Just when US President George ‘little’ Bush thought he had the global case for a war against Iraq all neatly wrapped up another so called ‘rogue state’ North Korea has turned all his fantasies into a nightmare. By openly calling the Bush’s bluff of ‘pre-emptive strikes against all nations that threaten US interests’ the North Koreans have thrown the US government into a crisis over how to handle the situation.
Going by the rhetoric of the US establishment since September 11 North Korea, much more than Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, should be the first target of any ‘pre-emptive strike’. It is one of the countries part of George Bush Jr.’s so-called ‘Axis of Evil’. It has missiles capable of hitting several US cities and is believed to have an active program to develop nuclear weapons. It also regularly exports missiles to nations deemed ‘hostile’ to the United States and horror of horrors it is one of the last nations on this planet to describe itself as ‘Communist’. And besides all this, unlike Iraq, it refuses to allow inspectors from outside to monitor its programs for developing weapons of mass destruction.
And yet for all these ‘villainous’ deeds that North Korea is supposed to indulge in the only ‘punishment’ that the world’s only standing superpower can mete out is to call for negotiations and stretch its hands out to do a ‘peaceful settlement’. While the western media is calling the entire episode the ‘North Korean nuclear crisis’, what it really represents is the United State’s ‘Korean crisis’.
The crisis ostensibly began in October when the United States said North Korea had admitted to developing nuclear weapons in violation of a 1994 agreement. In response, Washington and its allies suspended fuel shipments guaranteed under the pact. North Korea in turn expelled U.N. inspectors, reactivated nuclear facilities and withdrew from a global anti-nuclear pact.
While the mainstream media is busy painting the North Korean state as being ‘dangerous’ and ‘unpredictable’, a more objective scrutiny of the situation shows that the real threat to peace (as elsewhere in the world) in the Korean Peninsula comes from the actions and intentions of the United States.
Consider the following facts. Since the end of the Korean War in the 1950s the United States has maintained a large military presence inside South Korea ostensibly to ‘deter’ the North Koreans from ‘attacking’ their neighbour. During the Cold War putting US troops in the region was understandable though not justifiable. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 it is clear that the only purpose for their remaining in South Korea is to threaten and provoke North Korea and more importantly as part of US policy of encircling and ‘containing’ China.
Of course anyone familiar with the history of the Korean War itself would know that the US has absolutely no business to be involved in the region at all and for interfering in what was in the 1940s a communist-led struggle for national liberation against Japanese colonialists.
During the Korean War the US carpet-bombed North Korea and killed millions of its citizens and was so desperate to win that, according to recently declassified records, they even considered dropping nuclear bombs on Mao’s China which supported Pyongyang at that time. So it is not surprising that all these years since the war the North Korean leadership has been determined to protect itself with whatever weapons or geo-political strategy required. Looked at from Pyongyang’s point of view the US with its vastly superior military might and South Korea with its bigger population and economic power are the real threat to North Korea’s existence and not the other way around.
So it is from this perspective that throughout this so-called ‘Korean nuclear crisis’ the North Koreans have been repeatedly demanding a legal document, i.e., a non-aggression treaty from the United States — guaranteeing it would not attack the communist state. There are real fears within the North Korean government that the US is planning to isolate and target them as part of the post-September 11 US dreams of destroying or subordinating every defiant nation on planet Earth. Within the US establishment itself the surprise North Korean move has caught planners off guard and there are reports of deep divisions between the so-called ‘moderates’ who want to negotiate and the ‘hardliners’ who want to threaten North Korea with ‘severe consequences’. According to the hardliners in the US however it is more important to maintain ‘credibility’ and not give in to ‘nuclear blackmail’. They are also not averse to a war in which apart from large numbers of US casualties there is certain to be widespread destruction of cities like Seoul and Tokyo which will be targeted by the North Koreans in case they are attacked. The ‘moderates’ argue that despite the loss of face that negotiations with a ‘rogue state’ involves it is the only realistic option especially because North Korea is fully capable of fully resisting any threat to its security from US forces by firing its long-range missiles all the way to the US mainland itself. Apart from this the over 30,000 US troops stationed in South Korea would be a prime target in case of any war on the Korean peninsula. But probably the real reason the `moderates’ (which ironically is supposed to include George Bush Jr.) are hesitant to confront North Korea further is that there is strong opposition to such a move from its longtime ally South Korea.
The new South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, has promised to continue the ‘sunshine’ policy of his predecessor under which the South and North Koreas have been trying to do away with past Cold War rivalry and normalize political and economic relations peacefully. Roh was elected in December last year on the back of rising anti-US sentiments in South Korea over an incident late last year in which US tanks accidentally ran over and killed two schoolgirls. The South Korean population, where anti-US sentiments have been simmering for a long time, has since then been out on the streets for many weeks now demanding punishment for the US soldiers and the removal of US troops from their soil. Apart from a strong desire among large sections of the South Korean population to live peacefully with the North Koreans ( a goal totally opposed by the Bush administration) there are also other reasons for rising resentment against the US. The presence of US troops in South Korea is seen by many of its citizens as an insult to national sovereignty as also a costly racket under which they have to pay large sums to the US for ‘protection’.
In 1989, for the first time since the Korean War, Seoul paid the US government 45 million dollars for maintaining US troops along the South-North Korean border. This protection money however increased to 70 million dollars in 1990, 150 million dollars in 1991, 180 million in 1992, 220 million in 1993, 260 million in 1994, and 300 million in 1995.
The protection money stayed at the 1995 level for a while because of the economic meltdown in the late 1990s. With the IMF financial crisis over, the US demanded and got from Seoul 440 million dollars in 2001 and it now wants to increase the protection money by 10% per year to 600 million by 2004. Seoul’s share of the US expenses in Korea was less than a third of the total direct costs in 1990 but it will shoot up to more than 50% by 2004-2005. When indirect costs — such as land use and subsidized utilities — are added on, Seoul’s share of the costs amounts to more than three billion dollars a year. In a nutshell, South Korea is incurring costs by its short-sighted policy of adhering to the Cold War era notion of US-Korea military alliance against the North Koreans. Instead of building up its own military forces and counting less on the US for its defense, Seoul is paying the US an increasing amount of protection money, which encourages continued US presence in Korea for purposes that go beyond the Korean peninsula ie., the task of ‘containing’ China.
In the days to come the real story to watch will be the relationship between the US and South Korea — with the North Korean situation adding lots of entertainment value. The message going out from all this to the would-be Emperor of the World — the United States — is that ‘it is not just your opponents who are ready to challenge you but even your erstwhile friends are willing to disrobe you in public’.