What's Left

January 13, 2002

Threats or victims?

By Stephen Gowans

It's called "the North Korean nuclear threat,"  but you would be hard pressed to say exactly what threat North Korea poses.
And Iraq, we're told, is also a threat, but how, and to what, is never entirely clear.

It just seems that Baghdad and Pyongyang are threats, because Washington says they are, and therefore, the media -- which almost always faithfully reflects the Washington line -- say they are, too.

Vaguely, the two countries being threats seem to have something to do with them either having, and cleverly concealing, weapons of mass destruction, or trying to develop them.

Yet surprisingly, it's doubtful that either country has the weapons they're alleged to have.

UN inspectors have been given carte blanche to go anywhere in Iraq, but so far have come up with "zilch." Washington says it's sure Baghdad has weapons, but can't say, or won't say, where they are, the won't part an almost certain sign the can't part is true.

As for North Korea's nuclear weapons, the country probably doesn't have any either, notwithstanding media reports that the world was "stunned" when North Korea admitted recently it had developed nuclear weapons.

The claim "the world was stunned" by this disclosure seemed less a description and more an audience cue, kind of like the applause sign that flashes on at the appropriate moment to tell studio audiences when to clap.

An event of this magnitude is supposed to be stunning, but with the United States up to its eyeballs in nuclear weapons, with China, Russia, France, and Britain sitting upon their own large nuclear arsenals, with Israel jealousy guarding its cache of 200 nuclear weapons, (some pointed at Baghdad), and with India and Pakistan not too long ago having joined the nuclear club, the news that yet another country has acquired the bomb is hardly stunning, no matter how much the media say it is.

As it turns out, North Korea never actually admitted to having a nuclear weapons program. US Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly made the admission on North Korea's behalf, claiming North Korean official Kang Sok-Ju had disclosed Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program in a bilateral meeting. The problem is, the media never actually heard Kang Sok-Ju utter the words, but took Kelley's word for it - a dumb idea. The Gulf of Tonkin, the Iraqi build-up on the Saudi border that never happened, the 100,000 ethnic Albanian Kosavar corpses that forensic pathologists could never find, attest to Washington's willingness to tell tall tales whenever it suits its purpose.

Now, according to The Ottawa Citizen, North Korea says it never made the admission. "The Pyongyang regime said...through its official newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, that the US claim that North Korea admitted to the secret program is 'an invention'." Only one in a long line of official US inventions.

But let's, for the sake of argument, suppose that Iraq has managed, after years of inspections, to conceal weapons of mass destruction and that North Korea really does have a few crude nuclear bombs. Does that make either a country a threat?

We're supposed to believe it does, but possession of weapons of mass destruction does not, by itself, imply a threat, otherwise anyone who owned a handgun would, ipso facto, be a threat to everyone else. This is not to deny that the existence of handguns, and more significantly, weapons of mass destruction, make the world a more dangerous place to live in; or that the abolition of weapons is not to be fervently wished for.

But if we followed Washington's reasoning, the mere existence of handguns would justify a course of action that would see the tar beaten out of any handgun owner by the biggest kid on the block, after which the handgun owner's house could be taken over and occupied while a search for other weapons was carried out, his refrigerator was raided and the contents of his house sold off to the highest bidder.

International law, formulated in the wake of the Nazis invoking similar reasoning to plunge the world into war, expressly forbids these kinds of pre-emptive attacks, though it is precisely these kinds of attacks that form the basis of what is inaptly called US "defense" policy, and should be called US conquest policy.

Of course, like countries that have weapons of mass destruction but never seem to get the same attention Washington accords North Korea and Iraq, we can be pretty sure the biggest kid on the block wouldn't beat the snot out of every handgun owner, but only those who didn't show sufficient respect or had a particularly delectable treat stored away in their refrigerator at home that they refused to give up willingly; they're the ones who'd be called a threat and beaten to a pulp.

James Petras's take is that,"The campaign to disarm and destroy Iraq's military capability is based on an imperial strategy of weakening future target countries and preventing them from securing weapons of deterrence. Rumsfeld's threats to wage war against North Korea seeks to prevent them from developing the military means to resist a U.S. invasion. The ideology of 'anti-terror' and the 'war against weapons of mass destruction' are propaganda tools to allow U.S. imperial conquest to take place with impunity, with few U.S. casualties, with a minimum of domestic political costs and a maximum of physical loss for the target country."

In other words, Washington doesn't want Baghdad or Pyongyang to have weapons of mass destruction because countries that can defend themselves are harder to push around. And when your goal is the spread of US trade and investment world-wide, you need to be able to push around regimes that preside over closed economies and strategic assets you'd like to get your hands on, like oil.

One year ago, US President George W. Bush decided to put Iraq and North Korea (along with Iran) on a hit list, calling these three countries an "axis of evil," a phrase invented by the president's speechwriters after they were ordered to come up with a reason for "going after Iraq." North Korea, which speechwriter David Frum said "needed to feel a stronger hand," was added as an afterthought. The tie that bound all three countries into an axis was their shared "resentment of US power," though the resentment was more Washington's -- resentment that these countries hadn't fully submitted to US power.

Three months later, Bush ordered the Pentagon to draw up a nuclear hit list -- an inventory of countries that could, under certain circumstances, be targets of a first strike nuclear attack by Washington. There were seven countries on the list, including Iraq and North Korea. Inclusion on the list constituted a clear nuclear threat, one that might be expected to spur the threatened countries to take steps to defend themselves in the face of open US hostility by developing deterrent nuclear weapons, if they didn't already have them.

But that Washington drew up the infamous list seems to have slipped the minds of the reporters who write for the Western world's most respected newspapers, for it seems the event has been downgraded from fact to allegation. North Korea, we're told says Washington "singled it out as a target of pre-emptive nuclear attack, openly declaring a nuclear war." Whether it did or didn't, we're to believe, is now a moot point.

Against this background, recent media coverage of "the crisis on the Korean peninsula," as it's preposterously called, is absurd in the extreme, if not decidedly Orwellian. As happens so often where Washington is involved, the truth of the matter is precisely the opposite of what Washington and its faithful media janissaries allege. The only crisis on the Korean peninsula is one faced by Pyongyang of Washington's devising.

Nevertheless, we hear of Pyongyang's "renewed belligerence," (failure to quail in the face of US belligerence is closer to the truth) while US Secretary of State Colin Powell boldly claims that the United States will not be intimidated and will not back down.

Intimidated by what? By a desperately poor, energy hungry, country reopening a mothballed nuclear power plant whose weapons grade plutonium may or may not be used to fashion crude nuclear weapons? And what is it that Washington refuses to back down on -- signing the nonaggression pact Pyongyang is begging Washington to agree to? "We will never be threatened into going along with peace!" Powell seems to declare.

The point of departure for the recent media hysterics was North Korea withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, perfectly within Pyongyang's rights. The United States has recently withdrawn from or expressed opposition to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Yet this opposition hasn't been greeted with cries of a looming crisis, or of Washington "thumbing its nose at the international community," or of the United States posing a threat to the world (though it clearly does.)

And while we might lament North Korea paving the way to go nuclear by withdrawing from the treaty, the treaty was a two-part bargain. Countries without nuclear weapons, like North Korea, pledged they would not acquire them, and agreed to inspections of their nuclear power plants. In return, the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain promised to negotiate the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons.

But the United States has conveniently overlooked that part of the bargain, giving nuclear weapons more prominence in its "defense" strategy and contemplating the use of bunker busters -- earth-penetrating nuclear warheads designed to destroy an enemy's underground facilities.

Similarly, while Washington says Pyongyang violated its 1994 agreement with North Korea by developing nuclear weapons (now denied by Pyongyang), Washington violated every provision of the agreement, dragging its heels on construction of the light water nuclear power plants which were promised for 2003 and have yet to be built, and virtually declaring war despite the agreement obligating Washington to work toward normalization of relations.

US actions, it seems, have prepared the ground for Pyongyang's decision to reopen its Yongbyon nuclear plant and withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  The country needs energy. The light water reactors the United States promised for 2003 aren't on the horizon.  And Washington's cancelling in December of the fuel oil shipments that were also part of the bargain makes the energy crisis all the more acute. Without the lightwater reactors and fuel oil shipments, Pyongyang has few options.

On top of that, North Korea is under threat of attack. Washington's refusal to sign a nonaggression pact, along with its virtual declaration of war when it included North Korea among the axis of evil countries, as well as among those that could face a first strike nuclear attack, signals the United States hostile intentions. And Washington "maintains a large military presence around North Korea, including a carrier battle group with the USS Kitty Hawk, guided-missile cruisers and submarines in the eastern Pacific and more than 37,000 U.S. troops in South Korea," according to The Globe and Mail (Jan. 11, 2003.) What country under similar circumstances wouldn't seriously contemplate putting a capable reactor to work in developing deterrent nuclear weapons?

"Deterrent" is the mot juste, for North Korea isn't and never will be a threat to the United States, not with Washington's oversize military and its gargantuan nuclear arsenal. But a few nuclear bombs may be all that's necessary to make Washington think twice about a power grab.

Imperial monsters don't want their victims to be able to fight back, whether the victim is Iraq, or North Korea, or any other country that stands in the way of Washington spreading US investment and trade into every nook and cranny of the planet, whether the dwellers of those nooks and crannies want them or not. In a imperialist context, another country's legitimate assertion of national sovereignty and a right to self-defense is construed as a threat, but is only a threat within the imperialist's logic.

North Korea is not threatening Washington; it is Washington that is threatening North Korea, and has been, with various levels of intensity, ever since the United States, intent on taking up where imperial Japan had left off, intervened in the Korean peninsula in 1945. Pyongyang's withdrawal from the non-proliferation treaty is a legitimate act of self-defense and its imploring Washington to sign a nonaggression pact is a measure of its intentions.

Washington's intentions are equally clear.

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