The American Bear


In a way, the Korean crisis is a case of the nuclear powers being hoisted on their own petard. The 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was not aimed at just stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, but, according to Article VI, at eliminating those weapons and instituting general disarmament. But today’s world is essentially a nuclear apartheid, with the nuclear powers threatening any countries that try to join the club—unless those countries happen to be allies. North Korea should get rid of its nuclear weapons, but then so should China, Russia, the United States, Britain, France, Israel, Pakistan, and India. Conn Hallinan

Obama Breaks Out the Bush Playbook on Korea | Conn Hallinan

"The demand by the Obama administration that North Korea must denuclearize before serious talks can begin is a non-starter, particularly when the Washington and its allies refuse to first agree to a non-aggression pledge."

In the current crisis on the Korean peninsula, the Obama administration is virtually repeating the 2004 Bush playbook, one that derailed a successful diplomatic agreement forged by the Clinton administration to prevent North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons. While the acute tensions of the past month appear to be receding—all of the parties involved seem to be taking a step back— the problem is not going to disappear, and unless Washington and its allies re-examine their strategy, another crisis is certain to develop.

A little history.

In the spring of 1994, the Clinton administration came very close to a war with North Korea over Pyongyang’s threat to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, expel international inspectors, and extract plutonium from reactor fuel rods. Washington moved to beef up its military in South Korea, and according to Fred Kaplan in the Washington Monthly, there were plans to bomb the Yongbyon reactor.

Kaplan is Slate’s War Stories columnist and author of The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War.

“Yet at the same time,” writes Kaplan, “Clinton set up a diplomatic back-channel to end the crisis peacefully.” Former President Jimmy Carter was sent to the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of North Korea (DPRK) and the Agreed Framework pact was signed, allowing the parties to back off without losing face.

In return for the North Koreans shipping their fuel rods out of the country, the United States, South Korea, and Japan agreed to finance two light-water nuclear reactors, normalize diplomatic relations, and supply the DPRK with fuel. Washington pledged not to invade the North. “Initially, North Korea kept to its side of the bargain,” say Kaplan, “The same cannot be said for our side.”

The reactors were never funded and diplomatic relations went into a deep freeze. From North Korea’s point of view, it had been stiffed. The North reacted with public bombast and a secret deal with Pakistan to exchange missile technology for centrifuges to make nuclear fuel.

However, the North was still willing to deal, and DPRK leader Kim Jong-il told the Clinton administration that, in exchange for a non-aggression pact, North Korea would agree to shelve its long-range missile program and stop exporting missile technology. North Korea was still adhering to the 1994 agreement not to process its nuclear fuel rods. But time ran out and the incoming Bush administration torpedoed the talks, instead declaring North Korea, along with Iran and Iraq, a member of an “axis of evil.”

Nine days after the U.S. Senate passed the Iraq war resolution on October 11, 2002, the White House disavowed the 1994 Agreed Framework, halted fuel supplies, and sharpened the economic embargo the United States had imposed on the North since the 1950-53 Korean War. It was hardly a surprise when Pyongyang’s reaction was to toss out the arms inspectors, fire up the Yongbyon reactor, and take the fuel rods out of storage.

Kaplan points out, however, that even when Pyongyang withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty in early 2003, the North Koreans “also said they would reverse their actions and retract their declarations if the United States resumed its obligations under the Agreed Framework and signed a non-aggression pledge.”

But Bush, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and Vice President Dick Cheney, banking that increased sanctions would eventually bring down the Kim regime, were not interested in negotiations.

Ignoring North Korea, however, did not sit well with Japan and South Korea. So the White House sent U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly to Pyongyang, where the North Koreans told him they were willing to give up nuclear weapons development in return for a non-aggression pact. Bush, however, dismissed the proposal as “blackmail” and refused to negotiate with the North Koreans unless they first agreed to give up the bomb, a posture disturbingly similar to the one currently being taken by the Obama administration.

But “the bomb” was the only chip the North Koreans had, and giving it up defied logic. Hadn’t NATO and the United States used the threat of nuclear weapons to checkmate a supposed Soviet invasion of Europe during the Cold War? Wasn’t that the rationale behind the Israeli bomb vis-à-vis the Arabs? Pakistan’s ace in the hole to keep the vastly superior Indian army at bay? Why would Pyongyang make such an agreement with a country that made no secret of its intention to destabilize the North Korean regime?

North Korea is not a nice place to live and work, but its reputation as a nuclear-armed loony bin is hardly accurate. Every attempt by the North Koreans to sign a non-aggression pact has been either rebuffed or come at a price—specifically giving up nuclear weapons—Pyongyang is unwilling to pay without such a pledge. The North is well aware of the fate of the “axis of evil”: Iraq was invaded and occupied, and Iran is suffocating under the weight of economic sanctions and facing a possible Israeli or U.S. attack. From North Korea’s point of view, the only thing that Iraq and Iran have in common is that neither of them developed nuclear weapons.


The US cares little about North Korea, which has always in policymakers’ eyes been a surrogate for China. The Korean War began the year after the fall of China (which also saw the first Soviet test of an atomic bomb). In sum the present conflict is in straightline continuity with 1950: a Cold War framework, with China rather than Russia the adversary.

 Norman Pollack, Testing Hegemony

There's No North Korea Crisis | The National Interest

From the hysterical TV portrayals of goose-stepping North Korean troops, breathless news reports of North Korean warnings of war, and maps depicting the range of imminent missile launches (complete with retired U.S. generals explaining the targets), you might think there is a crisis on the Korean Peninsula. But there is no crisis, only a farce.

This time around, it is louder and more melodramatic. But we have seen time and again North Korea throwing a political tantrum in response to annual U.S.-ROK military exercises or the latest round of UN Security Council sanctions in response to Pyongyang testing a nuclear device or launching a missile.

The notion of a “crisis”—as in the 1962 Cuban Missile crisis—is nonsense. The world is not on the brink of an imminent nuclear confrontation. North Korean troops and artillery are not about to pour across the Demilitarized Zone.

This is all nothing more than political theater.

Myths that reinforce official government propaganda die hard. The mainstream media act like they don’t see through them, while national security officials thrive on them to give themselves a mission, to enhance their budgets, and further their personal advancement. The Washington Post recently reported: ‘A year into his tenure, the country’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, has proved even more bellicose than his father, North Korea’s longtime ruler, disappointing U.S. officials who had hoped for a fresh start with the regime.’ Yeah, right, can’t you just see those American officials shaking their heads and exclaiming: ‘Damn, what do we have to do to get those North Korean fellows to trust us?’ Well, they could start by ending the many international sanctions they impose on North Korea. They could discontinue arming and training South Korean military forces. And they could stop engaging in provocative fly-overs, ships cruising the waters, and military exercises along with South Korea, Australia, and other countries dangerously close to the North. … As to North Korea’s frequent threats … yes, they actually outdo the United States in bellicosity, lies, and stupidity. But their threats are not to be taken any more seriously than Washington’s oft expressed devotion to democracy and freedom. When it comes to doing actual harm to other peoples, the North Koreans are not in the same league as the empire.

The Anti-Empire Report #115 | William Blum

But I still don’t know if I should believe Blum or the new version of Red Dawn.

Behind the U.S.-North Korea Conflict | Jack Smith

What’s happening between the U.S. and North Korea to produce such headlines in recent days as “Korean Tensions Escalate,” and “North Korea Threatens U.S.”?

The New York Times reported:

This week, North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jung-un, ordered his underlings to prepare for a missile attack on the United States. He appeared at a command center in front of a wall map with the bold, unlikely title, ‘Plans to Attack the Mainland U.S.’ Earlier in the month, his generals boasted of developing a ‘Korean-style’ nuclear warhead that could be fitted atop a long-range missile.

The U.S. is well aware North Korea’s statements are not backed up by sufficient military power to implement its rhetorical threats, but appears to be escalating tensions all the same. South Korean President Park Geun-hye also realizes the threats are rhetorical but declared: “We should make a strong and immediate retaliation without any other political considerations if [the North] stages any provocation against our people.”

Pyongyang obviously has another objective in mind. I’ll have to go back a bit to explain the situation.

Since the end of the Korean War 60 years ago, the Worker’s Party government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) has repeatedly put forward virtually the same four proposals to the United States. They are:

1. A peace treaty to end the Korean War. 2. The reunification of Korea, which has been “temporarily” divided into North and South since 1945. 3. An end to the U.S. occupation of South Korea and a discontinuation of annual month-long U.S-South Korean war games. 4. Bilateral talks between Washington and Pyongyang to end tensions on the Korean peninsula.

The U.S. and its South Korean protectorate have rejected each proposal over the years. As a consequence, the peninsula has remained extremely unstable since the 1950s. It has now reached the point where Washington has used this year’s war games, which began in early March, as a vehicle for staging a mock nuclear attack on North Korea by flying two nuclear-capable B-2 Stealth bombers over the region March 28. Three days later, the White House ordered F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets to South Korea, a further escalation of tensions.

Here is what is behind the four proposals.

1. The U.S. refuses to sign a peace treaty to end the Korean War. It has only agreed to an armistice. An armistice is a temporary cessation of fighting by mutual consent. The armistice signed July 27, 1953, was supposed to transform into a peace treaty when “a final peaceful settlement is achieved.” The lack of a treaty means war could resume at any moment. North Korea does not want a war with the U.S., history’s most powerful military state. It wants a peace treaty and diplomatic recognition from Washington.

2. Two Koreas exist as the product of an agreement between the USSR (which bordered Korea and helped to liberate the northern part of the country from Japan in World War II) and the U.S., which occupied the southern half. Although socialism prevailed in the north and capitalism in the south, it was not to be a permanent split. The two big powers were to withdraw after a couple of years, allowing the country to reunify. Russia did so; the U.S. didn’t. Then came the devastating three-year war in 1950. Since then, North Korea has made several different proposals to end the separation that has lasted since 1945. The most recent proposal, I believe, is “one country two systems.” This means that while both halves unify, the south remains capitalist and the north remains socialist. It will be difficult but not impossible. Washington does not want this. It seeks the whole peninsula, bringing its military apparatus directly to the border with China, and Russia as well.

3. Washington has kept between 25,000 and over 40,000 troops in South Korea since the end of the war. They remain — along with America’s fleets, nuclear bomber bases and troop installations in close proximity to the peninsula — a reminder of two things. One is that “We can crush the north.” The other is “We own South Korea.” Pyongyang sees it that way — all the more so since President Obama decided to “pivot” to Asia. While the pivot contains an economic and trade aspect, its primary purpose is to increase America’s already substantial military power in the region in order to intensify the threat to China, but next door North Korea is well within this dangerous periphery.

4. The Korean War was basically a conflict between the DPRK and the U.S. That is, while a number of UN countries fought in the war, the U.S. was in charge, dominated the fighting against North Korea and was responsible for the deaths of millions of Koreans north of the 38th parallel dividing line. It is entirely logical that Pyongyang seeks talks directly with Washington to resolve differences and reach a peaceful settlement leading toward a treaty. The U.S. has consistently refused.

These four points are not new. They were put forward in the 1950s. I visited the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as a journalist for the (U.S.) Guardian newspaper three times during the 1970s for a total of eight weeks. Time after time, in discussions with officials, I was asked about a peace treaty, reunification, withdrawal of U.S. troops from the south, and face-to-face talks. The situation is the same today. The U.S. won’t budge.

Why not? Washington wants to get rid of the communist regime before allowing peace to prevail on the peninsula. No “one state, two systems” for Uncle Sam, by jingo! He wants one state that pledges allegiance to — guess who? In the interim, the existence of a “bellicose” North Korea justifies Washington’s surrounding the north with a veritable ring of fire power. [continue]

As North Korea Blusters, South Breaks Taboo on Nuclear Talk |

Oh boy:

SEOUL, South Korea — As their country prospered, South Koreans have largely shrugged off the constant threat of a North Korean attack. But breakthroughs in the North’s missile and nuclear programs and fiery threats of war have heightened fears in the South that even small miscalculations by the new and untested leaders of each country could have disastrous consequences.

Now this new sense of vulnerability is causing some influential South Koreans to break a decades-old taboo by openly calling for the South to develop its own nuclear arsenal, a move that would raise the stakes in what is already one of the world’s most militarized regions. [++]

North Korea Is Irrelevant to Size of U.S. Nuclear Arsenal | The National Interest Blog

Two things happened earlier this week that have very little to do with each other in reality but are nevertheless being tied together in the media and official commentary. First, on Monday the New York Times reported that the Obama administration was likely to press for a cut in the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal to “just above 1,000” deployed strategic nuclear warheads. This would represent a reduction of about a third from the limit of 1,550 set by the New START agreement.

Second, the following day North Korea conducted its third nuclear test. It didn’t take long for opponents of the rumored nuclear reductions to seize on the news as a reason to argue against them. As Senator John Hoeven said in a statement:

North Korea’s nuclear test today poses a threat to the United States and our allies, and underscores the need for the United States to maintain its strong deterrent capabilities. Yet now, even before implementing the reductions required under the New START Treaty of 2010, the Obama administration has signaled that it may be willing to reduce unilaterally the U.S. nuclear capability even further. In light of North Korea’s actions today, this is clearly not the time to diminish these critical strategic forces.

Leave aside the fact that it’s far from clear that Obama wants to undertake these cuts “unilaterally,” as Hoeven says. (The Times article reports that the administration’s preferred option would be to make them through an “informal agreement” with Russia “within the framework” of New START.) Even if the reductions were to be made unilaterally, there is no conceivable military mission that the United States could have vis-à-vis North Korea that could not be completed with 1,000 deployed strategic nuclear weapons. To the extent that the U.S. nuclear arsenal needs to be sized against another nation, that country is Russia, not North Korea. Washington and Moscow both maintain stockpiles of thousands of nuclear weapons, which are far greater than those of any other nation. In contrast, North Korea, according to estimates, has less than ten. Tuesday’s test does not change that basic calculus. To argue that it does, and that North Korea’s test should forestall any U.S. nuclear reductions, is the geopolitical equivalent of giving Pyongyang a “heckler’s veto” over our security policies.

30 North Korean officials involved in talks with South Korea die 'in traffic accidents'


Thirty officials of the North Korean regime who were involved in talks with South Korea have been executed or died in “staged traffic accidents,” according to a human rights report.

In its annual study, Amnesty International claimed that in addition to the 30 who died in purges last year, a further 200 were rounded up in January this year by the State Security Agency as Pyongyang carried out the transfer of power from Kim Jong-il, who died of an apparent heart attack in December, and his 29-year-old son, Kim Jong-un.

Of those 200, Amnesty said, some were apparently executed and the remainder were sent to political prison camps. The gulag system presently contains an estimated 200,000 people in “horrific conditions,” the group said.

North Koreahas a habit of executing bureaucrats who are perceived to have failed the regime, even though they are often merely carrying out the orders of higher-ranking officials or members of the ruling family.

In 2010, Pak Nam-gi, the former head of the finance department of the Workers’ Party, was reportedly executed by firing squad for the catastrophic attempt to reform the impoverished nation’s currency. The result was rampant inflation and food shortages became even more acute.

The 30 men executed for failing to improve Pyongyang’s ties with Seoul are considered scapegoats for the new low point in inter-Korean ties.

(Source: anticapitalist)

The Kim dynasty's satellite of love | Pepe Escobar

[…] Even if additional UN sanctions are applied over North Korea [as a result of their recent (failed) misslile launch], those who will really suffer - just like in Iran - will be the bulk of the population, not the leadership.

It may be unforgiving, but this is the way realpolitik goes. For the North Korean leadership, foreign food aid for millions of their starving citizens is just a detail; they will only accept it under their terms, and if their own government agencies control the distribution.  

They seem, indeed, to be on a roll. The Workers’ Party of North Korea - at a rare special conference this week - has enshrined “most sophisticated statesman” Kim Jong-un as its First Secretary. His father Kim Jong-il was declared “eternal” general-secretary.

Kim Jong-un was already Supreme Leader and Supreme Commander. Kimology rules that the next step is for him to be named chairman of the national defence commission; that’s the Holy Grail of power in North Korea.  

So yes - he’s the real deal now, at least nominally, surrounded by a collective military leadership whose number one priority is to solidify North Korea as a nuclear power - and that will inevitably include a third underground nuclear test after the failed satellite launch.  

The North Korean leadership’s Big Picture is actually crystal clear; with our nuclear capability firmly established, Washington’s only way out is to negotiate a peace treaty with us to end the Korean War (for the moment there’s only the July 1953 armistice). That would imply the withdrawal of US troops from South Korea. Over the Pentagon’s collective dead body - of course.

It has also not escaped the attention of virtually the whole developing world that because of its nuclear status, no NATO or selective “international community” is threatening North Korea with military strikes, bunker buster bombs, regime change or R2P (“responsibility to protect”). 

So it’s back to the mystery now lying at the bottom of the Yellow Sea. Was it a satellite? Was it a missile? Or was it a recording of “heaven-sent statesman” Kim Jong-un singing Lou Reed’s Satellite of Love?

In the photo above, old men clap while Kim Jong Un describes the trajectory of the rocket.

North Korea on Friday launched its controversial rocket carrying a weather satellite, South Korea’s Defense Ministry and U.S. officials said.

A spokesman for the Defense Ministry in Seoul told reporters at a briefing that the launch at taken place at 0739 local time (2239 GMT) and that South Korea and the United States were checking whether it had been a success.
North Korea launches rocket amid international condemnation

In the photo above, old men clap while Kim Jong Un describes the trajectory of the rocket.


North Korea on Friday launched its controversial rocket carrying a weather satellite, South Korea’s Defense Ministry and U.S. officials said.

A spokesman for the Defense Ministry in Seoul told reporters at a briefing that the launch at taken place at 0739 local time (2239 GMT) and that South Korea and the United States were checking whether it had been a success.

North Korea launches rocket amid international condemnation

(via soupsoup)

North Korea's Pivot | John Feffer

After three years of frozen relations between North Korea and the United States, the two longstanding adversaries are on the verge of a thaw.

In what has been called the “leap day deal”, North Korea has pledged to stop uranium enrichment and suspend nuclear and missile tests. The United States, meanwhile, will deliver 240,000 metric tonnes of food to the country’s malnourished population.

The Barack Obama administration has maintained a policy of “strategic patience” toward North Korea, which amounted to a wait-and-see approach while Washington was preoccupied with other foreign policy issues. Obama administration officials portray the leap day deal as a modest first step in reengaging the North. [++]

Report: Six Months In Labor Camp For North Koreans Who Didn't Cry At Kim Jong-il's Funeral

All cults of personality require a certain quota of tooth gnashing, crocodile tears, and hair pulling when a glorious leader perishes. North Korea is no different:

The South Korea-based Daily NK newspaper said authorities have held “criticism sessions” for those who “transgressed” during organized weeping in the wake of the dictator’s death.

It said North Koreans accused of criticizing the world’s only hereditary totalitarian regime are being sent to re-education camps or being banished with their families to remote rural areas.

The news website quoted a source from North Hamkyung province saying: “The authorities are handing down at least six months in a labor-training camp to anybody who didn’t participate in the organized gatherings during the mourning period, or who did participate but didn’t cry and didn’t seem genuine.”

The source added that the recriminations “created a vicious atmosphere of fear.”

Authorities are also forcing citizens to idolize Kim Jong Il’s youngest son, Kim Jong Un, newly-installed as leader.

“Every day from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., they have vehicles for broadcast propaganda parked on busy roads full of people going to and from work, noisily working to proclaim Kim Jong Un’s greatness,” the source said.

(Source: manicchill)