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End economic sanctions and military provocations against North Korea

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The Western media is pumping out one simple message about the crisis on the Korean peninsular. Kim Jong-un, a hysterical dictator, is bent on defying the "international community" (a.k.a the United Nations Security Council) and is threatening his neighbours and the USA, apparently for no rational motivation whatsoever.

This is a gigantic pack of lies, like the propaganda which preceded the Iraq War. Though North Korea is indeed a repulsive totalitarian state, which brutally represses its own people, its desire to possess nuclear weapons is not at all irrational. It is a very understandable reaction to the siege it has been under for the last 60 years from an infinitely stronger and more bellicose regime, the United Sates of America. Since the USA is responsible for the division of the country, has historically committed massive crimes against its people, and has repeatedly threatened it with nuclear annihilation, their response is no surprise.

Moreover the US’ actions over the last few months, have ratcheted up the pressure and tightened the blockade on an economy which can already scarcely feed its own people. The early March UN sanctions include restrictions on North Korean banking, trade and travel, searches of “suspect” North Korean cargo and enforcement measures absent from previous measures.

These sanctions are claimed to be a response to the DPRK's nuclear test on 12 February. This, too, is a lie. That test itself was a response to the threat of sanctions made by the US in January following Pyongyang's successful launch of a long-range rocket, which put a civilian satellite into orbit in December.

Hitherto, the US administration, whenever it tried to blackmail the other members of the UN Security Council into imposing more devastating economic sanctions, ran into the threat of a Chinese veto. China is North Korea's main ally and trading partner but does not want to see its client develop an independent nuclear capability, let alone embroil it in a confrontation with the USA.

Following North Korea's first successful testing of a nuclear device in October 2006, China agreed to "targeted" UN sanctions; an embargo on military and technological materials and luxury goods and some financial transactions. North Korea was obliged to return to the Six-Party Talks with China, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the US.

Washington was already stepping up arms supplies to South Korean forces as part of its "pivot to Asia", designed to "contain" China and maintain US domination of the East Asian Pacific Rim. It is plainly delighted that China has come on board for a sanctions regime “with teeth.”

North Korea has good reasons to fear the intentions of the US administration, even if it is unlikely the US would attack it directly in the near future. There are 28,000 U.S. troops regularly stationed in the South and, if fighting breaks out, the U.S. immediately takes command of South Korea’s 500,000 troops. Though the U.S. withdrew its nuclear weapons in the early 1990s, nuclear munitions are ready for use on ships, submarines and warplanes off the coast.

North Korea's standing army, though much larger (about 1.1 million), would in any offensive action be vulnerable to the vast US air power, even if the US did not resort to nuclear weapons.

Like in the case of Iran, the US denies the right of any state (except its close allies) to posses weapons which might enable it to resist US economic and military blackmail. For over half a century, it has had to accept that it cannot enforce this with regard to Russia and China, and the states they protect, but it has done all it can to preserve its power to coerce the rest of the world.

In fact, the United States, for all its vaunted democratic credentials at home, is far more of a rogue state than Korea or Iran. It has attacked dozens of countries since 1945 and is still the only power that has actually used nuclear weapons, killing over 100,000 civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Only recall the decades long Iraqi sanctions, which led to the death of hundreds of thousands, the 2001 and 2003, “shock and awe” bombing of Afghanistan and Iraq, then their invasion and occupation and, during the occupation of Iraq, the devastation of cities like Fallujah, with 60 per cent of its buildings destroyed. All this was done in the name of finding non-existent "weapons of mass destruction"(WMD). Likewise the claims that Iraq harboured an al-Qaeda terror network: it did not; though one was fomented precisely by the US invasion and occupation.

Who in their right mind would believe that a state that covers up Israel's decades long possession of nuclear weapons in defiance of all the non-proliferation treaties, is qualified to decide who is fitted have such a deterrent or not?

The crimes of the US and its Western allies in Korea go back to the beginning of the Cold War. After the Second World War, Korea was occupied by Russian and American forces, dividing the country roughly along the 38th parallel. The US installed a puppet dictatorship, under the fierce anti-communist Syngman Rhee, which waged a three year war against southern left-wing insurgents in which between 60 and 100,00 people lost their lives.

Meanwhile, Stalin’s USSR installed a puppet regime under Kim Il Sung in the more impoverished North. But the Korean Communists did organise people's committees and unleashed a peasant seizure of land from the big landlords. Key industries were nationalised. The Korean War of 1950-1953 began militarily with an invasion by the North, though this was in response to a declaration by Rhee that he was going to invade the North. The rapid collapse of the South’s forces indicated the rottenness of Rhee’s regime and its lack of any popular base.

This then drew in a massive US intervention (under the flag of the United Nations). In the subsequent war, the US subjected the northern population to 37 months of non-stop saturation bombing with incendiaries and napalm far exceeding anything inflicted by the North. Every city and major town in the North, every industrial installation, was destroyed. There are estimates that one-third of the entire civilian population in the North, some three million people, fell victim to USAF bombers.

US President Truman came close to authorising general Douglas MacArthur’s requests for nuclear strikes as well. After the 1953 armistice, South Korea remained a military dictatorship, with its governments changed by successive coups rather than elections, until, in 1987, mass demonstrations by workers and students brought this to an end. However, movements by students and trade unionists are still subjected to severe repression even under “democratic governments”.

After 9/11, President George W Bush put North Korea country on the "axis of evil" list, claiming it was a "terrorist state" and thus a target for his war on terror. Bush told Chinese President Jiang Zemin that, if North Korea did not abandon its nuclear programme, he would "have to consider a military strike”. He ordered part of the US Pacific fleet into the region, including the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. F-117 Stealth bombers were sent to South Korea, and fighters and bombers to Guam, the forward base from which to hit the North.

The Bush administration's Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations, issued in 2005 stated:

"To maximize deterrence of WMD use, it is essential US forces prepare to use nuclear weapons effectively and that US forces are determined to employ nuclear weapons if necessary to prevent or retaliate against WMD use."

The willingness of the North to enter negotiations, plus the protection of China, prevented any US attack. But North Korea continued with its nuclear programme and in 2006 conducted its first test.

Democrat President Barack Obama has repeated Bush’s offensive actions this year. The latest round of sanctions at the UN, supported by China, make all remaining international economic contacts by North Korea next to impossible; including a complete blackout of financial transactions, unilateral inspections of North Korea's shipping and air transport, with cargoes to be impounded if they do not comply with any point in the sanctions list. Such blockades are generally considered a casus belli (justification for war).

In early March, the US-South Korea joint command launched their annual military manoeuvres (codenamed Foal Eagle) lasting to the end of April. These involve 200,000 South Korean troops and 10,000 US troops. The deployment of nuclear capable American bombers, including a stealth bomber, further increased the pressure.

It is against this background that we have to understand the overblown rhetorical threats of the North, the self-harming closure of the Kaesong joint industrial zone, which generates a vital $2 billion a year in trade for North Korea, including approximately $80 million in wages to 53,000 North Korean workers, and the threats of a nuclear first strike on the South, on Guam, or even on the USA mainland. In fact, the North does not have the capacity to deliver a nuclear warhead to the two latter and an attack on the South would be criminal folly for its own population as well as the workers of South Korea.

Nevertheless, we defend the right of the DRNK to develop and possess nuclear weapons; the arguments for the importance of deterrence, which are used to justify the West's huge and overwhelming nuclear arsenal, apply far more credibly to North Korea, and to Iran, too. The USA has already done all it can to cripple the North's economy with blockades, keeps troops on the Korean peninsular and nuclear weapons off its coast on ships and submarines and long range missiles in Guam

In the event of an attack by the USA or the South Korean regime on the North, revolutionaries should support the defence of the latter. Indeed, they should do all in their power to aid its military victory and bring about the defeat of the US invaders. Of course, even a major conventional war, let alone the use of nuclear weapons, would be a disaster for the Korean people, North and South.

Therefore, the antiwar movement in the USA, Europe and Japan should mobilise now to demand a halt to the US provocations, to demand the complete lifting of the economic sanctions and trade blockade and the immediate and unconditional removal of the 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea. The whole US fleet, including its nuclear submarines and USAF bases, should be withdrawn from the entire region.

Beyond Korea, the entire “Pivot to Asia” is aimed against China and contains the seeds of a new global conflict for the redivision of the world. This is a threat to the workers and peasants of the entire world.

However, revolutionaries should give no political support to the Kim Jong-un regime, but advocate a political revolution to break the power of the monstrous privileged bureaucracy. If North Korea’s workers took over control of their factories and farms, diverting economic resources into providing food and other necessities of life for the people, appealing for support from the workers of the South, then the nightmare of war could be lifted and the perspective of a revolutionary reunification could be opened up.

April 7. 2013

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