September 16, 2019
By Stephen Gowans
The US Treasury Department has accused North Korea of stealing “around $700 million in the last three years and” attempting “to steal nearly $2 billion” by means of cyber operations.
The accusation, by itself, is evidence of nothing. North Korea may have done this, or not.
Here are three reasons to doubt the Treasury Department’s allegation:
#1. The intelligence on which the allegation is based may be genuine, but flawed. “The problem with intelligence is it’s always contentious. It’s always arguable,” warns John E. McLaughlin, former deputy director of the CIA.
#2. Washington has a long record of lying to justify aggressive actions against states it seeks to discredit, undermine, or overthrow. Recall Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction.
#3. “I was the director of the CIA. We lied, cheated, and stole,” boasted US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, adding that US lying, cheating, and stealing “reminds you of the glory of the American experiment.”
On the other hand, here’s a reason to believe the allegation might be true.
Washington has tried to asphyxiate the DPRK economically via its ‘maximum pressure’ campaign. In so doing, it has created an existential imperative for North Korea to find a way around the blockade, or face mass hunger. Cyber-theft may be one of the few ways the besieged country can prevent the collapse of its economy and starvation of its people.
The Wall Street Journal says that “U.S. intelligence, security companies and North Korea watchers say that” the cyber-operations “are largely for revenue-generation purposes,” and that the “cyber operations have become a crucial revenue stream.”
US-led sanctions on Iraq during the 1990s produced over 500,000 deaths among children under the age of 5 through disease and malnutrition, more than the number of people killed by the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. US Secretary of State Madeline Albright didn’t deny this was true, but said it was ‘worth it.”
Recently economists Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs found that sanctions on Venezuela “have inflicted, and increasingly inflict, very serious harm to human life and health, including an estimated more than 40,000 deaths from 2017–2018.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Iran must do what the United States says “if they want their people to eat.”
Washington is trying to starve Iran, Venezuela, and North Korea into submission. It also has its hands on the necks of Syria and Cuba. These countries are linked in this: They allow a significant role for the state in their economies and refuse to grant unfettered US access to their markets, their resources, their land, and their labor, preferring economic sovereignty.
Would it be any surprise if one of one or all of these targets resorted to illegal means to combat sanctions of mass destruction?
Some will rejoin that North Korea does have an option: It could surrender its nuclear weapons. The problem with this option is that it ignores a few crucial points.
First, the United States has been trying to asphyxiate North Korea economically since 1948, the year the state was born, long before it had nuclear weapons. Washington’s problem with the DPRK is not Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal, but its refusal to become part of the US-superintended world economic order. If Pyongyang abandons its nuclear arms, it can expect to continue to face sanctions of mass starvation. Iran’s agreement to abridge its rights under international law to process uranium hasn’t stopped the United States from using siege tactics to try to coerce Tehran into yielding to other demands, unrelated to nuclear technology. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s abandonment of his nascent nuclear weapons program didn’t make life better for Libyans; on the contrary, it produced a humanitarian disaster whose end is nowhere in sight.
Second, North Korea developed nuclear weapons to defend itself against seven decades of US hostility—hostility that predated it decision to build a nuclear deterrent. Giving up its means of defense wouldn’t persuade US officials to drop their butcher knives and become Buddhists. Indeed, the DPRK’s nuclear weapons are the only guarantee of North Korea’s continued existence as an independent state.
Third, the demand that North Korea surrender its nuclear weapons, invites the obvious question: If North Korea must do this, why not the United States? Those who insist North Korea bow to US demands and abandon its nuclear deterrent have no answer for why the United States shouldn’t do the same. If the military behemoth United States needs nuclear weapons to defend itself, then surely the military pipsqueak North Korea has an even stronger self-defensive need of nuclear weapons.
In short, Washington won’t stop trying to starve the DPRK into submission until Pyongyang capitulates totally, and allows Korea north of the 38th parallel to be annexed to the United States economically and militarily, as Korea south of the parallel is.
Do North Korea’s nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles pose a threat to US national security? The Treasury Department warns that “North Korean hacking groups … have been perpetrating cyber attacks to support illicit weapon and missile programs,” leading The Wall Street Journal to characterize the cyber-operations as a “national security threat.”
The idea that DPRK cyber-operations would threaten US national security is ludicrous, even if the revenue gained were used exclusively to develop nuclear arms and the means to deliver them, rather than to prevent the collapse of the economy and mass starvation.
North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs are strictly defensive, a point on which the US foreign policy establishment, and South Koreans, agree. As the New York Times’ Choe Sang-hun observed, “To South Koreans, the idea that North Korea would fire a nuclear-armed ICBM at the United States without being attacked is absurd. They argue that Mr. Kim knows the United States would retaliate by destroying the North and that they do not regard him as suicidal.”
The only threat North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ICBMs pose to the United States is the threat of self-defense. As former US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis once said, “Defensive weapons are not provocative unless you are an aggressor.” He said this in response to complaints about the United States supplying advanced arms to Ukraine, but the principle is the same.
The US military budget is 18 times the size of North Korea’s entire GDP. Washington has threatened North Korea with total destruction on numerous occasions. Anyone who thinks the United States isn’t the aggressor, hasn’t been paying attention.