Sunday, July 16, 2017

Halt the U.S. Drive to War with North Korea!

Posted by Nick Wright, July 15, 2017,

From the US Peace Council

US television news programs (CNN, MSNBC, and Fox) have been pounding the war drums in the last few weeks and days, since North Korea successfully launched a long- range missile. The long drift to war with North Korea[1] has seemingly become, overnight, a US drive to war with North Korea.

With his usual bluster and saber-rattling, President Trump on his recent tour of Europe continued to threaten “severe action” against North Korea. Trump has made matters worse by devolving authority to battlefield commanders who inflame tensions with their own incendiary statements. Example: the US commander in Korea, General Vincent Brooks, stated publicly “the only thing which separates armistice from war” with North Korea is “our self-restraint, which is a choice.”

Anyone is the US could conclude, quite reasonably, that the US is the aggrieved and threatened party; that North Korea obviously wishes to harm the US people; that the US confronts a new danger; that North Korea is the aggressor; that an innocent and remarkably patient US is the intended victim.

Such a conclusion — all of it — would be false. Almost nothing of what the US mainstream media says about North Korea is true. Only a grasp of the history and the broader context can shed light on this Korea Crisis.

A few key facts:

The US refusal to accept the legitimacy of the North Korean government (DPRK) is part of its long-term policy that any state in the world that follows an independent course is subject to being overthrown by the United States. Economic independence and sovereignty are considered by the US financial and corporate elite as an act of aggression. Therefore, the DPRK, Viet Nam, Cuba, the USSR and now Russia, Syria, Venezuela, China and others have all been targeted by the US politically and militarily. US policy insists that it has the right to curb independent states, to determine a country’s political leaders and socioeconomic system, and to use whatever means it takes – economic sanctions, sabotage, assassination, war — to achieve those goals.
• North Korea acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1985.
• In 1994, the DPRK agreed to freeze its nuclear program in return for the US providing energy materials and generating stations. In January of 2002, President George W. Bush announced that the DPRK was part of the “Axis of Evil,” and subject to regime change and even nuclear annihilation by the US. By the end of 2002, the DPRK had essentially exited the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and began to develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent.
• The notion that North Korea poses a threat to the US is false and absurd. It would be national suicide for the DPRK to start a war with the US or South Korea, which have massively superior military capabilities. The DPRK has never threatened to start such a war, rather it has always asserted that it developed weapons of mass destruction in order to deter the US and its allies from an (often threatened) US attack such as those that decapitated Iraq and Libya. The constant denigration and demonization of the North Korean leadership (they are portrayed invariably as madmen, or clowns, or both) is a strategy to make the Big Lie of a threat from North Korea believable to an ill-informed and fearful US public.
• The DPRK has offered to freeze its nuclear weapons program if the US freezes its war practices targeting that country, actions aimed to precede negotiations. Russia and China have endorsed this approach. The US, however, refuses.

The US is Provoking the Crisis

North Korea would not have a nuclear weapons program if it were not under increasing threat from the US, which has been trying to force regime change in the North since 1945 by war, subversion, diplomatic isolation, and economic strangulation.

A recent article noted that:

1. As University of Chicago history professor Bruce Cumings [a leading US historian of the Korean War], writes, for North Korea the nuclear crisis [1] began in late February 1993, when General Lee Butler, head of the new US ‘Strategic Command,’ announced that he was retargeting strategic nuclear weapons (i.e., hydrogen bombs) meant for the old USSR, 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.” [2]

2. It is the US that has been provoking the DPRK with its stationing of THAAD missile (“Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense”), a first-strike weapon, in South Korea over the last year. The US is now testing the THAAD missiles. US-South Korea practice military maneuvers, which used to recur several times a year, are now almost incessant.

3. Moreover, the US is further militarizing South Korea. Residents of the South Korean island of Jeju have strongly object to the South Korean military setting up a base on the island, with the possible deployment of the US Navy’s newest Zumwalt-class destroyer “to deter North Korean aggression.” At the end of World War II, after the Japanese Imperialists had been defeated, Jeju Islanders rose up against the US-installed colonial dictatorship of Syngman Rhee. The US responded by employing the former brutal Japanese military rulers to violently put down the protests.

It is the US that, again and again, has refused talks with North Korea’s leadership:
• In January [2017], North Korea offered to “sit with the US 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 US is concerned.”
• The North Korean proposal was seconded by China and Russia and recently by South Korea’s new president Moon Jae-in. 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.” (Stephen Gowans, ibid.)
• Having partitioned Korea in 1945, the US permanently stationed about 40,000 of troops in South Korea after the end of 1950-1953 hostilities and the 1953 armistice. The U.S. still denies Korea a peace treaty, which the DPRK has insisted on. But peace was never the intention of US imperialism. US foreign policy sees Northeast Asia only through the lens of domination.
• The permanent occupation of South Korea was aimed at geopolitical control of the region, including elimination of the DPRK and moving US missile and military forces right up to the Chinese and Russian borders. The occupation was symbolized by the giant, yearly provocative military maneuvers by the US and its regional allies, such as South Korea. Such rehearsals for real war with the DPRK have stepped up dramatically in recent months.

Few Americans grasp the enormity of the trauma suffered by millions of Koreans in the war of 1950-53. The war devastated dozens of Korean cities. The US dropped over 428,000 bombs over the capital Pyongyang alone, and killed 1.2 million people. The US war on Korea included the use of napalm. The US war’s brutal and blatant violations of international humanitarian law remain unpunished.

The real nature of US policy to the Korean peninsula is neo-colonial domination, through occupation and partition. This has been so since 1945. The US has stooped to employ the same quislings that had run Korea as a Japanese colony. Prof. Cumings wrote in the London Review of Books:
• To shore up their [1945] occupation, the Americans employed every last hireling of the Japanese they could find, including former officers in the Japanese military like Park Chung Hee and Kim Chae-gyu, both of whom graduated from the American military academy in Seoul in 1946. (After a military takeover in 1961 Park became president of South Korea, lasting a decade and a half until his ex-classmate Kim, by then head of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, shot him dead over dinner one night.)
• After the Americans left in 1948 the border area around the 38th parallel was under the command of Kim Sok-won, another ex-officer of the Imperial Army, and it was no surprise that after a series of South Korean incursions into the North, full-scale civil war broke out on 25 June 1950. Inside the South itself – whose leaders felt insecure and conscious of the threat from what they called ‘the north wind’ – there was an orgy of state violence against anyone who might somehow be associated with the left or with communism.
• The historian Hun Joon Kim found that at least 300,000 people were detained and executed or simply disappeared by the South Korean government in the first few months after conventional war began. My own work and that of John Merrill indicates that somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 people died as a result of political violence before June 1950, at the hands either of the South Korean government or the US occupation forces. In her recent book Korea’s Grievous War, which combines archival research, records of mass graves and interviews with relatives of the dead and escapees who fled to Osaka, Su-kyoung Hwang documents the mass killings in villages around the southern coast. In short, the Republic of Korea was one of the bloodiest dictatorships of the early Cold War period; many of the perpetrators of the massacres had served the Japanese in their dirty work – and were then put back into power by the Americans.
• The most important new factor is the destabilizing THAAD missiles. According to the US peace organization, Global Network, an authority on questions of war technology, the US has recently deployed the THAAD “missile defense” system in Seongju, South Korea despite massive protests by South Koreans. It is claimed by US authorities that THAAD is there to intercept missiles from North Korea. But many experts believe China and Russia are the real targets, given the enormous range of THAAD radar, which counterproductively intensifies unnecessary military tension in the region. The US has also deployed other “missile defense” systems through the Asia-Pacific region, Europe and the Middle East to encircle Russia and China. “Missile defense” is a key element in Pentagon first-strike attack planning.

De-escalate Tensions Now!

The US Peace Council joins with other US antiwar organizations in demanding that:
• The US must reverse course. De-escalate tension now. No more provocations from the US. The United States and South Korea must immediately cease military maneuvers in the region, providing North Korea with an opportunity to reciprocate. The THAAD missiles near the North Korea-South Korea border must be de-activated and removed.
• The United States must engage in good faith, direct talks with North Korea. Such talks should include the perspective of a peace treaty to end the Korean War. A commitment to denuclearization should not be a precondition for talks with North Korea.
• The United States and all states in the region must stop military actions that could be interpreted as provocative, including such actions as forward deployment of additional military forces by the United States, and the testing or assertion of territorial claims by deploying of military forces in contested areas by any state. Withdrawing U.S. naval forces newly concentrated near the Korean peninsula would be an important confidence-building step.

Korea — all of it — has a right to its sovereignty and independence. The recently elected South Korean leader, Moon Jae-in, represents a break with the repressive and reactionary leaders of the past. He campaigned on a number of progressive ideas — more independence from the US; more engagement with the North. But he has had to contend with bullying by a U.S. Administration bent on heightening tensions. The U.S. has no right to enforce the partition of the Korean peninsula and to block steps to unity and social progress desired by the people of Korea, North and South.
War can still be prevented, but only if the antiwar movement compels the U.S. to reverse course.

[1] More properly, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the DPRK. Here the terms will be used interchangeably.

[2] Stephen Gowans in “The Real Reason Washington is Worried about North Korea’s ICBM Test” (What’s Left, July 5, 2017

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Urgently needed: a responsible US attitude to North Korea

Professor Martin Hart-Landsberg here gives details of US relations with North Korea, showing that the perverse state is not the North Korean entity but the US itself which has proven to be utterly unreliable and deliberately provocative in its dealing with North Korea…

The US government remains determined to tighten economic sanctions on North Korea and continues to plan for a military strike aimed at destroying the country’s nuclear infrastructure. And the North replies that it would respond to any attack with its own strikes against US bases in the region and even the US itself. What is happening is not new.

  • The US began conducting war games with South Korean forces in 1976 and it was not long before those included simulated nuclear attacks against the North. That was before North Korea had nuclear weapons.
  • In 1994, President Bill Clinton was close to launching a military attack on North Korea with the aim of destroying its nuclear facilities.
  • In 2002, President Bush talked about seizing North Korean ships as part of a blockade of the country, which is an act of war.
  • In 2013, the US conducted war games which involved planning for preemptive attacks on North Korean military targets and “decapitation” of the North Korean leadership and even a first strike nuclear attack.

The cycle of belligerency and threat-making is intensifying, and a miscalculation could trigger a new war, with devastating consequences. Even if a war is averted, the ongoing embargo against North Korea and continual threats of war are costly. They promote/legitimatize greater military spending and militarization more generally, at the expense of needed social programs, in Japan, China, the US, and the two Koreas. They also create a situation that compromises democratic possibilities in both South and North Korea and worsen already difficult economic conditions in North Korea.

An alternative that the US government is unwilling to consider, much less discuss is for the US to accept North Korean offers of direct negotiations between the two countries, with all issues on the table. The US government and media dismiss this option as out of hand. We are told:

  1. the North is a hermit kingdom and seeks only isolation
  2. the country is ruled by crazy people hell-bent on war
  3. the North Korean leadership cannot be trusted to follow through on its promises.

None of this is true.

  1. If being a hermit kingdom means never wanting to negotiate, then North Korea is not a hermit kingdom. North Korea has been asking for direct talks with the United States since the early 1990s. The North was dependent on trade with the communist countries and their fall to capitalism left the North Korean economy isolated. Since then, they have repeatedly asked for unconditional direct talks with the US in hopes of securing an end to the Korean War (it is still not over because no peace treaty was ever agreed) with a peace treaty as a first step toward their desired normalization of relations. They have been repeatedly rebuffed. The US has always put preconditions on those talks, preconditions that constantly change whenever the North has taken steps to meet them.

    The North has also tried to join the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB), but the US and Japan have blocked their membership. The North has tried to set up free trade zones to attract foreign investment, but the US and Japan have worked to block them. So, it is not the North that is refusing to talk or broaden its engagement with the global economy; it is the US that seeks to keep North Korea isolated.

  2. The media portray North Korea as pursuing an out-of-control militarism that is the main cause of the current dangerous situation. But it is important to recognize that South Korea has outspent North Korea on military spending every year since 1976. International agencies currently estimate that North Korean annual military spending is $4 billion, while South Korean annual military spending is $40 billion. And then we have to add the US military build-up. North Korea has largely been responding to South Korean and US militarism and threats, not driving them. As for the development of a nuclear weapons program, it was the US that brought nuclear weapons to the Korean peninsula. It did so in 1958 in violation of the Korean War armistice and threatened North Korea with nuclear attack years before the North even sought to develop nuclear weapons.

  3. North Korea has been a more reliable negotiating partner than the USA. Here, we have to take up the nuclear issue more directly. The North has tested a nuclear weapon five times: 2006, 2009, 2013, and twice in 2016. Critically, North Korean tests have largely been conducted in an effort to pull the US into negotiations or fulfill past promises. And the country has made numerous offers to halt its testing and even freeze its nuclear weapons program if only the US would agree to talks.

North Korea was first accused of developing nuclear weapons in the early 1990s. Its leadership refused to confirm or deny that the country had succeeded in manufacturing nuclear weapons but said that it would open up its facilities for inspection if the US would enter talks to normalize relations. As noted above, the North was desperate, in the wake of the collapse of the USSR, to draw the US into negotiations. In other words, it was ready to end the hostilities between the two countries. The US government refused talks and began to mobilize for a strike on North Korean nuclear facilities. A war was averted only because Jimmy Carter, against the wishes of the Clinton administration, went to the North, met Kim Il Sung, and negotiated an agreement that froze the North Korean nuclear program.

The North Korean government agreed to end their country’s nuclear weapons program in exchange for aid and normalization. And from 1994 to 2002, the North froze its plutonium program and had all nuclear fuel observed by international inspectors to assure the US that it was not engaged in making any nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, the US did not live up to its side of the bargain; it did not deliver the aid it promised or take meaningful steps toward normalization.

  • In 2001, President Bush declared North Korea to be part of the “axis of evil” and the following year unilaterally canceled the agreement. In response, the North restarted its nuclear program.
  • In 2003, the Chinese government, worried about growing tensions between the US and North Korea, convened multiparty talks to bring the two countries back to negotiations.
  • In 2005, under Chinese pressure, the US agreed to a new agreement, in which each North Korean step toward ending its weapons program would be matched by a new US step toward ending the embargo and normalizing relations.
  • Exactly one day after signing the agreement, the US asserted, without evidence, that North Korea was engaged in a program of counterfeiting US dollars and tightened its sanctions policy against North Korea.
  • In 2006, The North Korean responded by testing its first nuclear bomb. And shortly afterward, the US agreed to drop its counterfeiting charge and comply with the agreement it had previously signed.
  • In 2007, North Korea shut down its nuclear program and even began dismantling its nuclear facilities—but the US again didn’t follow through on the terms of the agreement, falling behind on its promised aid and sanction reductions. In fact, the US kept escalating its demands on North Korea, calling for an end to North Korea’s missile program and improvement in human rights in addition to the agreed-upon steps to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. And so…
  • In 2009, frustrated, North Korea tested another nuclear weapon.
  • The US responded by tightening sanctions.
  • In 2012, the North launched two satellites. The first failed, the second succeeded. Before each launch the US threatened to go to the UN and secure new sanctions on North Korea. But the North asserted its right to launch satellites and went ahead.
  • In 2013, after the December 2012 launch, the UN agreed to further sanctions and the North responded with its third nuclear test.

This period marks a major change in North Korean policy. The North now changed its public stance. It declared itself a nuclear state, and announced that it was no longer willing to give up its nuclear weapons. However, the North Korean government made clear that it would freeze its nuclear weapons program if the US would cancel its future war games. The US refused and its March 2013 war games included practice runs of nuclear equipped bombers and planning for occupying North Korea. The North has therefore continued to test and develop its nuclear weapons capability.

So, the history shows that whenever the US shows willingness to negotiate, the North responds favourably, and when agreements are signed, it is the US that abandons them. The North has pushed forward with its nuclear weapons program largely in an attempt to force the US to engage seriously because it believes that this program is its only bargaining chip. It is desperate to end the US embargo on its economy.

We lost the opportunity to negotiate with a non-nuclear North Korea when we cut off negotiations in 2001, before the country had a nuclear arsenal. Things have changed. Now, the most we can reasonably expect is an agreement that freezes that arsenal. However, if relations between the two countries truly improve it may well be possible to achieve a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula, an outcome both countries profess to seek.

So, why does the US refuse direct negotiations and risk war? The logical reason is that there are powerful forces opposing them. The tension is useful to the US military industrial complex, which needs enemies to support the build-up of the military budget. The tension also allows the US military to maintain troops on the Asian mainland and forces in Japan. It also helps to isolate China and boost right-wing political tendencies in Japan and South Korea. And now, after decades of demonizing North Korea, it is difficult for the US political establishment to change course.

The outcome of the recent presidential election in South Korea might open possibilities to force a change in US policy. Moon Jae-in, the winner, has repudiated the hardline policies of his impeached predecessor, Park Guen-Hye, and declared his commitment to re-engage with the North. The US government was not happy about his victory, but it cannot easily ignore Moon’s call for a change in South Korean policy toward North Korea, especially since US actions against the North are usually presented as necessary to protect South Korea. Thus, if Moon follows through on his promises, the US may well be forced to moderate its own policy toward the North.

US Americans and we, onlookers and passive supporters of this perfidy, have a responsibility to become better educated about US policy toward both Koreas, to support popular movements in South Korea that seek peaceful relations with North Korea, to progress toward reunification, and to work for a US policy that promotes the demilitarization and normalization of US-North Korean relations.

Professor Martin Hart-Landsberg is Professor Emeritus of Economics at Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon; an Adjunct Researcher at the Institute for Social Sciences, Gyeongsang National University, South Korea. His areas of teaching and research include political economy, economic development, international economics, and the political economy of East Asia. He is also a member of the Workers' Rights Board (Portland, Oregon) and maintains a blog, ‘Reports from the Economic Front’. Here he gives details of US relations with North Korea, showing that the perverse state is not the North Korean entity but the US itself which has proven to be utterly unreliable and deliberately provocative in its dealing with North Korea.