By Stephen Gowans
Washington Post columnist Walter Pincus has put his finger on what’s wrong with north Korea and Iran developing nuclear weapons, or having the capability to do so.
The problem is that nuclear weapons are a deterrent, which means that if either country possesses a credible nuclear arsenal and the means of delivering warheads, their conquest by US forces isn’t in the cards. And that is something Pincus seems to regard as regrettable.
In his March 30 column Pincus points to General Kevin P. Chilton, head of the US Strategic Command.
Chilton reminded US legislators that, “Throughout the 65-year history of nuclear weapons, no nuclear power has been conquered or even put at risk of conquest, nor has the world witnessed the globe-consuming conflicts of earlier history.” 
Pincus regarded this as a warning, “a thought others in government ought to ponder as they watch Iran and North Korea seek to develop nuclear capability.” 
In other words, the implication of Chilton’s view, as Pincus interprets it, is that there is little chance that a nuclear-armed north Korea or Iran could be conquered or even put at risk of conquest, a prospect so alarming to him, that he urges government officials to think through what would happen if Tehran and Pyongyang developed a credible threat of self-defense.
Pincus’s circularity (we ought to conquer these countries before they’re no longer conquerable) invites the question: Why conquer them at all? The standard answer, that both countries are threats to their neighbors, doesn’t work, for two reasons.
First, the real threat, as Pincus implicitly acknowledges, isn’t one of north Korea endangering south Korea or Iran wiping Israel off the map, but of both countries acquiring the means to make themselves effectively unconquerable.
Second, other countries have acquired large nuclear arsenals, and far from being treated as threats that must be pressed to relinquish their nuclear arms, are aided by the United States in acquiring more of them.
Consider India. The very same issue of The Washington Post that found Picus worrying about north Korea and Iran becoming unconquerable carried an article on negotiations between the United States and India, the outcome of which is that the latter will soon import spent nuclear fuel from the former. 
India will be able to extract plutonium from the fuel it imports to make nuclear weapons. Although India has pledged not to do so, “it diverted civilian nuclear fuel to build its first nuclear weapons three decades ago.”  Already India has manufactured weapons-grade plutonium for an estimated 100 warheads and has “has built weapons with yields of up to 200 kilotons.” 
What’s more, the country is not part of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran, portrayed by Pincus’s colleagues as a looming nuclear threat is a treaty signatory, while north Korea was, until Chilton’s predecessors at Strategic Command announced in 1993 that the DPRK would be targeted with strategic nuclear missiles.
Strange that Pincus wasn’t warning government officials to ponder Chilton’s words about nuclear powers avoiding the risk of conquest as they watch India strengthen its nuclear capability, with US assistance.
But then India is already part of Washington’s informal empire. Plus, exporting nuclear fuel to India promises to fatten the bottom line of the US nuclear industry.
It’s not so curious to discover that north Korea, a country Pincus seems to think really should be conquered before it’s too late, comes in dead last on the Heritage Foundation’s economic freedom index, a ranking of how congenial countries are to the profit-making interests of banks, corporations and wealthy investors. Countries that have low tax rates, welcome foreign investment and trade, and spend little on government programs are considered economically free, while countries whose governments intervene in the economy to achieve public policy goals, or to prohibit exploitation, are relegated to the basement of the list.
Generally speaking, where a country appears on the list, offers a pretty good gauge of whether a country is in or out of favor with Washington, whose foreign policy since the Bolshevik Revolution and before has been guided by how open other countries are to US investment and exports. US policy leans toward prying open closed economies and rhapsodizing about open ones.
The places of selected countries on the Heritage Foundation 2010 Index of Economic Freedom, are shown below. (The index ranks 179 countries.)
• North Korea, 179
• Zimbabwe, 178
• Cuba, 177
• Myanmar (Burma), 175
• Venezuela, 174
• Iran, 168
Notice that the bottom dwelling countries are the objects of various Western efforts of regime change, some involving the threat of military intervention and all involving destabilization carried out, in most cases, with the participation of “pro-democracy nonviolence activists,” groups that profess to be progressive and anti-imperialist but are in reality lieutenants of the US foreign policy estblishment. No surprise that their major funding comes from such wealthy individuals as Peter Ackerman and George Soros, who play prominent roles in US ruling class circles. Ackerman is a member of the elite Council on Foreign Relations and was head of the CIA-interlocked Freedom House. Soros is a veteran anti-communist warrior.
It’s no accident that the countries that are on Washington’s regime change hit list also happen to be on the Heritage Foundation’s list of countries that are least accommodating to business interests, no accident because US corporations, investors and banks dominate the formulation of US foreign policy. It makes sense that they would go after “closed economies” (i.e., closed to export of capital and commodities on favorable terms) since these economies represent an unrealized potential for profit-making, and also the threat of a bad example if they’re allowed to get away with shaping economic policy to serve local interests rather than those of foreign capital.
While not among the Index of Economic Freedom stars, India ranks much higher on the list (124) and has been praised for moving “forward with market-oriented economic reforms” and opening its trade regime.
We might ask why anyone would create an index of economic freedom in the first place. It is safe to say that the only people interested in creating a map of favourable opportunities for the export of capital and commodities are those with capital and commodities to export. You won’t find north Koreans, Cubans or Zimbabweans surveying the world to find out whose policies are geared toward promoting attractive returns for investors, largely because they haven’t surplus capital to export. In these countries, the development of internal productive forces is the top priority. And north Korea and Cuba haven’t structural compulsions to export capital. But imperialist countries have plenty of surplus capital, which is why “economic freedom” and rolling over governments that oppose it, is an obsession in Washington and other major capitals.
Pincus strays from the script in calling for north Korea and Iran to be conquered before they can make themselves unconquerable, rather than repeating the accustomed nonsense about the dangers of first strikes launched against neighbors, Europe or even the United States. At the same time, his employer makes US hypocrisy plain by running a story about the United States preparing to export spent nuclear fuel to a country that refuses to join the nonproliferation treaty and has amassed a substantial nuclear arsenal. Finally, the failure of north Korea and Iran to serve themselves up as profitable fields for US investment, while India displays a greater willingness to cater to the profit-making requirements of US corporations, offers a glimpse into the real reasons behind Washington’s double-standard.
1. Walter Pincus, “As missions are added, Stratcom commander keeps focus on deterrence”, The Washington Post, March 30, 2010.
3. Rama Lakshmi and Steven Mufson, “US, India reach agreement on nuclear fuel reprocessing”, The Washington Post, March 30, 2010.
5. James Lamont and James Blitz, ‘India raises nuclear stakes,’ Financial Times, September 27, 2009.
5 thoughts on “Washington Post: North Korean, Iranian nuclear capability threatens US imperialism”
Good work Les. Maybe after you deliver a few more seminars, the CIA will see the light, and decide that taking down foreign governments that refuse to subordinate themselves to Washington’s dictates isn’t such a good thing after all… Oh, but I forgot, that’s no longer a CIA function, is it? It’s now your job, and that of your ICNC colleagues.
Exactly what is it you’re standing up and speaking out about to the CIA anyway: that organizing nonviolent warfare campaigns against foreign governments is more effective in achieving US foreign policy goals than taking out wedding parties with predator drones?
You are, indeed, making the world a better place, Les. Keep accepting those CIA invitations.
Of course there’s a connection between RAND, the CIA, and US imperialism – that’s why I talked with them when asked to do so. What good does it do to sit in a corner and talk to ourselves? I used to complain to my students that nobody ever asked me about important policy questions – do they ask you? I’d ask. So, when they asked me to speak, I did. I’d not work for them, but will talk with them, with you, with the devil, with anyone who will listen. The whole system is rotten, but won’t be replaced or transformed until people stand up and speak out.
Thanks to Michael Barker for bringing to my attention Kurtz’s workshop on religion and violence, titled “Gods and Social Movements: Religion and the Mobilization of Social Action. ” It was given to RAND and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Washington, DC, on March, 2005. http://chst.nctu.edu.tw/war/Kurtz_CV.htm
I wonder whether Kurtz sees the connection between RAND and the CIA on the one hand and US imperialism on the other. Probably not.
I’m assuming the above was written by Lester Kurtz, Professor of Sociology at George Mason University, and a member of the academic advisory board of Peter Ackerman’s organization, the ICNC. In March, 2005, Kurtz ran a workshop on religion and violence for the CIA and RAND (see below).
While it may come as no surprise to Kurtz that US foreign policy is somehow linked to the economics of things, showing that this is so is much more difficult than showing that Peter Ackerman is linked to US imperialism. The latter is easily demonstrated.
(1) US foreign policy is imperialist,
(2) The Council on Foreign Relations plays a major role in shaping US foreign policy, and
(3) Peter Ackerman is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
We could add other observations (e.g., Ackerman’s previous role as head of the CIA-interlocked Freedom House, hardly what you would call a non-imperialist organization, and his privileged position atop the economic order of things) but the points above should suffice.
What comes as a surprise to me is that while Kurtz can grasp the nexus between the economics of things and the imperialist nature of US foreign policy, he can’t see the much more obvious connection between Ackerman and US imperialism, but perhaps that is so because to see it, would mean acknowledging his own connection to it.
It’s no surprise that US foreign policy is somehow linked to the economics of things is not a shock – what is surprising is Stephen Gowans’ effort to link “pro-democracy nonviolence activists,” and Peter Ackerman, with US imperialism! What a non-sequitur! Those activists (with the aid of only educational resources from the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict that Ackerman funds) have taken on oppressors of all political stripes, many of them (like Marcos, Pinochet, etc., etc.) part of the US orb. While Washington no doubt has a hit list, it has nothing to do with providing information and resources to people who would organize for their rights regardless of who is thwarting them. The kind of imprecise thinking that links these activities through some leap of logic simply distracts from other aspects of the argument and leaves me puzzled as to the point of the article.