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Stephen Gowans
North Korea: A Continuing Struggle against Imperialism

August 26, 2005


The counter-revolution that brought down the Soviet Union in 1991 set off a series of shock waves that swept through the trading bloc of Soviet-aligned countries. It was not, contrary to a commonly held belief, an inherently flawed and rigid Soviet socialism that toppled the union in a spectacular collapse, but Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s demolition of the weight bearing pillars that supported the Soviet Union’s socialist economy. Gorbachev’s policies of decentralization, privatization, and market reforms, understood in the West to be a rescue plan, were in fact a demolition plan. The more the market and private ownership were promoted, the deeper the crisis became. And the crisis wasn’t limited to the Soviet Union alone, couldn’t be, for the Soviet Union was only part of an integrated whole, linking multiple socialist economies in a complex of international trade. Gorbachev’s gross irresponsibility, amounting to throwing open the doors of a life-support system and hacking away at the wiring inside, had devastating and far-reaching consequences. From one end of the socialist bloc to the other, economies collapsed, each collapse setting off another in a mutually reinforcing downward spiral. At the depths of debacle, economies that once kept hundreds of millions fed, sheltered, clothed, as well as healthy, educated and productive, had shrunk by 50 percent. Life expectancy plunged, death rates accelerated, and diseases once limited to a few cases exploded into epidemics. Far from being the hero he was proclaimed to be in the anti-socialist, imperialist West, Gorbachev, and the social democratic ideas he championed, turned out to be a monumental disaster, one that produced a terrible set back to the progress of humanity. (1)

North Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or the DRPK, could not help but be caught up in the devastating maelstrom. Its export markets, dependent on trade with the Soviet Union and the other countries of the socialist camp, imploded, and the country soon found itself critically short of coal and petroleum. This had a domino effect. Shortages of petroleum meant north Korea’s chemical industry couldn’t produce enough fertilizer. Shortages of fertilizer, and of petroleum for farm machinery, meant the country’s farmers couldn’t grow enough food. And with hobbled agricultural production crippled further by a devastating series of natural disasters, famine swept the country. (2)

In the 50s and 60s north Korea outpaced the capitalist south in economic development. All homes had electricity by 1968, while the south lagged behind. By the 70s north Koreans were enjoying a decidedly higher standard of living than their counterparts in the south, with free health care and education, in place of the south’s widespread poverty and homelessness. Housing was virtually free. Necessities were low priced. (3)

Meanwhile, in the south, the old ruling class, which had collaborated with, and profited from, a Japanese occupation that had lasted from 1910 to 1945, continued to occupy positions of authority. The only difference was that one occupying power, Japan, had been replaced by another, the US, which claimed not to be an occupying power, but kept tens of thousands of troops in the country anyway and exercised an inordinate influence over the country’s economy and politics. “We are still unable to rid ourselves of the historical aberration that the families of those who fought for the independence of the nation were destined to face poverty for three generations,” complains Roh Moo Hyun, south Korea’s current president, “while the families of those who sided with Imperial Japan have enjoyed success after three generations.” (4)

People’s Committees sprang up across Korea as the Japanese were driven out at the end of WWII. A Congress of People’s Committees met in Seoul, sixty years ago, on September 5, 1945 to form a post-occupation republic. The republic didn’t last long, only a few days. The idea of a Korea run by Koreans hardly aligned with US plans to bring Japan’s former colonial possessions under its own control. On September 7, when US troops landed at Inchon, the committees were dissolved and the authority of Japanese administrators and the Korean lackeys Roh now complains about was restored. There would be no People’s Republic south of the 38th parallel.

Imperialist Designs on East Asia

A few days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hitler declared war on the US, dragging the Americans reluctantly into the war in Europe. The Fuehrer hoped this act of solidarity with a fellow member of the anti-Comintern Pact, the alliance among Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and militarist Japan against the Soviet Union and world Communism, would elicit a reciprocal declaration of war by Japan on the Soviet Union, entangling the Soviets in a two-front war, and thus weakening Soviet resistance to the Nazi assault in Europe. But the Japanese, no more interested in pursuing a two front war than the Soviets, declined. (5) This suited the USSR, and soon a Soviet-Japanese non-aggression pact was signed.

Later, unbeknownst to the Japanese, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin would promise British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt that Soviet armies would attack the Japanese three months after the defeat of the Nazis in Europe. This seemed to be a promising arrangement to the Americans. At the time, Japan was still a formidable rival, and American victory in the Pacific theatre was by no means assured. But as the war wore on, and Japan suffered one defeat after another, it became clear that the Imperial Japanese Army could be defeated without the intervention of the Soviets. If the Soviets entered the war, they would expect some say over the future of territories liberated by the allies, in the same way the US, entering the European war at the eleventh hour, and only when the Soviets had the German armies on the run, had won a seat at the table to determine the future of Europe. This would hardly suit the interests of the US ruling class, which had jostled with Japan for control of the Pacific, even before open conflict had broken out. (6)

A principal goal of US foreign policy in the years leading to the Second World War was the domination of East Asia. This goal was equally expressed in the foreign policy of other imperialist Powers, no less Japan. Inevitably, the two Powers would clash, and war would erupt, an inevitability foreseen in the Soviet Union even before 1924. In 1934, in his report to the 17th Congress of the Communist Party, Stalin would point to “the intensified struggle for the Pacific and the growth of naval armaments” in Japan and the United States, concluding, “quite clearly things are heading for a new war.” While eerily prophetic, at least to a contemporary understanding of the Pacific War, with its emphasis on personalities rather than surrounding events and anonymous forces, there was nothing particularly astonishing in the Soviet leader’s prediction. As any Marxist-Leninist, Stalin believed the capitalist imperatives that drive a handful of advanced capitalist powers to compete for access to raw materials, markets in which to sell their goods, and opportunities for the profitable investment of their capital, is the basis for conflict among them and must eventually and inevitably lead to war. It was clear that the markets and riches of East Asia were coveted by the financial oligarchies of the advanced capitalist countries. Moreover, portents of war were clear in Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and its expansion into north China; US bellicose demands for the restoration of an open door policy in China, and the Japanese counter-demand for an open door in Washington’s sphere of influence in Latin America; the US oil embargo on Japan; and the quickening pace of military build-up. In the era of imperialism, peace, remarked the British Communist R. Palme Dutt, is simply the extension of war by other means. War was on the horizon, the product of the inevitable working out of the laws of imperialism, and those who had undertaken to study the laws, quickly grasped the portents.

The imperialist goal of monopolizing control of East Asia is immanent in what followed, from US designs on the Korean peninsula, formulated as early as six months after Pearl Harbor (7), and carrying on today, to the use of the atomic bomb in a failed attempt to bring an end to the Pacific war in advance of the scheduled entry of the Soviets, to ensure territory conquered by the Japanese would pass exclusively to the US.

Soviet Entry into the Pacific War and the A-Bomb Decision

August 8, 1945, exactly three-months after the Nazi surrender of May 8, 1945, was set as the date for the Soviet entry into the Pacific war. On August 3, five days before the scheduled Soviet intervention, US President Harry Truman met with his top military advisors to discuss the possibility of using the Pentagon’s new secret weapon, the atomic bomb, to force a quick Japanese surrender. The Japanese knew their situation was dire. They had suffered a string of defeats in Burma, the Philippines and on a number of Pacific islands. There was one hope. If they could maintain control of China and Korea, which provided important resources for the Japanese war machine, they might be able to hold out, buying time to negotiate an acceptable peace. (8)

Truman’s generals, as acutely aware of Japan’s dire situation as the Japanese were, advised Truman that a surrender could be obtained without the A-bomb. It was only a question of when Japan would capitulate, and under what circumstances. Indeed, the official US survey of the war, ordered by Truman himself, and released in 1946, concluded that the Japanese would probably have surrendered before the US commenced a land invasion, planned for November, 1945, without either atomic bombs or a Soviet intervention. (9) Truman justified the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by claiming even greater carnage would attend a US land invasion, and that he chose the course that minimized the toll of death and destruction. This was a sham. Truman could have forced a surrender in fairly short order by means of a naval blockade, which would have choked off Japan’s supplies. He could have accepted the conditions Japan offered for surrender – that the emperor, Hirohito, not be deposed, and that he be sheltered from war crimes prosecution, conditions Truman rejected in words, but eventually accepted in deeds, after Tokyo capitulated unconditionally. The third option was to wait for the Soviets to attack the Japanese occupation forces in Manchuria and Korea. This was perhaps the least acceptable of all options to Truman, for what the Americans wanted least of all at this point was Soviet involvement in the Pacific war. Soviet entry would mean that some of Japan’s colonial possessions and newly conquered territory would be liberated by the Soviets, and that anti-colonial, anti-imperialist regimes would be allowed to come to power. This conflicted with the goal of establishing exclusive control of the region. That’s where the Americans’ new secret weapon came in. Truman hoped an atomic blast, timed to precede the scheduled Soviet entry into the war on August 8, would force Japan into a quick surrender, making Soviet intervention unnecessary. That way, the US would be clear to absorb all of Japan’s colonial possessions. (10)

The atomic attack on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 did not, however, bring a quick Japanese surrender, as Truman had hoped. Two days later, with the Japanese refusing to throw in the towel, the clock ran out. Exactly three months to the day the Nazis surrendered, one and a half million Soviet troops streamed into Manchuria and Korea, in a surprise assault on Japan’s one million-man strong occupation force. The attack, code-named August Storm, is believed by some Japanese historians to have been the decisive blow, not the US atomic obliteration of two militarily insignificant targets, that finally forced Japan to its knees. On the Korean peninsula, the Soviet armies halted their advance at the 38th parallel, at Truman’s request. Three years later, Soviet troops withdrew, only after engaging in an extensive rebuilding effort and doing what Washington feared: allowing an anti-colonial, anti-imperialist regime to come to power. The US, in contrast, has maintained an unbroken military presence on the Korean peninsula ever since.

A Divided Korea

The People’s Republic was confined to the north, where the initial Soviet presence prevented the extension of US control and domination to the whole of the Korean peninsula. In this way, the immediate post-Pearl Harbor plans of the US to completely dominate the peninsula, and the remainder of Japan’s colonial possessions, was thwarted. In the north, Korean military officials and bureaucrats who had served in the Japanese occupation regime were purged, industrialists were expropriated, the landed estates broken up, and peasants given title to their land and homes. (11)

In the south, under US occupation, a different course was followed. By 1949, a year after Soviet troops had withdrawn from the north, the collaborators of the south, initially imprisoned, had been restored to their posts by south Korea’s first US-installed president, Syngman Rhee, a man who had been living in the US for 40 years. Rhee’s program was the military conquest of the north with US assistance, “the drive to the north.” (12) While south Korean forces, with the ample assistance of the US and its sub-imperialist partners, pursued the drive to the north under the UN flag - the US had prepared a draft of the resolution requesting authorization for war under a UN imprimatur even before hostilities broke out (13) -- the plan failed, not least because the collaborators and occupiers had little popular support in the south. Even today, despite decades of unflagging anti-DPRK propaganda, a majority of south Koreans side with their Korean compatriots. A Gallup/Chosun Ilbo poll conducted this summer found that “two-thirds of [s]outh Koreans of military age, of both sexes…would side with the [n]orth in the event of a war between the United States and [n]orth Korea.” (14)

A three-year war, from 1950 to 1953, ended in an armistice and stalemate. Technically, the two Koreas are still at war. Seoul regards the Korean peninsula as its own territory, while the US thinks of north Korea as territory it’s obliged to conquer and occupy under a UN mandate dating to 1950. (15) That mandate was won during the absence of the Soviet Union from the Security Council, in solidarity with the People’s Republic of China, which had been denied China’s seat. The war, understood in imperialist countries to have been a UN Security Council-approved police action, was, on the contrary, illegal; it was prosecuted without the required backing of all permanent members of the Security Council. (16) The actions of the US from the moment it formulated its designs on Korea in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, to those following the Korean War: in dominating south Korea economically and politically; in maintaining a substantial troop presence on the peninsula; in fiercely opposing all plans for reunification; and in doggedly harassing the DPRK, should leave no doubt as to the imperialist character of the war.

In the wake of the armistice being signed, the US adopted National Security Resolution 170, a “policy to perpetuate the division of the Korean peninsula, while indefinitely keeping the ceasefire mechanism” until “the whole of Korea” was placed under US control. (17) The US would rebuff any and all overtures of permanent peace, settling for nothing but the unconditional surrender of the north, and its integration into the south, under US suzerainty. That the US continues at the very least to follow the spirit of the resolution, five decades later, was evidenced in former US Secretary of State Colin Powel’s dismissing a 2003 north Korean offer of permanent peace, by noting that, “We don’t do non-aggression pacts or treaties, things of that nature.” (18) Nor does the US do re-unification, or allow free elections to be held that Communists are sure to win.

At the end of the war, proposals were made to hold free elections to re-unify the country, but the government in the south turned down every proposal, doubtlessly, under directions from Washington, the real power. Later, the US would block similar provisions for the peaceful re-unification of Vietnam. The stumbling block for Washington in each case was the near certainty that the Communists would win free elections to decide the questions of re-unification and exit of foreign militaries, and that US control and domination of the region would, as a result, be weakened, an anathema to a country whose foreign policy is driven by the internal logic of imperialism and its imperative of expansion.

Why North Korea Needs Nuclear Arms

The idea that north Korea has lusted after nuclear weapons is untrue, an invention of US propaganda. If the DPRK had wanted nuclear weapons, it would never have signed on to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), but would have remained outside of the treaty, as Israel has done. (19) US nuclear threats drove north Korea out of the NPT.

The plutonium for the nuclear weapons north Korea claims to have developed comes from nuclear facilities built at Yongbyon, north of the country’s capital, Pyongyang, to substitute nuclear power, which could be provided for out of abundant supplies of uranium, for imported fuel oil, in short supply owing the economic dislocation attending the collapse of the Soviet Union, and to complement existing coal and hydroelectric sources of power. By using nuclear power generation to supply its energy requirements, the DPRK was simply following in the footsteps of Japan and its neighbor to the south -- countries which had thriving civilian nuclear energy industries.

From the US standpoint, the existence of the Yongbyon facilities was intolerable. A civilian nuclear energy industry would allow north Korea to address its pressing energy problems. This was at odds with US policy, summed up by one US policy advisor as “the end of [n]orth Korea.” (20) Allowing the north Koreans to get back on their feet, after being knocked to the canvas by the steam-hammer blow of Gorbachev’s demolishing Soviet socialism, would hardly square with five decades of trying to smash the DPRK. Secondly, the Yongbyon facilities allowed north Korea the possibility of developing fuel for nuclear weapons, a development that would almost entirely foreclose the possibility of a comparatively easy US invasion.

In February 1993, the US announced that with the demise of the Soviet Union, north Korea had become its gravest concern. Nuclear weapons that had once been trained on Soviet targets would be re-targeted. Now, the US nuclear sword of Damocles would hang menacingly, not over Moscow, Leningrad, and Minsk, but over the north of the Korean peninsula. (21)

One month later, Pyongyang withdrew from the NPT. Clause 1, Article IV, of the Treaty regards all signatories as having an inalienable right to the “use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination,” but it doesn’t allow signatories to develop nuclear energy for purposes of building weapons. If you’re going to do that, you must withdraw from the treaty. At the same time, the Treaty obligates nuclear states to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” The idea is that nuclear states pledge to phase out their nuclear weapons, in return for non-nuclear states pledging not to acquire them.

As China points out, the US, which expects other countries to live within the limits imposed by the NPT, has acted as if it’s not a signatory to the treaty. It has adopted a preventive war strategy; listed other countries as potential targets of nuclear strikes; lowered the threshold for using nuclear weapons (to deter, or in response to, non-nuclear threats); and has engaged in research and development of new types of nuclear weapons, including bunker busters, nuclear arms intended to penetrate subterranean facilities. (22) Miles upon miles of underground caverns snake their way beneath the north Korean surface, an adaptation to five decades of living under the threat of US nuclear warfare. Bunker busters are tailored made for an attack on north Korea.

The DPRK’s withdrawal from the treaty was a declaration that it was prepared to use the Yongbyon facilities to develop nuclear weapons. The purpose: to deter threatened US nuclear aggression. A fundamental tenet of nuclear non-proliferation is that countries equipped with nuclear weapons should not target non-nuclear countries – it only makes the latter covet nuclear arms as a means of self-defense. (23) Fundamental tenet of not, the US, a self-professed champion of non-proliferation, placed the DPRK squarely in its nuclear sights. That north Korea responded by withdrawing from the NPT wasn’t a sign of a lust for nuclear weapons; it was a rational defensive maneuver, called forth by Washington’s own nuclear belligerence. Washington’s behavior toward north Korea is a very model of how a champion of non-proliferation shouldn’t behave, but at the same time, is emblematic of how an imperialist county must behave.

Iran: Hit List Partner

As for its part of the NPT bargain, the US, and other nuclear weapons-equipped imperialist Powers, have done little or nothing to comply. The advantages of exclusive access to terrible weapons, in menacing other countries, in carving up the world, and establishing exclusive areas of control and domination, are too arresting. So the NPT becomes, like most international agreements and institutions, an instrument to be twisted and shaped in whatever way is necessary to ensure the continued domination of a handful of wealthy capitalist Powers over the billions of people of the rest of the world. This is evident in US attempts to deny Iran the right to a civilian nuclear energy program, even to the extent of threatening war.

At a February 2005 news conference, US president George W. Bush dismissed speculation that the US had planned a military assault on Iran if Iran continued to develop its civilian nuclear power industry, but added, “Having said that, all options are on the table.” (24) Seven months later, in August, Bush repeated himself. All options, that is, a military strike, was still on the table. (25) This didn’t come out of the blue. The US president had already started the ball rolling on a demonization campaign. First, Iran was declared to be part of the axis of evil, along with Iraq and north Korea, a pronouncement the DPRK regarded as tantamount to a declaration of war, and which, in the case of Iraq, turned out to be a declaration of war. “We consider Bush’s (January 2002) State of the Union address (in which Bush declared north Korea to be part of an axis of evil) to be a de facto declaration of war on the DPRK,” said Pak Gil Yon, DPRK ambassador to the UN. (26) On the eve of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, John Bolton, then US undersecretary of state for arms control and international affairs, told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that “the United States, after defeating Iraq, would deal with Iran, Syria and [n]orth Korea.” (27)

These statements were followed at regular intervals by denunciations from the President and other cabinet members of the sort designed to portray Iran as a looming menace to the peace and security of the US. “Today, Iran is ruled by men who suppress liberty at home and spread terror across the world,” Bush remarked last June. (28) But Bush’s remarks pale in comparison for bloodthirstiness and bellicosity to the report issued in July 2005 by “top Democrats in the House and Senate,” calling for “the possibility of repeated and unwarned strikes” against Iran and north Korea. (29) So much for the idea that “Bush’s drive to war,” a manifestation of what is called “the most violent and reactionary wing of the ruling class,” is indeed Bush’s drive to war, or that “the most violent and reactionary wing of the ruling class” is any different from “top Democrats in the House and Senate.” Voting for the Democrats in the US, or Labor in the UK, as representatives of an allegedly milder, less violent and reactionary wing of the ruling class, is delusional. The only drive to imperialist war is that of the ruling class, and the ruling class has only one wing, a violent and reactionary one, as much home to liberal Democrats and Laborites as it is to neo-con Republicans and Tories.

The Imperialist Case Against Iran

The official US grievance against Iran is that the country doesn’t need a civilian nuclear energy program because it’s awash in oil and therefore it must be seeking the capability of producing nuclear weapons. And indeed it might be. Menaced by the threats of an imperialist behemoth with a track record of outraging the sovereignty of other countries to plunder their resources, the development of a formidable deterrent is a rational act, and indeed, is a progressive act, inasmuch at it weakens, disintegrates and undermines the imperialism that pushes the menace forward. If the development of the deterrent is undertaken surreptitiously, in defiance of the NPT, this should be of little moment. What does defiance of an accord imperialist Powers adhere to in words alone mean against the value, not only for Iranians, but for all people who live poorer, more miserable and more insecure lives because of imperialism, of being able to repel the depredations of the Anglo-American axis, and thereby weaken it?

Even so, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN organization that monitors and enforces the NPT, says it has found no evidence Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. (30) And Iran, which is not only oil-rich, but uranium-rich, has every right under the NPT to enrich uranium for peaceful use. But to skip to the chase, the problem from Washington’s standpoint is that while Iran may scrupulously live up to its obligations under the NPT, producing fuel for civilian use alone, if left unmenaced to develop a nuclear energy industry in peace, Iran will have brought within its grasp the capability of producing fuel for weapons. Threatened and backed into a corner, it could, as north Korea has done, withdraw from the NPT, and develop a nuclear force capable of deterring US aggression. Hence, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declares flatly, “They can’t have access to certain kinds of technology that can, that have…proliferation risks.” (31)

The question of whether oil-rich Iran truly needs a civilian nuclear energy program is interesting, but a red herring. It’s true that Iran has lots of oil, but the country imports fuel, because it has limited refining capacity. Its refineries produce 10.5 million gallons of gasoline per day, but Iran consumes 17 million gallons. (32) What’s more, while US vice-president Dick Cheney points out that Iranians are “already sitting on an awful lot of oil and gas” and claims that “nobody can figure why they need nuclear as well to generate energy” (33) the Ford administration, to which US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and current World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz belonged, endorsed a 1976 plan that would have seen Westinghouse lead a collection of US corporations in building a massive Iranian nuclear power industry. US investors “stood to gain $6.4 billion from the sale of six to eight nuclear reactors and parts” to the US-installed dictator, the Shah. (34) Back then a number of arguments were advanced to explain why a country with plenty of oil needed to buy nuclear reactors from a team of US corporations. And back then Iran had more oil. In 1976, Iran produced six million barrels of oil a day, compared to about four million today. (35) The difference reflects the changed circumstances of US domination. In those days, Washington’s man, the Shah, ruled with an iron fist. Now that he has been overthrown, there’s no Quisling to ensure reactors are put to the proper use of fattening the bottom line of US corporations. Washington would like to change that.

And so it is that the NPT, and the agency that enforces it, the IAEA, have been co-opted to deprive Iran and north Korea of what the treaty describes as their inalienable right to the “use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.” Neither country can be trusted to roll-over and allow the US ruling class a free rein to engage in the accustomed program of plunder and spoliation that are the hallmarks of the foreign policy of imperialist Powers. The jungle law of capitalism is to vanquish the weak and the backward. (36) Anyone who has nuclear weapons, however, isn’t so weak and backward.

The Agreed Framework

With north Korea out of the NPT, US president Bill Clinton drew up plans for a strike on the Yongbyon facilities. (37) This would be a reprise, in its illegality and belligerence, of an earlier Israeli strike on Iraq’s nuclear facilities, carried out to preserve Israel’s nuclear monopoly in the Middle East. But Clinton’s advisors anticipated a fierce north Korean reaction. South Korean cities would be shelled by heavy artillery, and US troops would take heavy casualties. The outcome, on the side of the aggressors and their south Korean ally, was considered too dire to contemplate, and the plans were shelved. The outcome in lost and ruined lives on the side of the intended victim, north Korea, was never, as is typical in these matters, a restraining consideration.

Instead, an accord, the 1994 Framework Agreement, was worked out. The United States, Japan, and south Korea would provide Pyongyang with long-term credits and loans to purchase two proliferation-resistant light water reactors, in return for north Korea shutting down its Pyongyang facilities. To tide north Korea over while it was waiting for the Yongbyon-replacing light water reactors to be built, the US would provide the DPRK with fuel oil. The US also pledged, in a small departure from its accustomed practice of refusing to consider a permanent peace, to begin the process of normalizing relations. This would include the lifting of a decades-long US embargo, and a commitment not to target north Korea with nuclear weapons. (38)

The Agreement was only ever partially adhered to by Washington. The Clinton administration was lukewarm to it, having preferred a military option, and the Bush administration was hostile. In 1995, Pyongyang lifted restrictions on investment and trade. But Washington’s embargo on north Korea remained firmly in place. And while the US pledged not to threaten the DPRK with nuclear weapons, it continued to simulate long-range nuclear attacks on the DPRK. In 1998, a Marine General mused openly about a surprise attack on north Korea, to topple the leadership, and replace it with a south Korean occupation regime. (39) In Bush’s 2002 State of the Union address, north Korea was declared part of an axis of evil, because, said the speechwriter who helped coin the phrase “axis of evil”, north Korea “needed to feel a stronger hand,” (40) hardly the sort of declaration a country that has pledged to normalize relations would make. David Frum, the neo-con ideologue who wrote the speech, said that what linked Iraq, Iran and north Korea was their “resenting the power of the West” and that an “American-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein…and a replacement of the radical Baathist dictatorship with a new government more closely aligned with the United States, would put America more wholly in charge of the (Middle East) than any power since the Ottomans,” (41) an outright admission the US was following an overt policy of imperialism. Finally, the concrete for the reactors, the cornerstone of the agreement, wasn’t poured until 2003 – the year construction was to be completed. Eventually, Washington ripped up the agreement, formalizing what had been plain in reality, that the agreement was largely a fiction, and claiming the north Koreans had confessed to cheating on the deal by covertly operating a nuclear weapons program, to make it seem north Korea, not the US, had scuttled the deal. The only evidence the confession was ever really made was the say-so of a US official. North Korea steadfastly denied either that it had a secret weapons program, or had admitted to one.

The Big Lie

Who to believe? The record of truth telling of the Anglo-American axis is hardly sterling. Indeed, it might be said that it knows no equal for deliberate deception except the notoriously demagogic and mendacious Nazis, who, at the center of another axis, mastered the technique of the big lie. The weapons of mass destruction that were the main, though only one of a shifting series of pretexts, for war on Iraq, turned out to be a deliberate falsification, and a rather conspicuous one, even before the failure to produce concrete evidence of their existence settled the question. It was clear well before the March 2003 invasion that the interests of Anglo-American imperialism had singled out Iraq for take-over and that a country that had been besieged for a decade and under the supervision of a UN disarmament program could hardly have developed the menacing arsenal of weapons the US and British governments said it had. This deception matched in its boldness the fabrications about genocide NATO had used to justify a terror war of civilian bombing on Yugoslav targets, as part of a broader campaign to dismember the remnants of Yugoslavia’s market socialism and conquer its markets and assets for the benefit of a financial oligarchy in the West.

That anyone would take even a fraction of the official pronunciamento that issue from the official mouthpieces of the imperialist Powers as having any bearing on the truth, can only be a signal of stupidity or naivety in the extreme, or of accepting nonsense as truth because it squares with your own agenda. The corollary of this is that members of the mass media, who reliably amplify this trash, are morons, naive, or knowingly trading in deceptions because they back the ruling class that runs their government and owns the concerns that employ them. So it is that solemn and serious media discussions and “debate” can be staged on pious fairytales relating to the supposedly humanitarian motives that impel imperialist Powers to run roughshod over weak countries, plundering their resources and pilfering their assets, and dispatching their inhabitants to early graves in a hail of bombs and bullets, whose supply is the basis for the substantial profits of the merchants of death who make up the misnamed “defense” industry.

Not surprisingly, the US addiction to bald-face lying in connection with official enemies extends to north Korea, as well. The DPRK position in the on again, off again Six Party Talks is that the Korean peninsula should, as the US side demands, be de-nuclearized, but not only de-nuclearized in the sense of Pyongyang unilaterally giving up its claimed nuclear deterrent, but also in the sense of the US withdrawing its own nuclear threat, which the DRPK sees, with justification, as the thesis to its own nuclear deterrent anti-thesis, and therefore the primary reason why the peninsula is menaced by the threat of nuclear arms in the first place. Were north Korea not under a US nuclear threat, it would not have withdrawn from the NPT.

Withdrawal of the US nuclear threat has three components: Removing the DPRK from the list of countries targeted by US strategic nuclear missiles; putting an end to the staging of nuclear war exercises against north Korea; removing battlefield nuclear weapons from the south. The last component, north Korea’s demand that US tactical nuclear weapons be withdrawn from the Korean peninsula, is met by US expressions of feigned bafflement. What tactical nuclear weapons? According to the official story, these weapons were removed under the administration of George H. W. Bush, when US advances in weaponry meant that conventional ordinance could do the job of tactical nuclear weapons, without the messiness. (42) Not so says the DPRK. The US continues to maintain a cache of some 1,000 battlefield nuclear weapons secreted somewhere on the Korean peninsula. (43)

According to declassified CIA and other US government documents, the US kept tactical nuclear weapons in south Korea until at least 1998, despite official claims that it withdrew all its battlefield weapons in 1991. (44) Because the documents go no further than 1998, there’s no definitive evidence that tactical nuclear weapons are still deployed in the south, but the US record of specious denials, and the elevation of US military harassment since, suggest the weapons are still there.

Spinning the News

Deception in connection with the DPRK is not, however, limited to the official pronouncements of the White House and State Department. The mass newspapers, magazines and TV news shows of the imperialist Powers are complicit in the deception through unquestioning acceptance and amplification of the premises on which official US propaganda rests. The media of the imperialist countries will often portray north Korea as a threat to the US simply because it may have a few crude nuclear weapons. France, Britain, Russia, China, Israel, Pakistan and India, all of which have far more nuclear weapons, are not, by virtue of their being nuclear equipped, similarly portrayed as threats.

Likewise, north Korea’s provisions for its self-defense are often presented as “bad behavior.” The implication, presented as reasonable, is that the bad behavior must not be “rewarded” by concessions; hence, in talks between the US and the DPRK, it is perfectly fitting for the US to issue demands, and nothing more. The paternalism evoked in the idea of the US being an authority-figure that can reward or scold a wayward charge (a rogue nation), is consistent with ideas prevalent in imperialist countries, and especially fascist ones, of the world being organized into a hierarchy of nations, with the imperialist countries at the top, and the countries to be raped and subjugated at the bottom.

In a similar vein, the Six Party Talks to discuss disarmament of north Korea are portrayed falsely as give and take negotiations, rather than a forum for the US to issue demands, and the regular breakdown of talks are almost always attributed to intransigence on the part of north Korea. Yet “a basic reason for” the failure of the talks, according to the Chinese, “lies in the lack of cooperation from the American side.” (45)

Accepting White House and State Department spin uncritically, and amplifying it, is only part of the story. That’s passive. The media of the imperialist countries also take an active role in spinning the news, in ways that line up with the interests of their own ruling class, and line up against anti-imperialist countries, like Cuba, Zimbabwe and north Korea. Commenting on the latest in a numberless series of DPRK pleas for a formal peace, the Washington Post noted that “the United States, China and [n]orth and [s]outh Korea held talks on (signing a peace treaty to replace the ceasefire of the Korean War) as recently as late 1997, but the negotiations failed because [n]orth Korea demanded the removal of U.S. troops from [s]outh Korea.” (46) This blames north Korea for the failure of the talks. Had Pyongyang refrained from making supposedly unreasonable demands, a peace treaty would have been signed. But the way the sentence is written puts a spin on the story that is unjustifiably friendly to US ruling class interests. Rewrite the second part of the sentence, without changing the meaning: “but the negotiations failed because the United States refused to remove its troops from south Korea.” Since the ostensible reason for the US troop presence on the Korean peninsula is a de facto state of war, the accession of both sides to a formal peace obviates the requirement for the presence of foreign troops. Does the blame for the breakdown of talks, then, lay with the DPRK’s demand, or with the American side for making, what in the context of a formal peace treaty, though not from the standpoint of imperialism, is clearly an unreasonable refusal?

That’s not, however, how the Washington Post framed it, or could frame it, given that it is as much a part of US imperialism, as the Pentagon or the White House; hence, the suggestion that north Korea’s demand for US troop withdrawal was the reason the talks failed, rather than the US refusal to withdraw troops. Many media-analysts of the left think that campaigns of moral suasion can persuade the mass media to change, but there’s a reason journalists regularly pump out copy and news reports that are agreeable to the agenda of the ruling class of the imperialist Powers: the ruling class owns the media and the media are, as a consequence, firmly in its grasp. Only those who implicitly share ruling class values and perspectives, or faithfully reflect them, are hired and kept on. Any reporter or columnist, except for a token few, who don’t reliably reflect the class interests of their imperialist masters would soon find themselves in the same position as any CEO who refused to do all that was necessary, no matter how exploitative, inhumane or barbaric, to maximize profits -- without a job.

Another example: On July 24, 2005 the Washington Post noted that “[n]orth Korea has nearly half as many people as [s]outh Korea but its failed socialist economy amounts to 7 percent of that of the high-tech [s]outh.” The implication is that socialist economies are inefficient, unworkable and bound to fail. There’s nothing new or strange in a newspaper connected to the ruling class disparaging socialism and portraying it as immanently unworkable, and since many utopian socialists accept this view, it can also be said that there is nothing new in self-professed socialists accepting the verdict of the mouthpieces of their class enemies on socialism. That north Korea’s economy is in a mess is undoubted, but why it’s in a mess doesn’t reduce to the kind of pat formula the Washington Post serves up, and could no more avoid serving up, than a tiger can live on grass. What the Washington Post can’t say is that north Korea has nearly half as many people as south Korea but its socialist economy amounts to only 7 percent of that of the south because it has been sabotaged and undermined; that the reason for the failure has nothing to do with inefficiency and non-viability and everything to do with US blockade, economic warfare, collapse of external markets, and the crippling effects of being forced to divert a considerable portion of its GDP to military spending to meet the unrelenting pressure of a US leviathan that refuses to relax, for a moment, the threat of annihilation it has placed the DPRK under for the last half century.

Another example: The New York Times almost always presents the DPRK as issuing threats and demands, when the reality is that it is almost always Washington that issues the threats and demands. For example, a May 30, 2005 article refers to “the [n]orth’s threats and its demands for concessions in return for coming back to the negotiating table.” There’s a problem with this on two levels. First, the DPRK hasn’t the military muscle to threaten the US. It doesn’t have troops stationed only miles away from the US border. It hasn’t Stealth bombers based only a few minutes flying time from US targets. It doesn’t have an aircraft carrier on patrol in nearby waters. It has no reconnaissance aircraft to fly daily missions near and in US airspace. And it doesn’t have strategic missiles, equipped with nuclear warheads, locked on US sites. It does have a million-man army, but half of it is engaged in agriculture and construction (47), and all of it is stationed within its own borders. It does have heavy artillery, possibly a few crude nuclear bombs, some antiquated warplanes, too little fuel to properly run a military machine, and not much else. But the US, which claims to pose no threat to north Korea, has infinitely more – troops, bombers, aircraft carriers, and strategic nuclear missiles within a stone’s throw of north Korea. Second, there are no negotiations -- only demands presented by the US. The idea that north Korea is demanding concessions to return to the negotiating table is a negative way of saying something positive: that Pyongyang expects the US to come to the negotiating table prepared to negotiate. But the idea that the US would sit down at the bargaining table and negotiate with the DPRK, as one sovereign country to another, on equal terms, flies in the face of the imperialist idea of a hierarchy of nations. And since this idea organizes the imperialist press’s account of the news, any behavior on the part of the DPRK that is not consistent with the idea of north Korea occupying the lowest rung on the world hierarchy of nations, i.e., a failure to scrape and shuffle before its superiors, is interpreted as demanding and threatening, when it is, on the contrary, only the normal behavior of one sovereign nation with regard to another. This follows the narrative: “You are backward, you are weak, so you are wrong; hence you can be crushed and enslaved. We are mighty, we are right; hence you must be wary of us.” (48)

Washington solemnly denies it has any aggressive designs on north Korea. North Koreans, we’re to believe, can breathe a sigh of relief and comfortably dismantle their nuclear deterrent, secure in the knowledge that the sound of US and British jackboots won’t soon ring out on the streets of Pyongyang, despite all the threats of the past. It might be noted, however, that this assurance comes from a country: that has repeatedly turned down north Korean pleas for a formal peace; whose last secretary of state said in connection with the DPRK, “We don’t do non-aggression pacts or treaties, things of that nature” (49); whose current administration lied that a decision to invade Iraq prior to the autumn of 2002 had not been taken, when in fact it had; lied about deploying battlefield nuclear weapons in south Korea after 1991; in the week of May 23, 2005 deployed 15 Stealth fighters to south Korea, noting that the bombers “are an added way of making it clear to Kim Jong Il…that even though the American military is tied up in Iraq, it can reach his capital, Pyongyang, and the nuclear facilities north of it” (50); and in the same month it was declaring it had no aggressive intention toward the DPRK, dispatched at least 160 flights of U-2, RC-135, RC-7B and RC-12 espionage aircraft to probe and map out north Korea’s defenses. (51) Finally, one day after the US bizarrely accused north Korea of wanting to be a bully, (52) US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reminded north Koreans what they’re already acutely aware of: That “the United States maintains significant, and I want to underline significant, deterrent capability of all kinds in the Asia, Pacific region.” (53) This is far from an exaggeration. Apart from having over 30,000 troops in the south and 45,000 deployed in nearby Japan, the US has long range nuclear missiles targeted on north Korea, Stealth bombers stationed in south Korea and nearby Guam, F-15E and other jet fighters in Japan and south Korea, and an aircraft carrier based off Japan. (54) What does north Korea have against this? A defense budget of $5 billion a year compared to south Korea’s $14.5 billion, Japan’s $43 billion and the United States’ $455 billion; a one-million man strong army, not one member of which is deployed beyond the DPRK’s borders, half of whom at any given moment are engaged in construction and agriculture. At best, the north Koreans have a few crude nuclear weapons, and rocket technology that might carry a warhead as far the Marshal Islands. (55)

Japan: Resurgent Militarism

Japan deserves some further mention in connection with north Korea. In recent years, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has touched off a firestorm of controversy by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, a memorial honoring 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including Japan’s WWII military leader General Tojo, and 14 other Class A war criminals. The shrine, built in 1869 as part of an effort to create a nationalist state religion based on a divine emperor, also honors the millions of Japanese soldiers who died in the campaigns to conquer China, Korea and Taiwan. Understandably, Koizumi’s visits are deeply offensive to the Chinese and Koreans, who regard his tributes as “act(s) of inciting the revival of militarism and glorification of war.” (56) Equally disturbing to the countries victimized by decades of Japanese imperialist aggression is the rehabilitation of Japan’s WWII-era emperor, Hirohito, in whose name, countless abominations were carried out. In early May, 2005, Japanese legislators established a national holiday to honor Hirohito. The new holiday, visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, which brazenly keep alive the WWII-era imperialist rallying cry that Japan’s conquests of the last century were not aimed at enslaving other countries but of liberating East Asia for East Asians, and newspaper articles defending Class A war criminals, are alarming to the Chinese and Koreans. (57) Japan’s reply has done nothing to mollify its WWII-era victims, who are accused of dredging up the past to block Japan’s ascension to its rightful place in the world as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. By comparison, the US reaction to the prime minister’s acts of homage to war criminals and the troops who carried out slaughters, conquests and occupations is muted, despite the reality that Koizumi’s visits are recognized in Japan as “coded endorsements of conservative nationalist views,” namely that “Japan’s wars were legitimate and that its leaders were not criminals.” (58) Moreover, US officials remain silent though Koizumi is genuflecting to the men who planned and took part in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

During the first part of the six-year formal US occupation of Japan after World War II, Washington prosecuted war criminals and imposed a pacifist constitution on Japan, the latter mainly to clip Japan’s wings to deprive it of the war machine it would need to rise again to challenge the US for control of the Pacific. Later, with the Communist victory in China, and American designs on China thereby dashed, Japan’s wartime leaders were rehabilitated and pressed into service as staunch anti-Communists. Faithful servants of the anti-Comintern Pact, the alliance of Germany, Japan and Italy that sought to destroy the Soviet Union and world Communism, they became faithful servants of a new anti-Comintern pact based on a US controlled military alliance. Accordingly, some war criminals initially destined for the noose, were saved in the end by their anti-Communist credentials, and became Japan’s political and business leaders, including Nobusuka Kishi, who would later become prime minister. (59) This paralleled the rise of Koreans who had collaborated with Japanese occupation forces, who were ushered back into their positions of prominence by a new master, the United States.

In recent years, however, Japan has taken conspicuous steps along the road to a renewed nationalism and militarism, these steps euphemistically termed a new boldness and assertiveness in international affairs, in keeping with the country’s size, wealth and significance, terms that echo from the past. The country that once launched wars of conquest to claim its rightful place in East Asia, now seeks a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, to claim “its rightful place in the world” (60) and to capture a “global role commensurate with its financial might.” (61)

The new assertiveness is expressed in manifold ways. Tokyo pledges to go to war as Washington’s junior partner, if China blocks Taiwan, a former Japanese colonial possession, from seceding from China. Textbooks are re-written to sanitize Japan’s history of imperialist wars of conquest, and media campaigns are mounted to soften popular resistance to re-militarization. (62) The atmosphere, according to 79 year old Hiromu Nonaka, the secretary general of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party until a year ago, is like pre-war Japan “when politicians manipulated public opinion to rouse nationalism through slogans like ‘Destroy the brute Americans and British.’” (63) Only these days the hostility isn’t directed at the United States and Britain, but at the untermenschen of old, the Chinese and Koreans (this time of the north.) This new assertiveness is not expressed without tacit US approval, if not covert instigation, and reliably, is celebrated in the US press. For example, the New York Times of August 3, 2005 spoke of Japan “transforming its self-defense forces into a real military and reversing its war-renouncing constitution.” Behind this seemingly neutral language lurks pro-imperialist values. For one, it’s the abstraction “Japan” that’s said to be engaged in the matter of transforming its military and reversing its constitution, but it’s also pointed out that the Japanese media have “helped demonize China, as well as (n)orth Korea, to soften popular resistance to remilitarization.” It is not Japan as a whole, or even Japanese in the majority, who are in favor of a regression to the militarism of the past, but Japan’s ruling class. It is the standard operating procedure of the press, betraying its class bias, to equate a minority of statesmen, industrialists, financiers and media magnates with the nation. Secondly, the idea that Japan is converting its self-defense force into a real military, is simply another way of saying the orientation of Japan’s armed forces is being altered, from one of self-defense to one of expeditionary missions, i.e., wars fought beyond Japan’s borders for the conquest of foreign territory, markets and resources. Implicit in this is that expeditionary missions will be undertaken under US command, as junior partner, in the manner of the relationship of Britain to the US. Lastly, Japan’s constitution doesn’t renounce all wars as the phrase “war-renouncing constitution” implies; it only renounces expansionary wars, of the sort Japan once engaged in, and is now freeing itself, over popular resistance, to engage in anew, to secure its rightful place in the world commensurate with its financial might and role as newly christened attack dog of US imperialism in the Far East.

The DPRK becomes a handy target for Japan to justify its stepped-up imperialist course, part of a demonizing program to “soften popular resistance to remilitarization.” Tensions are heightened over the possibility of a north Korean missile strike, with the media playing up the fact that a missile launched from the DPRK could hit Japan in only 10 minutes. Few bother to inquire why a country with no ambition to build an expeditionary military capable of operating beyond Korea, no interest in seeking a global role, whose economy doesn’t need to find outlets for investment and surplus industrial capacity, and so isn’t driven to expand, would launch an unprovoked strike. But were the question asked, a ready-made answer awaits. North Korea’s leadership is insane, capable of any kind of suicidal madness. “We haven’t been allowed to look down on anyone,” explains Masaru Tamamoto, senior fellow at the Japanese Institute of International Affairs, “because of our history. Except [n]orth Korea. That’s the one country, because it is so demonstrably crazy.” (64) In the same vein, the Los Angeles Times maintains that, “it requires no stretch of the Japanese imagination that a regime willing to kidnap Japanese teenagers from the streets of their hometowns would also be willing to launch a nuclear attack.” (65) On the contrary, for anyone of an unprejudiced mind and an elementary acquaintance with basic logic, it requires quite a stretch of the imagination to see how the kidnapping of a handful of teenagers in the 70s has anything to do with launching a nuclear missile strike.

North Korea did indeed kidnap a handful of Japanese citizens in the 70s, employing them as Japanese language instructors. Japan has tried to make much of it, in the manner of an abusive husband turning the tables on his wife’s grievances by complaining about her burning the toast. The handful of Japanese kidnapped in the 70s is a trifle compared to the 8.4 million Koreans Japan enslaved in its 35-year colonization of Korea and the 200,000 Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery as “comfort women” to satiate the sexual appetites of the soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army. (66) Some “700,000 people were forcibly taken to Japan,” that is kidnapped, between 1939 and 1945. (67) It should be said that it requires no stretch of the imagination to see how a country that kidnapped 700,000 people, and pressed them into slave labor and sexual slavery, and sanitizes its history textbooks to gloss over the outrage, is an infinitely larger threat to north Korea than north Korea is to it. This is all the more so, considering the imperatives of capitalism that drove Japan to carve out East Asia as its exclusive domain of exploitation, have in no way disappeared, and considering that the United States is now prepared to loosen its reins on Japan, to allow its subordinate some room to exercise its imperialist muscles.

As to Tamamoto’s belief that the Japanese are allowed to look down on north Koreans, alone among all others, because north Koreans are so demonstrably crazy, it should be pointed out that what separates north Koreans from the other former untermenschen Japanese are no longer allowed to look down upon, is that they’re socialist, sovereign and not under the heel of the United States. The US ruling class has always been prepared to tolerate, if not encourage and inflame, the fascism, militarism and official racism of its former imperialist rivals, if the horrors thereby unleashed could be channeled into the service of smashing Communism.

The Formal Collapse of the Agreed Framework

After the US tore up the Agreed Framework, formalizing the reality that the accord had been honored on the US side largely in name alone, the DPRK re-opened its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon. This made sense, for two reasons. First, the US cancellation of fuel oil shipments left north Korea in a lurch. It needed to make up for the oil supplies it was no longer receiving. The electricity generation capability of the Yongbyon facilities would help. Second, it needed a way to deter the US from launching an attack, which seemed increasingly likely. After Anglo-American forces bullied their way into Baghdad, Washington and London were abuzz with warnings to Iran, Syria and north Korea that they could be next. If fuel could be enriched to make a few nuclear bombs, or if the illusion could be created that bomb production was underway, the US might be kept at bay.

Washington responded by insisting on talks among the US, China, Japan, Russia, north Korea and south Korea – all neighbors of the DPRK, with the exception of the US. The US at one and the same time says it is not imperialist but has “vital interests” in the region, a curious sentiment from the standpoint of geography and democracy, but completely understandable from the standpoint of imperialism (68). Pyongyang insisted the talks be bilateral. After all, if the US took exception to north Korea’s withdrawal from the NPT, and its embarking on a nuclear weapons program, that was a matter for Pyongyang and Washington to iron out, especially since the DPRK’s new policy of nuclear arms development was a direct result of Washington’s saber rattling and its canceling of the Agreed Framework. If Washington were going to make north Korea feel a heavy hand, as Bush’s speechwriter David Frum had put it, then Pyongyang would act to stay Washington’s heavy hand. Washington, however, was adamantine. Reluctantly, Pyongyang agreed to multilateral talks.

Only they weren’t talks; they were a reading of the riot act. Ultimatums were delivered in an “obey us or else” fashion. Pyongyang wasn’t to talk. It was to listen. North Korea would have to junk its nuclear weapons capability – permanently, verifiably, and irrevocably. Anything short of this was unacceptable. Concessions from the US side – which would be rewards for north Korea’s “bad behavior” -- would not be forthcoming. But if the US was adamant about not making concessions, how could the talks be said to be negotiations – or even talks – for doesn’t talking and negotiating imply give and take, that is, concessions? For the north Koreans, this was too much. It was clear the US was interested in nothing more than the DPRK’s unilateral and permanent nuclear disarmament, a disarmament that would leave the country in the position of sitting duck, ready to be picked off at will by the Pentagon. Hadn’t the Anglo-American axis insisted on the disarmament of Iraq, and once the country was unable to defend itself, fabricated a fiction about weapons of mass destruction as a pretext to invade? If Iraq really had the weapons of mass destruction it was alleged to have, a ground invasion would never have gone ahead. The DPRK’s leadership might be called crazy, but that was propaganda. Were it truly crazy it would go along with the US demand. But as it wasn’t, Pyongyang wasn’t going to voluntarily relinquish its own weapons of mass destruction and become Iraq II.

The Six Party Talks Resume

Last month, after a year’s hiatus, the talks resumed, only to break down again, this time after north Korea proposed that the offending Yongbyon facilities be sealed, it sign back on to the NPT, and proliferation-resistant light water reactors be built to provide north Korea’s energy needs. The lead US negotiator, Christopher Hill, rejected the proposal peremptorily, declaring that the “light-water reactors are simply not on the table” (69) and that the US “cannot accept the idea that [n]orth Korea could have a peaceful nuclear program.” (70) And so the DPRK, like Iran, is to be denied the advantages of nuclear power, simply because the US says so. The NPT doesn’t bar north Korea from operating a civilian nuclear energy program and both south Korea’s foreign minister Ban Ki Moon and unification minister Chung Dong-Young have endorsed the DPRK’s right to maintain nuclear reactors for peaceful purposes, as has the lead Russian negotiator. (71) But “[t]here’s a bit of a problem here,” Hill objects, pointing out that north Korea had turned its facilities at Yongbyon into “a production center for weapons-grade plutonium.” (72) True, after Washington ripped up the Agreed Framework, issued a de facto declaration of war, rebuffed offers of a peace treaty, and cancelled fuel oil shipments. There is indeed a bit of a problem: even if an agreement were reached, north Korea would almost certainly withdraw from the NPT again, and resurrect its nuclear weapons program, if the US, at some future date, decided it needed to carry through with its long-standing plan to dominate the entire Korean peninsula. And since there is an internal capitalist logic that compels the US to pursue this objective, it’s certain that, agreement or not, US imperialism, unless taken apart, swept up, and discarded, will never rest.

Equally in Iran as in north Korea, the US demand (conveyed in Iran’s case through the EU 3) is that an independent nuclear energy program is out of the question, and that either country must be content to rely on outside sources of energy: in the case of north Korea, the high-tension wires south Korea proposes to string across the border or fuel oil shipments organized by the US; in the case of Iran, reactor fuel from Europe. This would make both countries dependent on hostile external forces for energy, and therefore vulnerable to blackmail. All the imperialist Powers would have to do is turn the taps off.

Common Front Against Imperialism

Should socialists support these countries? On the surface, the answer would seem to be no. Iran is hardly socialist. And while it’s not my view, the view of some socialists is that north Korea isn’t socialist, but a monstrous abomination. So how can socialists support either country? The answer is that it’s not the offending features of the countries that are to be supported, but their struggles against the assault of imperialist Powers to deprive them of their economic independence. If a woman were repeatedly beaten by her husband, would we base our decision to support her of how attractive she is, how pleasing her personality is, and whether she agrees with us on important matters?

Consider this: A marauding gang is terrorizing our community, striking at families, stealing our food, looting our belongings, and enslaving our children. Some families resist, arming themselves, shooting back, safeguarding their food and homes from pillage and their children from slavery. As the resistance grows, the marauders’ campaigns to steal food and capture slaves meet setbacks. Deprived of booty, the marauders grow weaker, and the day grows closer when the marauders’ campaign of terror can be overthrown by the collective action of the community. Would we base our decision to support the families that actively resist on their religious beliefs, on the way power is distributed in their household, on whether they practice corporal punishment? Would we believe the marauders’ vilification of the resisting families and withhold support because they had been vilified?

Some of us would support the resisting families, recognizing that the larger the common front against the marauders, the sooner the marauders’ reign of terror could be ended. Or we might strike a deal with the marauders: You leave us some of our food, and we’ll assist you in your campaigns of plunder and rape. If we choose the latter course, the reign of terror drags on, we’re thrust into the role of foot soldiers to oppress our neighbors for the enrichment of the marauders, and our material security depends entirely on how much the marauders expropriate for themselves and how much they leave to us. When times grow tough, the marauders take more of what belongs to us and leave us fewer crumbs.

So why is the economic independence of non-imperialist countries so important? This can be answered by first asking some other questions. Who are socialists’ enemies, and who are their allies? The enemy is quite clear: The industrialists and financiers of the advanced capitalist countries, whose profits and interest payments depend not only on the exploitation of the majority at home, but also -- and largely -- on the spoliation of the Third World. Or to avoid personalizing it, the enemy is an integrated global economic system based on private ownership and pursuit of profits, in which the resources of the state are integrated with private ownership and control of economic activity in pursuit of profits worldwide.

This enemy opposes the advance to socialism in the advanced countries, and so perpetuates homelessness, forced idleness, poverty, and economic insecurity – all of which are unnecessary, for productive forces are sufficiently developed to provide a materially secure existence to all. On top of these evils stand capitalism-produced gross inequalities of wealth, income, opportunity and education, and the incessant menace of war for capitalist accumulation at the expense of other countries. Abroad, the enemy plunders the natural resources of great continents teeming with the riches of the earth, drawing profits and interests from them and leaving grinding poverty and misery behind. Sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s most profitable investment destination is also, not adventitiously, the world’s poorest place. (73)

The enemy calls forth two forces in opposition: the forces of socialism and the forces of national liberation and independence. The gains of socialists to weaken exploitation in the advanced industrial countries weaken imperialism, and the gains of national liberation and independence movements to deprive imperialist Powers of the use of their assets equally weakens imperialism. A common foe, imperialism, binds the forces of socialism and the forces of national liberation and independence together.

What matters, then, or should matter, is not the internal political organization of countries or movements engaged in struggle against the depredations of our common foe, but what their fight for economic independence means for the balance sheet of the struggle against imperialism, not in isolation, but on a world scale. (74) To the extent north Korea, or Iran, or Cuba or Zimbabwe or any other country or movement fights for liberation and independence, they weaken, disintegrate and undermine imperialism, and so weaken, disintegrate and undermine what stands in the way of our advance to socialism, that is, to an end to homelessness, unemployment, inadequate health care and education, poverty, and economic insecurity; what opposes our realizing what’s well in our reach: a world of plenty for all.

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

2. Bruce Cumings, “North Korea: Another Country,” The New Press, New York, 2004.

3. Cumings.

4. New York Times, January 5, 2005.

5. Jacques Pauwels, “The Myth of the Good War: America in the Second World War,” James Lorimer & Company, Toronto, 2002.

6. Pauwels.

7. Cumings.

8. Peter Koznick and Mark Selden, cited in Workers World, August 5, 2005.

9. Koznick and Selden.

10. Pauwels.

11. Cumings.

12. R. Palme Dutt, “The Internationale,” Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1964.

13. Korean Central News Agency, June 24, 2005.

14. New York Times, August 17, 2005.

15. New York Times, April 9, 2005.

16. Dutt.

17. Korean Central News Agency, July 22, 2005.

18. New York Times, August 14, 2003.

19. Cumings.

20. Asked by a New York Times reporter what US policy on north Korea is, John Bolton, now US ambassador to the UN, “strode over to a bookshelf, pulled off a volume and slapped it on the table. It was called ‘The End of North Korea.’ ‘That,’ he said, ‘is our policy.’” New York Times, September 2, 2003.

21. Cumings.

22. Reuters, May 5, 2005.

23. Cumings.

24. Los Angeles Times Wire Service, August 17, 2005.

25. Associated Press, August 14, 2005.

26. Workers World, March 28, 2002.

27. International Herald Tribune, March 8, 2005.

28. Washington Post, June 17, 2005.

29. Boston Globe, August 14, 2005.

30. Los Angeles Times, June 9, 2005.

31. Reuters, May 5, 2005.

32. Washington Post, July 17, 2005.

33. Washington Post, March 27, 2005.

34. Ibid.

35. Ibid.

36. “The jungle law of capitalism is to beat the weak and backward.” Joseph Stalin, explaining why the Soviet Union had to embark on a program of rapid industrialization to catch up to the advanced capitalist countries.

37. New York Times, May 12, 2005.

38. Cumings.

39. Cumings.

40. David Frum, “The Right Man: An Inside Account of the Bush White House,” excerpted in the National Post, January 8, 2003.


42. Cumings.

43. Pyongyang Times, May 21, 2005, cited in LALKAR Online, July 2005.

44. Korea Times, November 7, 2004.

45. New York Times, May 16, 2005.

46. Washington Post, July 23, 2005.

47. Cumings.

48. Stalin’s depiction of the place of backward countries in relation to the imperialist Powers.

49. New York Times, August 14, 2003.

50. New York Times, May 30, 2005.

51. Korean Central News Agency, August 1, 2005.

52. Commenting on north Korea test firing a short-range missile, Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff said, “I think they’re looking to kind of be bullies in the world.” International Herald Tribune, May 2, 2005.

53. Reuters, May 3, 2005.

54. Ibid.

55. Cumings; Los Angeles Times, June 4, 2005.

56. Korea Central News Agency, June 7, 2005.

57. New York Times, August 3, 2005.

58. New York Times, June 22, 2005.

59. New York Times, June 22, 2005.

60. New York Times, April 11, 2005.

61. Washington Post, May 14, 2005.

62. New York Times, August 3, 2005.

63. New York Times, August 3, 2005.

64. Los Angeles Times, May 30, 2005.

65. Los Angeles Times, May 30, 2005.

66. Korean Central News Agency, April 12, 2005.

67. New York Times, April 17, 2005.

68. The observation that the claim of imperialist countries to have vital interests in someone else’s country, is curious from the standpoint of geography and democracy, but not from the standpoint of imperialism, is attributable to R. Palme Dutt.

69. New York Times, August 8, 2005.

70. New York Times, August 10, 2005.

71. Agence France Press, August 11, 2005; Associated Press, August 11, 2005; New York Times, August 24, 2005.

72. Washington Post, August 8, 2005.

73. Torcuil Crichton, “When it comes to Africa, Bush has more on his mind than aid,” Sunday Herald, June 12, 2005.

74. Lenin, cited by Stalin in “The Foundations of Leninism.”


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