with very minor challenges to the dominant ideology. How much damage could Galloway, alone, do to the monolithic depiction of Israel as a tiny but plucky country besieged by anti-Jewish Arabs bent on carrying out the Final Solution? By contrast, such countries as Cuba, Zimbabwe, Venezuela and north Korea are bombarded daily with persuasive communications from Western media challenging these countries’ anti-imperialist direction. The provocations they face are a hundred-fold greater than the provocations the dominant class in Western societies face, and yet Western governments are quick to impose limits on advocacy rights, while at the same time condemning anti-imperialist countries for taking defensive measures against bombardment by pro-imperialist propaganda.

The Pentagon also prohibits press freedom by barring the media from covering the return to the United States of soldiers killed overseas. [20] The purpose is plain: to keep US citizens acquiescent so they don’t press more vigorously for a meaningful withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Just as the punishment meted out to Ling and Lee reflects Pyongyang’s political interests, Washington and other Western countries restrict press freedom and advocacy rights for their own political purposes.

In Iraq, the US military has detained dozens of journalists since 2001. While Ling and Lee faced formal charges and were afforded a trial, the journalists the US military lock up are held without charge and denied access to the courts. [21] Bilal Hussein, an Associated Press photographer, who won a 2005 Pulitzer Prize for spot news photography, was imprisoned by the US military for over two years without charge or trial. [22] While rallies have been held in support of Ling and Lee, few US citizens are aware of the Iraqi journalists held by the US military.

While Washington is prepared to limit advocacy rights and press freedoms that provide openings to mobilize people against capitalist or imperialist interests, it’s equally prepared to declare advocacy rights to be sacrosanct when efforts are made to impose limits on advocacy of reactionary positions. For example, in November 2008, a resolution sponsored by Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Sudan and three other countries was put before the United Nations General Assembly. The resolution sought a ban on the glorification of Nazism and the description of Nazi collaborators as national liberation forces. The United States voted against the resolution, citing the need to uphold advocacy rights. A US official explained that “in a free society hateful ideas fail on account of their own intrinsic lack of merit,” and that is was therefore unnecessary – and an affront to the idea of free speech — to impose a ban. [23] Yet the United States has officially banned Al Manar, virtually bans Al Jazeera, and won’t allow the media to cover the return of fallen soldiers to the United States.

Washington’s client regime on the Korean peninsula, the ROK, imposes even stricter limits on freedom of expression. Citing threats to south Korea’s national security, the military bans all “pro-North Korea, antigovernment, anti-American and anticapitalism works” from its barracks, including books by Noam Chomsky. [24] For years, photos of north Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung, were cut out of the international edition of Time Magazine by south Korean censors. And south Korea’s notorious national security law criminalizes communism and recognition of north Korea. While it is obligatory for Western journalists to denigrate north Korea’s human rights record in every report they file, rarely, if ever, is south Korea’s severe curtailment of advocacy rights for leftist political forces ever mentioned. In the world of Western journalism, the denial of rights to communists and militant anti-imperialists is glossed over, even accepted as desirable. It is only the denial of rights to pro-imperialist and pro-capitalist forces that is considered intolerable and worthy of mention.

Whether one ought to be for or against the arrest, convictions and imprisonment of Ling and Lee depends on answers to the following questions:

Did they deliberately enter north Korea without authorization, thereby knowingly committing a crime? The weight of evidence says they did.

Were they aware of the risk they were taking when they intruded upon north Korean territory with intentions the north Korean government could only regard as unfriendly — and at a time of high tension between their country and the DPRK? Ling and Lee are veteran journalists, not hapless tourists with a shaky grasp of public affairs. It’s fairly certain they were aware of the risks they were taking, but took them anyway, because risk-takers who defy the odds to bring back the story are highly rewarded in Western journalism. Ling’s older sister, Lisa, took a similar risk three years earlier. The risk paid off, and helped build her reputation.

Are Ling and Lee politically neutral? No journalist, no matter how hard she strives to be impartial, is free from class or national allegiances. As journalists employed by capitalists based in the dominant imperialist power, it is inevitable their reporting on north Korea would have had a decidedly pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist tilt, at odds with north Korea’s interests. Ling and Lee are every bit as much warriors in the struggle between Washington and Pyongyang over the question of whether the whole of the Korean peninsula will be dominated by US geopolitical interests as US military and intelligence personnel and Washington decision-makers are. Their battlefield, while it may not be one of missiles and artillery, is people’s minds, and is every bit as important. Ling and Lee are not innocent, politically neutrally journalists, who accidentally stumbled across the north Korean border. They are promoters of an imperialist ideology who almost certainly intruded illegally on north Korea with unfriendly intentions. The evidence suggests they are guilty as charged.


“Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said (July 10, 2009) that the United States was now seeking ‘amnesty’ for two American journalists imprisoned in North Korea, a remark that suggests that the Obama administration was admitting the women’s culpability in a bid to secure their freedom. […] Ms. Ling reportedly called her sister, Lisa Ling, also a journalist, this week and said in the course of a 20-minute conversation that (she and Euna Lee) had broken North Korean law…” Sheryl Gay Stolberg, “Clinton seems ‘amnesty’ for 2 held by North Korea,” The New York Times, July 11, 2009.

Laura Ling’s sister, Lisa “revealed that (Ling and Lee) did apparently cross into North Korea from China.” Anahad O’Connor, “Journalists entered N. Korea, sister says,” The New York times, August 7, 2009.

“The full statement by former president Bill Clinton reads: ‘The young women had acknowledged that they did go into North Korea briefly, a few steps, and that they shouldn’t have done it. And the secretary of state had previously said that the United States regretted that.'” Charisse Van Horn, “Bill Clinton speaks about Laura Ling Euna Lee and trip to North Korea,” examiner.com, August 9, 2009.

“According to Durihana, the Current TV crew met (Chun Ki-won)…in Seoul on March 13, asking for help covering the plight of North Korean refugees in China. Mr. Chun said he put them in touch with (Lee Chun-woo, a south Korean evangelist living in China) and a Korean guide in China. […] The activists, missionaries and smugglers who help shuttle people out of North Korea have moved about 20,000 North Korean refugees through China, mostly to South Korea. Some operate with a political agenda to undermine the North Korean government…” Choe Sang-Hun, “In South Korea, Freed U.S. jounralists come under harsh criticism,” The New York Times, August 22, 2009.

1. Choe Sang-Hun, “N. Korea says it is holding reporters,” New York Times, March 22, 2009; “Detailed report on truth about crimes committed by American journalists,” KCNA, June 16, 2009.
2. Raja Abdulrahim and Jessica Garrison, “Friends speak up for LA journalists held by N Korea,” Los Angeles Times, June 11, 2009.
3. Choe Sang-Hun, “N. Korea says it is holding reporters,” New York Times, March 22, 2009.
4. Tom O’Neil, “Escape from North Korea,” National Geographic, February, 2009.
5. Choe Sang-Hun, “N. Korea says it is holding reporters,” New York Times, March 22, 2009.
6. David E. Sanger and Choe Sang Hun, “US protests N Korea’s treatment of journalists,” New York Times, June 9, 2009.
7. Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea says journalists admitted crimes,” New York Times, June 17, 2009.
8. Raja Abdulrahim and Jessica Garrison, “Friends speak up for LA journalists held by N Korea,” Los Angeles Times, June 11, 2009; Robert Mackey, “Vigils held for American reporters on trial in North Korea,” New York Times, June 3, 2009.
9. Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea said to detain US reporters,” New York Times, March 20, 2009.
10. Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea said to detain US reporters,” New York Times, March 20, 2009; Choe Sang-Hun, “N. Korea says it is holding reporters,” New York Times, March 22, 2009.
11. Tom O’Neil, “Escape from North Korea,” National Geographic, February, 2009.
12. Blaine Harden, “North Korea says two convicted journalists admitted ‘criminal acts’”, The Washington Post, June 17, 2009.
13. Choe Sang-Hun, “N. Korea says it is holding reporters,” New York Times, March 22, 2009; Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters for Al Gore’s Current, suspected spies,” AP, May 24, 2009; IFEX Alert, March 29, 2009.
14. PBS News Hour, “Evangelical movement spreads throughout South Korea,” February 28, 2007; Interview with Chun Ki-won, http://www.hrwh.org.
15. Norimitsu Onishi, “Letter from South Korea: Campaign for human rights and fishing for souls,” New York Times, February 24, 2006.
16. Tom O’Neil, “Escape from North Korea,” National Geographic, February, 2009.
17. “Detailed report on truth about crimes committed by American journalists,” KCNA, June 16, 2009.
18. Los Angeles Times, July 13, 2008.
19. “Few in US see Jazeera’s coverage of Gaza war,” New York Times, January 12, 2009.
20. Liz Sly, “US holds journalist in Iraq without charge,” Los Angeles Times, May 24, 2009.
21. Ibid.
22. AP, August 23, 2008.
23. US Bureau of Public Affairs, Office of the Spokesman, Questions taken from the February 25, 2009 daily press briefing.
24. Choe Sang-Hun, “Textbooks on Past Offend South Korea’s Conservatives,” New York Times, November 18, 2008.

Iranian Electoral Fraud: A Skeptic’s View

Posted in Color Revolutions, Iran by what's left on June 16, 2009

By Stephen Gowans

So, the presidential election in Iran was rigged. How do we know this? Because the Western media almost invariably say it was. How do they know? Because the main opposition challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi – who officially got far fewer votes than the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — said it was. And how does Mousavi know the election was rigged? Because he didn’t win it.

It’s clear Mousavi thinks he won, but is their any evidence independent of the candidate’s own opinion to back the claim he actually scored an electoral upset?

The answer is, not much. And the evidence on the other side, that Ahmadinejad won, is just as strong, if not stronger.

Washington Post staff writers Glenn Kessler and Jon Cohen, in an article titled “Signs of fraud abound, but not hard evidence,” point out “there were few independent polls taken before the election and no exit polls afterward, making it extremely difficult to assess the accuracy of the vote counts announced by the government.” And making it extremely difficult to assess the merits of Mousavi’s claim that he is the real winner.

But didn’t Mousavi hold large rallies in Tehran? Yes, but so too did Ahmadinejad. And Western media outlets, the journalists say, are concentrated in Tehran, where Mousavi’s support was strongest. That created “a misleading picture of the Iranian electorate.”

Kessler and Cohen spoke to Walter Mebane, a University of Michigan professor who specializes in uncovering crooked elections. He told the reporters “there are suspicious elements, but there’s no solid evidence of fraud.”

That’s why “the United States and other Western powers” have failed to “denounce the results as unacceptable.” There’s just no compelling evidence.

Plus, there’s evidence that Ahmadinejad “simply won a commanding victory.” Flynt Leverett of the New American Foundation, a US ruling class think-tank, says Ahmadinejad is “a really good campaigner” who seemed to have slowed Mousavi’s momentum in their final debate.

More tellingly, a May 11-20 telephone poll co-sponsored by the New American Foundation, and by another ruling class think-thank, Terror Free Tomorrow, “showed Ahmadinejad with a 2 to 1 lead over Mousavi,” consistent with the official outcome of the election.

What hasn’t been acknowledged is that Mousavi may be perpetrating a fraud of his own: that of deliberately creating an expectation he won in order to declare the election illegitimate.

With the Western media long ago having relegated Ahmadinejad to its rogues’ gallery, it was certain that whatever damning allegations Mousavi would hurl at him would be treated by the Western media as gospel. Once CNN, the BBC and other Western media outlets began to broadcast Mousavi’s charges of electoral fraud, the allegations quickly assumed the status of incontestable fact.

Mousavi declared himself the winner of the election before the polls were even closed, standard operating procedure for those seeking to instigate a color revolution. Color revolutions are insurrections sparked by claims of electoral fraud. Failing at the polls, a challenger calls for his supporters to take to the streets to pressure the government to step down. The Western media have played a role by making the charges of electoral fraud seem legitimate, by the simple ploy of treating them as such.

While the election may very well have been rigged, there is little solid evidence it was. At the same time, there is reason to be suspicious of Mousavi’s motivations. And as always, there’s reason to be skeptical of Western media coverage of foreign affairs and to be equally wary of their power to create incontestable truths – freighted with political baggage — out of thin evidence.

Affinity for Autocrats or National Independence?

Posted in ICC, north Korea, The New York Times, Zimbabwe by what's left on June 12, 2009

By Stephen Gowans

Turning the threatened into the aggressor: Media distortions in coverage of north Korea’s nuclear test,” posted here on May 31, 2009, was published by the Zimbabwe newspaper The Herald in two installments a few days later. In a reference to the article, a June 12, 2009 New York Times report by Celia W. Dugger notes that “The Herald published a two-part defense of North Korea’s nuclear tests.” Dugger cites this as an example of Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe flaunting “his affinity for autocrats.” Mugabe, Dugger writes, “still controls” the Herald, which is state-owned. Dugger also points to Mugabe’s welcoming “Sudan’s president Omar Hassan al-Bashir, charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court, to a summit meeting attended by African heads of state” as a further example of Mugabe’s “affinity for autocrats.”

“Turning the threatened into the aggressor” points out that the behavior of the north Korean government can be understood as a response to the United States, Japan and south Korea taking a more confrontational approach to their dealings with Pyongyang, and not to an inherent belligerence on the part of north Korea or a desire to extort rewards. Confrontation has been Washington’s standard operating procedure from the moment the Workers’ Party – the governing party in north Korea — was formed in 1948, but the degree of confrontation has varied with the circumstances. In the early 1990s, with the Soviet Union’s collapse depriving the Pentagon of its principal bogeyman, then top general Colin Powell complained he was down to just two targets: Fidel Castro and north Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung, who, at the time, was still alive. With the Soviet Union being succeeded by a prostrate Russia returned to capitalism, the United States retargeted some of its strategic nuclear weapons on a then non-nuclear north Korea. When north Korea withdrew from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in protest, signaling its intention to build its own nuclear weapons if it was going to face the threat of nuclear annihilation by the United States, Washington was forced to try to arrive at an accommodation. This it did when the Clinton administration negotiated the Agreed Framework, which saw north Korea shut down its plutonium reactor, which could be readily used to produce fuel for nuclear weapons, in exchange for fuel oil to tide it over until two light water reactors could be built to supply its energy needs. Pyongyang stuck to its end of the deal – despite the US delaying promised fuel oil shipments and tarrying on building the light-water reactors – until the Bush administration ripped up the agreement, accusing north Korea of operating a secret uranium enrichment program. A subsequent deal worked out during the so-called six party talks collapsed, largely because the Bush administration was divided over whether to work toward an accommodation or to pressure north Korea through threats and sanctions into collapse. North Korea eventually gave up on the deal when Washington signaled its refusal to normalize relations and demanded an intrusive verification protocol.

Bullying north Korea, the strategy that eventually gained the upper hand under Bush, and continues to be the favored strategy under Obama, was bound to produce only two outcomes: either the government in Pyongyang would capitulate or north Korea would restart its nuclear program. The north Korean government didn’t collapse, and missile launches and a nuclear test were carried out instead.

The magazine Foreign Policy, which reflects the position of the US foreign policy establishment, echoes the point. Asking whether the next north Korean leadership will give up the country’s nuclear weapons, Jennifer Lind, a professor of government at Dartmouth College, provides the answer by inviting readers to perform a thought experiment. Put yourself in the north Korean leadership’s shoes.

“Bristling enemies surround you. To the south is a country with double your population and 20 times your GDP. The southern neighbor has spent the past six decades preparing its large army to annihilate yours. In stark contrast to your army, its healthy young men and women train regularly. (Your hungry soldiers can’t train for want of fuel; they spend all of their time fixing roads or bribing officials for smuggling opportunities.) The enemy boasts state-of-the-art weapons technology. (You can’t find spare parts for your 1950s relics.)

“Oh, and that country has a friend. It’s the global superpower, a country of such vast economic might that your GDP is just a rounding error in comparison. Your people never go a day without thinking about how that country, 60 years ago, burned yours to the ground in an incendiary bombing campaign. Its people have absently labeled that episode “the forgotten war.” Today, that country has more military power than the rest of the world combined, and a large nuclear arsenal trained on your palace.

“The superpower recently overran not one but two countries (that lacked nuclear weapons) and is batting around the idea of attacking another (that lacks nuclear weapons). You watched when the superpower conquered Iraq without breaking a sweat and briskly put bullet holes through the leaders’ sons. Your eyes widened when the superpower dragged a grizzled Saddam Hussein blinking out of a rat-hole, put him in an orange jumpsuit, and then hung him brokenly from a gallows.” (1)

My article may not have painted US foreign policy as the expression of benign intent The New York Times painstakingly constructs every day in the pages of its newspaper, but exploring the surrounding events that have conditioned north Korea’s nuclear tests hardly amounts to expressing an affinity for autocrats. It does, however, signal an affinity for national independence and those willing to fight to protect it.

At the same time, Mugabe’s welcoming Sudan’s president to a summit meeting of African heads of state is not an expression of affinity for autocrats, either. It is, more likely, an expression of solidarity with a leader who has been targeted by an illegitimate court. While Dugger may regard the court as valid, even though her own country does not (it refuses to sign on to it), it has little legitimacy elsewhere, and even less in Africa, where it is seen correctly as a tool for bullying weaker countries by superpowers who will never be targeted by the court’s prosecutors, not because they haven’t committed grave crimes that fall under the court’s jurisdiction, but because they exercise enormous influence over the court and can block its investigations. For the ICC, justice is a spiderweb: the weak get caught in it and the great powers, which created and preside over it, lurk in the shadows, ready to pounce on prized delicacies that stumble into it.

“By October 2007, the ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, had received 2,889 communications about alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in at least 139 countries, and yet by March 2009, the prosecutor had opened investigations into just four cases: Uganda, DRCongo, the Central African Republic, and Sudan/Darfur. All of them in Africa. Thirteen public warrants of arrest have been issued, all against Africans.” (2)

The court, which is supposed to deal with four groups of crimes — genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression (and not just in Africa) – has been conspicuously silent on Israel’s January assault on the Gaza Strip, and on the humanitarian crisis touched off by Washington’s and London’s war of aggression on Iraq. No surprise. As Robin Cook, then British foreign secretary, explained, “If I may say so, this is not a court set up to bring to book prime ministers of the United Kingdom or presidents of the United States.” (3) It is, on the contrary, a court to target Africans who refuse to be controlled and dominated by the West. As author John Laughland summed it up, the ICC is “just another excuse for superpower bullying.” (4)

The Herald’s publishing of my article tracing Pyongyang’s nuclear tests to north Korea’s fierce commitment to independence, and Mugabe’s welcoming of Bashir, are not expressions of an affinity for autocrats, but for the fight for national independence. It is fitting that Zimbabwe, whose heroes took up arms to achieve independence from white colonial rule, and which has struggled to invest its political independence with substantive economic content, would express an affinity with fraternal countries whose peoples continue to fight for meaningful national independence in the face of Western military threats, sanctions and politically-inspired international courts.

1. Jennifer Lind, “Next of Kim,” Foreign Policy (Web exclusive), June 2009.
2. “Selective Justice,” The New African, No. 484, May 2009.
3. Millius Palayiwa, “What’s the ICC up to?” The New African, No. 484, May 2009.
4. The Times (London), August 29, 2000.

Mollycoddling Mubarak, Mugging Mugabe

Posted in Democracy Manipulation, Imperialism, National Endowment for Democracy, Zimbabwe by what's left on June 10, 2009

By Stephen Gowans

Led by the United States, Western countries spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year on what they called democracy promotion. This usually involves promoting pro-private property, pro-free trade, and pro-foreign investment forces in foreign countries where these principles are not firmly implanted. Generous funding is showered upon media, human rights groups, and election monitors that oppose governments whose attachment is less than absolute to the three major freedoms of capitalist ideology (the 3Fs)– free-trade, free-enterprise, and free-markets. Pro-3F political parties, like the Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe, and in previous years, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, are provided with training, expert advice, strategic consulting and campaign funds to help them win elections (1). Experts on how to destabilize governments through civil disobedience are dispatched to train nonviolent pro-democracy activists to topple governments that have come to power in elections the West’s preferred 3F candidates have failed to win.

Democracy promotion is not the sole purview of the executive branches of Western governments. Parliaments and the US Congress are involved, as well as Western political parties, organized labor, business lobby organizations, foundations, think tanks and billionaire speculator, George Soros.

Most often, democracy promoters set their sights on countries that hold regular multi-party elections but elect people who fail to genuflect deeply enough to US domination, private property and free markets. Democracy does not, of course, mean private property, free trade and unfettered foreign investment, but in order to marshal public opinion for interventions abroad, democracy promoters implicitly equate capitalism, or anything that favors the unrestricted accumulation of profits by Western banks and corporations, with democracy. US officials often talk of democracy and free markets in the same breath, as if they’re more or less equal. This is far from true. Democracy in the close-to-the-original sense of rule by those who have no private ownership rights to productive property, is deeply inimical to the idea of an economic system that vests productive property in private hands. Even so, democracy promoters insist on treating capitalism and democracy as essentially equal, or if not equal, then complementary.

This explains why democracy promoters are often absent from countries that promote Western capitalist interests, but are not democratic. Saudi Arabia, an absolutist state ruled by a single family, is a good example. There is nothing democratic about Saudi Arabia. There are few civil liberties. Women are oppressed. There are no elections. And power rests in the hands of a tiny hereditary elite. Yet the oil-rich kingdom, whose petro-dollars are recycled through New York investment banks, is not on the democracy promoters’ radar screen.

Egypt is another example of an authoritarian country that is pretty much left alone by democracy promoters. Under the country’s president, Hosni Mubarak, some political parties are banned, bloggers have been detained by the police for criticizing the government (2), and the president has only ever run in a contested election once. Ayman Nour, Mubarak’s opponent, was detained before the election, and while he was eventually allowed to campaign, was quickly re-arrested after the election.

Mubarak’s son, Gamal, who “has never taken a bus, never stopped at a red light, never met anyone who wasn’t cleared by security services,” (3) is expected to step into the presidency when his father retires. Gamal is said to have the business class behind him. His father has the United States behind him. Under pere Mubarak, Egypt’s socialist-oriented reforms of the 1960s have been dismantled, and Egypt acts as one of Washington’s cops on the Middle Eastern beat. To fulfill that role, Washington has pumped almost $8 billion in aid into Egypt’s military over the last five years. (4)

If Mubarak is a virtual dictator who locks up critics, jails opponents, and bans political parties, why does US president Barack Obama call him a force for “good” and deny charges that Mubarak is “an authoritarian leader”? (5) Washington maintains sanctions on Zimbabwe because it says the country’s president, Robert Mugabe — who regularly runs in contested elections, hasn’t banned political parties, and hasn’t arranged a hereditary succession — is authoritarian, anti-democratic and has clung to power too long (he has been in power only one year longer than Mubarak.) Yet Mubarak, the anti-socialist, pro-imperialist point man for Washington, is praised by Obama and propped up with military aid, while Mugabe, the land reforming, anti-imperialist, is targeted for regime change.

Or how about the recently deceased Omar Bongo, who ruled Gabon for 41 years? While Western newspapers and politicians compete to see who can unleash the most vitriolic denunciation of Robert Mugabe for his 29 years in office, Bongo escaped their disapproving notice. And yet here was a man the democracy promoters would surely despise. He won overwhelming majorities in elections routinely denounced as fraudulent, was criticized for a poor human rights record that included limits on freedom of speech, torture and arbitrary arrest, and used his office to become immensely wealthy. Bongo lived extravagantly in a $500 million presidential palace while collecting sumptuous properties in and around Paris. And yet despite Bongo’s kleptocracy and disdain for democracy, he was “France’s point man in the region” and was long viewed as France’s “special partner.” Significantly, “France maintains a military base in the capital, Libreville, (and) has extensive oil interests in the country”, (6) which explains why Bongo was known as a “special partner” and “point man”, rather than a “thug,” “thief” and “dictator.” It also explains why the ultimate democracy promotion organization, the US Congress’s National Endowment for Democracy, has dozens of programs in Zimbabwe to get rid of Mugabe and his Zimbabwe-first policies, but not one in Gabon to get rid of Bongo and his Western oil interests-first policies.

For a brief period, the Bush administration pushed Egypt to hold elections. Bush had announced his Freedom Agenda, a plan to promote democracy throughout the Middle East. As part of the agenda, elections were also to be held for the Palestinian Legislative Council. Democracy promotion funding pored into Egypt from Washington and “Mubarak initially responded by allowing an unprecedented degree of political freedom.” But when members of the Muslim Brotherhood (the same organization that produced Hamas) “did well at the polls, Egypt’s security apparatus cracked down. The Bush administration, concerned about pushing a key ally too far, responded meekly. And that, arguably, marked the inglorious end of the Freedom Agenda.” (7) The election of Hamas in January 2006 was no less an inglorious occasion for the Bush scheme. So ill-conceived was allowing electoral democracy to flourish in the Middle East, that Pentagon officials wondered “who the fuck recommended this?” (8)

The response to Hamas’s election was to immediately freeze the new government’s funding. If Palestinians refused to elect the right people, their vote would be negated. Hamas wouldn’t be allowed to govern. In Egypt, the White House eliminated American funding for democracy promotion and announced that neither military nor civilian funding would be conditional on democratic reforms. (9) The Obama administration has followed suit, paring back the funding Mubarak’s political opponents would have used to challenge Washington’s “point man” in Egypt. (10)

With the Bush administration’s brief dalliance with promoting democracy in the Middle East having gone terribly awry, Washington – with Obama now at the helm — has learned its lesson. And so democracy promotion returns to its accustomed paradigm. As always, fifth columns continue to be funded under the guise of promoting democracy, the goal to install new point men for Western economic elites where reliable ones don’t already exist. Elsewhere, the autocrats who are already point men are once again left in peace, untroubled by elections, democracy and freedom agendas.

1. Stephen Gowans, “US Government Report Undermines Zimbabwe Opposition’s Claim of Independence,” What’s Left, October 4, 2008, https://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/10/04/us-government-report-undermines-zimbabwe-opposition%e2%80%99s-claim-of-independence/
2. Jeffrey Fleishman, “In Egypt, a blogger tries to spread ‘culture of disobedience’ among youths,” The Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2009.
3. Patrick Martin, “Who will be Mubarak’s heir?” The Globe and Mail (Toronto), March 23, 2009.
4. Andrew Albertson and Stephen McInerney, “Don’t give up on Egypt,” Foreignpolicy.com, June 2009.
5. Michael Slackman, “Arab states cool to Obama pleas for peace gesture,” The New York Times, June 3, 2009.
6. Adam Mossiter, “Omar Bongo, Gabon Leader, Dies at 73,” The New York Times, June 9, 2009.
7. James Traub, “Obama realism may not play well in Cairo streets,” The New York Times, May 31, 2009.
8. “The Gaza Bombshell,” Vanity Fair, April 2008.
9. James Traub, “Obama realism may not play well in Cairo streets, The New York Times, May 31, 2009.
10. Andrew Albertson and Stephen McInerney, “Don’t give up on Egypt,” Foreignpolicy.com, June 2009.

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Washington seeks justification to return north Korea to terrorism list

Posted in north Korea by what's left on June 8, 2009

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.

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.

North Korea’s nuclear test, reaction to danger of US foreign policy

Posted in Imperialism, north Korea by what's left on June 6, 2009

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.

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