North Korea in the crosshairs

On 28 March two B-2 Spirit bombers set off from Whiteman Air Force base in Missouri, bound for south Korea. With a price tag of $3bn each, they are the most advanced nuclear-capable warplanes in US imperialism’s arsenal, equipped with stealth technology capable of penetrating anti-aircraft defences, and capable of carrying 16 B83 nuclear bombs – each 75 times as powerful as those dropped on Hiroshima. They join 10,000 US troops and their 200,000 south Korean counterparts for Foal Eagle, one of three annual joint military exercises simulating a war on the Korean peninsula. Their arrival - condemned by the north as a ‘grave provocation’ - is no coincidence, timed to appear precisely when US aggression against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK - north Korea) is reaching boiling point.

The recent escalation on the Korean peninsula comes in the wake of the successful launch by north Korea of the Kwangmyongsong-3 earth observation satellite on 12 December 2012. Equipped with a camera designed to assess natural resources and produce estimated crop yields, the satellite was designed to assist the recovery of agricultural planning in a country devastated by droughts and flooding in the late 1990s and early 2000s. While 75 satellites were launched in 2012 – including  five military and three spy satellites by the US – the Korean launch faced unique condemnation by the bourgeois media. Reality was turned on its head; a peaceful civilian satellite launch was instead presented as a ballistic missile test from a bellicose and irrational north Korean ‘dictatorship’.

While such claims were quickly refuted by military and space experts - who highlighted that the missile used to launch the satellite was both incapable of delivering a nuclear warhead, and followed a trajectory wholly consistent with a regular satellite launch - imperialism’s political determination ensured triumph at the UN Security Council, which unanimously passed Resolution 2087 on 22 January 2013. This resolution makes the DPRK the only country in the world banned from launching satellites, and implements travel bans and asset freezes on banks and institutions involved in the space programme. As if this act of aggression was not clear enough, it was soon followed on 4 February by a renewed round of joint US-south Korean naval exercises off the eastern coast of Korea. Imperialism’s message to north Korea is simple: play by our rules, or face the consequences.

These sanctions add further to the already unbearable weight of the economic siege conducted by the US against the DPRK. In 2008 George W Bush remarked that the DPRK is ‘the most sanctioned nation in the world’; since the outbreak of the Korean war, when it launched an embargo on exports to the DPRK, US imperialism has fought tooth and nail to economically strangle north Korea. It has successfully ensured that the DPRK is blocked from accessing loans and funding through international financial institutions, faces bans on imports and exports of goods and services, and continuously deals with asset and financial freezes. Flexing its political and economic muscle, US imperialism pressures other countries into complying with the sanctions regime, prohibiting banks that deal with north Korean companies from access to the US market. While economic planning has ensured that the worst excesses of imperialism’s siege have been constrained – housing and employment are both guaranteed, and WHO director-general Dr Margaret Chan declared the DPRK’s health system as ‘the envy of many developing countries’ following an April 2010 visit - the broad impact of these sanctions are obvious. Electricity shortages, caused by refusals to supply fuel, continue to affect the country, while vicious bans on the import of fertilisers severely exacerbated the impact of natural disasters in the 1990s, causing widespread and ongoing food shortages. Perversely, the imperialists in turn blame these problems on the DPRK’s planned economy. The US minces no words in rationalising this economic warfare; north Korea has been targeted for being a ‘Marxist-Leninist state’ with a ‘non-market economy’, and must be punished accordingly.

Nuclear hypocrisy

Further sanctions followed the DPRK’s 12 February nuclear test, the third of its kind since embarking on a nuclear programme in 2006. The programme was initiated after a period of open hostility from US imperialism, when the DPRK was listed alongside Iraq and Iran as part of an ‘axis of evil’. On the day of the fall of Baghdad in 2003, US ambassador to the UN John Bolton told north Korea to ‘draw the appropriate lessons’; the lesson drawn was the need for a nuclear deterrent, one subsequently reinforced by the destruction of Libya after its unilateral disarmament. An act of defiance detested by finance capital, the imperialists denounced the test as a ‘threat to international security’; a 7 March UN Security Council meeting unanimously agreed to demand an immediate cessation of the nuclear programme, alongside implementing new sanctions which include a universal freeze on financial transactions that could contribute to nuclear or missile programmes and the mandatory inspection of all aircraft and vessels with ‘suspect’ cargo.

Imperialism’s hysterical shrieks about a north Korean ‘threat’ are both absurd and hypocritical. The DPRK’s 2010 military budget was estimated at some $10bn – compared to $39bn for south Korea. The joint US-south Korean military budget, at $739bn, is 74 times the size of north Korea’s. The DPRK has never invaded another country; compare this to Britain, whose military have intervened on at least 46 occasions since 1945 in the Middle East and North Africa alone. Any DPRK nuclear capabilities are of extremely limited range and could only serve a defensive purpose; the arsenals of imperialism have global reach. The US alone possesses 8,500 nuclear weapons – some 2150 of which are deployed, the largest number in the world. It remains the only country to have used them in war, slaughtering 225,000 Japanese civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. During the Korean war – a mere five years later – it conducted dummy runs over Pyongyang, dropping imitation nuclear bombs in an act of psychological torture. After the January 1968 capture of the armed spy ship USS Pueblo in north Korean waters, the US deployed nuclear-armed warplanes on permanent 15-minute alert, ready to bomb the country. On six occasions between 1970-2010 the US has threatened to use nuclear force against the DPRK; this has continued in spite of a formal agreement under the 1994 Agreed Framework to ‘provide formal assurances to the DPRK, against the threat or use of nuclear weapons by the US’. Depicting north Korea as a belligerent threat is a perverse ruling class fantasy, precision-engineered to justify continued aggression and, if necessary, outright war.

‘An actual war fought without a declaration of war’       

In response to these combined efforts at diplomatic isolation and military provocation, the DPRK has annulled the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement, henceforth treating inter-Korean relations as in ‘a state of war’. The DPRK argues that the US has used the agreement to conduct ‘an actual war fought without a declaration of war’, violating its articles through continued aggressive military exercises and the permanent presence of 28,500 US troops in south Korea. For the DPRK, annulment is a ‘countermeasure for self-defence’, freeing itself from an overtly hostile framework and improving its tactical position; for the imperialists it is a valuable opportunity to accuse the north of bellicosity, escalating the process as a pretext for war.

Resurgent US hostility against north Korea is a key component of the strategic ‘pivot to Asia’. Under the strategy – which aims to reassert US imperialism’s regional dominance and constrain China’s growth - plans have already been announced to move 60% of US naval forces to the region by 2020. Joint military training and operations with Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, Singapore, south Korea, Thailand and the Philippines are already underway, and the flames of territorial disputes within China and between it and other states are being fanned. The attack on the DPRK is yet another front – wedges can be forced between it and China, to the detriment of both. China’s condemnation of north Korea’s nuclear test, and refusal to block UN Security Council sanctions, must be understood in this context; it is attempting to sustain a fragile status quo, in order that it should not have to confront the US on another front. With US imperialism radically escalating the attack, this position is unsustainable without a change in the global balance of class forces; it is a dangerous game, and China’s tactical concessions hold grave strategic risks for itself, the DPRK and the working class movement.

In the imperialist countries the propaganda machine has been set into full motion. On 21 November 2012 a remake of the film Red Dawn was released to US cinemagoers. An anti-communist classic, the plot of the 1984 original centres round an invasion of the US by the USSR, Cuba and Nicaragua; its latest edition recasts north Korea as the villain. In a February 2013 meeting with US basketball star Dennis Rodman, Kim Jong Un told him to tell Obama that ‘I don’t want to do war’; Rodman was subsequently ridiculed by the bourgeois media and denounced by White House Press Secretary Jim Carney. Vilification extends to anyone who challenges imperialism’s topsy-turvy narrative where the victim is painted as the aggressor. On 27 March the DPRK warned the UN Security Council that, unless there is a radical change in US policy, ‘a nuclear war in the Korean Peninsula is no longer a presentative meaning but a realistic one’. All progressive people in the imperialist countries must fight to ensure that this situation does not occur.

Imperialist hands off Korea!

Imperialism out of Asia!

Jack Edwards


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