What's Left

December 19, 2004

North Korea: How Washington works to crush threats to US capital (and turn them into investor paradises)

By Stephen Gowans

US cold war strategist Robert McNamara had a plan to crush the Soviet Union, which, in its broad outlines, is being used today by Washington to bring down communist hold-outs Cuba and north Korea.

McNamara perceived that the post-war Soviet leadership had three goals:

1. Rebuild an economy devastated by Nazi aggression, to raise living standards and proceed along the path to communism.

2. Rebuild the military to provide protection against a stalking capitalist world.

3. Win new friends in Eastern Europe and the Third World [1].

McNamara reasoned that if the US ratcheted up military pressure on the USSR, the Soviet leadership would be forced to subordinate its first goal, rebuilding the economy, to its second, recuperating its military strength, and beyond that, keeping pace with the growing US military threat.

Keeping pace would be next to impossible. While the Soviet economy had grown enormously from 1928, when the first five-year plan was introduced, war had robbed it of at least a decade’s growth. By the ‘70s it was still only half the size of the US economy, ill-equipped to keep pace with a frenzied US arms build-up.

But by McNamara’s reckoning, the Soviets would have no choice but to channel a sizeable share of their war-devastated resources into building their armed forces. The USSR’s economic development would be stunted,  distortions would disrupt its economy, and the country would be perpetually short of consumer goods.

This became the policy of “spending the Soviets into bankruptcy,”[2] an American version of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s plan to crush Bolshevism. [3] But who would drive the final nail into the Soviet coffin? McNamara thought it might be the Soviet leadership itself, no longer willing, or able, to deal with the domestic fall-out of sustained pressure from the West. That pressure, predicted McNamara, could very well threaten Soviet ideology in Moscow itself.

Whether it was pressure from the US, or class struggle and the internal dynamics of Soviet society that drove Gorbachev to dismantle Soviet socialism, is far from resolved. But few would dismiss outright the claim that US pressure was a contributing factor.

As regards north Korea, US efforts to bring an end to the country’s socialism have largely followed the McNamara plan. There are differences, of course, some large, but in broad outline, the approach is much the same. Formulated as a point by point plan, here’s what it might look like.        

1. Wage a three-year war (from 1950-1953), destroying all buildings in north Korea over one story [4].

2. End active hostilities by a truce, never technically ending the state of war. Refuse to sign a peace treaty.

3. Keep tens of thousands of troops stationed on the Korean peninsula, and tens of thousands more deployed in nearby Japan. Direct warships and submarines to harass north Korea’s coastal waters. Send spy planes aloft to harass the pipsqueak north Korean air force. Keep the country under satellite surveillance.

4. When north Korea offers to sign a non-aggression treaty, reject the offer outright, explaining “We don’t do peace treaties” [5].

5. Declare north Korea part of an “axis of evil,” targeted for “regime change.”

6. Invade Iraq, declaring the attack preventive, citing “hard” and “credible” evidence that Baghdad is hiding banned weapons. After ousting the Iraqi leadership, warn Pyongyang it should take heed.

7. Include north Korea on a list of countries you’re prepared to attack by means of a pre-emptive nuclear strike, if necessary.  Let north Koreans know they can be incinerated because “they resent US power” [6].

8. Call north Korea a garrison, militarist, state. Attribute the country’s preparedness for war to the quirks of its leadership, not its objective circumstances.

9. Increase the pressure by imposing trade sanctions. Block, inhibit, menace, and undermine north Korean trade with other countries. Isolate the country.

10. When north Korea starts building nuclear facilities, plan a pre-emptive strike. When the expected loss of life in south Korea is considered too high to be acceptable, offer fuel-oil shipments, two (non-weapons grade material-producing) light water reactors and normalization of relations, in exchange for north Korea shutting down its nuclear facilities and signing on to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Drag your heels on normalization. Delay building the light water reactors. Claim north Korea has admitted to having a secret nuclear weapons program, and cancel fuel-oil shipments. Never complete construction of the reactors [7].

11. Set up the Proliferation Security Initiative to interdict ships you’re able –  by acting as the world’s de facto government and gendarme – to unilaterally declare to be smuggling drugs or carrying illegal weapons. Make it clear the intention is to harass north Korean shipping, further tightening the screws on the economic blockade and ratcheting up the economic misery factor.
12. Pass the “North Korean Human Rights Act,” to authorize funding to groups or individuals working to overthrow the north Korean regime.

13. Step up propaganda broadcasts into north Korea. Have transistor radios smuggled into the country so it can be explained to north Koreans that their poverty owes itself to the evils of the ruling regime and the inefficiencies of a planned, publicly owned economy.

By this point the country should be severely straitened, its economy close to collapse. The choice is stark: Suffocate under the weight of US hyper-pressure, or submit to hyper-exploitation; put up with more of the same, or become a new source of ultra-low-wage sweat shop labor.

1.  See Bahman Azad, “Heroic Struggle: Bitter Defeat,” International Publishers, New York, 2000.

2. See Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny, “Socialism Betrayed: Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union,” International Publishers, New York, 2004. p. 76.

3. See Jacques R. Pauwels, “The Myth of the Good War: America in the Second World War,” Lorimer, Toronto, 2002, p. 243.

4. “We don’t do non-aggression pacts or treaties, things of that nature,” declared US Secretary of State Colin Powell after “North Korea revived its long standing demand for a non-aggression treaty and diplomatic relations with Washington.” “Beijing to Host North Korea Talks,” The New York Times, August 14, 2003.

5. See Bruce Cumings, “Korea: Forgotten Nuclear Threats,” Le Monde Diplomatique, December 2004; Bruce Deane, “The Korean War: 1945-1953,” China Books & Periodicals, San Francisco, 1990.

6. The reason Iraq, Iran and north Korea were placed on the Bush administration’s axis of evil list, according to David Frum, a Bush speech writer, credited with coining the phrase “axis of evil.” Frum says North Korea was added to the list at the last minute “because it needed to feel a stronger hand.” David Frum, “The Right Man: An Inside Account of the Bush White House,” Random House, 2003.

7. See Gregory Elich, “Targeting North Korea,” www.globalresearch.ca. December 31, 2003, http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/ELI212A.html   

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