What's Left

March 5, 2003

North Korea no threat to the US

By Stephen Gowans

US and South Korean troops held war games near the North Korean border yesterday. The Pentagon said the war games were aimed at deterring North Korea's military threat. Predictably, the media echoed the Pentagon's charge, though the charge is preposterous. North Korea poses no real military threat to either the United States or Japan, and while in principal it could threaten South Korea, it isn't threatening its neighbor in practice.

Those who had their wits about them asked why a poor country, battered by natural disasters and scarcity, on whose southern border sits 35,000 American troops, and in whose coastal waters lurk nuclear equipped US submarines, would launch an attack on a neighbor it has been trying to build bridges to, especially since an attack would provoke a devastating reply by the formidable US military.

Even more improbable as scenarios go is a missile attack on Japan (which Washington mentions from time to time as if it's a credible scenario), and about as unlikely as you can get is a North Korean missile strike on the United States. No one has yet to advance a single, credible reason why North Korea would undertake the suicidal act of attacking with the few missiles it may or may not have countries that could reply with an annihilating counterstroke.

But that hasn't stopped Washington from continuing to elevate minuscule threats into Himalayan threats, and nor has it stopped the media from uncritically echoing Washington's shameless threat-inflation. While we've haven't arrived there yet, we're only inches away from the point where an announcement that Burundi has received a new shipment of peashooters will send the Pentagon into a histrionic flap, to be followed by Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge issuing a Code Orange warning, along with orders to round up all Burundians living in the United States. Thereupon the media will dutifully warn that Burundi has emerged as a military threat, and Americans will feel their pulses quicken.

Worse still, not only is North Korea not the threat it's painted to be, it's the United States that stands as an immense and looming threat to North Korea, an aggressor whose contempt for the sovereignty of other countries and whose imperial ambitions harkens back to the dark days of the last century when jackboots marched across Europe.

It will be recalled that the Bush administration made a virtual declaration of war against North Korea when it declared the country to be part an "axis of evil," a hit list of largely defenseless countries to be taken out one by one. Calling Iraq, Iran and North Korea an axis was good rhetoric, but there was no connection among the countries, except that "they resented the power of the West," according to David Frum, the former Bush speechwriter who originally coined the phrase "axis of hatred," later changed to "axis of evil" by Bush's top wordsmith Mike Gerson. Frum said North Korea was added to the list at the last minute because "it needed to feel a firmer hand."

"Resented the power of the West" means the three refused to surrender their sovereignty to the United States. Hence the hit list. Hence the need to feel a firmer hand. If they wouldn't subordinate themselves to Washington peacefully, they'd be forced to violently.

Later, a restive British MP would challenge Prime Minister Tony Blair, Washington's faithful servant, about the Anglo-American axis's intentions with regards to North Korea. "Who's next?" (after Iraq), he demanded of Blair. "North Korea?" The Prime Minister allowed as how the "crisis" on the Korean peninsula would have to be dealt with in due time.

Yesterday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was busily at work building the pretext for a future attack on the next hit list country. North Korea, he said "continues to engage in provocative and now reckless actions."

Fleischer was referring to North Korean MIGs challenging a US RC-135 spy plane on patrol off the coast of North Korea. But under the circumstances, it was the US surveillance flight, not the MIGs, that was provocative. In recent weeks, the Pentagon has stationed bombers within striking distance of Pyongyang. That, on top of Washington putting the communist country on notice through its "axis of evil" declaration, thereby fingering North Korea as a potential target under Washington's pre-emptive strike doctrine, amounts to a set of highly provocative actions.

What's more, with North Korea having fired up its nuclear power facilities at Yongbyon, there's a good chance the Bush administration will carry through on what the Clinton administration contemplated doing--razing the facilities to the ground in a missile strike--a plan that it backed away from in favor of an agreement to supply fuel oil and lightwater reactors in exchange for Pyongyang shutting the reactor down.

That agreement collapsed when Washington accused North Korea of secretly flouting the pact by developing nuclear weapons. Washington cut off fuel oil supplies, and Pyongyang put the reactor -- which is capable of producing weapons grade material -- back in to operation, at the same time withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

But there is much that is murky about the events surrounding the collapse of the agreement. Gregory Elich ("Targeting North Korea") points out that it was a US official who said Pyongyang admitted to having developed nuclear weapons, not Pyongyang itself. And the US has failed to live up to its side of the agreement. Only the most rudimentary work had begun on the lightwater reactors, which were to be built by 2003. And while the agreement called for a normalization of relations between the two countries, the Bush administration has taken an increasingly aggressive posture toward North Korea. And that growing hostility has continued, with Washington rejecting out of hand North Korea's offer of a nonaggression pact.

It's not clear whether North Korea has nuclear warheads or not, or whether it intends to develop them, but what is clear is that Washington has decided that any country that refuses to knuckle under and is weak enough to be pushed around will not be allowed to develop the capability to defend itself. This doctrine isn't peculiar to the Bush administration; the Clinton administration was willing to breach international law by launching an unprovoked attack on the Yongbyon facilities for the very same reason.

But depriving another country of the means of self-defense so that it can be easily pushed around and forced to surrender its sovereignty would hardly meet with the approval of the American population. Moreover, the hypocrisy of denying other countries weapons while possessing the world's largest arsenal of weapons of mass destruction is too jarring. Accordingly, Washington remains mum on the true reasons it's targeting North Korea, and transforms the small struggling country into a baleful, reckless and provocative power that threatens the United States and its allies. Iraq has undergone the same transformation, for the same reasons. So too will Iran.

Sadly, this fairly black and white issue will be muddied by those who insist on ritualistic denunciations of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il, communism and neo-Stalinism, in the same way the issue of Washington's grossly illegal, immoral, and unpopular designs for war on Iraq have been muddied by ritualistic denunciations of Saddam Hussein, Iraqi human rights violations, and old stories (which now seem to be have been distorted, "Reality Checks Needed During War," Toronto Star, March 1, 2003) of Saddam gassing his own people.

The issue isn't Kim Jong Il. The issue is the United States seeking to extend its hegemony, through whatever means necessary. If that isn't learned soon, the hit list will grow longer.

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