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.

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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.

The Real Reason Washington is Worried about North Korea’s ICBM Test

With its ICBM test signaling its capability to retaliate against US aggression, North Korea has made clear that the United States’ seven decades long effort to topple its government may never come to fruition—a blow against US despotism, and an advance for peace, and for democracy on a world scale

July 5, 2017

By Stephen Gowans

A number of countries have recently tested ballistic or cruise missiles and a handful, not least Russia and China, possess nuclear-tipped ICBMs capable of striking the United States. And yet the missiles and nuclear weapons program of only one of these countries, North Korea, arouses consternation in Washington.

What makes tiny North Korea, within its miniscule defense budget, and rudimentary nuclear arsenal and missile capability, a threat so menacing that “worry has spread in Washington and the United Nations”? [1]

http://www.barakabooks.com/catalogue/patriots-traitors-and-empires/
“The truth,” it has been said, “is often buried on the front page of The New York Times.” [2] This is no less true of the real reason Washington frets about North Korea’s missile tests.

In a July 4, 2017 article titled “What can Trump do about North Korea? His options are few and risky,” reporter David E. Sanger, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the unofficial think-tank of the US State Department, reveals why Washington is alarmed by North Korea’s recent test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

“The fear,” writes Sanger, “is not that [North Korean leader] Mr. Kim would launch a pre-emptive attack on the West Coast; that would be suicidal, and if the North’s 33-year-old leader has demonstrated anything in his five years in office, he is all about survival.”

Washington’s alarm, according to Sanger, is that “Mr. Kim [now] has the ability to strike back.” In other words, Pyongyang has acquired the means of an effective self-defense. That, writes Sanger, makes North Korea “a dangerous regime.”

Indeed, to a world hegemon like the United States, any renitent foreign government that refuses to place itself in the role of vassal becomes “a dangerous regime,” which must be eliminated. Accordingly, allowing pro-independence North Korea to develop the means to more effectively defend itself against US imperialist ambitions has no place in Washington’s playbook. The United States has spent the past 70 years trying to integrate the tiny, plucky, country into its undeclared empire. Now, with North Korea’s having acquired the capability to retaliate against US military aggression in a manner that would cause considerable harm to the US homeland, the prospects of those seven-decades of investment bearing fruit appear dim.

US hostility to North Korean independence has been expressed in multifarious ways over the seven decades of North Korea’s existence.

A three-year US-led war of aggression, from 1950 to 1953, exterminated 20 percent of North Korea’s population and burned to the ground every town in the country [3], driving the survivors into subterranean shelters, in which they lived and worked. US General Douglas MacArthur said of the destruction the United States visited upon North Korea that “I have never seen such devastation…After I looked at the wreckage and those thousands of women and children and everything, I vomited.” [4]

A vicious seven-decades-long campaign of economic warfare, aimed at crippling the country’s economy, and engendering attendant miseries among its people, has conferred upon North Korea the unhappy distinction of being the most heavily sanctioned nation on earth. Nestled among the tranches of US sanctions are those that have been imposed because North Korea has chosen “a Marxist-Leninist economy,” [5] revealing what lies at the root of US hostility to the country.

For decades, North Koreans have lived under a US nuclear Sword of Damocles, subjected repeatedly to threats of nuclear annihilation, including being turned into “charcoal briquettes” [6] and “completely destroyed,” so that they “literally cease to exist” [7]—and this before they had nuclear weapons and the rudimentary means to deliver them. In other words, in threats to vaporize North Koreans, Washington has threatened to make them the successors to aboriginal Americans as objects of US perpetrated genocides.

We should remind ourselves why North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in the first place. As University of Chicago history professor Bruce Cumings writes, for North Korea the nuclear crisis began in late February 1993, when

“General Lee Butler, head of the new U.S. ‘Strategic Command,’ announced that he was retargeting strategic nuclear weapons (i.e., hydrogen bombs) meant for the old U.S.S.R, on North Korea (among other places.) At the same time, the new CIA chief, James Woolsey, testified that North Korea was ‘our most grave current concern.’ By mid-March 1993, tens of thousands of [US] soldiers were carrying out war games in Korea…and in came the B1-B bombers, B-52s from Guam, several naval vessels carrying cruise missiles, and the like: whereupon the North pulled out of the NPT.” [8]

Two and half decades later the B1-B bombers and several naval vessels carrying cruise missiles—this time, US ‘power-projecting” aircraft carriers—are back.

Last month, Washington sent not one, but two aircraft carriers, the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Ronald Reagan, to the waters between Japan and Korea, to conduct “exercises,” “a show of force not seen there for more than two decades,” reported The Wall Street Journal. [9]

At the same time, the Pentagon sent B1-B strategic bombers, not once, but twice last month, to conduct simulated nuclear bombing runs “near the Military Demarcation Line that divides the two Koreas;” in other words, along the North Korean border. [10]

Understandably, North Korea denounced the simulated bombing missions for what they were: grave provocations. If the communist country’s new self-defensive capabilities spurred consternation in Washington, then Washington’s overt display of its offensive might legitimately enkindled alarm in Pyongyang. The Wall Street Journal summed up the US provocations this way: the “U.S. military has conducted several flyovers near the Korean Peninsula using B-1B [i.e., nuclear] bombers and directed a Navy aircraft carrier group to the region—all to North Korea’s consternation.” [11]

Robert Litwak, director of international security studies for the Wilson Center, explains the reason for Pyongyang’s consternation, if it’s not already blindingly obvious. US-led war games “[may look] like a defensive maneuver for us, [but] from North Korea‘s perspective, they may think we’re preparing an attack when you start bringing B2 fighters.” [12]

In January, North Korea offered to “sit with the U.S. anytime” to discuss US war games and its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Pyongyang proposed that the United States “contribute to easing tension on the Korean peninsula by temporarily suspending joint military exercises in south Korea and its vicinity this year, and said that in this case the DPRK is ready to take such responsive steps as temporarily suspending the nuclear test over which the U.S. is concerned.” [13]

The North Korean proposal was seconded by China and Russia [14] and recently by South Korea’s new president Moon Jae-in. [15] But Washington peremptorily rejected the proposal, refusing to acknowledge any equivalency between US-led war games, which US officials deem ‘legitimate’ and North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests, which they label ‘illegitimate.” [16]

US rejection of the China-Russia-South Korea-backed North Korean proposal, however, is only rhetorically related to notions of legitimacy, and the question of legitimacy fails to stand up under even the most cursory examination. How are US ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons legitimate and those of North Korea not?

The real reason Washington rejects the North Korean proposal is explained by Sanger: an agreed freeze “essentially acknowledges that the North’s modest arsenal is here to say;” which means that Pyongyang has achieved “the ability to strike back,” to stay the US hand, and deter Washington from launching a regime change aggression in the manner of wars it perpetrated against Saddam and Gaddafi, leaders who led pro-independence governments which, like North Korea, refused to be integrated into the informal US empire, but which, unlike North Korea, relinquished their means of self-defense, and once defenseless, were toppled by US-instigated aggressions.

“That is what Mr. Kim believes his nuclear program will prevent,” writes the Council on Foreign Relations member, referring to the US effort to bring the United States’ seven-decades-long campaign of regime change against Pyongyang to a head. And he may, Sanger concedes, “be right.”

Anyone concerned with democracy should take heart that North Korea, unlike Gaddafi’s Libya and Saddam’s Iraq, has successfully resisted US predations. The United States exercises an international dictatorship, arrogating onto itself the right to intervene in any part of the globe, in order to dictate to others how they should organize their political and economic affairs, to the point, in North Korea, of explicitly waging economic warfare against the country because it has a Marxist-Leninist economy at variance with the economic interests of the upper stratum of US society whose opportunities for profit-making through exports to and investments in North Korea have been accordingly eclipsed.

Those countries which resist despotism are the real champions of democracy, not those which exercise it (the United States) or facilitate it (their allies.) North Korea is calumniated as a bellicose dictatorship, human rights violator and practitioner of cruel and unusual punishment of political dissidents, a description to a tee of Washington’s principal Arab ally, Saudi Arabia, a recipient of almost illimitable military, diplomatic and other favors from the United States, showered on the Arabian tyranny despite its total aversion to democracy, reduction of women to the status of chattel, dissemination of a viciously sectarian Wahhabi ideology, an unprovoked war on Yemen, and the beheading and crucifixion of its political dissidents.

If we are concerned about democracy, we should, as Italian philosopher Domenico Losurdo argues, also be concerned about democracy on a global scale. The worry that has spread in Washington and the United Nations is a worry that democracy on a global scale has just been given a boost. And that should not be a worry for the rest of us, but a warm caress.

1. Foster Klug and Hyung-Jin Kim, “North Korea’s nukes are not on negotiation table: Kim Jong-un,” Reuters, July 5, 2017.

2. This may be attributable to Peter Kuznick, co-writer with Oliver Stone of The Untold History of the United States.

3. According to US Air Force General Curtis LeMay, head of Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, cited in Medi Hasan, “Why do North Koreans hate us? One reason—They remember the Korean War,” The Intercept, May 3, 2017. LeMay said, we “killed off…20 percent of the population…We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea.”

4. Glen Frieden, “NPR can’t help hyping North Korea threat,” FAIR, May 9, 2017.

5. “North Korea: Economic Sanctions,” Congressional Research Service, 2016.

6. Colin Powell warned North Korea that the United States could turn it into a “charcoal briquette.” Bruce Cumings, “Latest North Korean provocations stem from missed US opportunities for demilitarization,” Democracy Now!, May 29, 2009.

7. US General Wesley Clark, quoted in Domenico Losurdo, Non-Violence: A History Beyond the Myth, Lexington Books, 2015, Clark said, “The leaders of North Korea use bellicose language, but they know very well that they do not have a military option available…Were they to attack South Korea, their nation would be completely destroyed. It would literally cease to exist.”

8. Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History, W.W. Norton & Company, 2005. p. 488-489.

9. Gordon Lubold, “North Korea, South China Sea to dominate Defense Secretary’s Asia Trip,” The Wall Street Journal, June 2, 2017.

10. Jonathan Cheng, “U.S. bombers fly near North Korean border after missile launch,” The Wall Street Journal, May 30, 2017.

11. Jonathan Cheng, “North Korea compares Donald Trump to Adolph Hitler,” The Wall Street Journal, June 27, 2017.

12. “US experts argue in favor of scaling down S. Korea-US military exercises,” The Hankyoreh, June 20, 2017.

13. Korean Central News Agency, January 10, 2015.

14. Jonathan Cheng and Alastair Gale, “North Korea missile launch threatens U.S. strategy in Asia,” The Wall Street Journal, July 4, 2017.

15. David E. Sanger, “What can Trump do about North Korea? His options are few and risky,” The New York Times, July 4, 2017.

16. Jonathan Cheng and Alastair Gale, “North Korea missile launch threatens U.S. strategy in Asia,” The Wall Street Journal, July 4, 2017.

Is the United States Credible as a Guarantor of International Peace and Security?

May 31, 2016

By Stephen Gowans

On, March 2, 2016 the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on North Korea, citing the DPRK’s:

• Nuclear test of January 6, 2016;
• Its satellite launch of February 7, 2016, which the Security Council said relied on ballistic missile technology which could be used as a nuclear weapons delivery system. (Is it possible to launch a satellite without ballistic missile technology?)

UN Security Council Resolution 2270, championed by the United States, was approved unanimously by all 15 Security Council members, both permanent, and non-permanent, including Venezuela and Angola.

There is nothing in international law that says:

• A country cannot have nuclear weapons. True, there exists a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but it is only binding on the parties to it, not on those who declined to join it, (like Israel), or have, (as North Korea has done), withdrawn from it.
• There is nothing in international law that says a country cannot have ballistic missiles.
• There is nothing in international law that says a country cannot launch a satellite.

So, on what grounds has the Security Council imposed sanctions on North Korea?

The Security Council defined the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as their means of delivery, as threats to international peace and security, and therefore branded North Korea’s nuclear test and satellite launch as grave concerns. The Security Council also determined that North Korea’s nuclear test posed a danger “to peace and stability in the region and beyond.”

Article 39 of the UN Charter authorizes the Security Council to “determine the existence of any threat to peace” and to take appropriate measures to eclipse it.

North Korea objected, and for the following—I think, very compelling— reasons:

• The Security Council’s definition of what constitutes a threat to international peace and security makes no reference to violations of international law. All that North Korea has done wrong, it seems, is to have engaged in activities the Security Council doesn’t like, but which all of its permanent members have, themselves, engaged in.
• The resolution uniquely defines the DPRK’s nuclear test and satellite launch as threats to peace, but does not define the nuclear tests or satellite launches of its permanent members in the same way.

This naturally raises the question: Why is launching a satellite, developing ballistic missile technology, and nuclear weapons testing, threats when pursued by North Korea, but not when pursued by the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia—or any other country the Security Council chooses not to single out?

Let me suggest two answers.

#1. The first has to do with what the anthropologist Hugh Gusterson called nuclear Orientalism—the idea that we can live with nuclear weapons in the hands of the five permanent members of the Security Council, but proliferation to Third World countries is enormously dangerous. People in the Third World, according to this view, cannot be trusted to make responsible decisions.

The term Orientalism can be confusing, so let’s use another term—“us vs. them thinking.” That’s really what Gusterson means. In us versus them thinking, “they” are defined as the polar opposite of us. We’re rational, dispassionate, responsible, and adults. They’re irrational, lack impulse control, are irresponsible, and are children, requiring a guiding hand. We can be trusted with nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. They cannot.

The Security Council engages in us vs. them thinking when it expresses great concern that Pyongyang is “diverting” resources to “the pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles while DPRK citizens have great unmet needs.” But Gusterson points out that this argument—which was once used against Pakistan and India when they first acquired nuclear weapons— can be applied just as strongly to Western countries.

For example, the United States spends hundreds of billions of dollars on its military, far in excess of what’s required for national defense, while two million US citizens live without shelter, and another 36 million live below the official poverty line. So why isn’t the Security Council expressing great concern that Washington is “diverting” resources to “the pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles while US citizens have great unmet needs”?

#2. Another reason for uniquely declaring North Korea’s nuclear test and rockets as threats to international peace and security, but not those of the permanent members of the Security Council, is the wish to enforce a nuclear apartheid, the idea of limiting the means of self-defense through nuclear deterrence to a small elite of nations—the permanent members of the Security Council, and a key US military asset, Israel—which can then use their privileged positions as holders of the world’s most formidable weapons to threaten the security, independence and sovereignty of non-nuclear states.

We might like to think of the UN Charter as the best way to promote peace and stability in the world, but whatever its merits as a charter for peace, it is also an instrument for the domination of small countries by the largest and most powerful states. What’s to protect those small states which seek to chart a course of independent self-development outside the orbit of the world’s imperial powers from the depredations of the Security Council’s permanent members? Certainly not the UN Charter, since it accords the Security Council—the world’s largest powers—illimitable authority to penalize small states simply for engaging in activities it doesn’t like, including developing the means to defend themselves, and to launch their own satellites rather than having to depend on large powers to do so on their behalf, for a profit.

And does anyone seriously think that the United States—whose leaders worship the cult of Mars, and which has spread death and destruction from Korea to Vietnam to Afghanistan to Iraq and points in between—can credibly act as the primus inter pares member of a council authorized to preserve peace and international security?

As the political scientist Kenneth Waltz has argued controversially, but not without cogency, the greatest deterrent to war may be nuclear weapons. War against a nuclear armed opponent makes the cost of aggression too incalculable and too uncertain to pursue. Yet, it is precisely the only effective means of deterrence against conquest available to North Korea—a country incessantly threatened by the United States and Washington’s neo-colony South Korea, and soon by its former colonial master, Japan (if Washington has its way)—which the UN Security Council seeks to deny the DPRK.

Is it a concern for peace and international security that motivates the United States and its Security Council cohorts to penalize North Korea ? No. UN Security Council Resolution 2270 originates in a desire–particularly that of the United States–to dominate.

North Korea Challenges Legal Basis for Latest UN Sanctions Resolution

May 26, 2016

By Stephen Gowans

The DPRK (North Korea) has asked the UN Secretary General to explain the legal grounds on which the Security Council issued a sanctions resolution branding the country’s recent satellite launch and nuclear test as a “threat to international peace and security.”

On May 23, the DPRK permanent representative to the UN, Pak Kil-yon, posed the following questions in a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. The questions were formulated in light of the DPRK’s finding that nowhere “in related international laws, including the UN Charter, the UN General Assembly resolutions, the CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty), the NPT (Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty), (or) the Outer Space Treaty” are nuclear tests or satellite launches deemed a “threat to international peace and security.”

Pak asked:

o The UN Secretary General to clarify “the legal ground for determining the DPRK’s nuclear tests and satellite and ballistic rocket launches as a “threat to international peace and security.”
o Why “the UN Security Council … never made an issue of, nor enforced any, sanctions on the United States and other countries,” which have tested nuclear weapons and have “regular satellite and ballistic rocket launches,” if indeed these activities are truly considered threats to international peace and security.

The letter ends with a conclusion that it would be difficult for anyone of an unbiased mind not to draw, namely, that “the UN Security Council has gone beyond (its) powers,” and that those of its members who have themselves launched satellites and tested nuclear weapons have “committed an act of double standard.”

Indeed, the UN Security Council resolutions respecting North Korea’s nuclear tests and satellite launch can be, and ought to be, denounced as “nuclear orientalism” (the racist, colonialist idea that nuclear weapons are the most dangerous when in the hands of Third World leaders) and an attempt to enforce a “nuclear apartheid” (limiting the means of self-defense through nuclear deterrence to a small elite of nations, which can then use their privileged positions as holders of the world’s most formidable weapons to threaten the security, independence and sovereignty of non-nuclear states. This, the United States has done on innumerable occasions, and in doing so has created the structural logic that has compelled the DPRK to develop a nuclear deterrent.)

Why UN Sanctions Against North Korea Are Wrong

What the U.S. really wants is not the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula but the Americanization of the Korean peninsula.” [1]

March 7, 2016

By Stephen Gowans

After successfully concluding negotiations with China to craft a new raft of international sanctions against North Korea, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power stepped in front of reporters to declare that the northeast Asian country, “one of the most brutal regimes the world has ever known,” would not be allowed to achieve “its declared goal of developing nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles. The international community cannot allow” this to happen, she said. “The United States will not allow this to happen.” [2]

A week later, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) issued a resolution imposing the new tranche of sanctions on “the most sanctioned nation in the world,” as George W. Bush had once called North Korea. [3] “The resolution,” noted the Wall Street Journal, “mandates countries to inspect all cargo to and from North Korea, cut off shipments of aircraft and rocket fuel, ban all weapons sales and restrict all revenues to the government unless for humanitarian purposes.” [4] Bush had promised that “the most sanctioned nation in the world” would “remain the most sanctioned nation in the world.” [5] The Security Council agreed.

Since 1998, North Korea has conducted four nuclear tests, the latest on January 6, and has launched six rockets capable of carrying satellites into orbit (which the United States has called disguised ballistic missile tests.) But over the same period, the United States has developed new precision-guided “dial-a-yield” nuclear weapons to make their use more thinkable, built new non-nuclear weapons of mass destruction, and spent $8 billion annually to maintain and modernize its nuclear arsenal. At the same time, numerous countries have launched satellites into orbit and some have tested long range ballistic missiles. So why is North Korea singled out, while the United States and a number of its allies continue to test rocket technology and bolster their nuclear arsenals?

There are no legitimate grounds which justify the March 2, 2016 round of sanctions the Security Council imposed on North Korea. The beleaguered country’s nuclear weapons testing and satellite launch violate no international law and present no realistic threat to the United States or its allies, a reality acknowledge by its own generals and the country’s newspaper of record. North Korea legitimately withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which bans countries which do not have nuclear weapons from developing them in exchange for assistance in developing peaceful applications of nuclear energy. North Korea is therefore under no international obligation to refrain from using nuclear technology for military purposes. Neither is the country in violation of any law prohibiting the use of rockets to loft satellites into orbit. No such law exists. And while the rocket North Korea used to launch a satellite last month was not a ballistic missile, there are no laws which prohibit ballistic missile development, possession, or testing.

Many countries use rockets to launch satellites, and several have developed or possess ballistic missiles. A number of countries have nuclear weapons, most of which, the United States excepted, maintain their nuclear arsenals with the sole stated intention of deterring aggression and preventing nuclear blackmail. North Korea says its nuclear weapons are purely defensive. This is credible. Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal is too small, and its means of delivering warheads too uncertain, for the country to initiate a nuclear exchange and hope to survive. The United States, in contrast, refuses to rule out the first-use deployment of nuclear arms and has repeatedly threatened North Korea with nuclear annihilation, the principal reason the northeast Asian country has taken recourse to developing a nuclear weapons program as a means of self-defense.

North Korea has faced repeated threats of nuclear and conventional attack by the United States.

• In 1993, the U.S. Strategic Command announced it was targeting some of its ICBMs on North Korea. [6]
• In 2001, the Bush administration identified North Korea as a possible target of nuclear attack (along with Libya, Syria, China, Russia, Iran and Iraq.) [7]
• According to the Stimson Center, a U.S. public policy think-tank, from 1970 to 2010, the United States threatened North Korea with nuclear destruction on six separate occasions. [8]
• On one occasion the United States’ top soldier, Colin Powell, warned North Korea that the United States could turn it into a “charcoal briquette.” [9]

Additionally, the United States issued a virtual declaration of war against North Korea in 2002, when the Bush administration declared the country part of an “Axis of Evil,” along with Iran and Iraq. One of these countries, Iraq, was soon invaded and occupied by the United States and Britain on the basis of a tissue of lies. The United States and Britain alleged that the country had concealed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in defiance of a Security Council resolution ordering their destruction. In fact, Iraq had eliminated its WMD arsenals, leaving itself virtually defenceless against attack, a vulnerability Washington and London exploited. Following the invasion, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, John Bolton, warned North Korea to draw the appropriate lesson [10], strengthening the threat of aggression implied in the original designation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea’s official name, or DPRK) as an Axis of Evil state.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

North Korea joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1985. The treaty, in force since March 5, 1970, commits treaty members “to pursue negotiations in good faith on measures relating to…nuclear disarmament.” The treaty divides signatories into two categories: Nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear weapon states, based on whether they have “manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to 1 January, 1967.” States with pre-1967 nuclear weapons are designated nuclear weapon states, and include the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France. Countries that had no nuclear weapons prior to 1967 are called non-nuclear weapon states, even if they acquired nuclear weapons subsequent to that date.

The treaty requires that non-nuclear weapon states (at least while they remain members of the treaty) refrain from manufacturing or otherwise acquiring nuclear weapons. In exchange for making this commitment, they are to receive technical advice, know-how and other assistance from nuclear weapon states in developing peaceful applications of nuclear energy.

For their part, nuclear weapon states are under a number of obligations: first, to help members who don’t have nuclear technology to develop civilian nuclear energy industries if they want them; and second, to pursue negotiations in good faith on measures relating to nuclear disarmament. The preamble of the treaty also obligates all states to forebear from using the threat of force in their relations with other countries. The preamble specifically recalls “that, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, states must refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”

Have the nuclear weapon states fulfilled their treaty obligations? Given the scant progress in nuclear disarmament over the 46 years the treaty has been in force, one would be hard pressed to answer in the affirmative. Despite lofty rhetoric about a nuclear-free world, none of the nuclear weapon states has taken any serious steps to significantly reduce their nuclear arsenals, to say nothing of moving toward disarmament. What’s more, the prohibition against the use of military threat in international relations promulgated in the UN Charter, and referenced in the treaty’s preamble, is regularly ignored.

US Threats Against North Korea

In 1993, the US Strategic Command announced that it was retargeting some of its strategic nuclear weapons away from the former Soviet Union to North Korea. A month later, Pyongyang announced that it would withdraw from the NPT, signaling that if Washington was going to dangle a nuclear sword of Damocles over its head, North Korea would take steps to counter the threat. [11] This spurred a series of negotiations which led Pyongyang to reverse its decision and to remain in the treaty. It eventually made another volte-face, announcing its intention to exit the treaty following US President George W. Bush’s January 29, 2002 designation of North Korea as part of an Axis of Evil.

Bush’s virtual declaration of war against the DPRK was only the tip of an iceberg of threats Washington had directed at the DPRK as part of its long running Cold War against the Communist country. In March 2002, the Los Angeles Times revealed classified Pentagon information listing seven countries as possible targets of a US nuclear strike. Among the targets was North Korea. The Pentagon’s nuclear strike list also included Russia, China, Syria, Libya, Iran, and Iraq. [12] North Korean officials explained their withdrawal from the NPT by pointing to the “Bush administration’s nuclear attack plan” which “showed that the United States…is pursuing world domination with force of arms and that the United States is not hesitant in launching a nuclear attack on any nation if it is regarded as an obstacle to this end.” [13]

Echoing these concerns, a North Korean diplomat explained his country’s decision to exit the NPT and embark on the development of nuclear weapons.

The NPT clearly states that nuclear power states cannot use nuclear weapons for the purpose of threatening or endangering non-nuclear states. So the DPRK thought that if we joined the NPT, we would be able to get rid of the nuclear threat from the US. Therefore we joined. However, the US never withdrew its right of pre-emptive nuclear strike. They always said that, once US interests are threatened, they always have the right to use their nuclear weapons for pre-emptive purposes. [14]

He added:

The world situation changed again after 11 September 2001. After this, Bush said that if the US wants to protect its safety, then it must remove the ‘Axis of Evil’ countries from the earth. The three countries he listed as members of this ‘Axis of Evil’ were Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Having witnessed what happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, we came to realise that we couldn’t put a stop to the threat from the US with conventional weapons alone. So we realised that we needed our own nuclear weapons in order to defend the DPRK and its people. [15]

The NPT allows states to exit the accord if they believe their continued participation in it is injurious to their highest interests. “Each Party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country.” Clearly, Washington’s overt hostility, the listing of North Korea as a target of a possible nuclear strike, and the Bush administration’s virtual declaration of war, constituted “extraordinary events” which jeopardized the DPRK’s “supreme interests.”

Why Do Countries Develop Nuclear Weapons?

North Korea says it developed nuclear weapons “to protect its sovereignty and vital rights from the U.S. nuclear threat and hostile policy which have lasted for more than half a century” [16] and which culminated in the Bush administration’s nuclear saber rattling and threat of war.

Compare North Korea’s reasons for having nuclear weapons with those of Britain, one of the NPT’s nuclear weapon states. The UK government’s 2006 White Paper, “The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent,” states that “The primary responsibility of any government is to ensure the safety and security of its citizens,” and that “For 50 years (Britain’s) independent nuclear deterrent has provided the ultimate assurance of (the country’s) national security.” “The UK’s nuclear weapons,” the document concludes, are designed “to deter and prevent nuclear blackmail and acts of aggression against our vital interests that cannot be countered by other means.” [17]

Russia, also a nuclear weapon state, invokes the same rationale for maintaining a nuclear arsenal. The country’s president, Vladimir Putin, says Russia needs nuclear arms to preserve its deterrent and strategic stability in the face of threats. [18] Similarly, Washington’s 2015 National Security Strategy declares that “the United States must invest the resources necessary to maintain….a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent that preserves strategic ability.”

The rationale of nuclear weapon states for maintaining a stock of nuclear weapons “applies with even greater force to weak states that may come under threat from stronger ones. The smaller and weaker the state, the greater the need for nuclear weapons to make potential aggressors think twice before threatening or invading them.” Pointing specifically to Britain, researcher David Morrison argues, if “one of the strongest states in this world needs to have nuclear weapons in order to deter potential aggressors, then no state in the world should be without them, if at all possible.” Morrison caps his point by speculating that: “Had Iraq succeeded in developing nuclear weapons, the US/UK would not have invaded in March 2003 (and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died as a consequence would still be alive).” [19]

Of course, it’s impossible to know how history would have unfolded had Iraq been in a position to present the possibility of a nuclear counter-strike as a deterrent to Washington’s drive to war, but the idea that nuclear weapons can deter aggression is not implausible. In 2010, General Kevin P. Chilton, at the time head of US Strategic Command, reminded Washington Post columnist Walter Pincus that, “Throughout the 65-year history of nuclear weapons, no nuclear power has been conquered or even put at risk of conquest.” [20] Explaining the grim logic that compels threatened and beleaguered countries like North Korea to reach for a nuclear sword, Putin wrote in RIA Novosti on February 27, 2012: “If I have the A-bomb in my pocket, nobody will touch me because it’s more trouble than it is worth. And those who don’t have the bomb might have to sit and wait for ‘humanitarian intervention’. Whether we like it or not, foreign interference suggests this train of thought.” [21] Echoing Putin’s analysis, the chief of the Israeli army’s planning division, Major General Amir Eshel, observed “Who would have dared deal with Qaddafi or Saddam Hussein if they had a nuclear capability? No way.” [22]

Learning The Lesson Of Iraq (And Libya)

On the day Baghdad fell to invading US forces, one of the Bush administration’s chief war mongers, John Bolton, warned Iran, Syria and North Korea to “draw the appropriate lesson.” [23] North Korea drew a lesson, though not the one Bolton intended. The real lesson, namely, that disarming is an invitation to an invasion, was reinforced eight years later when NATO secretly armed Islamist militants and launched an air war to oust Muamar Gaddafi in 2011, after the Libyan leader, in a misguided attempt to curry favor with the West, dismantled his weapons of mass destruction, leaving his country vulnerable to attack. Saddam Hussein made the same blunder in Iraq a decade earlier. DPRK diplomat Yongho Thae asks:

What happened to Libya? When Gaddafi wanted to improve Libya’s relations with the US and UK, the imperialists said that in order to attract international investment he would have to give up his weapons programs. Gaddafi even said that he would visit the DPRK to convince us to give up our nuclear program. But once Libya dismantled all its nuclear programs and this was confirmed by Western intelligence, the West changed its tune. [24]

Rudiger Frank, a professor of East Asian Economy and Society at the University of Vienna, argues that three signal events in the last two decades have underscored for Pyongyang that the decision it took to develop nuclear weapons was the right one.

The first such instance was Gorbachev’s foolish belief that his policies to end the arms race and confrontation with the West would be rewarded by respect for the Soviet Union’s existence and support for its faltering economy. On the contrary, his empire was destroyed piece by piece by Western support of anti-communist governments in its European satellites and independence movements in various (now former) Soviet Republics. In the end, the reformer was ousted, NATO was expanded, and his once mighty country was weakened and ridiculed. Others had an even less desirable fate, such as Romania’s Ceausescu or East Germany’s Honecker.

The second instance was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Humiliated after a quick defeat in the First Gulf War, Hussein accepted Western control over about half of his airspace in 1991 and had to suffer regular small-scale attacks on ground targets for more than a decade. Sanctions led to the “oil for food” program of 1995. However, his compliance did not save Hussein’s regime from allegations of hiding weapons of mass destruction, and ultimately from complete annihilation in the Second Gulf War.

Now, there is Libya’s Gaddafi. It was not so long ago that it was popular in political circles to urge Kim Jong Il to follow Gaddafi’s example. On February 14, 2005, the conservative South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo even reported that then ROK Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and current UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, was sent to Libya to urge Mr. Gaddafi to visit North Korea and persuade Kim Jong Il to abandon his nuclear weapons. The Libyan dictator as an ambassador of disarmament and peace—how was that possible? In December 2003, after long negotiations with the West, Libya had surprisingly announced that it would give up its programs for developing weapons of mass destruction and allow unconditional inspections. This earned Gaddafi immediate praise from Washington and London, followed by a prestigious invitation to Paris in December 2007, where he met President Sarkozy twice. [25]

The culmination of Gaddafi’s attempts to ingratiate himself with the West was his murder at the hands of NATO’s proxy jihadists, but not before one of their number sodomized him with a knife.

None of this was lost on the North Koreans. A February 21, 2013 commentary by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency noted that, “The tragic consequences in those countries which abandoned halfway their nuclear programs, yielding to the high-handed practices and pressure of the U.S. in recent years, clearly prove that the DPRK was very far-sighted and just when it made the option. They also teach the truth that the U.S. nuclear blackmail should be countered with substantial countermeasures, not with compromise or retreat.” [26] An article in the February 22, 2013 issue of Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the DPRK’s ruling Workers Party observed that, “Had it not been the nuclear deterrence of our own, the U.S. would have already launched a war on the peninsula as it had done in Iraq and Libya and plunged it into a sorry plight as (Yugoslavia) at the end of the last century and Afghanistan early in this century.“ [27]

The North Koreans make the case, not unconvincingly, that far from increasing the likelihood of war on the Korean peninsula, its development of nuclear weapons has done the opposite; it has deterred the US drive to use military force to topple a government which rejects its hegemony. “After the US/UK invasion of Iraq in March 2003, North Korea’s foreign ministry declared that ‘the Iraqi war shows that to allow disarmament through inspections does not help avert a war, but rather sparks it,’ concluding that ‘only a tremendous military deterrent force’ can prevent attacks on states the US dislikes.” [28] In April 2010, the KCNA declared that, “The DPRK’s access to nukes provided so effective a deterrent that the danger of outbreak of a war drastically dwindled on the Korean Peninsula. This represented the efforts exerted by the DPRK to defuse the nuclear threat at the present phase of deterring the U.S. nukes with its own nukes, not making a verbal appeal only.” [29] And in August 2013, the news agency noted that, “The U.S. nuclear warmongers have threatened more than once that it would mount a pre-emptive nuclear attack on the DPRK without prior warning. A nuclear war has not broken out on the peninsula entirely because the DPRK has steadily bolstered up its war deterrence.” [30]

Double Standards

“It is ironic,” noted Walter Pincus, that the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, “meeting in Baghdad to dissuade Iran from moving toward a nuclear weapon, are all modernizing their stockpiles.” And now these same nuclear weapon states have imposed new sanctions on North Korea to punish it for doing the same. And yet, the “United States has a multi-billion-dollar program to upgrade its three major nuclear warheads and a more costly effort to build new land, sea and air strategic delivery systems. France is modernizing its nuclear bombs and missiles as well as its strategic submarine… Russia and China are modernizing, too.” [31] So much for nuclear weapon states working toward disarmament, as the NPT requires.

US President Barack Obama has “promised…to spend $80 billion over 10 years to maintain and modernize the nation’s nuclear arsenal…” [32] while ally Britain “announced contract awards of $595 million to begin design of replacements for its four nuclear submarines that carry Trident sub-launched ballistic missiles,” even though it is “in the midst of an austerity program that includes cutting education, health and retirement programs.” [33]

Not only is the United States modernizing its nuclear weapons arsenal, it is also developing new WMD. The Pentagon has been working on a precision-guided atom bomb designed, as the New York Times puts it, “with problems like North Korea in mind.” The “bomb’s explosive force can be dialed up or down depending on the target, to minimize collateral damage.” Owing to the weapon’s “smaller yields and better targeting,” it is more tempting to use. The bomb, called the B61, “is the first of five new warhead types planned as part of an atomic revitalization estimated to cost up to $1 trillion over three decades. As a family, the weapons and their delivery systems move toward the small, the stealthy and the precise,” making their use “more thinkable.” [34]

The Pentagon is also at work on non-nuclear WMD “approaching the level of strategic nuclear arms in their strike capability.” [35] The new class of weapons, termed “`Prompt Global Strike` could be fired from the United States and hit a target anywhere in less than an hour.” The new weapons would “give the president a non-nuclear option for, say, a … pre-emptive attack on…North Korea,” achieving the effects of a nuclear weapon, without, it is hoped, “turning a conventional war into a nuclear one. “[36]

The United States, unlike North Korea, refuses to disavow the first strike use of nuclear weapons. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein pressed Barack Obama in 2010 to declare that the sole purpose of the United States` nuclear arsenal is to deter the threat of nuclear attack. The White House refused. The furthest it would go was to say that deterring nuclear aggression was the primary purpose of the arsenal, but not the only one. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who claims he aspires to a world without nuclear weapons, was not even willing to say that the United States wouldn’t be the first to use nuclear arms, or to refrain from using them against non-nuclear weapon states. [37]

Satellite Launch

“More than 100 space vehicles are put into the orbit around the earth by carrier rockets in a year on an average worldwide,” [38] but only North Korea’s satellite launch has been singled out for condemnation by the Security Council. Even India’s 2012 test of a long-range ballistic missile (different from North Korea’s satellite launch vehicle in having a military and not peaceful intent), which Indian officials boasted gave them “the capability of sending a nuclear warhead as far as China’s capital, Beijing, for the first time,” was not condemned. On the contrary, NATO expressed no opposition while Washington praised India’s “’solid’ non-proliferation record,” [39] an altogether incomprehensible accolade to bestow on a country that has never belonged to the NPT, is estimated to have 90-110 warheads [40], and now has the ability to deliver them over long ranges.

A distinction should be made between a space launch vehicle used to loft a satellite, space station, or manned vehicle into space, and a ballistic missile, used to send an explosive to a distant point on earth. Both use ballistic rockets, but a ballistic missile has a different guidance system and a heat shield to protect its payload from burning up on re-entering earth’s atmosphere.

In order for its nuclear weapons to act as a deterrent against aggression, North Korea needs a means to deliver a warhead. Since it has no long-range bombers, an obvious choice is an intercontinental ballistic missile, of the kind India tested, and which the United States, Russia, France, and China have, and which Israel is suspected to have. An ICBM relies on ballistic rocket technology. Hence, any country that successfully develops a space launch vehicle is part way to developing a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear payload. But it hasn’t quite got there. It also needs to develop an appropriate guidance system and a heat shield. Plus, it would have to work out how to miniaturize a warhead to fit atop the missile. It’s not clear how far away North Korea is from developing a miniaturized warhead and an ICBM on top of which to place it, but the United States aims to stop it from getting there for the obvious reason that with a reliable means of delivering a nuclear payload the deterrent value of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is all the stronger.

International law does not prohibit countries from using rocket technology for the peaceful use of outer space, and it surely doesn’t prohibit North Korea uniquely. Nor are there laws banning the testing of ballistic missiles. The Security Council, in passing a resolution imposing sanctions on Pyongyang, in part, for Pyongyang’s satellite launch, has acted ultra vires, that is, beyond its authority. “Where in the UN Charter is the mandate investing the UNSC with the right to deprive an individual UN member nation of the right to use space for peaceful purposes, a right specified in international law, stipulated?” asks North Korea’s Foreign Ministry. [41] “The DPRK’s H-bomb and satellite launch are being termed a breach of the previous ‘resolutions’ of the UNSC but, in essence, those ‘resolutions’ are a product of high-handedness practiced beyond the mandate of the UNSC.” [42]

The Security Council has arrogated onto itself authority to dictate who can and cannot launch a satellite, who can and cannot test ballistic missiles, and who can and cannot have nuclear weapons; in other words, it has unilaterally assigned to itself without the consent of the UN member states the authority to decide which state has and does not have a sovereign right to defend itself. The Security Council has no basis in international law to exercise this authority. “If the UNSC has the mandate to ban an individual country from conducting a nuclear test,” asks the North Koreans tartly, “what does the NPT exist for and what is the nuclear test ban treaty necessary for?” [43]

A Brutal Regime?

In declaring that the United States will never allow North Korea to develop nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles, Samantha Power called the DPRK “one of the most brutal regimes the world has ever known.“ Is it?

North Korea has a publicly-owned, planned, economy directed toward satisfying the material needs of its citizens while preserving its sovereignty. With a history of colonization by Japan and alienated from its compatriots in the south by the United States’ division of the peninsula, North Korea holds independence as an especially important goal. US troops have been almost continually present in South Korea since 1945, and the Pentagon retains wartime command of the South Korean military. By contrast, there are no foreign troops or bases in North Korea, and North Korean troops have never fought beyond Korean borders, unlike South Korea’s military, which took on a mercenary role in the Vietnam War, joining the United States in an aggression to suppress the independence struggle of another people which had suffered colonization, the Indo-Chinese. From 1964 to 1973, approximately 312,000 South Korean troops were deployed to Vietnam, and were paid 23 times their base pay by the United States. It is not without justification that North Korea reviles South Korea as a puppet state. And while South Korea nestles under a US nuclear umbrella, North Korea has never been protected by the nuclear weapons of another state’s military.

The DPRK offers attractions typical of communist countries: free health care, free education, free housing, and virtually free public transportation. [44] A pastiche of half-truths and outright distortions circulate in the Western media about North Korea, distinguished only by their contempt for the intelligence of the public. Events regarded as anodyne in the West are presented in dark and menacing hues when they happen in the DPRK. This has long been true. Observers of North Korea have for decades complained about deceptions in Western media and discourse about North Korea, aimed at tarring the country’s reputation rather than illuminating its politics, history and economy. Anna Louise Strong wrote “In days to come, Korea will continue to supply headlines. Yet there is little public knowledge about the country and most of the headlines distort rather than reveal the facts.” [45] That was in 1949. Little has changed. But then, propagandistic treatment of communist, socialist and economically nationalist states is the accustomed practice of Western media, whose owners’ interests have always been against states which insist on exercising economic sovereignty in preference to subordination to the profit-making interests of Western financial and business concerns.

There’s more than a little hypocrisy in Power claiming that the United States spearheaded a Security Council resolution out of opposition to a “brutal regime,” when Washington counts the brutal regimes of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Israel, and Colombia among its favored satellites, not only sheltering these oppressors and bellicists from sanction, but facilitating their brutalities. The words Hiroshima, Korea, Vietnam, the Bay of Pigs, Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, 100 or more prisoners tortured to death in US detention in the ‘war on terror’, extra-judicial assassinations by drone strike, to say nothing of the genocide of North America’s aboriginal people and the brutal slavery of Africans on which the country was founded, make the United States truly one of the most brutal regimes the world has ever known. It is followed closely by its allies, and fellow Security Council permanent members, Britain and France, on whose empires the sun never set and blood never dried.

What’s Washington’s Real Problem With North Korea?

The pretext for singling North Korea out for sanction is that it is a threat, but this, like the claim that Saddam Hussein had concealed WMD in defiance of a UNSC resolution, is pure eye-wash. It has no truth-value, only value as propaganda for justifying continuing US aggression against a country that refuses to give up public ownership and economic planning or surrender its political and economic sovereignty to the United States. In his February 23, 2016 testimony before the Senate Committee on Armed Services, the Commander of the US Pacific Command Harry B. Harris Jr. said that “North Korea is not an existential threat to the United States.” [46] US establishment journalist David E. Sanger, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a de facto though informal Wall Street think tank for the US State Department, explained that neither are North Korea’s nuclear weapons a threat to South Korea or Japan, “because North Korean officials know their government would be decimated in minutes or hours” if they attacked either of these two US allies. [47] As to the threat posed by North Korea’s conventional forces, Korea specialist Tim Beal points out that,

The available evidence shows that North Korea is in most respects much weaker militarily than the South, and the balance between the two shifts hugely in the South’s favor in the crucial aspect of advanced technology equipment. But a limited comparison of North and South is really meaningless because this is essentially a question of North Korea versus the United States – an attack by North Korea on the South would inevitably be a declaration of war against the United States. The U.S. has “operational command” of the South Korean military in the event of war, there are 28,500 U.S. military personnel (and considerably more civilians) stationed there and there is the over-riding geopolitical imperative – the U.S. would not tolerate the establishment of an independent Korea by force.

What is certain, however, is that North Korea cannot use nuclear weapons in an offensive manner because the retaliation would be overwhelming. One cannot use a handful of nuclear weapons, of uncertain efficacy and with unproven delivery systems, against an adversary with thousands of nuclear weapons and well-tested delivery systems. North Korean cannot effectively threaten the United States or indeed South Korea (because of the U.S. nuclear umbrella) with nuclear weapons. [48]

The relationship of the United States to North Korea is a complex and multi-dimensional one. Wall Street-dominated Washington sees the DPRK as offering nothing in the way of profit-making opportunities to please U.S. investors, and hence, has no motivation to accept the North Korean status quo. This explains why for decades the United States has maintained sanctions on the DPRK for the reason that it has “a Marxist-Leninist economy.” David Straub, director of the State Department’s Korea desk from 2002 to 2004 explained that “U.S. administrations have never considered and will never consider establishing a strategic relationship with the DPRK. North Korea’s closed economic and social system means the country has virtually nothing of value to offer the United States.” [49]

Presenting North Korea as a threat allows the US military-industrial complex to justify massive defense spending and to reap huge profits from US taxpayers through a fraud at whose center reposes the myth of the North Korean threat. Colin Powell, as the United States’ top soldier, once infamously remarked that after the demise of the Soviet Union he was down to only a few demons, Castro and (North Korea’s) Kim Il-Sung. [50] Portraying North Korea as belligerent, provocative and threatening justifies the United States’ continued military presence on the Korean peninsula, where, as Tim Beal observes, “China, Japan, Russia and the United States meet and contest and as such is the most strategically valuable place on earth.” [51]

China is the main target. “The focus of our rhetoric is North Korea,” observes Steven Hildreth, a researcher with the Congressional Research Service, a think-tank for the US Congress. “The reality is that we’re also looking longer term at the elephant in the room, which is China.” [52] The Pentagon is eager to deploy a Lockheed Martin manufactured anti-ballistic missile system called THAAD (terminal high altitude area defense) on the Korean peninsula, and is using North Korea as a pretext. THAAD is obviously aimed at neighboring China—at least that’s how the Chinese see it, a suspicion strengthened by the United States’ strategic shift to the Asia-Pacific region to “balance” China’s rise. Pyongyang also sees THAAD as targeted against China, but also itself and Russia. [53] We need not wonder what the reaction of the United States would be to China deploying an anti-ballistic missile system in Cuba or Mexico.

The only domain in which North Korea is a threat is ideology. Some background, to explain. The history of world economic development is one of income divergence, not convergence. The core capitalist countries of Western Europe and North America have grown faster than the rest of the world over the last two centuries, a period during which the world economy became increasingly integrated under the domination of the Great Powers of Europe and the United States, which carved up the world among themselves in formal colonial and later neo-colonial arrangements. Rather than bringing the poorer countries closer to the rich ones, the integration of the poor countries into a Western-led global capitalist economy has spelled lower rates of growth for the poor countries than capitalist core countries have enjoyed themselves, suggesting a process of exploitation and transfer of wealth from the periphery to the core. Only “a few countries that were poor in 1800 have joined the prosperous,” notes economic historian Robert C. Allen. “These include Japan, its former colonies South Korea and Taiwan.” [54] To the list can be added China.

The Soviet Union broke free of the world capitalist economic system, partly of its own volition, but largely because it was shunned by the capitalist world, to chart an independent course of economic development based on public-ownership and planning and enjoyed high rates of growth as a consequence from 1928, the point its economy became socialist, through the 1970s, with the exception of the extraordinary years of WWII. It continued on a path of unremitting positive growth while capitalist countries went through boom and bust cycles, alternately swelling and shrinking their labor forces, regularly tossing people who needed jobs on the scrap heap. By contrast, the Soviet Union’s socialist system maintained a full-employment, monotonically expanding economy right up to the point Mikhail Gorbachev dismantled socialism in a misguided and spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to spur growth rates in the late 1980s. Only when Gorbachev dismantled socialism did the Soviet economy collapse. [55]

South Korea and Taiwan also enjoyed high rates of growth and, in some respects, for the same reasons the Soviet Union did. The United States was willing to give these former Japanese colonies a degree of economic freedom it was unwilling to tolerate elsewhere. As these countries were on the front line of the Cold War, it was necessary that they become showcases for the capitalist system. South Korea profited immensely from US investment during the Vietnam War. Additionally, it was allowed to adopt a Soviet model of multi-year planning and state investment in heavy industry to spur growth. US officials were willing to indulge South Korea because until the 1970s it embarrassed Washington by lagging behind its Communist compatriots in the north, hardly a paean to the merits of the capitalist system South Korea’s US patrons so desperately sought.

China, for all the talk of its going capitalist, has also managed to follow a path of high growth, through a program of dirigisme scorned under the Washington Consensus of free-enterprise, free-trade and free-markets. The Chinese government, under the leadership of the Communist Party, remains enormously involved in the Chinese economy, through state-owned enterprises which dominate the country’s economic life and through state planning.

As for Japan, it had the advantage of developing a capitalist system in a part of the world that was relatively remote from Western Europe and North America, thus partly sheltering it from Western attempts to yoke its labor, markets and resources to the economic interests of capitalists in Europe and the United States. Emulating the Western imperialist powers, Japan expanded its economic lebensraum, battling Russia for domination of Manchuria and Korea, colonizing Taiwan, and finally conquering much of East Asia. After Japan’s defeat in World War II, the United States bolstered the economic growth of its former foe, fearing Japan would follow China, North Korea and North Vietnam down the Communist road unless high rates of growth and prosperity were achieved.

Hence, in order to build economies that serve the interests of their people, rather than those of investors and bankers abroad, the leaders of several poor countries mobilized their people to free themselves from the oppressions of imperialism. During the 1960s and 1970s the Soviet development model inspired former colonies that fought for and won their political independence. Many of these countries received substantial aid from the Soviet Union and its socialist allies.

There are only a few countries left in that tradition, and all of them are targets of a post-Cold War US mopping up operation, designed to bring the few remaining countries that have remained outside the United States’ informal empire into Washington’s—or more precisely, Wall Street’s— orbit. Economically, US rulers have an interest in bringing North Korea into a US-superintended sphere of exploitation accessible to Wall Street and corporate America, one in which the DPRK’s “Marxist-Leninist” economy is supplanted by an arrangement presided over by South Korea-style puppets eagerly prepared to sell out the country to foreign investors. More importantly, the United States has a motivation to make Communist, independent, North Korea suffer, stifle its development, cripple its economy and sabotage its growth, in order to falsely attribute the ensuing travails to “economic mismanagement” and the “inefficiencies of socialism.” The goal is to sustain the longstanding capitalist ideological project of defiling the reputation of public-ownership and economic planning so that North Korea is seen as a living example of socialism as a failed model.

What Should the UNSC Have Done Differently?

If the instigator and lead author of the punitive Security Council resolution against North Korea, the United States, was really interested in nuclear weapons non-proliferation, it would desist from issuing threats to launch wars of aggression and abandon its program of carrying them out around the globe. It would no longer dangle nuclear swords of Damocles over countries, or threaten to turn them into charcoal briquettes. It would end the practice of creating target lists of countries for possible nuclear attack. It would renounce the first strike use of nuclear weapons and take seriously its commitment under the NPT to undertake negotiations in good faith toward nuclear disarmament. And on the Korean peninsula, it would abandon its practice of conducting annual war games—which have the effect of forcing the DPRK onto a permanent war footing—and accept Pyongyang’s pleas to supplant the armistice which ended hostilities in 1953 with an official treaty of peace. In other words, it would stop creating the conditions which compel threatened countries to arm themselves with nuclear weapons in order to protect their economic and political sovereignty. Finally, it would withdraw its forces from Korea and allow Koreans to enjoy full sovereignty for the first time in 111 years.

The United States should do all these things, but won’t, because it is under the compulsion of a capitalist economic and political system which drives it to assert leadership over—which is to say, to negate the sovereignty of—other countries. It does this in order to absorb their markets, resources, land, and labour for the aggrandizement of its corporate owning class rooted in Wall Street.

As to the other members of the Security Council, including Russia and China, they ought to refrain from participating in the undemocratic exercise of arrogating onto themselves authority beyond that consented to by UN member states and expressed in the UN Charter, to act as a dictatorial cabal, arbitrarily deciding who does, and does not, have a right of sovereignty and self-defense. These rights cannot be abrogated by the Security Council, and that North Korea has stood resolutely against the body’s abuse of its authority and refuses to surrender to the multiple pressures thrust upon it by a raptorial United States, is surely worthy of the admiration and support of people who care about the fight to rid the world of imperialist oppression and the exploitation of man by man. Few nation states champion these goals—or stand up to bullies—anymore. North Korea does.

1. “DPRK foreign minister reiterates its commitment to lasting peace and security on Korean peninsula and region,” KCNA, August 12, 2015.
2. Samantha Power, Remarks at the Security Council stakeout following consultations on the DPRK, February 25, 2016.
3. The New York Times, July 6, 2008.
4. Farnaz Fassihi, “U.N. adopts new sanctions against North Korea,” The Wall Street Journal, March 2, 2016.
5. The New York Times, July 6, 2008.
6. Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History, W.W. Norton & Company, 2005. p. 488-489.
7. “Report: Nuclear weapons policy review names potential targets,” CCN.com, March 10, 2002.
8. Samuel Black, “The changing political utility of nuclear weapons: Nuclear threats from 1970 to 2010,” The Stimson Center, August 2010, http://www.stimson.org/images/uploads/research-pdfs/Nuclear_Final.pdf
9. Bruce Cumings, “Latest North Korean provocations stem from missed US opportunities for demilitarization,” Democracy Now!, May 29, 2009.
10. “U.S. Tells Iran, Syria, N. Korea ‘Learn from Iraq,” Reuters, April 9, 2003. Bolton, by the way, described US policy toward North Korea as ending the country. Asked by The New York Times to explain the aim of US policy on North Korea, Bolton “strode over to a bookshelf, pulled off a volume and slapped it on the table. It was called ‘The End of North Korea.’” “‘That,’ he said, ‘is our policy.’” 11. “Absent from the Korea Talks: Bush’s Hard-Liner,” The New York Times, September 2, 2003.
11. Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History, W.W. Norton & Company, 2005. p. 488-489.
12. “Report: Nuclear weapons policy review names potential targets,” CCN.com, March 10, 2002.
13. KCNA January 22, 2003.
14. Yongho Thae, Minister of the Embassy of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in London, “Understanding and defending North Korea,” Invent the Future, November 15, 2013.
15. Ibid.
16. “FM spokesman slams U.S. for deliberately linking negotiations with Iran over nuclear issue with DPRK,” Rodong Sinmun, July 22, 2015.
17. David Morrison, “Britain’s ‘dependent’ nuclear deterrent,” http://www.david-morrison.org.uk/nuclear-weapons/deterrent-dependent.htm
18. “Peter Nicholas and William Boston, “Obama’s nuclear proffer gets Russian rebuff”, The Wall Street Journal, June 19, 2013.
19. David Morrison, “Britain’s ‘dependent’ nuclear deterrent,” http://www.david-morrison.org.uk/nuclear-weapons/deterrent-dependent.htm
20. Walter Pincus, “As missions are added, Stratcom commander keeps focus on deterrence,” The Washington Post, March 30, 2010.
21. Cited in David Morrison, “Britain’s ‘dependent’ nuclear deterrent,” http://www.david-morrison.org.uk/nuclear-weapons/deterrent-dependent.htm).
22. Ethan Bronner, “Israel sense bluffing in Iran’s threats of retaliation”, The New York Times, January 26, 2012.
23. “U.S. Tells Iran, Syria, N. Korea ‘Learn from Iraq,” Reuters, April 9, 2003.
24. Yongho Thae, Minister of the Embassy of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in London, “Understanding and defending North Korea,” Invent the Future, November 15, 2013.
25. Rudiger Frank, “Libyan lessons for North Korea: A case of déjà vu”, 38 North, March 21, 2011.
26. “Nuclear test part of DPRK’s substantial countermeasures to defend its sovereignty,” KCNA, February 21, 2013.
27. “Gone are the days of US nuclear blackmail,” Rodong Sinmun, February 22, 2013.
28. Cited in David Morrison, “Nuclear weapons: The ultimate insurance policy,” (http://www.david-morrison.org.uk/nuclear-weapons/ultimate-insurance-policy.htm))
29. (“Foreign ministry issues memorandum on N-issue”. Korean Central News Agency, April 21, 2010.)
30. “DPRK will bolster up war deterrence in every way, Rodong Sinmun”, KCNA, August 11, 2013.
31. Walter Pincus, “Nuclear weapons just don’t make sense”, The Washington Post, May 23, 2012.
32. (Peter Baker, “Obama expands modernization of nuclear arsenal”, The New York Times, May 13, 2010)
33. Walter Pincus, “Nuclear weapons just don’t make sense”, The Washington Post, May 23, 2012.
34. William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, “As U.S. modernizes nuclear weapons, ‘smaller’ leaves some uneasy,” The New York Times, January 11, 2015.
35. Peter Nicholas and William Boston, “Obama’s nuclear proffer gets Russian rebuff”, The Wall Street Journal, June 19, 2013.
36. David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker, “White House is rethinking nuclear policy,” The New York Times, February 28, 2010.
37. David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker, “White House is rethinking nuclear policy,” The New York Times, February 28, 2010; David E. Sanger and Peter Baker, “Obama limits when U.S. would use nuclear arms”, The New York Times, April 5, 2010.
38. Cited in Tim Beal, “North Korean satellites and rocket science,” NK News, February 3, 2016.
39. Simon Denyer, “India tests missile capable of reaching Beijing”, The Washington Post, April 19, 2012.
40. Paul Sonne, “As tensions with West rise, Russia increasingly rattles nuclear saber,” The Wall Street Journal, April 5, 2015.
41. “DPRK foreign ministry spokesman rejects UNSC ‘resolution on sanctions’” Rodong Sinmun, March 5, 2016.
42. Ibid.
43. Ibid.
44. Yongho Thae, Minister of the Embassy of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in London, “Understanding and defending North Korea, Invent the Future, November 15, 2013; John Peter Daly, “Socialist construction in North Korea”, PSLWeb.org, December 15, 2006.
45. Anna Louise Strong, In North Korea: First Eye-Witness Report, Soviet Russia Today, New York, 1949.
46. Congressional Testimony, Statement of Harry B. Harris Jr., Commander U.S. Pacific Command, Committee on Senate Armed Services, February 23, 2016.
47. David E. Sanger, “With U.S. eyes on Iran, North Korea’s nuclear arsenal expanded,” The New York Times, May 7, 2015.
48. Tim Beal, “The North Korean threat – the myth and its makers,” NK News, January 21, 2016.
49. Kim Hyun, “US Has No Intention to Build Close Ties with N Korea: Ex-official,” Yonhap News, September 2, 2009.
50. Quoted in Carl Kaysen, Robert S. McNamara and George W. Rathjens, “Nuclear weapons after the Cold War,” Foreign Affairs, Fall, 1991.
51. Tim Beal, “The North Korean threat – the myth and its makers,” NK News, January 21, 2016.
52. Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes, “U.S. plans new Asia missile defenses”, The Wall Street Journal, August 23, 2012.
53. “Who is deployment of THAAD aimed at?” Rodong Sinmun, March 4, 2016.
54. Robert C, Allen, “A reassessment of the Soviet Industrial Revolution.” Comparative Economic Studies, Vol. 47, Issue 2, pp. 315-332, 2005
55. Stephen Gowans, Do Publicly Owned, Planned Economies Work? What’s left, December 21, 2012.

Why North Korea Needs Nuclear Weapons

The army and people of the DPRK are no longer what they used to be in the past when they had to counter the U.S. nukes with rifles–Rodong Sinmun, August 17, 2015

February 16, 2013
Updated August 17, 2015

By Stephen Gowans

Is North Korea’s recent nuclear test, its third, to be welcomed, lamented or condemned? It depends on your perspective. If you believe that a people should be able to organize their affairs free from foreign domination and interference; that the United States and its client government in Seoul have denied Koreans in the south that right and seek to deny Koreans in the north the same right; and that the best chance that Koreans in the north have for preserving their sovereignty is to build nuclear weapons to deter a US military conquest, then the test is to be welcomed.

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If you’re a liberal, you might believe that the United States should offer the DPRK (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name) security guarantees in return for Pyongyang completely, permanently and verifiably eliminating its nuclear weapons program. If so, your position invites three questions.

• Contrary to the febrile rhetoric of high US officials, the United States is not threatened by North Korea. North Korea’s nuclear weapons capability is a defensive threat alone. The DPRK’s leaders are not unaware that a first-strike nuclear attack would trigger an overwhelming US nuclear retaliatory strike, which, as then US president Bill Clinton once warned, “would mean the end of their country as we know it”. Since a North Korean first-strike would be suicidal (and this is not lost on the North Korean leadership), whether Pyongyang has or doesn’t have nuclear weapons makes little difference to US national security. What, then, would motivate Washington to offer genuine security guarantees? It can’t be argued that US national security considerations form the basis of the guarantees, since the threat to the United States of a nuclear-armed North Korea is about the same as a disarmed North Korea—approximately zero.

• How credible could any security guarantee be, in light of the reality that since 1945 Washington has invested significant blood and treasure in eliminating all expressions of communism and anti-imperialism on the Korean peninsula. The argument that the United States could issue genuine security guarantees would have to explain what had transpired to bring about a radical qualitative shift in US policy from attempting to eliminate communism in Korea to détente with it.

• Why is it incumbent on North Korea alone to disarm? Why not the United States too?

The conservative view, on which I shall not tarry, is simple. Anything North Korea does, except surrender, is blameworthy.

Finally, you might lament Pyongyang’s nuclear test for running counter to nuclear non-proliferation, invoking the fear that growth in the number of countries with nuclear weapons increases the risk of war. But this view crumbles under scrutiny. The elimination of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq didn’t reduce the chances of US military intervention in that country—it increased them. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s voluntary elimination of his WMD didn’t prevent a NATO assault on Libya—it cleared the way for it. The disarming of countries that deny the US ruling class access to markets, natural resources, and investment opportunities, in order to use these for their own development, doesn’t reduce the risk of wars of conquest—it makes them all the more certain.

The radical view locates the cause of wars of conquest since the rise of capitalism in the drive for profits. This compulsion chases the goods, services and capital of corporate-dominated societies over the face of the globe to settle everywhere, nestle everywhere, and establish connections everywhere, irrespective of the wishes, interests, development needs and welfare of the natives. If territories aren’t voluntarily opened to capital penetration through trade and investment agreements, their doors are battered down by the Pentagon, the enforcer of last resort of a world economic order supporting, as its first commitment, the profit-making interests of the US ruling class.

Background

Because North Korea has long been vilified and condemned by the Western press as bellicose, provocative and unpredictable, it’s difficult to cut through the fog of vituperation that obscures any kind of dispassionate understanding of the country to grasp that the DPRK represents something praiseworthy: a tradition of struggle against oppression and foreign domination, rooted in the experience of a majority of Koreans dating back to the end of WWII and the period of Japanese colonial rule. This tradition found expression in the Korean People’s Republic, a national government, created by, for, and of Koreans, that was already in place when US troops landed at Inchon in September, 1945. The new government was comprised of leftists who had won the backing of the majority, partly because they had led the struggle against Japan’s colonial occupation, and partly because they promised relief from exploitation by landlords and capitalists. The USSR, which occupied the north of the country until 1948, worked with the KPR in its occupation zone, but the United States suppressed the KPR in the south, worked to exterminate leftist forces in its zone, and backed conservatives reviled by Koreans for their oppressions and collaboration with the Japanese. By 1948, the peninsula was divided between a northern government led by guerrillas and activists who fought to liberate Korea from Japanese rule, and a southern government led by a US-installed anti-communist backed by conservatives tainted by collaboration with colonial oppression. For the next 65 years, the essential character of the competing regimes has remained the same. Park Geun-hye, the incoming South Korean president is the daughter of a former president, Park Chung-hee, who came to power in a military coup in 1961. The elder Park had served in the Japanese Imperial Army. Kim Il Sung, grandfather of North Korea’s current leader, Kim Jong-eun, was an important guerrilla leader who, unlike the collaborator Park, fought, rather than served, the Japanese. The North represents the traditions of struggle against foreign domination, both political and economic, while the South represents the tradition of submission to and collaboration with a foreign hegemon. Significantly, there are no foreign troops stationed in North Korea, but are in South Korea. North Korean troops have never fought abroad, but South Korea’s have, odiously in Vietnam, in return for infusions of mercenary lucre from the Americans, and later in Iraq. As regards repression, South Korea’s authoritarianism on behalf of rightist causes is long and enduring, typified in the virulently anti-communist National Security Law, which metes out harsh punishment to anyone who so much as publicly utters a kind word about North Korea. The South Korean police state also blocks access to pro-North Korean websites, bans books, including volumes by Noam Chomsky and heterodox (though pro-capitalist) economist Ha Joon-chang, and imprisons anyone who travels to the North.

Pressure

Since the Korean War the United States and South Korea have maintained unceasing pressure on North Korea through subversion, espionage, propaganda, economic warfare and threats of nuclear attack and military invasion. Low-intensity warfare sets as its ultimate objective the collapse of the North Korean government. Unremitting military pressure forces Pyongyang to maintain punishingly high expenditures on defense (formalized in the country’s Songun, or “army first” policy). Massive defense expenditures divert critical resources from the civilian economy, retarding economic growth. At the same time, trade and financial sanctions heap further harm on the economy. Economic dislocations disrupt food supplies, make life harsh for many North Koreans, and breed discontent. Discontent in turn engenders political opposition, which is beaten back and contained by measures of repression and restriction of civic and political liberties. In response, Washington disingenuously deplores Pyongyang’s military expenditures at a time North Koreans “are starving”; denounces Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program as a “provocation” (rather than a defense against US military threat); dishonestly attributes the country’s economic difficulties to allegedly inherent weaknesses in public ownership and central planning (rather than sanctions and financial strangulation); and chastises the DPRK for its repressive measures to check dissent (ultimately traceable to US pressures.) In other words, the regrettable features of North Korea that Washington highlights to demonize and discredit the DPRK are the consequences, not the causes, of US North Korea policy. To view US policy as a reaction to the DPRK’s nuclear weapons program, economic difficulties, and repressions is to get the causal direction wrong.

US foreign policy

US foreign policy aims to secure and defend access to foreign markets, natural resources and investment opportunities and deny communists and nationalists control because access might be blocked, limited or freighted with social welfare and domestic development considerations.

As a general rule, the American government’s attitude to governments in the Third World …depends very largely on the degree to which these governments favour American free enterprise in their countries or are likely to favour it in the future…In this perspective, the supreme evil is obviously the assumption of power by governments whose main purpose is precisely to abolish private ownership and private enterprise…Such governments are profoundly objectionable not only because their actions profoundly affect foreign-owned interests and enterprises or because they render future capitalist implantation impossible [but also] because the withdrawal of any country from the world system of capitalist enterprise is seen as constituting a weakening of that system and as providing encouragement to further dissidence and withdrawal. [1]

North Korea is one of the few countries left that commits “the supreme evil.” Allowed to develop in peace, unimpeded by military pressure and economic warfare, it might become an inspiration for other countries to follow. From the perspective of the US ruling class, the United States’ North Korea policy must have one overarching objective: the DPRK’s demise. Asked by The New York Times to explain the aim of US policy on North Korea, then US under secretary of state for arms control John Bolton “strode over to a bookshelf, pulled off a volume and slapped it on the table. It was called ‘The End of North Korea.'” “‘That,’ he said, ‘is our policy.'” [2]

On top of profit-making goals, and crippling North Korea economically, politically and socially to prevent its emergence as an inspiring example to other countries, Washington seeks to maintain access to its strategic position on a peninsula whose proximity to China and Russia provides a forward operating base from which to pressure these two significant obstacles to the United States’ complete domination of the globe.

Threats of nuclear war

According to declassified and other US government documents, some released on the 60th-anniversary of the Korean War, from “the 1950s’ Pentagon to today’s Obama administration, the United States has repeatedly pondered, planned and threatened the use of nuclear weapons against North Korea.” [3] These documents, along with the public statements of senior US officials, point to an ongoing pattern of US nuclear intimidation of the DPRK.

• The United States introduced nuclear weapons to the Korean peninsula as early as 1950. [4]

• During the Korean War, US president Harry Truman announced that the use of nuclear weapons was under active consideration; US Air Force bombers flew nuclear rehearsal runs over Pyongyang; and US commander General Douglas MacArthur planned to drop 30 to 50 atomic bombs across the northern neck of the Korean peninsula to block Chinese intervention. [5]

• In the late 1960s, nuclear-armed US warplanes were maintained on 15-minute alert to strike North Korea. [6]

• In 1975, US defense secretary James Schlesinger acknowledged for the first time that US nuclear weapons were deployed in South Korea. Addressing the North Koreans, he warned, “I do not think it would be wise to test (US) reactions.” [7]

• In February 1993, Lee Butler, head of the US Strategic Command, announced the United States was retargeting hydrogen bombs aimed at the old USSR on North Korea (and other targets.) One month later, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. [8]

• On July 22, 1993, US president Bill Clinton said if North Korea developed and used nuclear weapons “we would quickly and overwhelmingly retaliate. It would mean the end of their country as we know it.” [9]

• In 1995, Colin Powell, who had served as chairman of the US joints chiefs of staff and would later serve as US secretary of state, warned the North Koreans that the United States had the means to turn their country into “a charcoal briquette.” [10]

• Following North Korea’s first nuclear test on October 9, 2006, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice reminded North Korea that “the United States has the will and the capability to meet the full range—and I underscore full range of its deterrent and security commitments to Japan [emphasis added].” [11]

• In April 2010, US defense secretary Leon Panetta refused to rule out a US nuclear attack on North Korea, saying, “all options are on the table.” [12]

• On February 13, 2013, Panetta described North Korea as “a threat to the United States, to regional stability, and to global security.” He added: “Make no mistake. The US military will take all necessary steps to meet our security commitments to the Republic of Korea and to our regional allies [emphasis added].” [13]

As the North Koreans put it, “no nation in the world has been exposed to the nuclear threat so directly and for so long as the Koreans.”[14]

“For over half a century since early in the 1950s, the US has turned South Korea into the biggest nuclear arsenal in the Far East, gravely threatening the DPRK through ceaseless manoeuvres for a nuclear war. It has worked hard to deprive the DPRK of its sovereignty and its right to exist and develop….thereby doing tremendous damage to its socialist economic construction and the improvement of the standard of people’s living.” [15]

Economic warfare

The breadth and depth of US economic warfare against North Korea can be summed up in two sentences:

• North Korea is “the most sanctioned nation in the world” — George W. Bush. [16]

• …”there are few sanctions left to apply.” – The New York Times [17]

From the moment it imposed a total embargo on exports to North Korea three days after the Korean War began in June 1950, the United States has maintained an uninterrupted regimen of economic, financial, and diplomatic sanctions against North Korea. These include:

o Limits on the export of goods and services.
o Prohibition of most foreign aid and agricultural sales.
o A ban on Export-Import Bank funding.
o Denial of favourable trade terms.
o Prohibition of imports from North Korea.
o Blocking of any loan or funding through international financial institutions.
o Limits on export licensing of food and medicine for export to North Korea.
o A ban on government financing of food and medicine exports to North Korea.
o Prohibition on import and export transactions related to transportation.
o A ban on dual-use exports (i.e., civilian goods that could be adapted to military purposes.)
o Prohibition on certain commercial banking transactions. [18]

In recent years, US sanctions have been complemented by “efforts to freeze assets and cut off financial flows” [19] by blocking banks that deal with North Korean companies from access to the US banking system. The intended effect is to make North Korea a banking pariah that no bank in the world will touch. Former US president George W. Bush was “determined to squeeze North Korea with every financial sanction possible” until its economy collapsed. [20] The Obama administration has not departed from the Bush policies.

Washington has also acted to sharpen the bite of sanctions, pressing other countries to join its campaign of economic warfare against a country it faults for maintaining a Marxist-Leninist system and non-market economy. [21] This has included the sponsoring of a United Nations Security Council resolution compelling all nations to refrain for exporting dual-use items to North Korea (a repeat of the sanctions regime that led to the crumbling of Iraq’s healthcare system in the 1990s.) Washington has even gone so far as to pressure China (unsuccessfully) to cut off North Korea’s supply of oil. [22]

Drawing the appropriate lesson

On the day Baghdad fell to invading US forces, John Bolton warned Iran, Syria and North Korea to “draw the appropriate lesson from Iraq.” [23] There can be no doubt that Pyongyang drew a lesson, though not the one Bolton intended. The North Koreans did not conclude, as Bolton hoped, that peace and security could be achieved by relinquishing WMDs. Instead, the North Koreans couldn’t fail to grasp the real lesson of the US assault on Iraq. The United States had invaded Iraq only after Saddam Hussein had cleared the way by complying with US demands to destroy his weapons of mass destruction. Had he actually retained the weapons he was falsely accused of hiding and holding in reserve, the Americans would likely have never attacked.

Subsequent events in Libya have only reinforced the lesson. Muammar Gaddafi had developed his own WMD program to protect Libya from Western military intervention. But Gaddafi also faced an internal threat—Islamists, including jihadists linked to Al Qaeda, who sought to overthrow him to create an Islamist society in Libya. After 9/11, with the United States setting out to crush Al Qaeda, Gaddafi sought a rapprochement with the West, becoming an ally in the international battle against Al Qaeda, to more effectively deal with his own Islamist enemies at home. The price of being invited into the fold was to abandon his weapons of mass destruction. When Gaddafi agreed to this condition he made a fatal strategic blunder. An economic nationalist, Gaddafi irritated Western oil companies and investors by insisting on serving Libyan interests ahead of the oil companies’ profits and investors’ returns. Fed up with his nationalist obstructions, NATO teamed up with Gaddafi’s Islamist enemies to oust and kill the Libyan leader. Had he not surrendered his WMDs, Gaddafi would likely still be playing a lead role in Libya. “Who would have dared deal with Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein if they had a nuclear capability?” asks Major General Amir Eshel, chief of the Israeli army’s planning division. “No way.” [24]

Having unilaterally disarmed, Gaddafi was hailed in Western capitals, and world leaders hastened to Tripoli to sign commercial agreements with him. Among Gaddafi’s visitors was the South Korean minister of foreign affairs, and Ban Ki-moon, later to become the UN secretary general. Both men urged the “rehabilitated” Libyan leader to persuade the North Koreans to give up their nuclear weapons. [25] Whether Gaddafi acceded to the Koreans’ request is unclear, but if he did, his advice was wisely ignored. In the North Korean view, Gaddafi fell prey to a “bait and switch.” The lesson the DPRK drew from Libya was that the only guarantee of peace on the Korean peninsula is a powerful military, backed by nuclear weapons. [26]

This is neither an irrational view, nor one the West, for all its pieties about nuclear non-proliferation (for others), rejects for itself. Britain, for example, justifies its own nuclear weapons program with reference to the need “to deter and prevent nuclear blackmail and acts of aggression against our vital interests that cannot be countered by other means.” [27] If the UK requires nuclear weapons to deter and prevent nuclear blackmail and acts of aggression, then surely the North Koreans—long on the receiving end of these minatory pressures—do as well. Indeed, the case can be made that the North Koreans have a greater need for nuclear arms than the British do, for whom nuclear blackmail and acts of aggression are only hypotheticals.

General Kevin P. Chilton, head of the US Strategic Command from 2007 to 2011, told Washington Post columnist Walter Pincus in 2010 that, “Throughout the 65-year history of nuclear weapons, no nuclear power has been conquered or even put at risk of conquest.” [28] On the other hand, countries that comply with demands to abandon their WMDs soon find themselves conquered, by countries with nuclear weapons aplenty and no intention of giving them up. Pincus used Chilton’s words to advocate a pre-emptive strike on North Korea to prevent the country from developing a large enough nuclear arsenal to make itself invulnerable to conquest. That no nuclear power has been conquered or put at risk of conquest is “a thought others in government ought to ponder as they watch Iran and North Korea seek to develop nuclear capability,” Pincus wrote. [29]

Conclusion

Nuclear arms have political utility. For countries with formidable nuclear arsenals and the means of delivering warheads, nuclear weapons can be used to extort political concessions from non-nuclear-armed states through terror and intimidation. No country exploits the political utility of nuclear weapons as vigorously as the United States does. In pursuing its foreign policy goals, Washington threatened other countries with nuclear attack on 25 separate occasions between 1970 and 2010, and 14 occasions between 1990 and 2010. On six of these occasions, the United States threatened the DPRK. [30] There have been more US threats against North Korea since. (The United States’ record of issuing threats of nuclear attack against other countries over this period is: Iraq, 7; China, 4; the USSR, 4; Libya, 2; Iran, 1; Syria, 1. Significantly, all these countries, like the DPRK, were under communist or economically nationalist governance when the threats were made.)

Nuclear weapons also have political utility for countries menaced by nuclear and other military threats. They raise the stakes for countries seeking to use their militaries for conquest, and therefore reduce the chances of military intervention. There is little doubt that the US military intervention in Iraq and NATO intervention in Libya would not have been carried out had the targets not disarmed and cleared the way for outside forces to intervene with impunity.

A North Korean nuclear arsenal does not increase the chances of war—it reduces the likelihood that the United States and its South Korean marionette will attempt to bring down the communist government in Pyongyang by force. This is to be welcomed by anyone who opposes imperialist military interventions; supports the right of a people to organize its affairs free from foreign domination; and has an interest in the survival of one of the few top-to-bottom, actually-existing, alternatives to the global capitalist system of oppression, exploitation, and foreign domination.

1. Ralph Miliband, The State in Capitalist Society, Merlin Press, 2009, p. 62.

2. “Absent from the Korea Talks: Bush’s Hard-Liner,” The New York Times, September 2, 2003.

3. Charles J. Hanley and Randy Hershaft, “U.S. often weighed N. Korea nuke option”, The Associated Press, October 11, 2010.

4. Hanley and Hershaft.

5. Hanley and Hershaft.

6. Hanley and Hershaft.

7. Hanley and Hershaft.

8. Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History, W.W. Norton & Company, 2005. p. 488-489.

9. William E. Berry Jr., “North Korea’s nuclear program: The Clinton administration’s response,” INSS Occasional Paper 3, March 1995.

10. Bruce Cumings, “Latest North Korean provocations stem from missed US opportunities for demilitarization,” Democracy Now!, May 29, 2009.

11. Lou Dobbs Tonight, October 18, 2006.

12. Hanley and Hershaft.

13. Choe Sang-hun, “New leader in South criticizes North Korea,” The New York Times, February 13, 2013.

14. “Foreign ministry issues memorandum on N-issue,” Korean Central News Agency, April 21, 2010.

15. Korean Central News Agency, February 13, 2013.

16. U.S. News & World Report, June 26, 2008; The New York Times, July 6, 2008.

17. Neil MacFarquhar and Jane Perlez, “China looms over response to nuclear test by North Korea,” The New York Times, February 12, 2013.

18. Dianne E. Rennack, “North Korea: Economic sanctions”, Congressional Research Service, October 17, 2006. http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/crs/rl31696.pdf

19. Mark Landler, “Envoy to coordinate North Korea sanctions”, The New York Times, June 27, 2009.

20. The New York Times, September 13, 2006.

21. According to Rennack, the following US sanctions have been imposed on North Korea for reasons listed as either “communism”, “non-market economy” or “communism and market disruption”: prohibition on foreign aid; prohibition on Export-Import Bank funding; limits on the exports or goods and services; denial of favorable trade terms.

22. The Washington Post, June 24, 2005.

23. “U.S. Tells Iran, Syria, N. Korea ‘Learn from Iraq,” Reuters, April 9, 2003.

24. Ethan Bronner, “Israel sense bluffing in Iran’s threats of retaliation”, The New York Times, January 26, 2012.

25. Chosun Ilbo, February 14, 2005.

26. Mark McDonald, “North Korea suggests Libya should have kept nuclear program”, The New York Times, March 24, 2011.

A February 21, 2013 comment by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency (“Nuclear test part of DPRK’s substantial countermeasures to defend its sovereignty”) noted that,

“The tragic consequences in those countries which abandoned halfway their nuclear programs, yielding to the high-handed practices and pressure of the U.S. in recent years, clearly prove that the DPRK was very far-sighted and just when it made the option. They also teach the truth that the U.S. nuclear blackmail should be countered with substantial countermeasures, not with compromise or retreat.”

An article in the February 22, 2013 issue of Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of North Korea’s ruling Workers Party (“Gone are the days of US nuclear blackmail”) observed that “Had it not been the nuclear deterrence of our own, the U.S. would have already launched a war on the peninsula as it had done in Iraq and Libya and plunged it into a sorry plight as the Balkan at the end of last century and Afghanistan early in this century.”

27. http://www.mod.uk/NR/rdonlyres/AC00DD79-76D6-4FE3-91A1-6A56B03C092F/0/DefenceWhitePaper2006_Cm6994.pdf

28. Quoted in Walter Pincus, “As missions are added, Stratcom commander keeps focus on deterrence,” The Washington Post, March 30, 2010.

29. Pincus.

30. Samuel Black, “The changing political utility of nuclear weapons: Nuclear threats from 1970 to 2010,” The Stimson Center, August 2010, http://www.stimson.org/images/uploads/research-pdfs/Nuclear_Final.pdf

A Tale of Two Rocket Launches

North Korea launched a rocket on April 13 to loft a satellite into space–part of the country’s civilian space program. The rocket, based on ballistic missile technology, broke up only minutes after launch. Western state officials and media rebuked Pyongyang for directing part of its strained budget to a rocket launch when it depends on outside food aid. Along with other countries, India “voiced deep concern.” [1]

Six days later, India launched Agni-V, a ballistic missile capable of delivering a 1.5 ton nuclear warhead to any point in China. India–which the American Federation of Scientists estimates has an arsenal of 80 to 100 nuclear weapons—boasted that the launch represented “another milestone” in its “quest to add to the credibility” of its “security and preparedness.” [2]

Both launches violated UN Security Council resolutions. Security Council Resolution 1172 (1998) calls upon India “to cease development of ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” [3] Security Council Resolutions 1718 (2006) [4] and 1874 (2009) [5] direct North Korea to do the same.

On April 16, North Korea was censured by the Security Council for violating resolutions 1718 and 1874. [6] India has not been censured for violating resolution 1172. Indeed, that a Security Council resolution exists which prohibits India’s ballistic missile program has been almost completely ignored.

What’s more, while North Korea was savagely attacked in the Western media for its satellite launch, the same media treated India’s long-range ballistic missile test with either indifference or approval. India’s massive poverty was not juxtaposed against its decision to allocate resources to building nuclear warheads and the missiles to carry them.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons

The United States was the first country to introduce nuclear weapons to the Korean peninsula, in the form of tactical battlefield weapons. Later, when the USSR dissolved, Lee Butler, the head of the US Strategic Command, announced that the United States would retarget some of its strategic ballistic nuclear missiles from the former Soviet Union to North Korea. One month later, Pyongyang withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. [7]

A cardinal principle of nuclear nonproliferation is that countries with nuclear weapons should not target countries without them. Doing so provides the targeted country with a reason to develop its own nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

After North Korea’s first underground nuclear test, on October 9, 2006, the UN Security Council met to impose sanctions. At the meeting, North Korean ambassador Pak Gil Yon explained that North Korea initiated its nuclear weapons program because it felt compelled to protect itself from the danger of war from the United States.

This was hardly paranoid. Washington’s desire to see the collapse of North Korea is undoubted. An ideological competitor vis-à-vis the United States whose zeal for economic and political independence is second to none, North Korea remains one of the few remaining challenges to the US-led neo-liberal world economic order. In an attempt to crush the fiercely independent state, Washington has made North Korea the most heavily sanctioned country on earth—and hasn’t relieved the pressure in six decades.

This, on top of tactical and strategic nuclear weapons threats, nearly 30,000 US troops on the Korean peninsula, the incessant visits of nuclear weapons-equipped US warships and warplanes to South Korean ports and airbases, and the Pentagon’s de facto control of the South Korean military in peacetime and de jure control in wartime, constitutes a significant existential threat to North Korea.

In 2003, the Bush administration ratcheted up the threat by naming North Korea as part of an “axis of evil.” It then invaded the first country on its list, Iraq, and warned the other two to “draw the appropriate lesson.” [8] In light of this, Pak’s explanation that North Korea conducted the nuclear test to “bolster its self-defense” and that it “wouldn’t need nuclear weapons if the US dropped its hostile policies” rings true. [9]

Since then, the United States has delivered an additional reason for Pyongyang to draw the appropriate lesson—though not the one it hoped. Nato’s intervention in Libya on behalf of al-Qaeda-connected rebels likely wouldn’t have happened had the country’s leader, Muammar Gaddafi, not given up his chemical and nuclear weapons programs in exchange for reversal of sanctions and Western investment.

Hypocrisy

Washington says that it believes China sold North Korea the chassis for a missile-transport vehicle displayed in a North Korean military parade shortly after the failed satellite launch and would use “the episode to tighten pressure to better enforce United Nations sanctions forbidding the sale of weapons or technology to North Korea that would aid its ballistic missile and technology program.” [10]

Security Council resolution 1718 directs member states not to supply North Korea with battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, missiles or missile systems. A truck chassis hardly fits the list, and is clearly not a nuclear weapon or technology.

But why does a resolution—which concerns a nuclear test—ban sales to North Korea of conventional military equipment? Resolution 1172, dealing with India’s and Pakistan’s nuclear tests, imposed no similar sanctions on these countries. The likely explanation is that the resolution aims to deny Pyongyang an effective means of self-defense, both nuclear and conventional. In other words, the Security Council used North Korea’s efforts to tighten its security as a pretext to block its access to the equipment, technology and materials it needs for self-defense. By contrast, since the United States dropped its sanctions on India last decade, the latter has been permitted to add to the credibility of its security and preparedness without impediment.

Moreover, why was North Korea sanctioned at all? Having withdrawn from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty under the threat posed by US strategic missiles, Pyongyang was bound by no international covenant prohibiting it from developing nuclear weapons. The Security Council justified the sanctions on the grounds that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is a threat to international peace and security. Invoking authority to prevent possible outbreaks of war between nations, however, has become a convenient way for the Security Council to legitimize arbitrary actions. It simply describes some incident as a threat to peace between nations—whether it is or not–and thereby hands itself authority to act.

Have North Korea’s nuclear tests truly represented a threat to international peace and security, or only a threat to the ability of certain permanent Security Council members to target North Korea with nuclear weapons free from the risk of nuclear retaliation? The United States, Britain and other countries that have nuclear weapons emphasize the deterrent nature of their nuclear arsenals. Rather than threatening international peace and security, these countries maintain that their WMDs preserve it. Why, then, should WMDs in the hands of countries threatened with nuclear annihilation constitute threats, while in the hands of the countries that pose the threat, nuclear weapons are considered a buttress to international peace and security? It seems more likely that peace and security between nations would be strengthened were the United States to cease targeting North Korea with nuclear weapons or were it deterred by Pyongyang’s possible nuclear retaliation.

Obviously (though not so obviously to Washington) a truck chassis is not a nuclear weapon or technology, but it is not unknown for Washington to broaden the definition of banned items to turn ostensibly narrow sanctions into broad-based ones. [11] UN Security Resolutions 1718 and 1874 do the same. While they appear to be limited to prohibiting North Korea from developing ballistic missile technology for military use, they have been interpreted by the Security Council to prohibit civilian use, as well. Hence, in censuring Pyongyang for its satellite launch, the president of the Security Council noted that any rocket launch that uses ballistic missile technology, even for civilian use, is a violation of the UN Security Council resolutions. [12] This means that as far as the Security Council is concerned, North Korea cannot have a civilian space program.

The United States’ criticism of China for selling North Korea a truck chassis, on grounds that the sale is a violation of a Security Council resolution, is not only baseless, it’s hypocritical. Washington has agreed to sell India spent nuclear fuel and nuclear technology, not only to “bring tens of billions in business to the United States” but to also cement “a new partnership between the two nations to counter China’s rise.” [13] Yet Security Council resolution 1172 directs “all States to prevent the export of equipment, materials or technology that could in any way assist programs in India or Pakistan for nuclear weapons.” Hence, while the United States accuses China of violating a Security Council resolution by selling the North Koreans truck parts, Washington itself has cleared the way to export equipment, material and technology to India to assist its nuclear program in violation of a Security Council resolution. Canada, too, which is selling uranium to India, is violating the same Security Council resolution. [14]

There are, then, four sets of double-standards that mark the West’s reaction to North Korea’s satellite launch.

• North Korea was censured by the Security Council for launching a satellite as part of a civilian space program, but India escaped censure for launching a ballistic missile whose purpose would be to destroy Chinese cities. Both launches violated Security Council resolutions, but the Security Council and Western media ignore the resolution prohibiting India’s ballistic missile program.

• North Korea’s attempt to loft a satellite into space was reviled by Western media and presented as a threat, while India’s launch of a long-range missile capable of carrying a payload to wipe Chinese cities off the map merited few critical remarks.

• North Korea was rebuked for what was widely described as an extravagant expenditure on a rocket launch at a time Pyongyang is dependent on outside help to feed its people [15], while India’s widespread and profound poverty hardly seemed a consideration to a Western media that could find little critical to say about India’s expensive nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.

• China has been criticized by the United States for selling truck parts to North Korea, presumably in violation of a Security Council resolution prohibiting sales of conventional military equipment to Pyongyang, while it has approved the sale of spent nuclear fuel and nuclear technology to India in violation of Security Council Resolution 1172.

India’s efforts to add to the credibility of its security and preparedness are accepted as legitimate by Western governments and media because they’re directed at China. Pyongyang’s efforts to add to the credibility of its security and preparedness are reviled and censured because they’re aimed at bolstering North Korea’s defense against hegemonic threats. India’s actions—insofar as they contribute to the United States’ new military strategic focus of containing the challenge of China’s rise—is in Wall Street’s interests. North Korea’s actions—in challenging the United States’ ability to forcibly integrate the country into the US-led neo-liberal world economic order—is against Wall Street’s interests. Accordingly, one rocket launch is condoned, the other condemned.

1. “India’s role in Asia-Pacific enormously important: US”, The Economic Times, April 17, 2012.
2. Simon Denyer, “India tests missile capable of reaching Beijing”, The Washington Post, April 19, 2012.
3. http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N98/158/60/PDF/N9815860.pdf?OpenElement
4. http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N06/572/07/PDF/N0657207.pdf?OpenElement
5. http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N09/368/49/PDF/N0936849.pdf?OpenElement
6. http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N12/295/91/PDF/N1229591.pdf?OpenElement
7. Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History, W.W. Norton & Company, 2005. 488-489.
8. The warning was issued by US Undersecretary of State John Bolton. The other country on the list was Iran, now subjected to economic warfare, assassinations, sabotage, incursions by US reconnaissance drones, attacks by proxy terrorist armies, destabilization and threats of military intervention by the United States, its invariable cobelligerent Britain, and Israel.
9. http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N06/572/07/PDF/N0657207.pdf?OpenElement
10. Mark Landler, “Suspected sale by China stirs concern at White House”, The New York Times, April 20, 2012.
11. Similarly, Nato bombing campaigns notoriously broaden the definition of legitimate military targets to cover civilian infrastructure, including roads, bridges, TV and radio broadcasting facilities, factories and even farms.
12. The combined implication of the resolutions is that:

• North Korea cannot lawfully defend itself against the threat of nuclear attack;
• It cannot lawfully be sold conventional military equipment for self-defense;
• It cannot lawfully have a civilian space program.
13. Simon Denyer and Pama Lakshmi, “U.S.-India nuclear deal drifts dangerously”, The Washington Post, July 15, 2011.
14. Bill Curry, “Canada signs nuclear deal with India”, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), June 27, 2010.
15. Sanctions contribute heavily to North Korea’s food security problems.

Washington comes clean on Iran’s (nonexistent) nuclear weapons program

By Stephen Gowans

Remind me why sanctions have been imposed on Iran.

Is it because the country is developing nuclear weapons?

If so, US and Israeli officials don’t believe it.

According to the August 19th edition of The New York Times (“U.S. assures Israel that Iran threat is not imminent”), “American and Israeli officials believe breakout” – that is, a transition from enriching uranium for civilian use to developing a workable nuclear weapon – “is unlikely anytime soon.”

Iran, it seems, is having difficulty enriching uranium. That could be because “the United States, Israel and Europe have for years engaged in covert attempts to disrupt the enrichment process by sabotaging (Iran’s) centrifuges. “

Whatever the case, Iran has only “a limited supply of nuclear material, currently enough for two weapons.” And “it would take roughly a year — and perhaps longer — for Iran to complete what one senior official called a ‘dash’ for a nuclear weapon.”

Were Iran to make a dash for a nuclear weapon, would Washington know about it? Yes. “American officials said the United States believed international inspectors would detect an Iranian move toward breakout within weeks, leaving a considerable amount of time for the United States and Israel to consider military strikes.”

Either that or Iran would kick “out international … inspectors, eliminating any ambiguity about Iran’s nuclear plans.”

And “even if Iran were to choose this path, American officials said it would probably take Iran some time to reconfigure its nuclear facilities to produce weapons-grade uranium and ramp up work on designing a nuclear warhead.”

Okay, but let me get this straight.

If Iran ever decides to develop nuclear weapons — that is ever decides to — there will be no ambiguity; its course of action will be clear within weeks.

Moreover, it will take Iran at least a year to develop a workable weapon, allowing other countries plenty of time to intervene. And breakout “is unlikely anytime soon”, if it ever happens at all.

But most importantly, Iran is not currently working on a nuclear weapon.

So, why is Iran being sanctioned?

Nuclear Posture Review 2010

Inducing potential victims to surrender their right to self-defense under threat of nuclear annihilation

By Stephen Gowans

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Washington named Iraq, Iran and north Korea as forming an axis of evil. Soon after, the first of these countries was invaded by US and British forces on entirely spurious grounds. The invading forces met little resistance, for Iraq had effectively disarmed under a regime of international sanctions championed by Washington and London that led to the deaths of more than one million over its decade-plus-long existence. The pretext for the aggression was that Iraq retained weapons of mass destruction. It had none.

Around the same time, Washington tore up an accord with north Korea that committed the latter to shuttering its plutonium reactor at Yongbyon and forswearing the pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the former to building light water reactors and delivering fuel oil while the reactors were being built. Washington tarried on the reactor construction, convinced the Juche regime would collapse before the United States had to make good on its commitment. As the date for completion of the reactors drew near, and with only the foundations of the reactors having been built, Washington declared that north Korea had admitted to operating a secret uranium enrichment program. Pyongyang denied the charge. One Bush administration official warned the north Koreans to draw the appropriate lesson from the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. They did. North Korea fired up its Yongbyon reactor and embarked upon development of a nuclear deterrent.

US president Barack Obama has stayed true to form, obscuring his pursuit of his predecessors’ policies beneath honeyed phrases that create the impression of change, where no change of substance exists.

Whether Iran drew the same lesson is unclear. The National Intelligence Estimate, the consensus of the US intelligence community, is that Iran pursued a nuclear weapons program until 2003, the year of the US-British invasion of Iraq, but has since abandoned it. Iran has worked to develop its own capability to generate enriched uranium for use in civilian nuclear power plants, while at the same time working on long range missiles. Irrespective of its nuclear weapons intentions, which Tehran says it doesn’t have, both activities converge on providing the country with the capability of developing nuclear warheads and the means of delivering them. While Tehran is not in the position to present a nuclear deterrent today, it may in the not too distant future be able to rapidly develop one to deter a US or Israeli attack.

There are two conclusions to be drawn from the above and a third that is axiomatic.

1. The United States and Britain have long records of highly provocative behavior based on policies of military aggression, the most conspicuous recent example of which is the invasion of Iraq. Naming countries as forming an axis of evil is a virtual declaration of war. Invading one of them, without provocation and on entirely contrived grounds, is a repugnant act and an international crime of the highest order. North Korea and Iran, the two remaining countries of the US-designated axis, have reasonable cause to fear military aggression by the United States or its proxies.

2. If the case of Iraq is definitive, US policy is to pressure its targets to surrender their means of self-defense to facilitate US pursuit of a subsequent war of aggression.

3. Countries that possess a nuclear weapons capability reduce the Pentagon’s room for manoeuvre and therefore reduce the probability that they will become the object of US military aggression.

From these three points may be drawn a fourth: The United States, as the world’s major agent of military aggression, is the principal cause of nuclear proliferation.

If read superficially, Washington’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) would lead you to believe that US policy makers have finally figured out that the cardinal rule of nonproliferation is to abjure military aggression. Countries that aren’t threatened by nuclear powers have no need to develop nuclear weapons for self-defense. However, a closer reading of the review shows that nothing has changed. US president Barack Obama has stayed true to form, obscuring his pursuit of his predecessors’ policies beneath honeyed phrases that create the impression of change, where no change of substance exists.

The NPR declares “that the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states”, even if they attack the United States, its vital interest or allies and partners with chemical or biological weapons. This differs, but only on the surface, from the policy of preceding administrations which refused to renounce the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. There are a number of reasons why the difference is apparent only.

While nuclear weapons are widely regarded as being unparalleled in their destructive power (and they are), the United States is able to deliver overwhelming destructive force through its conventional military capabilities. A promise not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states is not the same as an assurance not to use or threaten to use devastating military force. Six decades ago it was possible to obliterate a city through conventional means, as the United States and Britain demonstrated in the firebombing of Dresden. If a city could be destroyed by conventional means more than half a century ago, imagine what the Pentagon could do today through conventional forces alone. Indeed, the NPR makes clear that the United States is prepared to shrink its nuclear arsenal partly because “the growth of unrivalled U.S. conventional military capabilities” allows Washington to fulfill its geostrategic goals “with significantly lower nuclear force levels and with reduced reliance on nuclear weapons.”

The NPR also provides a number of escape hatches that allow Washington to continue to dangle a nuclear sword of Damocles over the heads of the two remaining axis of evil countries. One is that nuclear weapons can be used, or their used threatened, against a country that is not “party to the NPT” (the nuclear non-proliferation treaty) even if the country doesn’t yet have nuclear weapons, or it is unclear whether it does. This is the north Korea escape clause. It allows Washington to continue to threaten north Korea (which may or may not have a working crude nuclear weapon) with nuclear obliteration, just as it has done since the early 1990s when the US Strategic Command announced it was re-targeting some of its strategic nuclear missiles on the DPRK (the reason why north Korea withdrew from the NPT.)

Another escape hatch allows Washington to reach for the nuclear trigger whenever it deems a country to have fallen short of “compliance with [its] nuclear non-proliferation obligations,” even if the country doesn’t have nuclear weapons and is a party to the NPT. This is the Iran escape hatch, intended to allow Washington to maintain the threat of nuclear annihilation vis-à-vis Iran or any other country Washington unilaterally declares to be noncompliant with the treaty’s obligations. Washington has a history of fabricating casus belli. 10-100,000 Kosovo Albanian dead and Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, neither of which were ever found, represent recent examples of the United States waging war on entirely fictitious grounds. Washington could readily produce “sexed up” intelligence to declare Iran or any other NPT signatory to be in breach of its treaty obligations, thereby justifying the use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state.

As for the United States’ commitment not to reach for its nuclear arsenal in response to a chemical or biological attack on itself, its vital interests (a term that defies geography and democracy, for how is it that the United States’ vital interests extend to other people’s countries?) its allies and its partners, this too is verbal legerdemain. As a careful reading of the NPR makes clear, the truth of the matter is that the United States will attack any country with nuclear weapons if such an attack is deemed necessary by Washington to protect its interests, which is to say, the interests of the corporations, banks and investors whose senior officials and representatives dominate policy formulation in Washington and provide the major funding, and post-political jobs, to the country’s politicians. According to the NPR, “the United States reserves the right to make any adjustment in [its commitment] that may be warranted…” Translation: We won’t attack non-nuclear weapons states with nuclear weapons unless we decide it’s in our interests to do so.

Washington’s attachment of escape clauses and reservations to its commitment calls to mind Rajani Palme Dutt’s description of how the great powers made a mockery of the Kellog Pact, an agreement to renounce recourse to war as an instrument of foreign policy.

“The United States government exempted from its operation any action for the maintenance of the Monroe Doctrine. The French Government insisted that the pact must not be understood to refer to wars of self-defense or in fulfillment of treaty obligations. The British Government made the most sweeping reservation of all…

“Not content with the ‘defense’ of the Empire, covering a quarter of the world, Britain…reserved for itself full ‘freedom of action’ in any unspecified ‘regions of the world,’ where it might at any time claim ‘a special and vital interest.’ This sweeping claim of British imperialism left the Monroe Doctrine behind as a parochial affair in comparison. Needless to say, this claim was thereafter taken as equally applicable to themselves by the other Powers: thus the Italian representative at Geneva specifically referred to it as justifying Italy’s claim that its war on Abyssinia was no breach of the Kellog Pact.

“What, then, remained of the Kellog Pact even on the day that it was signed? Wars of ‘defense’ were clearly understood to be excluded from its operation. Wars for the maintenance of colonial possession or in execution of treaties were equally understood to be excluded. So were wars on behalf of ‘special and vital interests’ in any ‘regions of the world.’ With these small exceptions the imperialist signatories ‘renounced’ war.” (R. Palme Dutt, World Politics: 1918-1936, Random House, New York, pp. 151-152.)

What, then, remains of the Obama administration’s assurance, even on the day the NPR was published, that Washington won’t attack non-nuclear states with nuclear weapons? Countries that may or may not have nuclear weapons are excluded. Countries that don’t have nuclear arms and are party to the NPT, but which may develop a nuclear arms capability, and importantly, are independent of the United States, are excluded. Countries which, through their pursuit of independent economic development policies, threaten the special and vital interests of the United States in any region of the world, are excluded. With these small exceptions, Washington has renounced the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states.

US foreign policy carries on in its characteristic imperialist and war-like manner, despite the elevation of a black Democrat, and now Nobel Peace Prize winner, to the highest elected office of the land.

The NPR is said to be based on “the President’s agenda for reducing nuclear dangers and pursuing the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.” But it’s clear from the very beginning of the review that US policy stands in the way of the president’s ostensible aim. “As long as nuclear weapons exist,” the review begins, “the United States will maintain a safe, secure, and effective arsenal…to deter potential adversaries…” The implication is that the country to first develop nuclear weapons, and the only country to have ever used them, intends to be the last country to have them, arrogating onto itself the monopoly right to maintain a nuclear arsenal to deter potential adversaries. Only if every other country surrenders their rights to deter potential adversaries, and yields this right exclusively to the United States, can the implications of the president’s aim be realized. But given the United States’ sanguinary history of busting down the doors of weak countries to lay claim to their land, labor, resources and markets on behalf of its economic elite, only the insane, opportunistic, unprincipled, cowardly or co-opted would yield their right to self-defense to such a predatory country. The president’s agenda for reducing nuclear dangers and pursuing the goal of a world without nuclear weapons is more aptly described as an agenda for inducing potential victims to surrender their right of self-defense, and under the threat of nuclear annihilation. In other words, US foreign policy carries on in its characteristic imperialist and war-like manner, despite the elevation of a black Democrat, and now Nobel Peace Prize winner, to the highest elected office of the land.