A beginner’s guide to creating a ‘crisis’ By William Bowles

15 October 2006

“Each party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of the Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country.” — Article X of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Poor old North Korea, the latest bogeyman, its leader variously described as a tyrant, psychopath etc, etc. is once more the focus of Western ire. Now in all likelihood the reason is because things ain’t going too well in Iraq or Afghanistan and the Iranians have told the West to shove it, so isn’t it real convenient to have North Korea, waiting in the wings as it were, to frighten the kids with.

Now whether you’re keen on the kind of system North Korea (DPRK) has or not, an examination of history shows that it has threatened no one. Instead it has been blasted back into the proverbial stone age, blockaded, starved and demonised into its current predicament, and all because it refused to bow to the demands of the US that it abandon its autonomy and independence and open up its economy to the ravages of US capitalism.

With regard to the current ‘crisis’, it’s not at all clear whether they have actually exploded a nuke or whether it’s a giant bluff on the part of Kim Sung II. One thing is clear, the US has backed the DPRK into a corner, leaving them little choice but to act the way they do.

Once more we need to look to history in order to get a handle on what the US and its allies are up to and why the DPRK acts the way it does.

When the US—under the cover of the UN—invaded the DPRK in 1950 and slaughtered 4 million of its people, it set the scene for the next fifty-plus years. Without understanding how this event shaped the thinking of the DPRK’s people, it is impossible to make sense of its current actions.

The corporate and state-run media would prefer of course that you remain ignorant of these events. Instead, it reduces everything to cartoon-like stereotypes that paints a picture of the country as some kind of gigantic concentration camp with its demented leaders bent on attacking the US in some kind of insane suicide mission. Why they should act this way is not explained but the actions of the US give us some insight into why the DPRK views the outside world as it does.

“In the first year of the war, General Douglas MacArthur ordered the destruction of “every means of communication, every installation, factory, city and village” … Mass fire bombings systematically levelled one town after another and by 1952 almost no town in North Korea was left standing.”

Not content with flattening the country, toward the end of the war in 1953, the US deliberately destroyed North Korea’s irrigation system that supplied 75% of its agricultural production causing ‘tsunamis’ that killed thousands of people and swept away everything in their path causing starvation on an unimaginable scale.

But the US was to add to its list of war crimes as its troops were pushed southwards out of the DPRK by North Korean and Chinese troops. As they went:

“… [they] systematically burned down villages and destroyed food stocks … “Razing of villages along our withdrawal routes and destruction of food staples became the order of the day” records the war diary of the U.S. 24th Infantry Division.”

The US scorched earth programme left virtually nothing standing in the DPRK. One result was that most of the DPRK’s industrial capacity was relocated into underground facilities (an event which, as we shall see, had repercussions for US actions today).

In 1993 President Clinton announced the resumption of ‘war games’ in South Korea that had been suspended under George HW Bush. Understandably, the DPRK was displeased and indicated that it planned to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

But following talks with the US, the DPRK agreed to stay a signatory to the NPT. But under the instigation of the US, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) demanded complete access to the DPRK, something it had hitherto never demanded from any signatory to the NPT. The intention was obvious; the US wanted to gather as much intelligence as it could about the DPRK’s military capacity (again, the IAEA also acted as an intelligence gathering agency for the US prior to the invasion of Iraq through the use of agents planted in the inspection teams).

And, just as with the IAEA’s actions in Iraq, the DPRK discovered that the IAEA was passing on data to US intelligence agencies.

Subsequently, the Clinton administration went on a propaganda offensive, charging that the DPRK was developing nuclear weapons, a charge without any foundation in fact. And, just as with the allegations against Iraq and Iran, these accusations were accepted by an uninformed public by virtue of endless repetition relayed through a complicit and compliant MSM.

In 1994 the Clinton administration broke off talks with the DPRK and attempted to get the UN Security Council to implement sanctions and at the same time readied its plans for an invasion utilising nuclear weapons, which had it come to pass would have exterminated millions on the Korean Peninsula and beyond.

“Alarmed over the drift toward war, former President Jimmy Carter … flew to Pyongyang on an unofficial mission to find a way to open negotiations … he [Kim Il-Sung] was willing to freeze their nuclear program … and to consider a permanent freeze if their aged reactors could be replaced with modern and safer ones.” President Kim [also] asked for a guarantee from the U.S. that it would not attack his country with nuclear weapons … North Korea [also agreed] not to reprocess spent fuel at Yongbyon [the site of its nuclear reactor]”.

Thus there were no longer any obstacles to the US and the DPRK concluding an agreement following negotiations.

Carter, aware that this was not what the White House wanted to hear, arranged for a CNN crew to transmit a live broadcast following his phone call to Clinton from Pyongyang about the positive outcome of his talks.

“incensed at the scuttling of their plan for war, Clinton Administration officials were left with no other option than to respond to the proffered diplomatic opening.”

Predictably however, the US upped the anté by making additional demands even before talks started.

“The shocking thing about the Carter visit wasn’t that people were disappointed that someone was going. It was that when he got the freeze, people here were crestfallen,” commented a State Department official.

With US plans for war foiled, on July 8, 1994 talks started in Geneva between the US and the DPRK that resulted in the Agreed Framework being signed on October 21.

Under the Agreed Framework the DPRK agreed to freeze work on its graphite-moderated reactor at Yongbyon and to stop work on two other reactors. In return the US agreed to making available a light water reactor (LWR) by 2003. LWRs do not produce weapons-grade materials. In addition the US agreed to supply the DPRK with half a million tons of oil for heating and electricity production annually until the new reactor was completed and also to make up for the loss of electrical generating capacity from the closure of the Yongbyon reactor.

But signing an agreement and implementing it are not the same thing. Newly elected president Bush “was openly hostile to the Agreed Framework Agreement” and work on the replacement reactor didn’t even begin until 2002 and work wouldn’t be completed until 2008 at the earliest, fourteen years after the Agreement was signed.

Article 2 of the Agreement called for a move toward:

“full normalisation of political and economic relations”

Article 3 stated that:

“The U.S. will provide formal assurances to the DPRK, against the threat or use of nuclear weapons by the U.S.”

The US complied with neither article and in fact in 1997 the US carried out mock nuclear attacks on the DPRK.

“We simulated fighting a war in Korea, using a Korean scenario” based on “a decision by the National Command Authority about considering using nuclear weapons.” — Brigadier General Randall K. Bigum.

Declassified documents show that the US plans called for dropping as many 30 nuclear bombs on the DPRK and following George Bush’s infamous “axis of evil” address, Bush ordered a ‘more flexible’ approach to the use of nuclear weapons.

Henceforth the US envisaged using nuclear weapons under three scenarios: One, “in retaliation for attack with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons”; two, “against targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack”, an obvious reference to the DPRK’s underground industrial plants and three, the vague, “in the event of surprising military developments,” a catch-all phrase that implies the use of nuclear weapons under ANY circumstances deigned “surprising” by the US.

In line with the ‘create a crisis’ approach to its relations with countries which don’t toe the line, after Bush assumed office, he broke off all contacts with the DPRK, then, eighteen months later he sent Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelley to North Korea who adopted an arrogant, a racist, imperial approach to the North Koreans, accusing them of violating the Agreed Framework. According to the North Koreans, Kelly was “very rude” and presented his demands in an “extremely threatening and arrogant manner.”

Kelly presented an ultimatum:

“there would be no dialogue between the two nations until North Korea abandoned its uranium enrichment program.”

Not unconnected to the US approach to the DPRK was the fact that relations between the DPRK, South Korea and Japan were improving, something the US was determined to sabotage. The North Koreans responded to US demands by offering to settle US security concerns if the US dropped its hostile attitude to the DPRK.

The US responded by accusing the DPRK of developing nuclear weapons, an allegation the North Koreans vehemently denied. In a television broadcast, the North Korean government said:

“We just explained our basic position that we are entitled to possess nuclear weapons if the United States violates their nuclear agreement [with the DPRK] and forces the country into a nuclear war. However, the Bush Administration made use of this to argue that we are developing nuclear weapons. Such a fabrication will not be accepted.”

The US chose to interpret this as an admission that the DPRK was in fact developing nuclear weapons (pointing to one extremely important aspect of diplomatic relations, namely that you have to be absolutely precise in the wording of any public statement).

Ultimately it came down to the simple fact that no matter what the North Koreans offered, the US was determined to dump the Agreed Framework. South Korean and Russian observers all agreed that the DPRK not only did not have a nuclear weapons programme but it was technically and economically incapable of producing nuclear weapons, nor did it have the means of delivery (the smallest bomb it could have possibly have developed at the time would have weighed between 2-3 tons).

At every step in its dealings with the DPRK, the US extended its demands, eventually demanding that:

“This time … we must also address other problems — missile transfer, the conventional forces the North has, and the abominable way it treats its people …

We control [North Korea’s] hopes for the future, and we can hold these hopes hostage. [my emph. WB]” — Reuters, October 20, 2002.

Desperate to produce an agreement with the US, the North Koreans made concession after concession but all to no avail. In November 2002, Kim Jong II delivered a letter to Bush which contained the following:

“If the United States recognizes our sovereignty and assures non-aggression, it is our view that we should be able to find a way to resolve the nuclear issue in compliance with the demand of a new century. If the United States makes a bold decision, we will respond accordingly.”

The US did not respond. Instead, it increased its pressure on the DPRK, forcing South Korea and Japan to join with the US in halting oil shipments to the DPRK and eventually the US abandoned the Agreed Framework, stopped work on the light water reactors knowing full well that such actions would impact on the young, the old and the sick, indeed, step by step forcing the North Korean economy to its knees, effectively returning it to a pre-industrial level. Without power and oil it could not produce fertiliser, nor maintain its agricultural machinery, nor even deliver food crops. From a country with a highly mechanised agricultural system, the DPRK was forced to rely on manual labour for the production and distribution of food.

US actions toward North Korea are an object lesson in imperial strategy and are typical of the way it treats any country which does not bow to to its will and, without the complicity of the mass media in selling the imperial line, especially in the way US policy has impacted on the population of North Korea through the US use of food as a weapon, demonstrates how the media effectively works in lockstep with the state.

So instead of reporting that the reason North Korea’s population is living in poverty is because of US policies (sanctions, reneging on agreements etc), we are fed the line that it’s because of the DPRK’s “Stalinist” system. Political repression is one thing but what would the North Korean leadership gain from deliberately starving its population except resentment and resistance?

The US relies on a media establishment that embraces the imperial ideology in its totality, which for countries such as North Korea is a deadly embrace. The objective is obvious; to create a climate that justifies US actions by obscuring and misreporting not only the facts but also the reasons behind its actions.

Given such a history, is it any wonder that North Korea behaves the way it does? Humiliated and isolated by US actions and driven by what it calls juche sasang, or self-reliance, it does what any sovereign nation would do under such circumstances, assert its right to defend itself by whatever means it has at its disposal including the development of nuclear weapons. Whether the DPRK has or has not developed them is neither here nor there, what is important is that the DPRK has every right to take whatever steps it considers appropriate when faced with a country armed to the teeth, and whose actions over the past fifty-plus years has been invasion, destruction and threats.


All quotes are taken from Strange Liberators – Militarism, Mayhem and the Pursuit of Profit by Gregory Elich. Llumina Press, 2006. (amazon.co.uk, amazon.com)

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