Is Peace on the Korean Peninsula Achievable?

Unless “the fundamental economic question, viz., the question of the economic essence of imperialism … is studied, it will be impossible to understand and appraise modern war and modern politics.” – Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin), 1917

March 15, 2020

By Stephen Gowans

I wrote a book in 2018 book titled, Patriots, Traitors, and Empires: The Story of Korea’s Fight for Freedom.

The word “patriots” in the title, refers to the people who founded the state of North Korea, and I argue that North Korea is a patriot state because it was founded by anti-Japanese resistance fighters guided by the mission of freeing Korea from foreign domination.

“Traitors” refers to the people who collaborated with the United States in founding the Republic of Korea, or what we informally call South Korea, and who collaborated before that with the Japanese, to enforce Japan’s colonial rule over Korea from 1910 to 1945. When the United States occupied the southern part of Korea in 1945 at the end of the Second World War, it established an administration in the southern half of Korea made up largely of Koreans who had collaborated with the Japanese.

“Empires” refers to two empires, the Japanese, which dominated Korea through much of the first half of the twentieth century, and the United States, which has dominated the southern part of Korea ever since.

The last part, “The Story of Korea’s Fight for Freedom,” refers to the struggle Koreans have waged for over a century to free themselves from the domination of these two empires. And when I say the struggle of Koreans, I mean all Koreans, of both north and south. It’s clear that North Koreans reject US domination and control, but what’s not so clear is that many South Koreans do, as well.

The Pentagon’s operational control of the South Korean military illustrates US hegemony over Seoul. The current South Korean government has asked the United States to transfer to it operational control of the South Korean armed forces. The reality that South Korea has to ask for operational control of its own military reveals that the United States is the de facto power in South Korea.

In response to South Korea’s request for operational control, the United States has temporized, saying that it’s prepared to talk about a possible transfer and has indeed held discussions with its South Korean subordinates. But the conditions under which the United States would transfer control would effectively make South Korean command of its own military a charade. Specifically, one of the conditions the United States proposes is that South Korean troops be placed under the command, not of South Korea’s head of its joint chiefs of staff, but of a lower-ranking South Korean general, who would be required to be headquartered at the main US military base in Korea, and would have a US general as deputy commander.

South Korea has a long tradition of US diplomats and military advisors operating in the background as the de facto governors of the state, with South Koreans as the state’s public face, creating the illusion of sovereignty. South Korea has been so decisively under US influence that throughout much of its history the South Korean government had been answerable to three people: the US ambassador, the head of the US military in Korea, and the CIA station chief.

There are a few facts which Washington is also hoping to use to block any meaningful transfer of operational control to its client state.

• The Korean War never ended in a peace treaty, and South Korea and the United States are still officially at war with North Korea.
• In this war, South Korean forces fight under the United Nations Command.
• The United Nations Command is officially led by a US general.

The corollary is that so long as a de jure war continues, South Korean forces remain under the UN (hence, US) Command. Therefore, in the absence of a formal peace on the Korean peninsula, South Korean troops remain assets of the Pentagon, even if the United States formally cedes operational control of South Korea’s military to Seoul, or to a South Korean general operating from a US military base with a US deputy nearby to ensure his actions remain within the framework of US power.

Washington has never evinced an interest in declaring a formal end to the war, despite North Korea urging Washington on multiple occasions to declare one. Colin Powell, when he was US Secretary of State, reacted to one North Korean request for a peace treaty by replying, “We don’t do non-aggression pacts or treaties, things of that nature.” That it could no longer use the UN Command as a pretext to control South Korean forces is one reason why the United States is averse to a peace treaty with North Korea.

To be sure, the United States is not entirely averse to peace on the Korean peninsula; it is only averse to a peace that isn’t on its own terms. And those terms are North Korea acceding to becoming a satellite of the US economy and outpost of the US military. If North Korea agreed to these terms, the United States would lift its sanctions, cease its military pressure, and declare a formal end to the war. But North Korea shows no sign of submitting to US demands, and therefore, peace on the Korean peninsula will have to be achieved by arriving at mutually agreeable terms. It’s important to note, however, that the respective objectives and worldviews of the two sides—one for empire and the other against—are so completely antithetical that the possibility of their arriving at mutually agreeable terms is approximately zero.

In any event, the United States pursues a negotiating strategy congruent with its overwhelming strength: it makes demands, and defines negotiation as the other side’s submission. Concessions from the US side (at least ones Washington doesn’t intend to revoke at some point in the future) are viewed in Washington as unthinkable, a sign of weakness, at odds with the gross imbalance of power in Washington’s favor that characterizes the US-DPRK relationship.

The question we need to ask, then, is why the US negotiating position is one of awaiting Pyongyang’s surrender, while dissimulating interest in genuine negotiations? The US historian William Appleman Williams once observed that the United States often rejects the give-and-take of negotiations in favor of the imperial dynamic of, we need, you give.

The first, and most important, answer to the question of why Washington has no genuine interest in negotiating a formal peace with North Korea, is that there is no reason for Washington to make concessions to the country. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is too small and too enfeebled to pose a threat. From the US perspective, the best strategy is to continue the enfeeblement process—to be achieved through unrelenting military pressure, diplomatic isolation, and economic strangulation—until North Korea surrenders. Pyongyang’s capitulation would represent peace on US terms.

Second, the South Korean military is a formidable asset. It is big, powerful, and equipped with advanced US military hardware. And it’s integrated into the US military, to the degree that it is, in reality, not a sovereign military, but an inter-operable component of the US Defense Department—what one US historian called an US Asian army in reserve. The continuation of an official state of war on the Korean peninsula affords the United States a pretext to maintain control of this formidable military asset, and to use it for its own purpose. We’ll see that the purpose is not the protection of South Korea from North Korean aggression—for North Korea is in no position to wage a war on its neighbor—but to threaten China.

South Korea sent over 300,000 troops to fight for the United States in Vietnam, and did so in return for significant injections of US economic aid—aid which was instrumental in triggering the take-off of the South Korean economy. This makes South Korea both a mercenary state and an accomplice of US imperialism. In return for military favors, Seoul received significant lucre from Uncle Sam. This arrangement was good for South Koreans (minus those who died or were disabled fighting for a US cause in a foreign land) but was detrimental to the Vietnamese, fellow East Asians with a common history of being raped by colonial powers, including the Japanese. South Korea, thus, helped the US empire do to the Vietnamese, what the French and Japanese empires had done before it.

Significantly, US troops were stationed on the Korean peninsula at the time. They had been there since 1945, and from 1950, it was said, to deter North Korean aggression. And yet, one would think that if the North Koreans were truly a threat to South Korea, Seoul could hardly have spared 300,000 troops.

Today, the pretext for the United States’ continued presence on the Korean peninsula is to defend South Korea from North Korea, but the argument is transparently false. South Korea, by any measure, is fully capable of defending itself against a North Korean attack. Its population is twice as large as North Korea’s and its economy is many times larger (partly as a consequence of the significant injections of US aid it received in return for its mercenary services.) South Korea spends $40 billion a year on its military (and its military spending is increasing robustly every year) while North Korea spends an estimated $5 billion, one-eighth of the South Korean level, and equal to the size of the budget of the New York City Police Department.

What’s more, South Korea is equipped with the latest US weapons systems, while North Korea relies on obsolete military equipment procured from the Soviet Union many decades ago, for which it cannot get spare parts and for which a fuel shortage prevents it from operating except infrequently. Part of the US playbook against North Korea is to create ambiguous military situations in which a US or South Korean invasion appears imminent, requiring the North Koreans to scramble their obsolete jet fighters, thus depleting their scarce stores of aviation fuel.

Also, the United States has 26,000 military personnel in South Korea, a trifle against the 625,000 South Korean troops. If North Korea attacked South Korea, who would be defending who?

In 1950, North Korea tried by military means to unify the country, and failed, at a point conditions were far more favorable to North Korean success than they are today. Back then, the South Korean government was weak and had little popular support. In contrast, veteran Korean fighters had returned to Korea from China, where they had taken part in China’s civil war on the side of Mao’s forces. They were ready to unify their country and overcome the collaborators in the south. What’s more, North Korea had the partial backing of the Soviet Union, and full support of Mao. If Pyongyang was incapable of bringing about a military success in 1950 when conditions were infinitely more favorable to its project, it’s unlikely in the extreme that the state would embark on the same project today, when it has no international support and South Korea is larger and many times stronger. Hence, the notion that the presence of US forces in Korea is necessary to deter North Korean aggression has no validity.

The truth of the matter is that the South Korean military is an extension of the 26,000 US troops in Korea, whose purpose couldn’t possibly be to deter North Korean aggression, since North Korea is too feeble and its military too obsolete to undertake any aggression. With its decaying military hardware and puny military budget, it’s barely able to defend itself, to say nothing of mounting an attack. Indeed, it is North Korean weakness that has compelled the country to develop nuclear weapons as a means of self-defense.

The purpose of the South Korean military under US command is to form part of the ring around China, which the United States has been building ever since it “lost China” to the Chinese. China, under the Chinese, has become, in the words of the official US Defense Strategy, a ‘great power’, something it never would have been allowed to have become under US leadership. Washington says it is engaged in a struggle with China, a country the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently called ‘the greatest threat of our time’.

That’s the reason US troops continue to be deployed to South Korea; they are the nucleus around which 625,000 South Korean troops are organized for the projection of US power in East Asia against China. South Korea’s raison d’etre from the point of view of the US state is to serve as a US power projection platform, or a stationary, unsinkable aircraft carrier under US command, on China’s periphery, critical to the US foreign policy project of eclipsing China’s independent economic development. US decision-makers have been keen to make China available to US investors and corporations as a sphere for the exploitation of low-wage manufacturing labor, and a vast market for US goods and services, but object to Chinese firms, whether private or state-owned, challenging US free enterprise. In other words, China is coveted by US planners as a satellite economy, but opposed as an independent economic actor.

Another reason Washington refuses to sign a peace treaty with North Korea is that remaining in a perpetual state of war with the North Korean state is part of the pressure campaign Washington has waged against the country from the moment North Korea was founded in 1948. The objective then, as now, is to bring about the collapse of the independence-minded government in Pyongyang in order to replace it with a government acceptable to the United States. This would bring all of the Korean peninsula under the informal control of Washington.

Yet another reason for the United States to oppose a formal peace on the peninsula is to establish a pretext to allow Washington to maintain pressure on North Korea in order to prevent it from developing a successful counter-example to the US-approved model of economic development. Washington says that a country must integrate into the US superintended global economic order, in order to thrive economically. This is a lie. Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama, Costa Rica, and Mexico, all near neighbors of the United States, have long been integrated into the US economy—often at the point of a US gun—and still they wait, and wait, and wait for a promised prosperity that never arrives. Far from being a route to prosperity, an open door to US economic penetration has often been a route to unremitting poverty and permanent relegation to serving as a means to US prosperity and territory from which US businesses suck wealth, leaving the natives with subsistence-level existences.

The United States tells the same lies to North Korea. It must build a US business-friendly investment climate, it must cater to US investors, it must welcome US banks, and it must allow US investors unfettered access to every profit-making opportunity that is latent in the country’s labor, land, markets, and resources. It must put the interests of US investors ahead of the interests of its own citizens. That’s what empire means: that the interests of the mother country, in particular, the interests of the metropolitan rich, prevail over the interests of the metropolitan powers’ satellites. Even more than that, empire means that the metropolitan rich stand on the backs of the hinterland’s poor.

North Korea has always rejected the US lie. That’s a problem from the point of view of officials in Washington. If North Korea is allowed to pursue an alternative development strategy, one at odds with US prescriptions, which rejects Korea serving as a means to US ends and insists on Korea being an end in itself, and in pursuing its alternative development model it thrives, it becomes a model to be emulated by other countries—one that portends a diminishing set of profit-making opportunities for US investors and the growing courage of subordinate countries to reject their role as victims to be bled white.

Consequently, the United States has always, as a matter of policy, made it its task to ensure that any government that repudiates US lies, will be forced to live under a terrible burden of economic strangulation, isolation, and military threat. As the US campaign plays out, Washington attributes the poverty, chaos, and societal breakdown that ensue, not to the US campaign that caused them, but to the alleged failures of the target country’s alternative model of development.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an op-ed by an estadounidense who had visited Cuba with his church group, and reported that he had witnessed widespread poverty in the Caribbean country. He said that Cubans deserve better, and declared that Cuban poverty is a consequence of the socialist policies of the Cuban government. This was offered as an object lesson to US citizens of what happens when socialists (Bernie Sanders’ name was mentioned) come to power. What he didn’t mention was that almost from the very first moments of the Cuban Revolution, the US government resolved to cripple Cuba economically. So, writing about Cuban poverty without mentioning US economic sanctions, was like writing about the devastation of Hiroshima without mentioning the atomic bombing that produced it.

William Blum wrote a number of books on US foreign policy, with particular emphasis on US interventions in the affairs of other countries. He also wrote a monthly report called the Anti-Empire Report, an allusion to the United States as an empire. Blum once used an analogy to describe the US practice of sabotaging alternative development models, in an essay he titled, “Will humans ever fly? Smashing socialism in the 20th century.”

Imagine that the Wright brothers’ first experiments with flying machines all failed because the automobile interests sabotaged each and every test flight. And then the good and god-fearing folk of the world looked upon this, took notice of the consequences, nodded their collective heads wisely, and intoned solemnly: Humans shall never fly.

Fact: Virtually every socialist experiment of any significance in the twentieth century has been either overthrown, invaded, or bombed … corrupted, perverted, or subverted … sanctioned, embargoed, or destabilized … or otherwise had life made impossible for it, by the United States. Not one of these socialist governments or movements – from the Russian Revolution to Fidel Castro in Cuba, from Communist China to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua – not one was permitted to rise or fall solely on its own merits; not one was left secure enough to drop its guard against the all-powerful enemy abroad and freely and fully relax control at home.

The US Empire

There are three reasons I describe the United States as an empire:

1. It acquired most of its North American territory by force, stealing it from the First Americans and Mexicans.

2. Beginning in the nineteenth century, it acquired formal colonies in the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Caribbean, including Hawaii, Samoa, Guam, the Philippines, the US Virgin Islands, Wake Island, Midway Island, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico, some of which remain de facto colonies today.

3. Today, it uses its vast economic and military power, and its globe-girding network of military bases, to impose its will on all but the few countries large enough to resist it, or committed enough to a meaningful independence, to defy it.

The United States began as 13 British colonies on the Atlantic coast of North America which came together to declare independence from Britain, mainly because Britain was blocking the colonists’ expansion westward. What began as a very small country, within a very restricted area, became a vast territory stretching from one ocean to another. The process of continental expansion, of moving ever westward, of expropriating the territory of the First Americans, of annexing parts of Mexico, of settling on other people’s land, of driving First Americans into graves and reservations, was one of empire building.

Once this vast continental empire was acquired, the United States embarked on the project of extending its territory beyond the continent. But those parts of the empire that exist beyond the continent are largely hidden today through what the US historian Daniel Immerwahr calls “the logo map of the United States.”

The logo map is the usual cartographic representation of the United States as territory that falls exclusively within North America. That representation is what we understand the country to be, and not an empire, even though the territory includes vast tracks of land that were never part of the United States as originally established in the US War of Independence, and even though US power is present on every continent, a reality reflected in the vast network of US military bases and outposts that straddles the globe.

Immerwahr points out that the logo map is a misrepresentation of US territory in total, because US territory extends far beyond North America. The United States formally includes territory in the Caribbean, the Pacific, and the Atlantic. US territories are properly called colonies, and were openly called colonies by US presidents as recently as the first half of the 20th century. Nowadays, they’re euphemized as territories, if they’re even recognized as US possessions. Often these places are misunderstood to be, not colonies of the United States, but foreign countries.

Puerto Rico, for example, is a colony of the United States. It was acquired by the United States in the Spanish-American War at the end of the nineteenth century. Puerto Ricans have no voting representation in the US Congress. They cannot vote in US presidential elections. The same is true of the US colonies of Guam, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas—all US territories in which the residents have no voice in Congress and no say over who will be their head of state. Their status is the same as India’s was under British rule.

Stalin once observed that the United States’ record in world affairs is exactly the opposite of its view of itself. That the United States could exist as a formal colonial empire—indeed, can continue to exist as one today—while persuading the world that it has always been an anti-colonial power, untainted by the sin of colonialism, as its rivals Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, and Russia were, affirms the point. By one account, Puerto Rico is the world’s oldest colony. This means that the United States, which understands itself to be anti-colonial to its core—or at least wants the world to believe this—is in reality the most enduring colonial empire of all.

Hawaii is a state, not a colony, but it was a colony (as the other colony turned state, Alaska was) until 1959. How and why was it acquired? The United States was looking for an island on which to park a few battleships, as the author Sarah Vowell memorably put it—battleships that would be useful in projecting US power into East Asia, and Hawaii fit the bill. Before Korea, Hawaii was the principal US power projection platform aimed at East Asia.

The Philippines served a similar role. The territory was a formal colony of the United States from 1898 to 1946, half a century. And when Washington relinquished its formal control of the country, it insisted on receiving ninety-nine year leases on select military sites, so that the Philippines could continue to act as a US power projection platform important to the US project of dominating East Asia. At the same time, Washington could boast falsely (for it hung on to its colonies of Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, Guam and so on) that granting the Philippines independence proved that it was an anti-colonial power. By the same reasoning, Britain’s granting India independence must have proved that Britain too was an anti-colonial power.

US experts in casuistry, as William Appleman Williams called them, have frequently tried to turn US vices into virtues. For example, it has been argued that a US commitment to liberty is evinced in the manumission of the slaves, a sophistical maneuvering that requires us to forget the very existence of the institution that invalidates the point. In short, if the United States was committed to liberty, it never would have tolerated slavery; if it abhors the enslavement of colonial peoples, it would have never enslaved them. Nor would it tolerate holding residents of its euphemized territorial possessions in colonial subjection today.

Interestingly, there is an event called Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor, the event, was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the place. Pearl Harbor, the place, is a US naval base in Hawaii. The Japanese attacked the base in December 1941—an attack which brought the United States formally into the Second World War. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Hawaii was a US colony. The attack was part of what the Japanese called the Greater East Asian War, which, from their perspective, was a campaign to liberate the territories of East Asia that had been colonized by the West, and to fold them into what the Japanese called a Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, a high-sounding term for an expanded Japanese empire.

The Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere had a parallel: the Monroe Doctrine. The Monroe Doctrine was a US declaration that the Western Hemisphere, the Americas, would be an exclusive US sphere of influence, closed to European powers. Indeed, William Appleman Williams wrote that Japan saw itself as the United States of Asia whose goal was to impose its own Monroe Doctrine on the Far East.

I mention this because on the day the Japanese attacked the US colony of Hawaii, they also attacked the US colonies of the Philippines, Guam, Midway Island, and Wake Island. Additionally, attacks were launched on the British colonies of Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong. In other words, what is now called ‘Pearl Harbor’ marks the beginning of a campaign to transfer the Asia-Pacific colonies of the British and US empires to the Japanese empire. But if the Japanese attacked eight Western colonies on that day, why is it that the event is commemorated by the attack on only one of them?

Immerwahr argues that omitting US colonies from historical memory serves the purpose of hiding the US empire, of concealing the reality that in 1941 the United States was a formal empire with colonial possessions in East Asia and the Pacific that were coveted by a competing empire, and that the war between these two empires was not a war of democracy against militarism, but a war over who East Asia belonged to. Would it belong to the Japanese, or would it belong to the United States? Of course, there was a third possibility: it could belong to the peoples of East Asia. Korea could belong to the Koreans (a possibility that would have obviated the Korean War), China could belong to the Chinese (rendering the US question “Who lost China?” meaningless), and Vietnam could belong to the Vietnamese (sparing us the Vietnam War.) This was the model—a fundamentally democratic one—that the guerillas who founded North Korea espoused.

Incidentally, the US colonization of the Philippines played an important role in shaping the thinking of Kim Il Sung, who would become the first leader of North Korea. In 1905, Japan declared Korea a protectorate, essentially announcing formally that Korea would fall under Japanese rule. Seeking international recognition for this move, Japan approached the United States and said: “Look, if you recognize our control of Korea, we’ll return the favor by recognizing US control of the Philippines.” Washington readily accepted and the two empires signed an agreement to formalize their division of East Asia.

Five years later Japan formally integrated Korea into its empire, and Koreans began to work in various ways to free themselves from Japanese tyranny. One such Korean was a man named Syngman Rhee, who would become the first president of South Korea. Rhee spent much of his life in the United States, collecting degrees from Ivy League universities, and lobbying the US government to help free Korea from Japanese rule.

Kim Il Sung chose another route. He went to Manchuria, a part of China which abuts Korea, to fight a guerilla war against the Japanese. Kim thought that Koreans, like Syngman Rhee, who were petitioning Washington to help free Korea from Japanese rule were naïve, since the United States was an empire, with colonies in East Asia and the Pacific, and had, as Kim put it, sold Korea into colonial slavery through its agreement with Japan to recognize Japan’s colonization of Korea in return for Japan recognizing US colonization of the Philippines. Kim regarded Rhee as a fool for begging and pleading for help from a colonial power, reasoning that a colonial power would be more interested in dominating Korea than liberating it.

In his autobiography, Kim described the US and Japanese empires as armed robbers: “An armed robber in your house will not spare your life, just because you plead for your life. Other armed robbers standing outside will not rush inside to help you no matter how loud you scream. If you want to live, you must fight off the armed robber yourself.”
So, in Kim’s view, appealing to one empire to help free oneself from another, was like asking an armed robber waiting outside your door to help you eject the armed robber inside your house.

The Korean War, 1932-Present

To understand Korea today, the division between north and south, and the hostility between the two states, one needs to understand the Korean War. The overt hostilities of the war ended, not in a peace treaty, but an armistice. The war is still nominally in progress.

In the conventional account, the Korean War began in 1950 and ended in 1953. On one side was the UN Command, which included US forces, South Korean forces, and token representations from US allies, all under the command of the United States. On the other side was North Korea initially, and very quickly thereafter, China, which took command of joint Chinese-North Korean forces. The Korean War is sometimes called the Sino-America War, or a war between the United States and China, which, in one respect, it was.

1950-1953 is the conventional dating of the war. But as mentioned earlier, the war didn’t officially end in 1953. US forces haven’t left the peninsula. The UN Command has not been dissolved. And a peace treaty has never been signed. So the war, while in a dormant phase, continues. We ought to date it, 1950 to present.

But even the conventionally understood 1950 start-date is wrong. June 1950 was the month North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel, a dividing line drawn by the United States in 1945, and accepted by the Soviets, for separating the US and Soviet occupation forces, who, by agreement, committed to quit the peninsula within five years. The parallel was never an international border; never the border between two countries; and only ever a temporary informal border between two occupation forces. Soviet troops exited the peninsula at the end of 1948. The US occupation has never ended. The latter point underscores a simile. US troops deployed to foreign countries are like cockroaches. Once they move in, it’s nearly impossible to get rid of them. Many US citizens find the simile offensive, but to people who endure occupation, the occupiers are, like cockroaches, unwelcome pests.

In the conventional US dating, June 1950, not June 1949, marks the start of the war, but from June 1949 to June 1950 North Korea and South Korea fought along this imaginary line. June 1950 is the point at which North Korean forces, in the conventional US account, committed an act of international aggression by moving across the 38th parallel. The problem with this view is that, for the reasons explained above, the 38th parallel wasn’t an international border. Indeed, no one recognized it as such—not the South Koreans, not the North Koreans, and not the US government.

In June 1950, the South Korean government regarded itself as the sole legitimate government in all of Korea and viewed North Korea as a criminal organization illegally occupying territory north of the 38th parallel. At the same time, the North Korean government regarded itself as the sole legitimate government of all of Korea and saw South Korea as a criminal organization illegally occupying territory south of the 38th parallel. Both states declared Seoul to be their capital, and both claimed exclusive jurisdiction over the entire Korean peninsula.

The model of the Korean War as a conflict between two countries does not fit. Two countries didn’t exist. One country, Korea, did, but it was claimed by two separate states. It’s more accurate to think of the conflict as a civil war between two groups of Koreans for control of a single country. One group comprised traitors who collaborated with the Japanese, while the other was made up of patriots who fought the Japanese. From the perspective of civil war, no invasion occurred in June of 1950, since it was impossible for Koreans to invade their own country. What happened was that the army of one group of Koreans (the patriots) moved into the territory occupied by the army of another group of Koreans (the traitors), with the aim of liberating their country from the traitors and the traitors’ patron, the United States.

A parallel can be glimpsed in imagining a conflict between Free France and Vichy France during the Second World War. Could Free French forces invade Vichy France? Would crossing into the territory under the control of the Vichy regime, be an act of international aggression, or simply French patriots trying to liberate their country from traitors collaborating with a foreign invader?

The UN Command operated under a UN Security Council Resolution which authorized the use force to compel the North Koreans to withdraw to the 38th parallel. This, the patriots were forced to do, but the empire-commanded forces quickly proceeded to violate the resolution by moving north beyond the 38th parallel toward the Chinese border. When it was pointed out that if North Korea had committed an act of international aggression by invading across the 38th parallel, then so too had US forces by crossing the parallel in the other direction, the US ambassador to the United Nations countered that the 38th parallel was not an international border but an imaginary line, thus invalidating the initial charge against North Korea. The United States was seeking to have matters both ways, defining the crossing on an imaginary line as an invasion when North Korea did it but not an invasion when by the United States did it.

The double standard reflected the ideology underlying US foreign policy. As explained by the US historian Marilyn B. Young, US foreign policy insists that the intentions of the United States are always good and the intentions of the enemies of the United States are always bad. Therefore, North Korea’s crossing the 38th parallel must have been bad, because it was an act of a US enemy, while the United States’ crossing of the same parallel must have been good, because it was an act of the United States.

Bruce Cumings, a leading US historian of twentieth century Korea, argues that the civil war between Koreans began, not in 1950, when Kim Il Sung set out to liberate, unify, and revolutionize his country, and not in 1949, when patriot and traitor forces began to fight along the 38th parallel, but in 1932, when Kim Il Sung formed his first patriot guerrilla unit to fight the Japanese, and collaborators, who would become central figures in the South Korean government, chose another route, joining the Japanese army to enforce Japan’s colonial tyranny over Korea.

One of those traitors was Park Chung-hee, who was for many years, the military dictator of South Korea. While Kim Il Sung was fighting the Japanese in the mountains of Manchuria, Park was serving voluntarily as an officer in the Japanese Imperial Army, in a counter-insurgency unit in Manchuria, hunting down Korean guerillas, like Kim Il Sung, and the patriots who would later found the North Korean state.

In South Korea, Kim Il Sung is demonized, just as he is in the West. But Cumings reports than in 1989, South Korea’s leading scholar of Korean communism was allowed to tell the true story of Kim Il Sung. When it was explained to a group of South Korean students who Kim really was, namely, a patriot hero of the guerilla struggle for Korean independence, the students broke out in loud applause.

Cumings points out that the descendants of Koreans who fought each other beginning in the 1930s as anti-Japanese guerillas versus pro-Japanese collaborators, continue to struggle today against each other as the leaders of North and South Korea. The current leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, is the grandson of the guerilla leader Kim Il Sung. The president of South Korea, prior to the current one, Park Geung-hye, is the daughter of Park Chung-hee, the military dictator who, as an officer in the Japanese Imperial Army, hunted down guerillas like Kim Il Sung. Thus, as Cumings has argued, the civil war that began in 1932 between patriots and traitors has never ended and is carried on today by their descendants.

Health Care and the Empire’s Economic War Against Korean Patriots

The most significant determinant of the quality and level of health care available to North Koreans today is their government’s rejection of empire. This rejection has led to the United States, and its allies, and finally the UN Security Council, imposing punitive sanctions on North Korea, intended to destroy its economy and as a corollary to coerce the government and people of North Korea to surrender their independence and become part of the informal US empire (as their compatriots in the south are.)

No country has been subjected to a campaign of economic warfare as long as North Korea has, and I use the term economic warfare as a synonym for sanctions, sanctions being an anodyne term for what in international law are called coercive economic measures. If the aim of warfare is for one state to impose its will on another—that is, to engage in international coercion to work its will—then we can think of coercive economic measures as warfare conducted through economic means.

The United States has waged economic warfare on North Korea from the very first moments of North Korea’s birth in 1948, and the burden on the country of the US-pursued war by economic means has increased since 2006, when the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution enjoining all members of the United Nations to participate in this campaign. Today, North Korea is facing a near-comprehensive sanctions program—an almost complete blockade of trade and its total isolation from the global financial system.

The sanctions have banned the export of coal, of iron ore, and of other key North Korean products, as well as drastically cut oil imports. The amount of refined petroleum North Korea is allowed to import has been cut by almost 90 percent. How is it possible to operate a modern economy under these conditions? Of course, it isn’t possible, which is the point.

The sanctions have also undercut North Korea’s ability to import food, necessary to alleviate an already existing chronic food shortage, the consequence of previously-imposed sanctions. Food-insecurity has obvious implications for public health.

Sanctions programs often provide exemptions for the importation of drugs and other humanitarian goods, subject to approval. Those approvals are often denied on the grounds that the requested imports go beyond fulfilling a basic humanitarian function, which is regularly defined as the prevention of famine. That’s the idea, or at least, that’s the way the United States interprets humanitarian exemptions: exemptions should do no more than prevent mass starvation. In other words, under the US definition, sanctions which create enormous suffering and misery are humanitarian, so long as the people subjected to them, don’t starve to death. By this definition, locking up people in concentration camps and feeding them a diet only sufficient to prevent organ failure constitutes humane treatment.

But even if North Korea were allowed to import all the food and drugs it requires—that is, even if humanitarian exemptions were truly humanitarian—food and drugs alone would hardly be sufficient to address the public health care needs of North Koreans. Public health requires more than access to food and medicine. It requires access to clean water and ways of transporting drugs, food, and medical equipment to where they’re needed. It requires electricity to power medical equipment, to provide lighting in hospitals and clinics, and to provide refrigeration to prevent drugs and food from spoiling.

If you prevent a country from importing trucks, tires, spare parts, and fuel, how can it distribute drugs, food, and medical supplies? How can it run hospitals and ambulances? If you prevent a country from importing machinery and industrial equipment, how can it maintain its sewage and water treatment facilities? How can it maintain its power plants?

In Iraq in the 1990s, UN sanctions prevented the Iraqi government from rebuilding its water treatment and sewage facilities, which the United States had damaged in the Gulf War. This led to outbreaks of water-borne illness, including typhus and cholera. During the Gulf War the United States deliberately bombed water treatment and sewage facilities, with full knowledge of the probable public health consequences. The Pentagon acknowledged in advance of the bombing that there would be outbreaks of water-borne illness.

UN sanctions complemented the effects of the bombing campaign by preventing the Iraqi government from importing the goods it needed to repair the infrastructure the United States had destroyed or damaged. The intent, then, of the Gulf War and the sanctions program that accompanied it, was not only to damage the health of Iraqis but to return their country to the middle-ages—which is precisely what happened. Today, Iraqis suffer the consequences; basic civilian infrastructure remains in ruins; life is one preventable misery piled atop another. A country that had enjoyed during the 1970s what one former US State Department official had called a golden age is now a crucible of human misery, thanks to the war, both military and economic, waged by the United States, and participated in, if not on the military side, then on the economic side, by numerous countries throughout the world, which delude themselves that they are morally above the war-obsessed United States, because they dropped no bombs on Iraq. But they did contribute to the economic war which, as we’ll seen in a moment, was very likely more deadly than the bombing war.

Returning to North Korea, the US Treasury Department has effectively blocked the transfer of funds to and from the country, isolating it from the world banking system, so that on top of the prohibitions on goods that can be imported from or exported to North Korea, the US government makes it virtually impossible for North Korea to pay foreign suppliers. The United States does this by refusing to deal with any bank that deals with North Korea, and since no bank cares to be shut out of the US market, banks steer clear of the US-designated pariah state. For example, the World Health Organization has an office in North Korea. To pay its local staff, it needs to procure funds through a foreign bank. The bank is in India. But the bank refuses to transfer funds to North Korea, fearing that if it does so, it will be cut off from the US banking system.

This happens in all the countries the United States embargoes. Few companies or organizations want to transact business with a sanctioned country. The bureaucratic hurdles that must be overcome to get approvals to export goods to a pariah state are so steep that they act as a deterrent It’s just not worth the effort to complete all the paper work necessary to trade with North Korea. Additionally, and more importantly, organizations don’t want to run the risk of running afoul of the US Treasury Department and becoming the target of secondary sanctions. Accordingly, sanctioned countries have difficulty finding partners to transact business with, even when the business to be transacted is not formally prohibited.

Why have sanctions been imposed on North Korea?

Ostensibly the sanctions were imposed to pressure North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, and that’s true of the multilateral UN Security Council sanctions that have been in effect since 2006, but the United States and its allies have maintained sanctions on North Korea from the moment of North Korea’s birth, long before North Korea ever had nuclear weapons.

Some of the reasons for imposing the sanctions are really quite deplorable. One set of US sanctions was imposed because, as the framers of the legislation imposing the sanctions wrote, North Korea maintains a Marxist-Leninist economy. The fact that the United States feels it is legitimate to use coercive economic measures to pressure a foreign country to change the way it organizes its economy is indefensible. It is not within the legitimate remit of the US government to decide how another people organizes its economy. Meddling in the internal affairs of other countries is an affront to both the concepts of geography and democracy. US politicians behave as if North Korea is part of the United States, and that Washington has the right to impose US economic preferences on North Korea’s citizens. It does not.

Even if North Korea dismantled its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, it would still be sanctioned, because nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles aren’t at the heart of why sanctions were imposed. Sanctions were imposed because North Korea has refused to allow its territory to become a satellite of the US economy and outpost of the US military.

Let’s consider the casual sequence. North Korea refuses to be absorbed into the US empire. Unwilling to take no for an answer, the United States uses various methods to coerce North Korea into surrendering its sovereignty. To deter the United States, and to defend its independence, North Korea develops nuclear weapons.

Let me draw your attention to the work of Kenneth M. Waltz. Waltz was a high-profile US political scientist, the president of the American Political Science Association, and founder of what is called the neo-realistic or structural realistic school of international relations. Waltz wrote:

Like any dominant power, [the United States] is a looming threat in the minds of many international leaders. When President George W. Bush identified Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as forming an axis of evil in January of 2002, and when he then ordered the invasion of one of them, what were the other two to think? It would make sense for them to believe that they might be next, and in that case to take steps to deter the United States from invading. But how can any state hope to deter a world-dominant power? Conventional defense and deterrence strategies have historically proven ineffective against the United States, so, logically, nuclear weapons are the only weapons capable of dissuading the United States from working its will on other nations.

Waltz was saying, if you’re a small and weak country, and you’re threatened with invasion by the United States—which, elsewhere, Waltz had pointed out has a penchant for beating up on weak countries—what are your options? The only option is to acquire the one class of weapons capable of deterring the United States: nuclear weapons. Waltz went on to argue that North Korea’s interests in nuclear weapons stem from “serious security concerns.”

North Korea began thinking about acquiring nuclear weapons in the early 1990s, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union dissolved, North Korea was no longer under the Soviet nuclear umbrella. It was exposed, terribly insecure, and at risk of invasion by the United States.

It’s easy to deplore North Korea’s decision to acquire nuclear weapons as we in Canada, or South Korea, or Japan, or Germany, sit under the US nuclear umbrella. Countries that live under the US nuclear umbrella feel secure. Since these countries rely on US nuclear weapons for protection, they have no need to develop their own.

Insecure countries, on the other hand, have very compelling reasons to develop nuclear weapons. North Korea found itself in the early 1990s directly targeted for nuclear strike by the United States. The US Strategic Command, the body that operated the US nuclear force, announced that it was retargeting some of its strategic nuclear missiles from the now defunct Soviet Union to North Korea. Shortly thereafter, North Korea announced that it was withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The message was: If you threaten us with nuclear annihilation, we have no option but to find a deterrent to your threat.

In 2002, a Pentagon list was leaked of seven countries deemed possible targets of a US nuclear strike. The list included North Korea. Russia, China, Syria, Libya, Iran, and Iraq were also on the list.

The central tenet of nuclear non-proliferation is: don’t threaten non-nuclear countries. If you’re genuinely concerned about nuclear non-proliferation, you painstakingly avoid creating the conditions that encourage countries to arm themselves with nuclear weapons in order to achieve security. And yet the United States has acted in ways, and continues to act in ways, that virtually guarantee the spread of nuclear weapons from one threatened insecure country to another. The United States is the world’s major cause of the spread of nuclear weapons.

Muammar Gaddafi, the former leader of oil-rich Libya, overthrown by Islamist rebels backed by NATO warplanes, had also found himself in a very insecure position after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The US government didn’t like Gaddafi’s policies. They were too nationalist for the tastes of US oil companies. Gaddafi tried to rectify his precarious security condition by developing a nuclear weapons program. Gaddafi’s program never really got off the ground, but if it had, and had succeeded, it may have provided Libya with the security the radical economic nationalist sought.

However, instead of pursuing the development of nuclear weapons, Gaddafi struck a deal with the West. He was offered concessions, and in return, he abandoned his nuclear weapons program. But before long, he found himself double-crossed. Effectively disarmed, he became an easy target, and was overthrown—indeed, gruesomely murdered—by radical Islamists backed by the United States and its allies.

The North Koreans pointed to the Libyan example as confirmation that they had made the right decision in building nuclear weapons, vowing that they would never let themselves be double crossed the way Gaddafi had.

The Arab nationalist leader of Iraq, Saddam—I call him Saddam because that’s how he was referred to in Iraq and how he wanted to be referred to, and also because Hussein wasn’t his family name but his father’s name—Saddam, also embarked on the development of nuclear weapons, as a means of making his country secure from the growing threats of the United States. To deny him nuclear weapons that would effectively make him invulnerable to US attack, and for other reasons related to the US goal of completely dominating West Asia and its oil resources, the United Nations Security Council, under US pressure, imposed a comprehensive sanctions program on Iraq from 1990 to 2003, much like the one we see today on North Korea.

The sanctions program generated a lot of controversy because there was plenty of evidence it was killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis through malnutrition and disease. In the controversy surrounding the sanctions, a paper was written by two US academics, John Mueller and Karl Mueller, that appeared in Foreign Affairs (the informal journal of the US State Department.) In their article the two political scientists pointed out that in the twentieth century, sanctions had killed more people than all the weapons of mass destruction in history, including all the chemical weapons used in World War I and the atomic bombs used at the end of World War II.

This was notable, because the Iraq sanctions were ostensibly aimed at pressuring the Iraqi government into giving up its weapons of mass destruction. I say ostensibly because Washington had made clear that the sanctions wouldn’t be lifted until the government in Iraq was replaced by one acceptable to the United States. Hence, the goal of the sanctions program went well beyond denying Iraq its weapons programs. In announcing that the sanctions would not be lifted until the Iraqi government was ousted in favor of a US-approved replacement, the United States removed any incentive for Baghdad to relinquish its weapons.

If sanctions were killing more people than all the weapons of mass destruction in history, not only was this a cruel irony, but the sanctions deserved the label ‘sanctions of mass destruction’ — because that’s what they were doing: producing the mass destruction of human life. This was a case of the cure being worse than the disease.

In making this argument, Mueller and Mueller pointed out that the Allied blockade of Germany in World War I had killed over 750,000 people through disease and malnutrition, far more people than were killed in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Allied blockade of Germany, then, is one example of mass destruction of human life that exceeds the use of atom bombs. There is also the mass destruction brought about by fire-bombing, that is, through the use of incendiary weapons, including jellied gasoline and napalm, to incinerate cities and cremate the people inside them. The British and US air forces in World War II discovered that it was easier to burn cities to the ground than to blow them apart, and they burned a number of cities to the ground—Hamburg and Dresden in Germany, and over 100 Japanese cities, including Tokyo.

Let’s consider the fire-bombing of Hamburg. As Sven Lindqvist recounts in his book A History of Bombing, when the rescue teams made their way into Hamburg’s bomb shelters, they were faced with scenes reminiscent of those encountered at the same time by Jews forced to clear the bodies of other Jews out of the gas chambers. What they found was ‘intertwined piles of people, killed by fumes and pressed against the vents of the barricaded doors.’ Hence, as some have pointed out—the US historian Lewis Mumford, for example—the difference between incinerating civilians in a fire-bombing raid and incinerating civilians in deathcamp ovens are too trivial to mention. Mumford wrote: “In principle, the extermination camps where the Nazis incinerated … helpless Jews were no different from the urban crematoria our air force improvised in its attack by napalm bombs on Tokyo,” a reference to the March 9-10, 1945 US fire-bombing of Tokyo, which scorched, boiled and baked to death 100,000 Japanese civilians, as Curtis LeMay, the US general who planned the raid, put it.

After learning to incinerate Japanese cities, LeMay applied what he learned to the project of incinerating all of North Korea, destroying the country so thoroughly that there were only two modern buildings left standing in North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, when the air raids were brought to a halt in 1953. LeMay recounted that “over a period three years or so…we burned down every town in North Korea and South Korea too.”

Returning to Iraq, sanctions on the country during the 1990s killed perhaps well over one million people. We know that by 1995 they had killed over 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five through disease and malnutrition, according to a UN agency, and the sanctions would last another eight years. This was an atrocity the US Secretary of State at the time, Madeline Albright, did not deny. Instead she said it was a tough decision to impose the sanctions that produced death on this scale, but “it was worth it.”

Over a half a million children dead as a result of sanctions is more than the combined fatalities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This has led some people to equate sanctions to economic atom bombs, recognizing that the effects of sanctions in the destruction of human life can be as great as, if not greater, than a nuclear attack.

Or we can look at this another way. Combined, the fire-bombing of over 100 Japanese cities in World War II and the atomic bombing of two more, produced 500,000 fatalities. Thus, the number of deaths produced by the sanctions of mass destruction inflicted on Iraq in the first five years was greater than the number of deaths produced by the fire- and atom-bombings of Japan during World War II.

Economic atom bombs have been denotated not only over Iraq and North Korea, but over Syria, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.

Ten years ago, Amnesty International released a report on what it called the crumbling state of health care in North Korea, which the organization blamed on what it said was North Korea’s mismanagement of its economy. Misattributing economic breakdown to a country’s alleged mismanagement, rather than to the economic warfare that produced it, is a standard practice of Western governments and their non-governmental allies.

Here’s what happens: Economic atom bombs are dropped on a country. Its economy collapses. People go hungry. Public health care suffers. And organizations like Amnesty International blame the collapse, not on the sanctions, but on the economic policies of the country under attack. The mainstream media are no different. Read Western newspaper accounts of the economic troubles experienced by sanctioned countries and you will invariably see that those troubles are attributed to mismanagement. Because the ravages of US sanctions are almost invariably inflicted on communist, socialist, and radical nationalist governments— and not on the pro-imperialist, pro-capitalist human rights horror shows of Saudi Arabia, Israel, the India of the Islamophobic BJP, Egypt, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, all of which Washington cherishes as allies—US politicians, Amnesty International, and the mainstream news media, are able to intone that socialism or any program intended to uplift the poor, the underdeveloped, or the historically oppressed, is unrealistic, impractical, and bound to produce failure. This is a way to strengthen profit-centered ideology and attack its people-centered challengers.

I wrote a criticism of the Amnesty International report which began with a quotation from a 1997 article in the New England Journal of Medicine. The article was titled, “The sleep of reason produces monsters—human costs of economic sanctions,” and the quote I chose was this: “Economic sanctions are, at their core, a war against public health.”

Consider that 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.” That’s more deaths than produced by the US-British fire-bombing of Hamburg during the Second World War.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the Iranian government—whose citizens are being crushed by the burden of massive US sanctions—must do what the United States says “if they want their people to eat.” That’s called, “Do as we say, or starve.” And that’s why under international law, sanctions are not called sanctions but coercive economic measures. Sanctions have adversely affected health care in Iran. The Wall Street Journal reported that Iran’s “health care system has … been depleted after the U.S. imposed economic sanctions in 2018… hindering imports of certain medicines and medical equipment.”

Is Killing Hundreds of Thousands of Iraqis, North Koreans, and Others Worth It?

One might be of the view that no matter how much sanctions are, at their core, a war against public health, that waging a war against the public health of North Koreans is worth it, to protect us from the possibility of a North Korean nuclear strike.

There are a number of problems with this view. No serious commentator believes that North Korea’s nuclear weapons pose an offensive threat to the United States, or to South Korea, or to any other country. North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is strictly defensive. The country is not in a position to launch a first strike attack on the United States or its allies and survive a retaliatory strike. North Korea would be completely vaporized and the leadership knows it. What’s more, no one of consequence in the US state seriously believes that the North Korean leadership is suicidal.

Additionally, as I’ve already pointed out, Western sanctions on North Korea began decades before the North Koreans ever had nuclear weapons. From this we can conclude that sanctions weren’t imposed to punish North Korea for developing nuclear weapons. They were imposed for other reasons. It is meaningless, then, to talk of waging a war against the public health of North Koreans to protect us from the possibility of a North Korean nuclear strike, when an offensive North Korea nuclear strike is not in the cards, and deterring a North Korean nuclear strike has never been the reason for the sanctions.

What, then, is the reason?

It’s not difficult to find out. The Congressional Research Service, a think-tank and information service of the US Congress, published a paper on US sanctions on North Korea. Look through the list of sanctions, which is extensive, and you’ll find that one of the stated reasons for inflicting economic hardship on North Korea is to punish the state for running, as I mentioned earlier, what the US government calls “a Marxist-Leninist” economy, and for failing to operate what it calls a “market economy.”

In other words, the goal of many of the sanctions inflicted by Washington on North Korea (not all of them, but many of them) has been to coerce the North Koreans into opening their economy to US exports and investments. Indeed, at the turn of the twentieth century, the United States adopted what it called the Open Door Policy as the basis for its foreign policy; that is, US foreign policy would promote an open door throughout the world for US businesses. Woodrow Wilson, the US president in the years immediately before and during the First World War argued that those countries that refused to open their doors—either because they rejected free enterprise in favor of public ownership or were radical nationalist and wanted to develop their own industry internally and therefore needed to shut out foreign competition—these countries would have to be coerced to open their doors, to accept free trade, and US free enterprise, even if it meant “outraging their sovereignty.” This might mean invasion, or sanctions, or the overthrow of governments—whatever it took to bring about a change that would allow US business people to do business in a previously closed economy.

What this means is that the United States is waging a war on the public health of North Koreans because North Koreans have decided—as they have every right to do—to organize their economy in a manner they believe is most suited to their own needs and interests rather than the needs and interests of US corporations and investors.

So, here’s the message: Unless you organize your affairs in the manner we say—in a manner conducive to the interests of the US billionaire class—we will undertake an economic war on you, which, at its core, will be a war against public health.

It’s not widely known, but the United States has imposed sanctions on Syria since 1979, and escalated its sanctions in 2003, and then later in 2011. But why 2003?

That was the year the United States and Britain invaded Iraq. And the plan, revealed by the US Congressional Research Service, was for US forces to follow up their invasion of Iraq with an invasion of neighboring Syria to replace the government of Bashar al-Assad with one acceptable to the United States. The year before, Washington had added Syria to its so-called Axis of Evil list, which included initially Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, and then was expanded to include Syria, Cuba, and Libya.

That Washington was planning to invade Syria in 2003 was confirmed recently by Lawrence Wilkerson, who had been chief of staff to Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State at the time. Wilkerson told Aaron Maté of the investigative news organization, The Grayzone, that

“The next plans were for Syria. Syria just fell right in line with Iraq, because we thought it was going to be swift, quick, roses in the street, candy in the bars, and so forth, everything was going to be over very quickly. Rumsfeld [the Secretary of Defense] thought we were going to be out of Iraq by August [2003] and we’d bounce right over into Syria. And we thought that Syria would be sufficiently cowed by how fast we did Iraq, and it wouldn’t be very hard in Syria. And then we’d move on from there. I actually saw the contingency planning for that, the classified contingency planning.”

Assad has the same commitment to political and economic independence that Saddam had, one based on economic and foreign policies that stress Arab independence. Washington disapproves. If you read US government documents on Syria, you’ll see that they’re teeming with complaints about Syria being insufficiently accommodating of foreign investment and US free enterprise. Damascus is also denounced for supporting independence movements.

When the Pentagon discovered that Iraqis were resisting their occupation, the generals decided that a follow-up invasion of Syria was a bridge too far, whereupon the US political leadership concluded that the goal of replacing the Assad government with one acceptable to the United States—one which would implement the open door policy in Syria and renounce Syria’s support for liberation movements—would have to be brought about by other means.

One of those means would be sanctions. Hence, coercive economic measures were stepped up in 2003, and by the spring of 2012, The Washington Post would report that sanctions had “forced Syrian officials to stop providing education, health care and other essential services in some parts of the country.”

Thus, long before the outbreak of the so-called Arab Spring in 2011, the United States was waging an economic war on Syria’s education, on its health care, and on its other essential services.

In 2011, the EU, Turkey, the Arab League, Canada and Australia joined the US assault on the essential services of Syrians, including their health care.

In May of last year, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Syria described the sanctions as effectively a total blockade.

And while exceptions are theoretically constructed to allow the flow of humanitarian relief into Syria, a report prepared for a UN commission pointed out that there is “perilous reluctance among western suppliers and banks to offer humanitarian goods and related finance, in part, for fear of sanctions issues, such as fines for inadvertent technical violations.”

The Special Rapporteur also observed that

“The uncertainty around what transactions do, or do not violate the unilateral coercive measures, have created a ‘chilling effect’ on international banks and companies, which as a result are unwilling or unable to do business with Syria.”

Thus, the entry points through which humanitarian aid is supposed to flow exist in theory alone and not in reality.

Sanctions have severely limited the Syrian government’s ability to purchase the drugs and medical equipment it needs. As a consequence, Syria’s public health care system—once one of the best in Arab Asia—is in a state of virtual collapse, as is North Korea’s. Significantly, both countries refuse to become economic and military satellites of the United States.

Commenting on the sanctions, the veteran foreign affairs correspondent Patrick Cockburn observed that the US, EU, and Canadian sanctions resemble the sanctions the UN imposed on Iraq—the ones that killed over 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five in the first five years of the 13-year-long economic strangulation campaign. The de facto total blockade of Syria also calls to mind the Allied blockade of Germany, which killed over 750,000 German civilians during World War I.

Madeline Albright said that killing 500,000 Iraqi children through sanctions-related disease and malnutrition was worth it. Worth what? What did the United States gain in exchange for the lives of over half a million Iraqi children under the age of five?

It gained opportunities for major US investors. Washington expanded its control over a West Asia pullulating with profit-making opportunities and rife with strategic significance. The profit-making opportunities of West Asia’s petroleum resources are obvious. But there’s also a strategic significance that’s less obvious. Western Europe and East Asia are dependent on West Asian oil. If you control West Asian oil and its transportation routes, you control Western Europe and East Asia, and control of these regions translates into profit-making opportunities for US businesses.

Recently, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Belarus, trying to persuade Belarus to move out of the orbit of Russia and into the orbit of the United States. Russia is Belarus’s major source of oil and natural gas, so severing ties with Russia can’t be accomplished without complications. But Pompeo assured the Belarussian president that if his country joined the US empire that “Our energy producers stand ready to deliver 100 percent of the oil you need at competitive prices.” And that’s what US control of West Asia means. It means leverage over countries that have no internal sources of petroleum—countries such as Japan, Germany, France, South Korea, China, and Belarus.

There are a few countries that were standing or continue to stand in the way of total US domination of the stupendous material and strategic prize of West Asian oil and natural gas, as a US State Department official once called it: Gaddafi’s Libya, Syria, Saddam’s Iraq, and Iran.

Soon after the demise of the Soviet Union, Paul Wolfowitz, who was then the US under-secretary of defense for policy, informed US General Wesley Clark that:

With the end of the Cold War, we can now use our military with impunity. The Soviets won’t come in to block us. And we’ve got five, maybe 10, years to clean up these old Soviet surrogate regimes like Iraq and Syria.

He could have added North Korea.

How has the United States been cleaning up those old Soviet surrogate regimes? Partly by sanctions. In other words, the public health of a number of countries abroad is adversely affected by the foreign policy of the United States and its allies.

US foreign policy is shaped by the profiting-making imperatives of the most politically consequential sector of Western society, namely, corporations and major investors operating within the context of a capitalist system, who insist on open doors abroad, and access to every profit-making opportunity the world has to offer.

The implication is that the public health care systems of North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Venezuela, are profoundly affected in a very adverse way by the profit-making imperatives that condition and guide the foreign policy choices of Western states.

Sanctions are intended to cripple economies and undermine public health for three reasons:

First, to create enough misery that the population of the crippled country attempts to relieve its misery by overthrowing its government. This ends the sanctions and relieves the people’s misery but also clears the way for the installation of a government acceptable to the United States which will open the country’s doors to US business and allow the US military access to the country’s territory.

Second, to make an example of what will happen to any government that defies the US open door policy and chooses to implement communist, socialist, or radical nationalist policies.

Third, to turn public opinion against economic programs that reject free trade, free markets, and US free enterprise, by sabotaging them and then misattributing their sanctions-induced failures to the rejection of US free enterprise, rather than to the sanctions which were imposed with the deliberate aim of undermining them.

Sanctions are a weapon of US foreign policy for destroying any way of living that does not comport with the profit-making imperatives of the US business community. They destroy economies by design, gut public health care, create hunger, spread disease, and kill silently in numbers that regularly exceed the fatality rate produced by military means. Sanctions are not an alternative to war; they are war.

The Empire That Worships Mars

All empires worship Mars, the god of war, but the United States stands apart, not in the usual ways its experts in casuistry profess, but in warranting the status of being perhaps the most bellicose empire in modern history. Harry Stout estimates that over a period of 233 years, from 1776 to 2009, the United States engaged in 309 military interventions or nuclear standoffs, an average of 1.3 per year. This does not include covert activities, blockades, proxy wars, assassinations, or threats of war. A country with a record of aggressiveness this egregious cannot be expected to be interested in peace anywhere, let alone on the Korean peninsula.

US bellicosity is a means to the end of US expansionism. From its birth, the United States has unremittingly expanded, first territorially, and then informally. In only four cases of the 309 military interventions Stout identified were US actions taken in response to an attack on US soil. These were the War of 1812, the December 1941 Japanese attack on US colonial possessions in the Pacific, and the Al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Centre attack in 1993 and 2001. Significantly, all of these attacks were related to US expansion. The War of 1812 was a struggle between an established empire, the British, and a nascent one, the United States. The 1941 Japanese attack occurred as part of the struggle between the US and Japanese empires for control of East Asia, while the Al-Qaeda attacks were part of a struggle between the United States and the Islamist organization for control of Arab West Asia. In over 98 percent of the interventions, US forces attacked foreign soil.

The engine of US expansionism is the need of US businesses for new markets and fields for investment, and the fear of US planners that if US businesses cannot expand unchecked, that the US economy will settle into a secular stagnation, and demands will arise for major economic reforms, if not revolutionary change. There are few territories remaining in the world that have not been folded into the US economy (often at the point of a US gun), and Washington acts vigorously to absorb the hold outs. Among them is North Korea. Also, Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Venezuela. And more significantly, Russia and China.

The US war on Korea began not in 1945 but in 1871, when US forces invaded Korea, to punish the natives for refusing to trade with US businesses. Today, Washington continues to punish North Korea for the same reason. Washington deplores Pyongyang’s refusal to accommodate US free enterprise. It also punishes North Koreans for insisting that their country not to be used as territory for US military bases.

In light of US bellicosity and US expansionism, it’s difficult to accept that peace between the United States and North Korea, on terms agreeable to both sides, is even remotely possible. The one condition that might make the United States consider such an agreement—the need to deter a genuine North Korean threat to US security—is not even remotely present. North Korea, a small, enfeebled country, poses not the slightest threat to the United States. The DPRK is, unfortunately, the only interlocuter genuinely committed to arrive at a mutually agreeable peace. That’s because peace serves North Korea’s interests. As we’ve seen, it doesn’t serve Washington’s, unless it’s achieved on Washington’s terms.

A US-DPRK peace depends on the United States turning its back on its worship of Mars. Reversing centuries of US bellicosity depends on the United States radically re-engineering its economy so that it’s no longer dependent on global expansion. Removing the US economy’s dependence on global expansion means removing profit-making as the economy’s engine and replacing it with a consciously guided plan to satisfy the material, social, and psychological needs of US citizens at home, and practicing what the leading US historian of the first half of the twentieth century, Charles Austin Beard, called self-containment. Whereas today labor is but a means to create profits, the work people do needs to become the means to widen, to enrich, and to promote the existence of all who work. Not only would a radical re-engineering of this type improve the lives of the many (though not of all—billionaires would no longer live in the lap of luxury on the backs of others), it would significantly reduce (though not eliminate) the reasons for conflict among states. At that point, peace between the United States and North Korea would become an achievable reality rather than what it is today: a pleasant fantasy for dreamers.

As to South Korea, its liberation depends, ultimately, on economics. Slavery ended when its economic logic was no longer supportable. Colonialism ended (where it ended) when the revolt of the natives made the economic logic of colonialism indefensible. US neocolonialism in Korea will end when one or both of the following conditions are met: (1) The revolt of the natives undermines the economic logic of neo-colonialism. (2) US citizens revolt and change the expansionary logic of their economy.

Stephen Gowans is the author of Israel, A Beachhead in the Middle East: From European Colony to US Power Projection Platform (2019); Patriots, Traitors, and Empires: The Story of Korea’s Fight for Freedom (2018); and Washington’s Long War on Syria (2017). All are published by Baraka Books, Montreal.

Promoting Plutocracy: U.S.-Led Regime Change Operations and the Assault on Democracy

January 11, 2015

By Stephen Gowans

Chapter 1. What the West’s Position on Iran Reveals about its Foreign Policy
Chapter 2. Democracy
Chapter 3. Foreign Policy and Profits
Chapter 4. The State in Capitalist Society
Chapter 5. Concealing the Influence of the Corporate Elite on Foreign Policy
Chapter 6. Syria: Eradicating an Ideological Fixation on Socialism
Chapter 7. Ukraine: Improving the Investment Climate
Chapter 8. Kosovo: Privatizing the Economy
Chapter 9. Afghanistan: Investment Opportunities in Pipelines and Natural Resources
Chapter 10. The Military-Industrial Complex, Foreign Aid and Marionettes
Chapter 11. How Foreign Policy Hurts Workers
o Divide and Rule
o Socializing the Costs, Privatizing the Benefits
o The Assault on Substantive Democracy in Korea
o The Terrorism of the Weak
o Bulking Up the Police State
o Obviating the Terrorism of the Weak
Chapter 12. The West’s Foreign Policy Priorities

Canadian Foreign Policy and Why it Matters to Workers

Two Lectures to the Unifor-McMaster University Labour Studies Program, Oct-Nov, 2014

Stephen Gowans

Lecture I

I became interested in foreign policy in 1999, when Canada joined the 3-month long air war on the former Yugoslavia. What interested me was that Canada had abandoned what I, at the time, believed was its traditional peace-keeping role for a role of waging war in cooperation with the United States and other NATO powers against a country that posed no threat whatever to Canada, or its allies. I followed the war very closely and considered the reasons politicians and people in the media said the war needed to be fought, and the reasons didn’t make a lot of sense to me.

So I started to look at critical analyses of the reasons that had been offered for why the war was being waged, and those analyses demonstrated in a very convincing way that the narrative that had been offered to justify the war was full of holes. The rationale just didn’t add up. And it became very easy to show that the war couldn’t possibly be about the things that politicians and the media said it was about.

It turns out that the justifications for Canadian foreign policy, and US foreign policy, and the foreign policy of other Western countries, is pretty easy to discredit, if you pay close attention to it.

But most people don’t, for a variety of very understandable reasons.

First, foreign policy is about things that happen in remote corners of the world with which we have no direct experience, so it’s difficult to get an intuitive grasp based on personal experience of what’s going on, on the ground.

Secondly, the major source of information about foreign policy for most people is the news media. And the practice of the news media is to report what high government and state officials have to say in the House of Commons, or the White House, or the State Department, or the Pentagon, or the Department of National Defence. In other words, the news media pass along the official view, or what people in government and the state would like to public to understand, which may not be the whole truth or even close to it.

Which means that when it comes to foreign affairs you’re seeing matters through a lens provided by the government or the state in a way you wouldn’t do on domestic affairs, because you have personal experience with the matters that domestic affairs is about, on jobs policy, on taxation, on policies respecting unions, on social programs, and so on, but usually not on matters of foreign policy.

Take for example, the federal government proposal to reduce employer EI premiums on the grounds that this will create jobs. You can use your own experience to evaluate whether this claim is convincing. But when someone tells you about what’s happening half way around the world, in a country you’ve never visited, and perhaps have never really heard about until now, and then they put forward a proposal about what must be done in that country, you have no personal experience on which to draw to make any kind of evaluation of whether what you’re being told is true or reasonable or against your interests or compatible with them. (I mean if domestic policy can be against your interests, and it often is, well, maybe foreign policy can be against your interests too. But how do you determine whether it is or not?)

Well, if you have the time—and unfortunately few of us do—but if you have the time to pay close attention to what’s going on, you’ll find that what you’re told about foreign policy often doesn’t add up and doesn’t make a lot of sense.

And some people think that just means that politicians are dumb and are always screwing up. But my argument is that foreign policy makes sense once you know the motivations behind it. But if you don’t know them, it doesn’t make sense at all.

Let me give you an example. Canada is currently contributing CF-18s and special forces to the war against ISIS in Iraq. And Canadian politicians and the news media and others will tell you that Canada’s contribution to this operation needs no justification, that this is the right thing to do, that ISIS is a repellent, head-chopping, backward, anti-woman, sectarian, anti-democratic, medieval organization that needs to be eradicated—and ISIS is indeed all of these things. But there’s a country in the Middle East that Canada supports strongly, as do our allies, that’s very much like ISIS: Saudi Arabia. There’s not a lot of discussion about Saudi Arabia. But Saudi Arabia is a head-chopping, backward, anti-woman, sectarian, anti-democratic, medieval country ruled over by despotic crowned dictators, who have violently put down Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings in their own country, and in neighbouring Bahrain (where they sent tanks and troops to quell demonstrators calling for a constitutional monarchy). And Saudi Arabia is one of the principal sources of funding for ISIS. Indeed, the ideology of ISIS is based on the official ideology of Saudi Arabia, known as Wahhabism—which is a very severe 18th century fundamentalist version of Islam.

It happens that while ISIS was cutting off the heads of US and British journalists—which got a lot of play in the media—Saudi Arabia was beheading dozens of criminals, most convicted of non-violent offenses, including one for sorcery.

So when Canadian politicians and media people tell you that Canada is sending CF-18s to Iraq because we don’t like violent fundamentalist Sunni Muslims who are anti-woman and anti-Shia and cut off people’s heads and want to impose religious rule, we’re being sold a bill of goods, for if this were true we would be bombing Saudi Arabia too, rather than embracing Saudi Arabia as a great ally in the Middle East.

There are other examples.

Canada sent CF-18s to participate in an air war against the Libyan government of Muamar Gaddafi. Libya, today, is a failed state. It is completely and utterly in chaos. Rather than making conditions better in Libya, the NATO intervention made conditions immeasurably worse. The people who led the rebellion against Gaddafi were violent fundamentalist Sunni Muslims who wanted to overthrow a secular nationalist government, which was considered offensive to their ideology, and replace it with a religious state. In other words, they wanted to do in Libya what ISIS is trying to do in Iraq and Syria–and we supported them.

The Libyan rebels, were, as ISIS is, connected to al-Qaeda. A reporter at The Ottawa Citizen, David Pugliese, wrote extensively on how the rebel groups in Libya were jihadists connected to al-Qaeda, and about how Canadian pilots bombing Libyan government positions joked that they were al-Qaeda’s air force—that Canadian CF-18s helped provide air cover to al-Qaeda to overthrow a secular nationalist government in Tripoli.

We can put this all aside, and say, “Let’s forget that the rebels in Libya were violent al-Qaeda-linked Jihadists and assume that they were people who simply wanted democracy, rather than fundamentalist Islamic rule in Libya that resembles the kind of backward, religious rule that prevails in Saudi Arabia.

And let’s do the same in Syria. Let’s assume, incorrectly, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that the rebellion in Syria was led by people who simply wanted democracy.

And just to digress for a second on Syria.

The official narrative these days is that the rebellion against the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria began as a “largely” peaceful pro-democracy uprising but was quickly hijacked by violent jihadists. Why is it that the origins of the uprising are invariably described as “largely” peaceful, rather than just “peaceful”? The answer is because the first demonstrations were not peaceful. They may have been “largely” peaceful in the sense that most people didn’t engage in violence, but there was still a fair amount of violence. The first significant demonstration happened in the city of Dara. Demonstrators shot and killed police officers, and set fire to a court house and burned down a branch of Syria Tel, the state owned telephone company. Well, you can call that “largely” peaceful if you want, but it was clear from the beginning that the uprising involved more than a little violence, and it’s not surprising that the Syrian state used violent methods in response, as any state would, including Canada. What would happen here at home if demonstrators killed police officers, and set fire to buildings? There would be a very vigorous reaction from the government.

And no one denies that the rebellion in Syria is now led—no matter what its origins were–by ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, or the al Nusra front, both of which are al-Qaeda. The Nusra front is the official al-Qaeda franchise in Syria. ISIS grew out of the official al-Qaeda franchise in Iraq, which was known as AQI or al-Qaeda in Iraq. The so-called moderate rebels don’t exist, and all of the rebel groups, are Islamists, and by Islamists I mean people who seek to replace a secular government with a fundamentalist Islamic government, following the credo the Koran is our constitution. These groups abhor democracy because, in their view, man-made laws shouldn’t supersede the laws of God.

But even if the moderate rebels did exist, no one denies that the rebellion is led by the violent, immoderate, head-chopping, women-hating rebels of al-Qaeda, and that the battle that rages in Syria, and has been raging for three years, is a battle very much like the battle that occurred in Libya: a battle between the violent Sunni Muslim fundamentalists of al-Qaeda, on the one hand, and a secular nationalist government, on the other.

Now, despite the fact that the Syrian government is locked in a battle with al-Qaeda, and not with pro-democracy forces, Canada continues to be against the Syrian government. Why is that? I mean, it’s one thing to say, “You’re repressing a pro-democracy uprising, and our foreign policy is based on promoting democracy (except in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt), so we’re against you.” But on what grounds can Canada now say it is against Syria, since the battle is not about democracy (if it ever was) but is about two different visions of government: a secular non-sectarian one, represented by the Assad government, and a sectarian Sunni Islamist one, represented by al-Qaeda? So if Canada is against al-Qaeda, and the battle in Syria isn’t over democracy, and the Syrian government is battling al-Qaeda, why is Canada against the Syrian government?

The other thing about Syria is that the rebels have perpetrated all manner of barbarities, from beheadings, to suicide bombings in elementary school playgrounds to kill children belonging to a sect that al-Qaeda rebels consider to be heretical, to ethnic cleansing, to eviscerations.

And no one in Ottawa or the news media seems to care much about this, or to pay particular attention to it. It is as if the government wants Assad gone, and they don’t particularly care who drives him away, so long as he is driven way, so they don’t want to draw attention to how brutal the Syrian rebels are—the rebels who, by the way, are being funded by, and armed by, and coordinated by, the intelligence services of our allies. But when the same rebels behead an American journalist and a British journalist, and it just so happens at a time when ISIS is threatening to capture strategic parts of Iraq, suddenly they’re an intolerable threat and something has to be done about them.

So, Canadian foreign policy is riddled with inconsistencies. It doesn’t add up.

Ottawa said it was against Gaddafi and Assad because both leaders were dictators, and because they used violence against their own people. But at the same time, we didn’t support uprisings for democracy in Bahrain, and we didn’t support uprisings for democracy in Saudi Arabia, even though these countries have authoritarian, non-democratic governments that brutally cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrators. Why do we support rebels in Libya and Syria but not in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia?

Consider Egypt. Canada supports Egypt’s government. Egypt is effectively a military dictatorship. The current head of state, president Sisi, led a military coup against the legitimately elected government of Mohammed Morsi. When Morsi’s supporters protested against the ouster of the president, Sisi violently cracked down. He killed over a thousand. He wounded many more. He jailed tens of thousands. Human Rights Watch said that Sisi was committing crimes against humanity. When Gaddafi used the coercive powers of the state to quell a violent uprising against him, we sent bombers to destroy his military, but when Sisi uses the coercive powers of the state to quell demonstrators demanding the reversal of a coup d’état and the restoration of democracy, the United States sends him $1.3 billion in military aid, with Canada’s blessing. And no one in the Canadian government has said that Sisi must step down, or that he has lost legitimacy, or that he’s a brutal dictator. However, all these charges were levelled against Gaddafi and all these charges are levelled against Assad.

So, you have to ask, how is it that Egypt can be led by a military dictator, who staged a coup against a legitimately elected president, who used violence against his people, who committed crimes against humanity according to Human Rights Watch, and yet continues to be supported by the Canadian government? If Canadian foreign policy seeks to promote democracy abroad—and if you visit the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs you’ll see it does— this couldn’t possibly be.

Here’s another example. Bahrain.

Bahrain is an oil-rich hereditary monarchy in the Persian Gulf. The monarch, King Khalifa, is the head of state. He appoints the head of government and the cabinet. The government isn’t elected; it’s appointed. The head of government is the king’s uncle. He has been prime minister for the last 43 years–the longest serving prime minister in the world. All of the deputy first ministers are relatives, all named Khalifa. So Bahrain, an ally of Canada, is not a democracy, but a family dictatorship.

Ottawa complains that North Korea and Syria are family dictatorships. The Assads have ruled Syria since 1971. The current president, Bashar al-Assad, took over from his father, Hafiz al-Assad. Kims have ruled North Korea since the late 1940s. Kim Il Sung founded the state. His son Kim Jong il succeeded him. Now the founder’s grandson, Kim Jong un, is the head of state.

But Ottawa doesn’t complain that the Khalifas have been heads of state and heads of government since Bahrain achieved independence over four decades ago. Somehow Bahrain’s family dictatorship is okay, but North Korea’s and Syria’s are not. Why is that?

Of Arab Spring countries, Bahrain had the largest protests per capita. 400,000 people took to the streets in one demonstration alone out of a total population of 1.3 million. The demonstrators denounced Bahrain as a police state. They demanded a transition to a more democratic constitutional monarchy, where the government would be elected by the people, rather than appointed by the king. You would think that that was something that Canada would support. But when the protests were violently suppressed Canada stood by and did nothing. And the crackdown was done with the help of the troops and tanks of Saudi Arabia, another family dictatorship. So how is it that Canadian foreign policy is not against the Khalifa family dictatorship in Bahrain or the House of Saud dictatorship in Saudi Arabia but is against dictatorships in Syria and Libya?

So when I said it’s possible to poke holes in Canadian foreign policy and show that it’s inconsistent and that it can’t be based on the considerations Ottawa says it’s based on (like promoting democracy), it was examples like these I was thinking of.

There are a number of foreign policy critics, and very good ones, whose method is based on uncovering the contradictions in the foreign policy of various countries to show that foreign policy is not driven by the kinds of considerations that politicians and state officials and people in the media say it is driven by.

But if you can show that foreign policy is not about what the official narrative says it’s about, what, then, is it about? What is the answer to the question: Why is Ottawa for the rebels in Libya and Syria but not in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt?

You need a theory about foreign policy to make sense of the contradictions and to understand what the true aims of Canadian foreign policy are, and what the forces are that shape it.

Everyone carries theories around in their heads about foreign policy whether they know it or not.

For example, you may carry in your head the theory that Canada is traditionally a peace-keeping country, but that it has been diverted from its traditional peace-keeping policy by the neo-conservatism of Stephen Harper, and that if the Conservatives are defeated in the next election that Canada will return to its traditional peace-keeping role.

You might carry in your head the theory that the foreign policy of Canada and its Western allies is motivated by lofty, praiseworthy goals, like promoting democracy, and preventing genocide, and protecting vulnerable populations.

Or you may believe that foreign policy is formulated as a response to a world that is teeming with multiple threats, and that a myriad of groups and countries seek to harm us.

So we all have theories about foreign policy even though we might not recognize them as theories but think of them simply as common sense.

What I’m going to do is present a theory that is very different from the one that politicians and state officials and the news media present.

The theory comes in two parts. The first is a consideration of who makes foreign policy in Canada, who shapes it, and who influences it. The second is an inference. The inference is that whoever makes foreign policy, whoever shapes it, whoever influences it, does so to promote a benefit for themselves.

So the view is that foreign policy is formulated to defend and promote the interests of someone or some group or some class, and to understand who that is, we have to understand who exercises the greatest influence over foreign policy in Canada.

If the theory is any good, we should be able to use it to predict which foreign governments Canada is against, and which governments it supports. We should be able to use it to explain the contradictions we’ve just seen in Canadian foreign policy. It should tell us why Ottawa supports the rebels in Syria and Libya but not Egypt, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia

So who makes foreign policy? Well, it’s made in Ottawa by politicians. At least, politicians sign off on foreign policy (although it may be formulated somewhere else.) But is it made in a vacuum? Do politicians get together with the officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs, and put together a policy without reference to anyone else in the country, or without reference to very powerful allies, like the United States? Or do they receive inputs from various groups? And are the interests of certain groups more likely to be considered than the interests of others? Are there some groups that have money and resources to get their point of view across in Ottawa to a degree that others can’t?

Foreign policy can be broken down into two components: What benefits we want to derive from our relationships with other countries. And how we’re going to derive those benefits.

So, let’s think of the benefits.

When politicians and bureaucrats are formulating foreign policy in Ottawa, they could say: the benefits we want to achieve in our relationships with foreign countries are these:

• We want more job security for our workers at home.
• We want better pay and better working conditions for our workers at home.
• We want full-employment.
• We want to expand the amount of free or nearly free public services, like transportation, healthcare, child care, and education.
• We want policies that help trade unions rather than undermine them.

These are our goals. These are our priorities. Now, what do we need to do in the way we manage our affairs with foreign countries to make this happen?

Is that what’s going on in Ottawa?

Or is it that when politicians and bureaucrats get together to make foreign policy they say something like this? The benefits we want to achieve in our relationships with foreign countries are these:

• We want to increase the number of Canadian firms doing business in overseas markets.
• We want to deepen commercial engagement in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
• We want to promote and protect investment opportunities overseas for Canadian investors and business owners.
• We want to ratify the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, as an investors’ bill of rights to penalize governments that interfere with the profitability of Canadian investments.

So, which of these two scenarios do you think is closer to what actually goes on in Ottawa?

Well, if you want to find out, visit the web site of the Department of Foreign Affairs, and look at the department’s list of priorities. You’ll discover that the department’s priorities are exactly the same as the ones I just presented in the second scenario.

Laid out on the web site are these priorities.

• Increase the number of Canadian firms doing business in overseas markets.
• Deepen commercial engagement in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
• Focus on investment promotion and protection.
• Ratify the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

Clearly, these are priorities aimed at providing a benefit to a certain sector of Canadian society. Not average Canadians. Not workers. Not organized labor. Not unions. But shareholders and bankers and business owners and people with money to invest. In short, corporate Canada.

So how is it that the views of corporate Canada are so strongly represented in the list of priorities of the Department of Foreign Affairs and that there’s nothing on the list that directly concerns the interests of workers?

I mean we have elections in this country. We have politicians who, in theory, are accountable to the electorate. So, shouldn’t it be the case that the policies of the government, including its foreign policy, reflect the interests of the majority, that is the interest of workers, and not the interests of a small section of the population made up of shareholders, and corporate CEOs, and bankers, and business owners?

Well, there’s a long tradition in parts of sociology and political science going back to the 17th century that says that whoever owns the economy has the greatest influence on the government and the policies of the state, no matter what the form of political arrangement, whether it’s a monarchy, a military dictatorship, a fascist regime, or a democracy. Whoever owns the economy, by virtue of their control of vast wealth and resources, can play an overwhelming role in the political life of a society.

There is a study recently published in the academic journal Perspectives in Politics by two US political scientists that the Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman has publicized. The authors looked at over 1,700 policy issues. And their conclusion was this: “Economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial impacts on government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” In other words, the corporate community has extraordinary influence over public policy and average citizens and mass-based groups have virtually none.

Well, this invites the question: How is this the case? How is it that in a democracy a small section of the society can have an outsize influence on the politics of the society, virtually monopolizing public policy?

There has been work done over the last half century by some sociologists and political scientists to explain how it is that the corporate community has extraordinary influence while average citizens and mass-based groups have virtually none.

One way is through lobbying. The corporate community has a vast network of lobbyists representing its point of view to government. No other sector of Canadian society lobbies the government to the degree the corporate community does. Large corporations have entire departments dedicated to pressuring government officials to accommodate their interests. Industries have lobbyists to represent the common interest of their industry. And there are lobby groups representing the corporate community as a whole, constantly pressing government to adopt policies that serve the interests of the corporate elite.

What’s more, people who occupy high-level positions in government and the state are very likely to have come from high-level positions in the corporate community.

Let’s take, for example, the New York investment bank Goldman Sachs. Goldman Sachs is sometimes called Government Sachs, and it’s called Government Sachs because so many of its executives have held very important positions in the state, not only in the United States, but in Canada and Europe and beyond. The former governor of the Bank of Canada, David Carney, now head of the Bank of England, had a 13 year career at Goldman Sachs, rising to the managing director level, before he joined the Department of Finance and later the Bank of Canada. Robert Rubin and Henry Paulson, recent US Secretaries of the Treasury, were both Goldman Sachs executives. Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank, was a Goldman Sachs executive. And there are many other Goldman Sachs alumni who have held less visible, but still very important positions in the state in the US, in Canada, in Europe and elsewhere. And that’s just one company.

In Canada, former high-level executives from scores of major enterprises hold senior positions in the bureaucracy. For example, Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright was managing director of the investment firm Onex, and held positions on various corporate boards, before joining the prime minister’s office.

This is known as the revolving door. People who hold high-level positions in the corporate community move into high-level positions in public service, later return to the corporate community, only to come back into public service again and again.

Related to this is the practice of the corporate community offering very lucrative senior executive positions or appointments to boards of directors to politicians when their careers in politics come to an end. Politicians know that if they play their cards right and indulge the corporate community while they’re in office that there’s a reward waiting for them when they end their political careers.

The corporate community also funds and directs think-tanks, whose purpose it is to bring together university professors and journalists and corporate executives to formulate foreign policy, which is then recommended to the government. Foreign policy think-tanks in Canada include the CD Howe Institute, the Fraser Institute, the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, the Asia-Pacific Foundation and the Canadian International Council. These think-tanks are often understood by the public to be neutral, non-partisan expert policy organizations, but what they really are, are corporate funded, corporate directed, advocacy organizations whose purpose is to persuade government to adopt foreign policy positions which serve the interests of the corporate community. They present themselves as neutral, and non-partisan, and they may be non-partisan in the party-political sense, but they’re not non-partisan with respect to the interests of the corporate community. They are corporate Canada’s front organizations.

They also act as advocacy organizations to shape public opinion to support policies that favor the corporate community.

I can illustrate with a US example. The Institute for the Study of War, or ISW, is a US foreign policy think tank. The ISW is funded by the arms industry. Its sponsors are Raytheon, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, DynCorp. These are the largest arms manufacturers in the world. The think-tank is headed by a man named Jack Keane. Jack Keane is a retired US general. He sits on the boards of MetLife, the giant insurance company, and the weapons industry giant, General Dynamics.

The ISW plays two roles: a policy formation role and a public opinion shaping role. As part of its policy formation role, it creates policy recommendations for the government that favor a robust military and its frequent use. As part of its public opinion shaping role, it runs advocacy campaigns to support a muscular military. Keane plays a lead role in shaping public opinion to support policies that will benefit the corporate sponsors of his think tank. In July and August, he appeared on CNN at least nine times as a military analyst to promote US military intervention in Iraq and Syria. CNN didn’t disclose that Keane is on the board of General Dynamics or that his think tank is sponsored by a who’s who of Pentagon suppliers.

That’s just one example of how the corporate community uses think-tanks to provide so called impartial experts to the mass media to frame how viewers and readers ought to interpret events in order to persuade the public to back policies that favor corporate community interests.

Another way in which the corporate elite influences public opinion to support policies of interest to it in the state is through the mass media. The corporate elite own the mass media. And it’s not unreasonable to expect—and nor is it conspiracy theory-mongering to say—that the mass media, by virtue of the fact that they’re owned by the corporate elite, reflect the interests and the point of view of the corporate elite.

This is hardly a controversial observation. A newspaper that was owned by labor unions would promote positions that are compatible with the interests of labor, and no one would think that was odd. A news network that was owned by environmentalists would take a dim view of building pipelines through ecologically sensitive habitat, and no one would bat an eye at that. So why would anyone think that news media owned by wealthy business owners would somehow not reflect the point of view of wealthy business owners? News media have a certain point of view. And the point of view is compatible with the interests of their owners.

So, to summarize: Economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial impacts on government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.

The outsize influence of the corporate community on public policy happens through a number of mechanisms.

• Through direct lobbying of the government, which corporate Canada does to a degree that no other group in Canada can even come close to matching.
• Through the revolving door, which sees people in top positions in the corporate community rotating in and out of government and the bureaucracy.
• Through the promise of lucrative jobs in the corporate sector to politicians who work to promote the interests of the corporate community while in government.
• Through think-tanks to formulate foreign policy on behalf of the corporate community.
• And through the corporate community’s shaping of public opinion to support policies of interest to it through its advocacy organizations and its ownership of the mass media.

So what would we expect a foreign policy to look like, if the corporate elite exercises an overwhelming influence on policies of interest to it in the state?

Well, it’s going to look like the set of priorities the Department of Foreign Affairs has set for itself. It’s going to be interested in protecting and promoting profit-making opportunities abroad for Canadian investors and business owners.

So let’s go back to our original question. If Canada’s foreign policy is aimed at protecting and promoting the profit-making interests of Canadian investors and business owners, which countries will Canada be against, and which countries will it be for?

Well, it follows that the countries that Canada will be for, are countries that eagerly offer opportunities for corporate Canada to generate profits, and that the country’s record on democracy and respect for human rights will be less important, or completely unimportant, compared to whether the country is a source of profits for Canadian business owners and investors.

At the same time, Canada will be against countries that deny or limit opportunities for corporate Canada to generate profits. But it’s pretty unlikely that the government is going to say we’re sending CF-18s to bomb this or that country because we don’t like their foreign investment climate. Instead, the government will manufacture some reason the public can support, like protecting vulnerable populations or overthrowing a dictator or combating terrorism or eradicating head-choppers.

So, if we find countries that have failed to build business climates that are friendly to foreign investment, we’ll probably find countries that the Canadian government doesn’t like. And if we find countries that welcome Canadian foreign investment, we’ll probably find countries that the Canadian government likes a lot, even if the countries aren’t democracies, and even if they don’t respect human rights.

Lecture II

In Lecture I I talked about how the business community has a number of ways of dominating public policy, and that the research literature shows that the business community has been very successful in using these mechanisms to get its way in the public policy arena.

So we can make a guess, or arrive at a hypothesis, that says, foreign policy in Canada is probably based on the interests of investors and the business community, since big business and the groups that represent it seem to have a large influence on the government. And following from this, that Canadian foreign policy isn’t about promoting democracy and respect for human rights but promoting and protecting the overseas profit-making interests of Canadian businesses and investors.

If this is true, then what we should find if we look closely enough is that the foreign governments that Canada supports are the ones that create profit-making opportunities for Canadian investors and businesses, while the foreign governments that Ottawa opposes are the ones that deny or limit profit-making opportunities for Canadians looking for investment opportunities around the world.

In other words, what we should find is that what matters is not democracy and respect for human rights, but how good a country’s business and investment climate is.

One measure of the degree to which countries maintain business and investment climates to support the profit-making interests of Canada’s corporate elite is provided by the Index of Economic Freedom. This is an index that is complied annually by the Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation (which is a foundation founded by the Coors family.) The Wall Street Journal, of course, is the chief newspaper of investors in the Western world.

The index ranks countries based on how much profit they allow foreign investors to make, or how many opportunities they provide to people looking for investment opportunities around the world.

Here are the countries that are at the very bottom of the Heritage Foundation/ Wall Street Journal index—the countries that the business and investment communities like the least.

North Korea. The problem with North Korea, in the view of the business and investor community, is state control of the economy and centralized planning, which means all of the economy is in the public sector, and there are virtually no investment opportunities for Canadian investors and business owners.

Zimbabwe. The problem with Zimbabwe is the government’s policy of indigenization, which means, placing ownership of the country’s land and mineral resources in the hands of the indigenous African population. If you want to extract minerals in Zimbabwe, that is, if you want to invest in mining, you’re going to have to take on a domestic partner. Zimbabwe is also not against expropriating land and mineral resources to serve public policy goals. And the goals are to redress historical wrongs related to the colonization of the country by European settlers.

British settlers came to Zimbabwe when it was a British colony called Rhodesia and drove the indigenous people from their land and onto the worst land and denied them any say in the politics of their country. When the indigenous people fought back and won political independence and won the right to vote, they said, “It’s time to get the land back that was stolen from us.”

That raised the question of who was going to compensate the settlers of European origin whose land was going to be redistributed to the indigenous population from which it was originally taken. The Zimbabweans said the British should compensate the settlers because, after all, it was the British who were responsible for the theft of the indigenous people’s land in the first place. When the British said, “No, we’re not going to do that,” the Zimbabweans said, “Fine, we’ll take it back without compensation—which they did, earning them condemnation by governments in the West, all dominated by business interests, who said the idea that any government anywhere should expropriate income-producing property without compensation is intolerable, and that Zimbabwe must be punished severely to send a warning to other governments that anyone who goes down the same path will be punished severely.

So, Zimbabwe says, “It’s time to put the economy of the country in the hands of Zimbabweans.” Investors don’t like that. Their attitude is: All for us and as little as possible for you, ideally, only enough to keep you alive to do the labor we need to make our investments pay off.

Cuba. The problem with Cuba is that only a very small part of it is open to foreign business interests. Virtually all of the economy is in the public sector.

Eritrea. Eritrea is a small country, sometimes known as the Cuba of Africa. It is disliked by the business and investor community because it has a strict command economy in which most private investment has been eliminated and where the economy is almost wholly within the public sector.

Venezuela. The problem with Venezuela, according to the corporate and investor community, is its readiness to impose high taxation rates on businesses and to expropriate land and other private holdings to serve public policy goals. If you’re a business and the Venezuelan government doesn’t like what you’re doing, there’s a big risk they’ll expropriate you.

Myanmar. Myanmar is a country that had a mostly state-owned economy. Western powers, including Canada, imposed sanctions on Myanmar and isolated it diplomatically, on grounds that it was not democratic, though they seemed to have no trouble with other non-democratic, authoritarian states, like Saudi Arabia, for example (which I’ve already talked about.) Then suddenly, about the time Muamar Gaddafi was overthrown in Libya, Myanmar decided it wanted to open its economy to foreign investment and exports, and quickly Western powers began to lift sanctions and restore diplomatic relations. If you’ve been following the news, you’ll know that Obama was in Myanmar recently, where there’s some concern that Myanmar isn’t transitioning quickly enough to a democracy, but all the same Obama was pretty tolerant. And he was tolerant because Myanmar is moving in the right direction economically, providing investment and business opportunities for corporate American, and that’s what really matters to Washington, not whether Myanmar becomes a democracy.

Libya under Gaddafi. Libya’s problem was that Gaddafi was practicing what the US State Department called resource nationalism, which was imposing conditions on foreign investment that said if you’re going to invest here you have to provide jobs and other advantages to Libyans. Gaddafi said a lot of Westerners have made a lot of money from our oil, and now it’s our turn to derive some benefit from it. Western oil companies didn’t like that because giving more to the Libyans meant less for them. So, if you could get rid of Gaddafi, and replace him with someone who wasn’t so insistent on Libyans sharing in the benefits of Libya’s oil wealth, so much the better for oil companies.

Finally, Iran. The problem with Iran, from the point of view of the corporate elite, is that it prohibits foreign investment in major sectors of its economy. Banking is off limits to foreign investment. The telecom industry is out of bounds. You can’t invest in transportation. Oil and gas are treated as strategic industries. And there are restrictions placed on investment in other sectors.

So, these are among the bottom 10 countries on the Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal index.

They are, to a country, communist, socialist, or economically nationalist, and it’s not surprising that the business and investor community should dislike them. They offer few, or no, opportunities for foreign investment and when they do offer opportunities, they insist on taking a cut of the profits.

Significantly, governments that are perennially targets of Western regime change efforts rank at or near the bottom of the index. All of the countries I talked about are countries that Western powers, including Canada, would like to change the governments in.

Syria scores fairly low on the index as well. Its economy is, to some extent socialist, and the Assad government is economically nationalist. It pursues many of the same policies these other countries pursue.

Efforts to change governments in these countries are invariably attributed to some praiseworthy or necessary goal, like promoting democracy or protecting vulnerable populations or combating state sponsorship of terrorism.

For example, the official reason why we participated in the air war on Libya was to prevent Gaddafi from slaughtering his people.

That’s a pretty effective way to get the public behind you. All you have to say is that some leader is planning to slaughter his people, and if you say, “How do you know?” the answer is: “Do you want to stand by and let a genocide happen?”

The same method was used by the United States to build public support for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Washington said Iraq had banned weapons. When asked what proof they had, some in the Bush administration said, “We might not know for sure, but do you want to wait and find out when a mushroom cloud rises in the sky?”

So, justifying the use of force on the grounds that there is some necessary or praiseworthy reason for it is often used. It is also used in domestic policy.

The political scientist Ralph Miliband once wrote that “On innumerable occasions, and in all capitalist countries, governments have played a decisive role in defeating strikes, often through the coercive power of the state and the use of naked violence, done so in the name of the national interest, law and order, constitutional government or protection of the public rather than simply to support employers.”

And that’s what happens when Western countries like Canada intervene in the affairs of other countries. The intervention is always portrayed as some noble, humanitarian or necessary cause, and never what it actually is, which is intervening to protect or promote the interests of investors and business owners.

Which is why all the noble, and humanitarian, and necessary causes seem to be in countries that are the least receptive to foreign investment.

It’s also why none of these noble, humanitarian, and necessary causes are in countries where governments welcome foreign investment and bend over backwards to make sure business owners make as much profit as they possibly can.

Not one of the top 10 corporate-elite-friendly countries on the Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal index is a target of Western regime change. These are: Hong Kong; Singapore; Australia; Switzerland; New Zealand; Canada; Chile; Mauritius; Ireland; and Denmark.

None of the countries in the top half are targets of Western regime change efforts.

How could this be?

If regime change were linked to human rights concerns and not unfavourable investment and business climates, you might expect to find regime change targets scattered throughout the rankings, rather than bunched up at the bottom and none at the top.

But that doesn’t happen.

All the countries that Western powers, including Canada, are against happen to be at the bottom of the index in terms of the attractiveness of their investment and business climates.

Now, you could object to my reasoning. You could say that countries with favourable investment and business climates are also democracies that respect human rights, which is why the worst offenders on both counts are found at the bottom of the list.

However, this couldn’t possibly be true.

And here’s why:

The United State is ranked as the 12th most attractive country in the world in terms of its business and investment climate, but it has an atrocious human rights record. Think about it. There’s Guantanamo Bay, which is territory in Cuba that the United States has no legitimate right to, but which it holds by force, on which is located a prison to hold people indefinitely, some of whom were simply resisting a foreign invasion and occupation of their country; there was the scandal at the US-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq where prisoners were abused; there’s the practice of water-boarding prisoners, which is torture; there is extrajudicial assassination, where targets are assassinated on suspicion, and US citizens living abroad are now considered legitimate targets if they’re seen to be at war with the United States; there’s the massive spying of the US government on its own citizens, that was revealed by Edward Snowden, and which Canada is equally guilty of, all of which makes East Germany, which was supposed to be the model of the police state, look quite tame; there are restrictions in the United States on travel to Cuba; the United States has the largest per capita prison population in the world; and the treatment of minority populations in the United States, especially blacks, is deplorable.

The United States keeps up a fiction that it’s a model of tolerance and respect for human rights as a way of asserting its self-claimed moral authority around the world to justify its military interventions, but it has no moral authority to assert.

So it can’t be true that countries that have attractive business and investment climates are the ones that have the greatest respect for human rights. They have the greatest respect for the rights of investors, and business owners, and employers, but are indifferent to the rights of anyone else.

How about Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia’s woman-hating, head-chopping, anti-democratic, crowned dictatorship, which ranks in the top half of the Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal index, is without question the least free country in the world in terms of political and civil liberties. So, a good business and investment climate does not go hand in hand with respect for human rights.

Let’s talk about Bahrain. Bahrain’s foreign investment climate is ranked next to the United States. Regionally, Bahrain is top ranked in North Africa and West Asia, while under Gaddafi, Libya was ranked 173 of 179 countries—close to last in the world, and dead last in regional rankings.

Bahrain, which is home to the US 5th Fleet, is an investor’s dream. If you’ve got money to invest, that’s where you might want to put it.

The government won’t expropriate you, that’s guaranteed, but in Libya, there was always a chance that Gaddafi would, especially if he thought that you weren’t doing enough to help the Libyan economy grow and work for Libyans.

If you wanted to invest in Libya under Gaddafi, the first thing you had to do was convince the government that the investment was good for Libya. Then you had to take on certain obligations as the price of being allowed to invest in the country. And finally you had to find Libyan partners to take on a 35 percent stake in your enterprise.

Contrast that with Bahrain. In Bahrain there’s no screening of foreign investment, there are no obligations on investors to help Bahrain’s economy develop, and you don’t have to take on local partners.

Gaddafi barred investors from taking all of their profits out of the country. He said, you have to reinvest some of your profits here in Libya.

But in Bahrain things are quite different. You can take all of your profits out the country. The government doesn’t ask that you reinvest in the economy.

If you wanted to export goods to Libya, you might have been in trouble, because Gaddafi used a number of barriers and subsidies to help Libyan firms compete and grow and develop.

Also, if you were a business operating in Libya you were subject to tax rates of up to 40 percent. By contrast, Bahrain has no corporate tax, expect on oil companies.

So, if you’re an investor, scouring the globe for opportunities, Bahrain looks like a pretty interesting place. Libya under Gaddafi looked like a nightmare to investors (though not so much of a nightmare to the people who were living there.)

A year after Gaddafi was overthrown, The Wall Street Journal reported that oil companies had been livid with the oil deals the Gaddafi government had been negotiating with them. They said, Gaddafi was demanding too much and they “hoped regime change in Libya…would bring relief in some of the tough terms they had agreed to in partnership deals” with Libya’s national oil company.

Wikileaks obtained a US State Department cable that warned that those “who dominate Libya’s political and economic leadership are pursuing increasingly nationalistic policies in the energy sector.”

And the cable went on to say that there was “growing evidence of Libyan resource nationalism”—which means trying to use Libya’s natural resources for the benefit of Libyans, rather than giving it all away to Western oil companies.

The cable then criticized Gaddafi for a speech he made where he said: “Oil companies are controlled by foreigners who have made millions from them. Now, Libyans must take their place to profit from this money.”

So, Gaddafi was challenging the attitude of investors of “all for us and as little as possible for you” by demanding “some for us and less for you.” And that attitude was intolerable to Western governments—not surprising, since as we’ve seen, Western government are dominated by business and investor interests.

The oil companies, it turned out, where also very unhappy with what they called Gaddafi’s efforts to “‘Libyanize’ the economy,” that is, to let Libyans have a greater stake in their own economy. So Gaddafi said, if you want to operate in Libya, you have to hire Libyan managers, you have to hire Libyan finance people, you have to hire Libyan human resources directors, and so on.

Well, that was just too much for the oil companies, who wanted to put their own people in Libya. They couldn’t have Gaddafi telling them who to hire.

Here’s what The New York Times said: “Colonel Gaddafi proved to be a problematic partner for international oil companies.”

Why? Because he said, “If you want to operate here, you have to contribute to our economy. You have to hire Libyans. You have to re-invest in the country. You can’t just suck up all our oil wealth, take the profits out of the country, and leave us with nothing but a hole in the ground.”

But over in Bahrain, the crowned dictator and his family sing a different tune. They say, “Hey, take it all. We don’t care. Just leave enough for us to live in our grand palaces, and protect us from revolts by our own people.”

Funny, isn’t it, that Gaddafi, who was trying to make deals with foreign investors to develop his own country and create jobs for his own people has been presented in the media and by politicians as a clown and a monster, while the family dictatorship of Bahrain which allows foreign firms to vacuum up as much of Bahrain’s oil wealth as possible with no obligation to help develop the economy, get invited to royal weddings in London, and when they crush pro-democracy demonstrations, the media and politicians say next to nothing.

The double-standard we’ve practiced in bombing Libya but not Bahrain, shows that the stated reasons for the Libyan intervention were a sham. We were in on the campaign to get rid of Gaddafi because he was making life a little less profitable for oil companies, with all of his demands that if they were going to get rich on Libya’s oil then maybe they should give something back to Libyans in the way of jobs and reinvestment.

If we were to define Canadian foreign policy the definition would be this: The foreign policy of Canada is not motivated by the promotion of democracy and respect for human rights. It is not aimed at securing a benefit for the majority of Canadians. It doesn’t care one iota whether foreign governments are killing their own people. Instead, the aim of Canadian foreign policy is to work with the United States and its NATO allies to promote and protect foreign investment opportunities for investors and major corporations.

If that’s what Canadian foreign policy is—if it’s all about helping investors and business owners make money in foreign markets—how does it hurt Canadian workers, if indeed, it hurts Canadians workers at all? I mean, what’s wrong with helping investors and business owners make money? Does that hurt workers?

Well, the first thing I would say is that foreign policy has nothing to do with helping workers or looking out for their interests.

In Lecture I, I asked, when politicians and bureaucrats sit down in Ottawa to formulate the country’s foreign policy do they ask:

• How can we structure our foreign policy to get more job security for our workers at home?
• How can we structure our foreign policy to get better pay and working conditions for our workers at home?
• How can we structure our foreign policy to create full-employment?
• How can we structure our foreign policy to help trade unions?

No, of course not. They ask: How can we structure our foreign policy to help the business and investor community which lobbies us daily, which gives us lucrative jobs when we finish our political careers, whose high ranking members are working with us in key policy decision-making roles, who own the mass media and can shape public opinion to turn the public against us?

They don’t care about our interests.

In fact, Canadian foreign policy is hostile to all the goals we would hope that Canadian foreign policy would be about.

Take, for example, the idea of safeguarding our physical safety against external threat. That should be the role of the military: self-defence. I mean, we have an army and a navy and an air force to protect us from invasion. Or at least, that’s what they’re supposed to do.

But we sent CF-18s to bomb Libya. Was Libya a threat to Canada? Were Gaddafi’s forces going to invade us?

We sent CF-18s to bomb Yugoslavia in 1999. Was Yugoslavia a threat to Canada? Were Yugoslav forces going to invade us?

The answer to all these questions was no. But we sent warplanes anyway. That means we engaged in wars of aggression, not self-defence, but aggressions, which are illegal under international law.

You don’t hear much about international law, except when countries that aren’t our allies violate it. Obama yesterday said, in connection with the Ukraine, with jaw-dropping hypocrisy, that countries shouldn’t invade other countries, as if the United States and Britain didn’t invade Iraq—as if the United States, and Britain, and Canada, and other NATO countries, didn’t invade Afghanistan.

He also said that countries shouldn’t finance proxy groups to break countries apart, as if the United States isn’t financing and directing the Free Syrian Army as a proxy group to break up Syria.

So, what happens when you bomb someone else’s country, and there’s no legitimate reason for doing so?

Well, the woman who was the director general of Britain’s domestic intelligence agency at the time of the US-British invasion of Iraq in 2003, Lady Manningham-Buller, can tell you what happens.

In 2010, seven years after the United States and Britain invaded Iraq, she made a confession at an official inquiry.

She said Iraq was never a danger to Britain.

That may seem like a shock, but anyone who was paying attention at the time could see that Iraq was never a danger to Britain or the United States.

The UN’s chief weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, kept affirming that Iraq had destroyed its weapons of mass destruction.

And the evidence that Britain and the United States were putting forward to make the case that Iraq was concealing banned weapons was laughable. You may remember that the whole process was called “sexing up the evidence”—which is another way of saying “making it up”, which, if it wasn’t clear back then that it was made up, is undeniable today.

But even if Iraq did have banned weapons—and everyone knows now that they didn’t—even if they did, Iraq would still have posed absolutely no real threat to Britain.

Saddam Hussein wasn’t going to attack Britain. He didn’t have the means to. And he didn’t have any reason to either, unless he had a grand plan to commit suicide, which he didn’t.

When Manningham-Buller confessed that Iraq had posed no threat to Britain, she was simply stating the obvious that anyone who paid attention and had half a brain could have figured out for himself.

But then she said something interesting. She said that while Iraq had posed no danger, the invasion itself created a danger. The invasion itself created a danger, by radicalizing Iraqis, and Muslims living in surrounding countries who sympathized with the plight of the people who were being bombed, and shot at, and terrorized, and driven from their homes.

The invasion created an insurgency. The invasion radicalized Muslims and others who vowed to take revenge. The invasion created al-Qaeda in Iraq, which later became ISIS.

So if the British military’s function is to protect British citizens from threats, it had spectacularly failed, because its actions did the very opposite. They created a threat that had not previously existed. They created the threat of what the CIA called “blowback”—which is retaliation by people who are angry and upset by the harm you’ve done to them.

So by invading Iraq, rather than protecting the safety of the British people, the British military put the British people in harm’s way.

There’s a political scientist named Robert Pape, who began studying every case of suicide terrorism that has happened in the world since 1980.

Pape asked, what motivates suicide terrorism? A lot of people think it’s religious fanaticism, or specifically Muslim fanaticism. But Pape found that the leader in suicide terrorism in the world wasn’t fundamentalist Muslims, but the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. And the Tamil Tigers aren’t religious. They’re secular. They’re atheists. Their ideology is Marxism-Leninism.

So he said, well, it can’t be religious fanaticism that explains suicide terrorism, so what is it?

And what he found that is common to all the groups that practice suicide terrorism is this: They are all trying to drive foreign militaries from territory they consider to be their homeland.

It’s not that they’re religious fanatics. It’s just that they object to their country or homeland being occupied by a foreign military, and they choose suicide terrorism as a way of driving the foreign occupiers out.

The same is true of al-Qaeda and bin Laden. You don’t hear much about why al-Qaeda launched its terrorist attacks on 9/11, just silly things like, “they hate our freedoms.” Something that Pape pointed out is that terrorist attacks are not random acts of violence without an objective. They’re well-planned, well thought out, and they have a goal: And the goal is driving a foreign military from territory the terrorists consider their homeland.

When Manningham-Buller in Britain said the US-British occupation of Iraq created a threat by radicalizing Muslims, what she really meant was that some people would resort to terrorism as way to drive the British and the Americans out of territory they consider their home.

When you look at what bin Laden said about why he was using terrorism against the United States you see the same motivation that Pape talked about and that Manningham-Buller acknowledged when she said the invasion of Iraq created a threat by making people in Iraq very angry.

Just some background. The United States has military bases sprinkled throughout the Middle East. It had troops in Saudi Arabia, but later withdrew most of them, but still has a small military base in the Kingdom. But it has bases in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, as well as in Turkey and Afghanistan. These are all countries in which most people are Muslim.

So here, in bin Laden’s words, are the reasons he launched a war of terrorism against the United States. He said, the reason why was because US forces were “occupying the lands of Islam…. plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorising its neighbours, and turning its bases…into a spearhead through which to fight the neighbouring Muslim peoples.”

This fits with what Pape found about all groups that practice suicide terrorism. They’re saying, “Look, this is our country. Get out of it.” Bin Laden was saying, “Look, stop meddling in traditionally Muslim territory. Withdraw your forces. Stop propping up puppet governments in the region. ”

He said the same thing to the Soviets when the Soviets occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s. Back then, bin Laden was involved in the war to drive the Soviets out of territory the jihadists considered to be a Muslim homeland.

And back then, Washington thought he was a great guy and supported his struggle, calling him and other jihadists “freedom fighters” rather than “terrorists.” But of course, the United States only liked him so long as he was fighting against governments they were against, like the Soviet Union, or the Marxist-Leninist government in Afghanistan at the time.

This is the idea of the enemy of my enemy is my friend. But the moment bin Laden tried to drive the United States out of territory he considered a Muslim homeland he was transformed from a “freedom fighter” into an “evil terrorist.”

The same thing is happening in Syria. No one in Washington or Ottawa had much bad to say about ISIS when it was slaughtering its way across Syria, blowing up school children because they adhered to the wrong brand of Islam and decapitating captured Syrian soldiers, but the moment they threatened the Iraqi government, which Washington and Ottawa support, they became the epitome of evil, whereas in Syria, they weren’t evil at all…just rebels fighting a tyrant.

Violent Muslim fundamentalists have little appeal in the Arab and Muslim worlds. But they do support causes that have a broad appeal to Muslims and Arabs. They support the self-determination of the Palestinians. They demand the removal of unpopular US military bases from the region. They resist dictatorial regimes, like Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain that the United States and Canada support.

In other words, the Arab and Muslim worlds support the goals of the terrorists. They might not support their methods, but they support their goals.

Now, the British government, and the US government, and the Canadian government, know this. They know that people in the Arab and Muslim worlds don’t like our foreign policies. They know that people in the Arab and Muslim worlds are angry at us. And they know that some of these people are going to strike out against us in anger. But they keep doing the things that make these people angry, not because they’re stupid, but because the rewards to the business and investor community of Western powers controlling a very important oil-producing region are much greater than their concern for the safety of ordinary people in Canada.

CSIS has warned that we have been in the top five of al Qaeda targets for over a decade, and for three reasons: One, because Canada sent the military into Afghanistan. Two, because of Ottawa’s support for Israel against the Palestinians. And three, because we sent CF-18s to bomb ISIS positions in Iraq.

Now, we can analyze this the way Lady Manningham-Buller analyzed the British invasion of Iraq.

Did the Taliban government in Afghanistan pose a threat to Canada? No.

Do the Palestinians’ efforts to achieve self-determination pose a threat to Canada? No.

Did ISIS pose a threat to Canada before we joined the campaign to degrade and ultimately eliminate it? No.

So, none of these are threats.

Does invading Afghanistan, supporting the Israelis against the Palestinians, and bombing Iraq, create a threat by angering people in the Muslim and Arab worlds? Yes it does.

It creates the threat of terrorism.

I should mention something about terrorism. You’ll find no agreed upon definition of terrorism, and that’s because governments insist on using the term in shifting ways to suit their own political purposes. Bin Laden was transformed from a freedom fighter into a terrorist, not because he changed his methods, but because he changed his targets. Nelson Mandela, once labelled a terrorist, and once banned from entering the United States, was transformed from a terrorist into a heroic figure. So, there’s that old aphorism: One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. And in the United States and Canada one can be a terrorist and freedom fighter at different times, depending on political circumstances.

But we could say that terrorism is the use of violence against civilians for the purpose of inducing civilians to pressure their government to change the policies the terrorists object to.

So, for example, if a supporter of ISIS blows up an airplane in mid-air, the purpose is to frighten people so they start questioning whether their country’s contribution to the air war against ISIS is really worthwhile, and maybe that’s not something the country needs to be involved in.

I call that the terrorism of the weak, to distinguish it from the terrorism of the strong.

Now, it’s sometimes said that terrorism is the weapon of the weak. It’s what people who don’t have a military do.

A good illustration of this is provided in the movie The Battle for Algiers.

The Battle for Algiers is about the campaign of the Arabs of the French colony of Algeria to evict the French, their colonizers. The Arabs used some terrorist methods, like setting off bombs in cafes in French communities in Algeria to terrorize civilians.

In the movie a French journalist asks an Algerian liberation leader: “Don’t you think it’s a bit cowardly to use women’s baskets and handbags to carry explosives that kill so many people?”

And the leader, who would be called a terrorist, or freedom fighter, depending on your perspective, replies: “And doesn’t it seem to you even more cowardly to drop napalm bombs on defenceless villagers so that there are a thousand times more innocent victims? Of course, if we had your airplanes it would be a lot easier for us. Give us your bombs and you can have our baskets.”

So, the liberation leader was saying, “What option do we have? We have no option but to resort to terroristic methods.” Terrorism is the weapon of the weak.

But I object to that characterization, because it obscures the reality that terrorism is also a weapon of the strong.

Let’s go back to the definition of terrorism: the use of violence against civilians for the purpose of inducing civilians to pressure their government to change the policies the terrorists object to.

Do countries, like Canada or the United States, ever use violence against civilians in other countries for the purpose of inducing those civilians to pressure their governments to change the policies that Canada or the United States object to?

Well, listen to this.

In 1999, The Globe and Mail carried an interview with U.S. Air Force Lt. General Michael Short. At the time, Canada was involved, along with the United States and other NATO countries, in bombing Yugoslavia, which was done over a period of about 3 months.

What you should know about Yugoslavia is that it was a communist country. At the time of the bombing, it was coming apart, with various republics splitting off, or trying to split off. The government in power was the successor to the communist party, and still maintained a largely socialist economy, which was enough to make Western powers hate it. The West had delivered an ultimatum to the government, and in a secret appendix had demanded a transition to a market economy. The ultimatum was rejected, and NATO started bombing on the pretext that there was a genocide in progress that needed to be stopped in Kosovo, a part of Yugoslavia at the time.

At the end of the conflict forensic pathologists rushed to Kosovo, which was where a civil war had been going on between the government and a rebel army that had been trained, equipped and funded by Western powers. The forensic pathologists were ready to document the genocide that NATO said had been in progress and which, it said, had prompted it to intervene. But when they got there, they found no evidence of a genocide, and left in disgust, complaining that they had been duped, which they, and the rest of the world, had been.

So, as NATO forces, including Canadian CF-18s were dropping bombs on civilian targets, and killing innocent civilians, and destroying roads, power plants, bridges and factories, The Globe and Mail asked General Short to explain what the objectives of the bombing campaign were.

I’m going to quote what he said, and compare what he says, to the definition of terrorism of inducing civilians to pressure their government to change its policies.

“If you wake up in the morning and you have no power to your house and no gas to your stove and the bridge you take to work is down and will be lying in the Danube for the next 20 years, I think you begin to ask, ‘Hey, Slobo? (Slobo being a reference to the president at the time.) Hey Slobo. How much more of this do we have to withstand?’”

That is terrorism. It’s the use of violence against civilians to induce them to pressure their government. So terrorism is not only used by ISIS and al-Qaeda. It’s used by NATO powers, as well, including Canada.

Let me wrap up.

We don’t live in a democracy. It might be called a democracy. We might have elections. But the kind of society in which we live is more accurately described as a plutocracy—rule by wealthy business owners and investors.

Having a lot of money, I don’t need to tell you, is enormously advantageous. It will not only give you access to all the good things in life, it will also give you enormous political influence.

With money you can buy lobbyists to represent your interests in Ottawa, each day and every day.

With money you can buy politicians, with promises of lucrative jobs when they leave political life.

With control over major corporations, you can get your point of view heard in Ottawa whenever you want.

With money you can shape public opinion to support positions that favor your interests.

Governments have dual constituencies. They have their own populations but they also have the investor community, both here at home and abroad. If investors don’t like the government’s policies they can hurt the economy, by speculating against the currency or withdrawing or curtailing their investments or forcing massive layoffs—a kind of economic terrorism. Do what we say and nobody gets hurt.

The way to create a true democracy, in place of the current plutocracy, is to take power out of the hands of the wealthy elite, and bring the economy under public control, where it can be democratically managed. That way, we can make public policy, including foreign policy, work for us.

In a real democracy, when politicians and bureaucrats get together in Ottawa to formulate foreign policy, they’ll ask, how can we structure our foreign policy to get:

• More job security for our workers at home?
• Better pay and better working conditions for our workers at home?
• Full-employment?
• More free or nearly free public services, like transportation, healthcare, child care, and education?
• A Canada that is free from the threat of blowback?

Getting there won’t be easy. To paraphrase Edward Dowling, the two greatest obstacles to democracy are the widespread delusion among ordinary people that we have one and the fear among the rich that we might get one. But get one, we must.