North Korea greeted 2013 with a bang (or several of them), not the dying whimper that Beltway officials and pundits had hoped for—and have been predicting ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall. In December, Pyongyang launched a long-range missile that, after many failures dating to 1998, got the country’s first satellite rotating around the earth. A couple of months later, North Korea detonated its third atomic bomb. Then, as the annual US–South Korean war games got going and a new president took office in Seoul, the North let loose a farrago of mind-bending rhetoric, bellowing that events were inching toward war, renouncing the Korean War armistice of 1953, and threatening to hit either the United States or South Korea with a pre-emptive nuclear attack…
…Now comes Barack Obama with his “pivot to Asia,” bringing new US bases and force projections to the task of containing China—while denying any such purpose. Surely many in Washington enjoy the spectacle of China, the world’s second-largest economy, at the throat of Japan, the third-largest, with their relations arguably at the lowest ebb since they exchanged ambassadors in 1972. North Korea’s relations with China may also be at their worst ever, now that Beijing is working hand in glove with Washington on sanctions. China is apoplectic because the North’s missiles and A-bombs just might push Japan and South Korea to go nuclear. They certainly elicited a quick US response: in mid-March, President Obama decided on a $1 billion acceleration of the US ballistic missile interceptor program, adding fourteen new batteries in California and Alaska (calling them interceptors is a bit of a misnomer; in fifteen tests of these systems under ideal conditions, only eight worked). As luck would have it, such anti-missile forces are also useful against China’s antiquated ICBMs. The truth is that Pyongyang ought to be paid by Pentagon hard-liners and military contractors for its provocations; the North Koreans are the perfect stalking horse for America’s stealth containment of China—and for keeping military spending high.
At the end of March, Obama upped the ante by sending B-52 and B-2 Stealth bombers soaring over South Korea to drop dummy bombs. It was a needless and provocative re-enactment of “the empire strikes back”; more than sixty years ago, Washington initiated its nuclear blackmail of the North when it launched B-29s on simulated Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombing missions over North Korea in the fall of 1951. Operation Hudson Harbor dropped dummy A-bombs or heavy TNT bombs in a mission that called for “actual functioning of all activities which would be involved in an atomic strike, including weapons assembly and testing.” Ever since, nuclear weapons have been part of our war plans against the North; they were not used during the Korean War only because the US Air Force was able to raze every city in the North with conventional incendiaries. Hardly any Americans know about this, but every North Korean does; no wonder they have built some 15,000 underground facilities related to their national security. However provocative the North appears, we are reaping the whirlwind of our past nuclear bullying.
Washington’s injudicious patience and Seoul’s hard line have gotten nothing from the North but the ever-growing reliability of its A-bombs and missiles. They really have no choice but to talk to Pyongyang—most likely along the lines of former Los Alamos head Siegfried Hecker’s suggestion that the programs be capped through the “Three No’s.” “No more nukes, No better nukes, No proliferation.” Given the North’s labyrinthine subterranean complexes, spies can never be sure to have pinpointed every bomb anyway, and a handful of nukes will provide security and deterrence for an insecure leadership with much to be insecure about. Otherwise, they are useless.
Last year, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said we have been “within an inch of war almost every day” with the North. Today, it looks more like millimeters. What a terrible commentary on seven decades of failed American policies toward Pyongyang.
An excerpt from an April 13, 2013 article on the Foreign Policy Journal website. The author is Jack A. Smith.
…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 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 U.N. 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 firepower. A “dangerous” DPRK is also useful in keeping Tokyo well within the U.S. orbit and in providing another excuse for once-pacifist Japan to boost its already formidable arsenal.
The U.S.-South Korea war games in March were preceded in February U.S.-Japanese war games named “Iron Fist.” In both cases, Washington implicitly demonstrated it would stand with Seoul or Tokyo and against Pyongyang or Beijing if push came to shove. The U.S.-Japanese effort was aimed at capturing an imaginary island — a direct military warning to China, which claims possession to the Senkaku Islands, as does Japan.
According to a Feb. 15 article from Foreign Policy in Focus by Christine Hong and Hyun Le: “Framing of North Korea as the region’s foremost security threat obscures the disingenuous nature of U.S. President Barack Obama’s policy in the region, specifically the identity between what his advisers dub ‘strategic patience,’ on the one hand, and his forward-deployed military posture and alliance with regional hawks on the other. Examining Obama’s aggressive North Korea policy and its consequences is crucial to understanding why demonstrations of military might — of politics by other means, to borrow from Carl von Clausewitz — are the only avenues of communication North Korea appears to have with the United States at this juncture.”…