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.