June 24, 2004

US to North Korea: Trust Us, We'd Never Lie

By Stephen Gowans

Picture this: Al-Qaeda offers Washington a "provisional" guarantee not to attack the country or seek to target US interests abroad in return for the US dismantling its military. The agreement would depend on the US giving international inspectors access to US military sites and meeting a series of deadlines for disabling and dismantling its military facilities, and then shipping them out of the country.

Would Washington agree?

Never.

No country would deliberately leave itself defenseless, simply because an enemy promised not to attack, and then only provisionally.

Yet absurd as the proposal is, this is what Washington is offering North Korea.

Under the plan, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea would furnish the Communist country with heavy fuel oil and Washington would offer a "provisional'' commitment not to attack or try to topple the North Korean government, in return for North Korea dismantling its nuclear weapons program, giving international inspectors access to nuclear sites and meeting a series of deadlines for disabling and dismantling its nuclear facilities, and then shipping them out of the country.

But once the North Koreans had irreversibly dismantled their nuclear weapons capability, leaving themselves effectively defenseless, what would stop the US from rescinding its "provisional" agreement not to attack?

Nothing.

Is it any wonder senior US officials are saying the offer is "likely to be rejected by the North Koreans" and that "Russian officials said it would be impossible for North Korea to accept it"? ("U.S. Revises Proposal at North Korea Nuclear Talks, "Washington Post, June 24, 2004)

Washington has already proved itself perfectly willing to break agreements where North Korea is concerned. Under the 1994 Agreed Framework, negotiated by the Clinton administration, North Korea agreed to shut down its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon in return for fuel oil shipments, the construction of two light-water reactors, and normalization of relations.

The nuclear facilities were closed, fuel oil shipments began, and so did construction of the light-water reactors. But Washington did little to normalize relations and construction of the reactors proceeded at a snail's pace. By 2003, the scheduled completion date, construction work was still in its preliminary stages.

If the Clinton administration had dragged its heels on holding up its end of the agreement, the Bush administration was openly hostile.

Soon enough, Washington was claiming North Korea had admitted to breaking the agreement by secretly pursuing the development of nuclear weapons, an admission the North Koreans denied they had ever made.

Nevertheless, the Bush administration had its justification for cancelling the agreement. Fuel oil shipments were halted.

Meanwhile, North Korea was included in the list of axis of evil countries. Bush speech writer David Frum, who boasted he'd coined the phrase, said the Communist country was included because it needed to feel a heavy hand.

How much heavier could it get?

North Korea had already struggled through 50 years of US economic sanctions. Its markets and sources of raw materials had disappeared with the collapse of Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe. And the Korean War -- never officially ended, a reality attesting to by the 37,000 US troops that remained in the south -- forced the country to divert scarce resources to its military.

It was a miracle a Communist North Korea continued to survive -- though barely, mired in poverty, the screws turning tighter.

John R. Bolton, the under secretary of state for arms control, let it be known the US intended to play hardball. Asked to clarify US policy toward 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,' by an American Enterprise Institute colleague. 'That,' he said, 'is our policy.'" ("Absent from the Korea Talks: Bush's Hard-Liner," The New York Times, September 2, 2003.)

Critically short of energy, and under a growing threat, North Korea kicked inspectors out of the country, re-opened its nuclear facilities, and withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

(The US, which continues to pay lip service to the treaty while refusing to be bound by it, is engaged it its own proliferation activities. Yesterday, the Senate approved President Bush's $447 billion military spending request for next year which includes "a go-ahead for further research on two new nuclear weapons: a low-yield 'mini-nuke' and a high-yield 'bunker buster' to destroy deep underground facilities." ("Senate Passes $447 Billion Defense Bill," Washington Post, June 24, 2004.)

Soon after North Korea quit the treaty, US forces marched on a defenseless Iraq, which had disarmed in compliance with UN -- and US -- demands. The lesson was clear: Disarm and be invaded.

The lesson wasn't lost on the North Korean leadership. Nor should it be lost on anyone else. Whoever thinks the US would leave an effectively defenseless North Korea in peace, its Communist system intact, is suffering from a severe delusion.

Washington has never been tolerant of Communist, socialist or economic nationalist regimes, and has always worked to replace them with dependent governments that can guarantee corporate America access to markets, raw materials and low-wage labor. There's nothing, it seems, more repugnant to Washington policy-makers than a closed economy.

In their book "An End to Evil: How to Win the War of Terror," Frum and Pentagon-advisor Richard Perle argue that a Communist regime in North Korea would be perfectly acceptable, so long as it allowed the country to be integrated into Western capitalism. The duo's preference seems to be fit perfectly with preferences expressed in decades of US foreign policy.

So it is that it's a near certainty that if North Korea disarmed, the "provisional" character of Washington's nonaggression commitment would soon become evident.

At that point, North Korea would be faced with an ultimatum: Become a satellite of the US, open your economy fully to penetration by US capital, or face the same consequences as Iraq.

Either way, the picture isn't pretty.

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Stephen Gowans