Washington’s “playbook” on provoking North Korea

By Stephen Gowans

In an April 3 Wall Street Journal article, “U.S. dials back on Korean show of force,” reporters Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes revealed that the White House approved a detailed plan, called ‘the playbook,’ to ratchet up tension with North Korea during the Pentagon’s war games with South Korea.

The war games, which are still in progress, and involve the deployment of a considerable amount of sophisticated US military hardware to within striking distance of North Korea, are already a source of considerable tension in Pyongyang, and represent what Korean specialist Tim Beal dubs “sub-critical” warfare.

The two-month-long war games, directed at and carried out in proximity to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, force the North Korean military onto high alert, an exhausting and cripplingly expensive state of affairs for a small country whose economy has already been crippled by wide-ranging sanctions. North Korea estimates that sanctions and US military aggression have taken an incalculable toll on its economy. [1]

The playbook was developed by the Pentagon’s Pacific Command, to augment the war games that began in early March, and was discussed at several high-level White House meetings, according to the Wall Street Journal reporters.

The plan called for low-altitude B-52 bomber flights over the Korean peninsula, which happened on March 8. A few weeks later, two nuclear-capable B-2 bombers dropped dummy payloads on a South Korean missile range. The flights were deliberately carried out in broad daylight at low altitude, according to a U.S. defense official, to produce the intended minatory effect. “We could fly it at night, but the point was for them to see it.” [2]

A few days ago, the Pentagon deployed two advanced F-22 warplanes to South Korea, also part of the ‘play-book’ plan to intimidate Pyongyang.

According to Entous and Barnes, the White House knew that the North Koreans would react by threatening to retaliate against the United States and South Korea.

In a March 29 article, Barnes wrote that “Defense officials acknowledged that North Korean military officers are particularly agitated by bomber flights because of memories of the destruction wrought from the air during the Korean War.” [3] During the war, the United States Air Force demolished every target over one story. It also dropped more napalm than it did later in Vietnam. [4]

The reality, then, is exactly opposite of the narrative formulated in the Western mass media. Washington hasn’t responded to North Korean belligerence and provocations with a show of force. On the contrary, Washington deliberately planned a show of force in order to elicit an angry North Korean reaction, which was then labelled “belligerence” and “provocation.” The provocations, coldly and calculatingly planned, have come from Washington. North Korea’s reactions have been defensive.

Pressed to explain why North Korea, a military pipsqueak in comparison to the United States, would deliberately provoke a military colossus, Western journalists, citing unnamed analysts, have concocted a risible fiction about Pyongyang using military threats as a bargaining chip to wheedle aid from the West, as a prop to its faltering “mismanaged” economy. The role of sanctions and the unceasing threat of US military intervention are swept aside as explanations for North Korea’s economic travails.

However, Entous’s and Barnes’s revelations now make the story harder to stick. The North Koreans haven’t developed a nuclear program, poured money into their military, and made firm their resolve to meet US and South Korean aggression head-on, in order to inveigle aid from Washington. They’ve done so to defend themselves against coldly calculated provocations.

According to the Wall Street Journal staffers, the White House has dialled back its provocations for now, for fear they could lead to a North Korean “miscalculation.” In street language, Washington challenged the DPRK to a game of chicken, and broke it off, when it became clear the game spin out of control.

1. According to the Korean Central News Agency, March 26, 2013, “The amount of human and material damage done to the DPRK till 2005 totaled at least 64,959 854 million U.S. dollars.”

2. Jay Solomon, Julian E. Barnes and Alastair Gale, “North Korea warned”, The Wall Street Journal, March 29, 2013

3. Julian E. Barnes, “U.S. pledges further show of force in Korea”, The Wall Street journal, March 29, 2013

4. Bruce Cumings. The Korean War: A History. Modern Library. 2010.

15 thoughts on “Washington’s “playbook” on provoking North Korea

  1. its not just Washington provoking #DPRK: Hollywood has a rash of northkoreas invade US movies: and these are firing up US patriots:

    Olympus has Fallen gets a public shamig for its stoking racism

    then theres the execrable Red Dawn(the remake), which changed its villains from China to DPRK(all asians look alike but not all have same economic weight!: as china is an important market)

  2. Hollywood and DPRK RED DAWN

    Red Dawn is just the latest remake attempting to capitalize on a rampant wave of ’80s nostalgia: Footloose, Arthur, Clash of the Titans, A Nightmare on Elm Street, even the Expendables movies. Hollywood’s constantly recycling old successes, but the choice to do it with Red Dawn is especially weird. More so than those other films, Red Dawn played into a specific ’80s obsession: a growing dread that our way of life was being threatened by those horrible Ruskies. Updating the scenario to the 2010s, the filmmakers initially made the villains the Chinese but after finishing production realized, oh wait, that might annoy a vitally important overseas market. And so changes were made after the fact to turn the bad guys into North Koreans, who scare the hell out of precisely no one. In ’84, Red Dawn was about not backing down in the face of our greatest national foe. In 2012, we’re totally happy to neuter our jingoistic movies so as not to offend a country whose money Hollywood very, very badly wants.

    If this movie’s greatest sin were digitally altering some Chinese flags to North Korean ones, then Red Dawn would just be another dumb, melodramatic action movie. (Jed and Matt don’t just kick ass—they also grapple with their feelings, particularly Matt’s lingering resentment that Jed took off after their mother died.) But Red Dawn’s most irritating element is its willful blindness to the reality of the world we live in.

    It’s not that the movie’s hawkish, kill-’em-all attitude is maddening. (Lots of action movies have the same, mindlessly fascist tone.) It’s that the film operates under a belief that America is a good and just nation that has never done anything wrong and must always be on the watch for evil countries trying to take down our freedom. Look, I may not be interested in a documentary like 2016: Obama’s America, but I can at least understand how a film like that plays into one view of what’s going on in the country. But this new Red Dawn is utterly, scarily devoid of a basic understanding of current events. The movie plays up the fact that Jed is a Marine who did a tour of Iraq, which makes him an ideal leader for this ragtag bunch of pretty, vacant people squaring off against scowling North Koreans. But the way that the movie tells it, Jed was in Iraq to do, uh, heroic, awesome things. There’s not even one moment in which Red Dawn troubles itself with the notion that perhaps the way Jed and his buds feel about these invading North Koreans is precisely the way the Iraqis felt about him coming to their country. At a time when everything from War of the Worlds to Battlestar Galactica has subversively retold the Iraq story by making the heroes the insurgents, Red Dawn just plows forward, confident in its belief that as long as America is in trouble, we can do whatever the hell we want.

    The movie’s obviously supposed to stir up a lot of patriotic fervor by showing how a group of kids can rise up against an invading force to defend their homeland. That would sure be a swell notion if anybody on the screen represented anything you’d want to be proud of. With its Dawson’s Creek-worthy romantic travails and brooding/whiny characters, this Red Dawn insists that the youth of America are just one badass training montage away from becoming boss guerrilla warriors. But they’re really mostly just image-conscious, spoiled brats—the sorts of self-involved twits you meet at the beginning of a horror movie and then take vindictive pleasure in watching get mowed down one by one by the crossbow murderer hiding in the woods. But not here: In Red Dawn, they’re little drama queens psyched to liberate Spokane.

  3. The U.S.’s provocations toward the North are a method of siege. Gowans did an excellent job of explaining the terrorism waged against Koreans in the North by the U.S. and its allies, demonstrating that keeping the D.P.R.K. on high-alert is a critical drain on their resources. I think Washington can’t afford a new insurgency, at least politically if not economically.

  4. The DPRK has never wanted war,not now and not in the 50,s either.She has always insisted on a peace treaty from the US that she rightly see,s as the main aggressor along with their henchmen in the south.The DPRK knows it cant win a nuclear war and will not start one,I believe the only ”threat” the DPRK poses is the threat to defend herself,surely every nation on earth should have that right.Your point of view is very interesting palloy,learning more about the defensive capabilities of the DPRK would be high on the agenda of imperialism,s armies.The DPRK wants to be left alone to develop itself without interference,but it is facing a formidable enemy that is armed to the teeth and always out to crack open new sources of investment and exploitation for its ruling class and the DPRK has a closed,planned economy,this is also why the US ratchets up pressure on the DPRK.To drain her of vital funds for domestic production and force DPRK to redirect those funds to the military wing of production.This suits the long term plans of the US.This pressure was also applied to the USSR and had the effect of draining funds that could have been redirected into solving problems of production and distribution.

  5. http://rt.com/op-edge/north-korea-us-danger-279/
    North Korea: Beyond the Cold War Theatrics, what is the real threat?

    Taking all this into account, it’s highly unlikely that unless North Korea wanted to become extinct, or the US and its allies wanted to spark an all-out third world war intentionally, it’s hard to see this drama playing out in the way that the US media and Washington DC politicians and experts are alluding to.

  6. But the US has enough to justify an attack already, if Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, etc is anything to go by. The fake “attack on the Cheonan” would have been enough. The real attack on the Yeonpyeong Islands would have been enough. So what’s stopping them ?

    China is stopping them. It’s not going to allow the US to control NK now, any more than it did in 1950. And http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/apr/5/russian-bomber-conducts-practice-strikes-us-missil is an unmistakeable signal from Russia too. Remember that the AEGIS system has never been tested against a supersonic anti-ship cruise missile, let alone a volley of them in a radar-jammed active war theatre. Losses could be so heavy that it would spell the end for US imperialism. They would never risk it.

  7. To answer my own question, the NK satellite, catalogued as 39026, is still orbiting. Explanation at http://www.northkoreatech.org/2012/12/15/tracking-north-koreas-satellite/
    Live Real Time Satellite Track http://www.n2yo.com/?s=39026
    They say no signals have been heard from the satellite, but that could be disinformation, or it could be that it is using spread spectrum bursts – a technology that is widely available, even to amateur radio enthusiasts. NK does not even have to obey the band assignment rules.

  8. no such entity as NK: just DPRK.
    why would US want to ratchet up pressure on DPRK? to get DPRK to do something to justify US attack, and finish what they began in the 1950s: the destruction of DPRK as an independent state.
    Now go back to your bosses at Langley.

  9. You haven’t said much about WHY the US wants to ratchet up pressure on NK. They obviously don’t want to make NK attack SK with nukes, even if they could easily obliterate NK in response.

    The US-SK war games will learn more about NK’s defense capabilities if they can get NK to switch on all its radars, ready its forces, reposition its mobile missiles, etc., so they have to get NK to go on maximum alert, hence the provocations.

    NK presumably knows this, and isn’t going to oblige, so it publicly announces “red alert” and moves some some troops and mobile missile units about, while maintaining a private “orange alert”, hence the provocations.

    But it’s all just sabre-rattling.

    Does anyone know if the “weather satellite” NK launched is still in orbit? If it is, I bet its signals would make interesting reading. Before any real war breaks out, it would have to be taken out. Maybe it already has been. NK could hardly admit that such a critical piece of intelligence had suddenly gone off-line.

  10. The reality, then, is exactly opposite of the narrative formulated in the Western mass media. Washington hasn’t responded to North Korean belligerence and provocations with a show of force. On the contrary, Washington deliberately planned a show of force in order to elicit an angry North Korean reaction, which was then labelled “belligerence” and “provocation.”
    “In street language, Washington challenged the DPRK to a game of chicken, and broke it off, when it became clear the game might not unfold as planned.”

    Unfortunately for the world’s second ex-Superpower, and fortunately for the Civilised World, Moscow and Bejing have invited each other to participate in America’s game of chicken. Xi Xinping’s first state visit was to Moscow where the right of every country, large or small, to steer an independent course free of interference from Yankees, was introduced and expanded upon on Friday 22nd March, 2013.
    So … it won’t be long now until we see America exposed as the loud-mouthed chicken it has always been.

    On the other hand, late March to early May is apparently the time when North Korea must plant next year’s food crops. So if America’s lies and provocations interfere with this aspect of daily life in the DPRK, then the vampires in the White House will still be able to chalk up a victory, of sorts, even if no-one fires a shot.

  11. The war danger in Korea
    Pentagon’s false propaganda conceals truth about crisis
    March 29, 2013

    A B-2 can drop up to eighty 500 lb (230 kg) GPS-guided bombs, or sixteen 2,400 lb (1,100 kg) B83 nuclear bombs.
    By Brian Becker, ANSWER Coalition national coordinator

    The American war propaganda machine does a thorough job in misleading the public about the high-stakes struggle the Pentagon is waging against North Korea.

    On March 28, the Obama administration ordered and the Pentagon executed a mock bombing attack on North Korea by U.S. B-2 stealth bombers equipped to drop nuclear bombs—the most advanced nuclear-capable plane in the U.S. Air Force. In recent months, the U.S. has also used nuclear-capable B-52 bombers to simulate the bombing of North Korea.

    The B-2s, each of which costs taxpayers more than $3 billion, dropped inert bombs near North Korea.

    It is not necessary to speculate how the United States would react if North Korea sent nuclear-capable bombers close to U.S. territory and dropped inert bombs as part of a “war game.” By itself, this B-2 mock bombing of North Korea cost approximately $5.5 million, according to Foreign Policy magazine. The B-2 flights by some estimates cost $135,000 per hour—almost double that of any other military airplane, according to a report from the Center for Public Integrity.

  12. Reblogged this on The Communist Scientist and commented:
    Since the delirious News reports purporting that North Korea wants to attack the US out of the blue, I, and a number of others, have been waiting for Gowans (who is about the only objective commentator of North Korean affairs I know of) to set the recrod straight. Now he has; everybody should read this post of his

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