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Without reset India-Zionist ties face uncertain future


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Without reset India-Israel ties face uncertain future
By M K Bhadrakumar

The 8-day visit by the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, which concluded on Monday, turned out to be a low-key affair. Gone are the days when high-level exchanges with Israel used to be sexy events. The novelty has worn off. There was no media hype about Rivlin’s visit. And the ‘demonetisation’ crisis alone cannot account for it.

The point is, an air of stagnation is appearing in the India-Israel relationship. Fundamentally, India has been rapidly transforming in the recent decade and its priorities have changed. Again, the regional and international environment has changed phenomenally.

The Bharatiya Janata Party used to be regarded as excessively ‘Israel-friendly’. Yet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is still to pay a visit to Israel. Modi visited a few West Asian countries already but all of them belong to the so-called Muslim world – Saudi Arabia, UAE, Turkey and Iran. India’s priorities have been worked out.

Modi’s Iran visit was an eloquent statement in itself. India is undeterred by Israel’s animosities toward Iran. Curiously, while Rivlin was in India, media reports appeared that the ONGC Videsh’s protracted negotiations to strike a multi-billion dollar deal with Iran for the development of the Farzad-B gas field (with estimated reserves of 21.6 trillion cubic feet) have reached the home stretch.

Reuters reported separately that in the month of October, Iran surpassed Saudi Arabia as India’s number one supplier of crude oil – a whopping 789,000 barrels per day as against Saudi Arabia’s 697,000 bpd. India views the Chabahar project as a major geo-strategic initiative. Suffice it to say, Iran is becoming an indispensable partner and that is a geopolitical reality.

On the other hand, remittances from GCC countries to India’s budget work out to a handsome figure of $25 billion or so annually. Interestingly, Saudi Arabia’s Aramco recently had a rival offer to acquire Essar (which ultimately forced the Russian consortium to improve their bid and pay up $13 billion.) The Gulf region is also India’s number one export market.

In short, there is such a lot going for India in the West Asian region. The point is, what is it that Israel can offer? Drip irrigation, water management, recycling, conservation and desalination, dairy farming, polyhouse techniques, bee-keeping – these niches are surely interesting, each in its own way. But, what India desperately needs is massive investments to develop its manufacturing industry and infrastructure, which are crucial for job creation. It needs energy security. It needs to boost export earnings. What can Israel do for India? Ironically, Israel’s focus is exclusively on securing lucrative business for its companies.

Israel’s importance for India lies in defence cooperation. But here again, Israel may be incrementally losing its advantage as an interesting source of advanced military technology that was previously unavailable for India directly from the US. India is increasingly a big market for weaponry, with cut-throat competition setting in among the foreign vendors.

In political terms, too, Israel is of no relevance for India in handling the most consequential relationship in its foreign policy – namely, relations with China. As for the US-Indian relationship, it has matured to a point that India has no more need to leverage Jewish lobbyists. Arguably, Israel’s capacity to influence US policies also should not be exaggerated. Israel pulled all stops to scuttle the P5+1 and Iran negotiations but spectacularly failed to intimidate President Barack Obama.

Israel is palpably nervous about Donald Trump’s likely Middle East policies. Trump’s idea of working with Russia to resolve the Syrian conflict works against Israel’s regional agenda of fragmenting and weakening its neighbors. Continued Israeli support for the al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front in Syria will only invite Russian and Iranian retribution. Indeed, India and Israel are not on the same page in regard of the war against terrorist groups in Syria.

All in all, India-Israel relations are at a crossroads. Simply chanting old hackneyed mantras on terrorism, secularism, democracy, et al, won’t suffice. There is danger of stagnation setting in. An India-Israel reset is overdue. A relationship based on negative passions — paranoia, fear complex, insecurities, vanities and false identity — is inherently flawed and cannot have an enduring future in a rapidly changing regional and international environment, howsoever keen the two sides could be to remain relevant to each other.

An editorial in the Jerusalem Post newspaper on Rivlin’s visit calls attention to the stark realities confronting the future of India-Israel ties. No, Sir: we in India don’t have such fears over Kashmir, as you’d have over your occupied territories and illegal settlements.

True, we also have our share of ‘Rabbis’ but Indians are not addicted to Islamophobia; nor do we associate Islam with terrorism as a matter of state policy. No, India does not fancy itself as a ‘regional counterweight’ to Russia or China; we simply don’t suffer from such inferiority complex.

And, it is downright absurd to associate India’s ‘authentic national identity’ with Hindu religion. Worse still, it is an act of self-serving sophistry on the Israeli side to do so. We are an ancient civilization and not an artificial creation by western powers in this part of the world, and we do not need the crutch of religion to define our national identity. We’d prefer to be known by our IT industry and satellites and our eclectic culture.

Posted in India, ZIO-NAZI0 Comments

Dispatch From Nepal: The Disaster Didn’t End When the Earth Stopped Shaking


By Dinesh Paudel and Gregory Reck 

(Photo: Dinesh Paudel)

The author interacting with disaster-affected communities in Saipu, Nepal. (Photo: Dinesh Paudel)

Writing in a blog post shortly after the Hurricane Katrina disaster in Louisiana, writer and activist Jim Wallis pointed out that often it takes a natural disaster to reveal a social disaster. One can even go further and point out that, when it comes to disasters, the categories of “natural” and “social” are indistinguishable. Natural disasters not only reveal social disasters; they unleash forces that deepen them. All “natural” disasters occur within historical and socioeconomic contexts so that the dividing line between natural and social causes and consequences are inevitably blurred.

While international attention is focused on the recent devastation wrought by Hurricane Matthew in Haiti and other Caribbean areas, the hyper-short-term memory of the mainstream media — along with the tendency to see “disasters” as “over” with the passage of time — leads us to forget quickly about ongoing social disasters that were accentuated by natural catastrophes.

The Earthquakes in Saipu, Nepal

The twin earthquakes that struck Nepal on April 25 and May 12 of 2015 are a case in point. Registering around 7.8 and 7.3 on the Richter scale, the earthquakes killed more than 9,000 people, injured another 23,000 and destroyed almost a million homes, thousands of schools and a broad spectrum of basic infrastructure.

Statistics like this conceal as much as they reveal. By describing damage solely in terms of a geological event, they create the illusion that disasters are destructive accidents that disrupt otherwise normal lives. While earthquakes obviously disrupt lives, this view of disasters conceals the reality that they inevitably exacerbate and even increase the suffering that is normalized as part of everyday life in many global spaces. Moreover, this more limited “natural” view of disaster suggests that solutions only involve returning human populations back to their normal lives as much as possible.

In July 2016, we spent almost a month in Nepal talking with local subsistence farmers in the community of Saipu, located in east-central Nepal, not far from the epicenter of the second earthquake. We were interested in unraveling the complexities of post-earthquake recovery, especially as understood by local people, rather than so-called experts. Too often, the voices of people most affected by disasters are marginalized and infantilized by the voices of politicians, disaster specialists, development workers and those embedded in one way or another with the nongovernmental organization (NGO) industry. We simply wanted to know how these subsistence farmers understood the disaster that hit 14 months earlier.

What we learned from the farmers of Saipu was precisely what Wallis referred to with Hurricane Katrina: The actual devastation of the earthquakes was one additional ingredient stirred into a pre-existing brew of suffering.

The stories we heard about the earthquakes and their aftermath were certainly terrifying. A man was cutting a tree in a deep ravine between steep mountains. The mountains began to dance toward one another and, clinging to the ground, he sensed that he would be crushed between them. An elderly grandmother survived by hugging the interior support post of her house as it crumbled around her into a pile of rubble. A mother prevented a group of children playing outside a house from instinctively seeking safety inside as the Earth trembled and the walls of the house collapsed. A family, knocked to the ground, watched in amazement as two buildings appeared to nearly collide as the pulsating earth pushed them in different directions.

Post-earthquake narratives were equally disturbing. Many families still live in temporary shelters constructed out of bamboo, scrap materials salvaged from the devastation and plastic tarps brought in with the first wave of aid. Others live precariously in their damaged houses, fearful about whether more earth tremors might finish the job started over a year ago.

Comfort is difficult to maintain when the rain seeps through the open spaces of these temporary shelters. Packed dirt floors become mud. Insects, frogs and other nocturnal animals invade food prepared for the evening meal. Human dignity, they told us, is difficult to maintain under these conditions.

Yet these stories are told with grace and humor. Intentional irony and humorous paradox produce laughter in both the storytellers and listeners. Local poets who sing their verses in traditional forms perform songs filled with the same biting tragedy and comic relief. Laughter masks the real suffering of terrifying memories and harsh current conditions. But laughter also demonstrates the very real resilience and values of community members, both hiding despair and revealing hope.

The stories are also a form of local resistance to the forces that have descended upon these rural areas. They externalize internal, individual and social struggles, expressing a deep-seated resistance to conditions that often seem beyond local control. The earthquakes may be primary topics, but this oral literature transcends those immediate events to encompass the forces that are seen as even more destructive.

The other ingredients of this toxic brew predate the earthquakes and will without doubt outlast earthquake recovery if and when it happens. The main ingredients of this brew are the geopolitics of India, the NGO industry and global climate change.

Deepening the Crisis

Just four months after the earthquakes, the Indian government quietly initiated an “informal” blockade on goods passing from India to the landlocked country of Nepal. At a time when Nepali people were suffering deeply, India decided to play the economic card in an attempt to collapse the Nepali coalition government. The Modi government in India wasn’t happy with Nepal’s constitution and what it claimed was the mistreatment of people along the Nepali-Indian border. Vital supplies like fuel, medical equipment and reconstruction supplies were effectively cut off for months.

This was just the most recent hand played in the geopolitical games of the region. Sandwiched between the powers of India and China, Nepal is caught inextricably in the squeeze. The earthquakes certainly accentuated the disaster of this geopolitical game, but the geopolitics of suffering in Nepal preceded and will outlast that natural disaster.

The second pre-existing ingredient is the presence of the NGO industry. One might think that people devastated by earthquakes would welcome whatever aid might come their way. Not so.

The negativity toward that industry in rural areas of Nepal has been building for decades. The farmers of Saipu all reacted the same way when we mentioned NGOs — bursts of laughter followed by words of derision. They said NGOs don’t even have Nepali names. They don’t know the communities they work in and the communities don’t know them. They distribute goods unfairly, often making the rich richer and the poor poorer. They serve the goals of their donors, not those they claim to help. They never ask people what they need. They think they know best. They come with projects that no one in the community asks for. NGO workers only care about their jobs.

While this negativism toward outside aid often develops after disasters — since local needs always are more extensive than outside help can manage — the Nepali view of NGOs grows out of a long history with them. Over the past three decades, the NGO industry has exploded in Nepal. Filling the vacuum created by insufficient and inefficient government projects in rural areas, NGOs stepped into the void. Yet, after decades, the lasting impact in Nepal has been negligible. The cynicism that we found is not only due to the lack of substantive help after the most recent disaster, but also the result of long-term experience.

The farmers understand from their direct experience that the NGO world is linked to the power of Western donor countries. They are not fooled by the mystification that claims these NGOs care about their welfare.

There are over 50,000 International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) and national Non-Governmental Organizations registered with the government — approximately one for every 600 citizens, although most are inactive. Dozens of NGOs have visited Saipu since the earthquakes, with almost no positive impact on post-earthquake conditions. As a coordinator of NGOs in the district center of Manthali, who asked to remain anonymous, admitted, “This disaster is like a big festival for NGOs — they access funds, hire new personnel, hold meetings, write reports of success to donors, and little of substance gets done.” Other than the initial emergency relief efforts, there are few visible signs of reconstruction, despite the thousands of INGOs and NGOs working in rural communities like Saipu.

The final and perhaps most deadly ingredient is global climate change. Nepal has experienced erratic weather conditions for the past 10 years or so. Glaciers are receding, snow is melting earlier and earlier, monsoon rains are less predictable, too much or too little rain disrupts traditional farming patterns. For a country of farmers, the nationwide consequences are dire. Recently, the United Nations designated Nepal as one of 34 nations experiencing serious food insecurity conditions due to climate factors.

In July 2016, Saipu should have been receiving its most serious dose of monsoon rain. Instead, the muggy skies were producing brief afternoon and nighttime showers. When we suggested that the monsoon might still arrive, the reply was always something like, “Yes, but every hour that it doesn’t is a disaster.” Farmers have longitudinal knowledge about climate variations, and they uniformly attribute current deteriorating conditions to climate change. Looking us in the eyes, they said, “The people who are causing this are killing us.”

The intentional irony of this statement is apparent. Located in the midst of what some scientists have called “the third pole” of the Earth — the Himalayas — Nepal has little to do with the causes of climate change. Yet, this small country and its inhabitants are a primary recipient of the disaster created by the excesses of the industrialized West and East.

Shortly after the earthquakes, Nepal hosted a donors’ conference and received around $4.4 billion in commitments from a number of countries, including the United States. They had hoped to receive $6.7 billion, an amount still far short of recovery needs. At least half of the pledged amount was in loans. Already an impoverished, indebted country, the conditions that existed prior to the spring of 2015 are bound to worsen. With more debt, more NGO activity serving global capital and declining climate conditions, even if houses can be rebuilt in communities like Saipu, the disaster will continue.

Posted in Far East0 Comments

Human Rights Violations: North Korea vs. the U.S.


UN Third Committee Resolution L.23 IN, Legitimizes Stranglehold Economic Sanctions., Used as a Means to “Obliterate” North Korea


On November 15, 2016 the United Nations Third Committee adopted the resolution:  “Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” 

Among the co-sponsors of the Resolution were United States, United Kingdom, Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, etc. 

Disassociating themselves from the resolution, which they denounced as invalid, were China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, and three other countries opposed to the biased character and double standards that typify “country-specific” resolutions.  The co-sponsors of this resolution are themselves guilty of  criminal human rights violations.

The very concept of human rights has been fraudulently used to such a degree that it bears no resemblance to Eleanor Roosevelt’s original inspiration for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Indeed, the term has become the antithesis of concern for human rights, and is now being used as yet another ploy, a Trojan Horse, to infiltrate, destabilize and ultimately overthrow independent governments which are anathema to Western Oligarchies

At the United Nations Third Committee meeting of November 15, 2016, an urgently needed “No-Action Motion” was introduced by Belarus, opposing the “country-specific” resolutions as “deeply flawed and arbitrary instruments of coercion.”

Agenda item L.23 on the Situation of Human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is the most flagrant example of these resolutions which are being used as instruments of coercion, and an example of the scandalous double standards on human rights which have become a lethal excuse by which Western capitalist powers have corrupted the United Nations into becoming, itself, an instrument of coercion.

The destruction, by US-NATO military bombardment, of states independent of western oligarchic control, was endorsed by UN Security Council Resolutions 678 and 1973, which were used to violently impose regime change in Iraq and Libya.  “Human Rights” is the contemporary equivalent of the “White Man’s Burden” which was used, in earlier times, to justify imperialistic conquest.

Resolution L.23 on the DPRK is an intellectually and morally bankrupt piece of propaganda, so clumsily cobbled together that its accusations of human rights violations more conspicuously apply to its sponsors, including the US, and UK  than to the DPRK, and the contrivances of the resolution are intended to hasten the economic genocide being inflicted on the people of the DPRK, and which the UN, through its barbaric sanctions regime is dishonorably facilitating.

Resolution L.23 

“expresses its very serious concern at continuing reports of violations of human rights such as torture and other cruel, inhuman conditions of detention; rape, public execution; extrajudicial and arbitrary detention; the absence of due process and the rule of law; extensive use of forced labor..”

The resolution is intended to legitimize the sanctions stranglehold on North Korea, and increase the suffering of the people of the DPRK for the sinister purpose of inciting chaos and regime change in that tiny country, one of the few remaining socialist economies in the world.

This deceptive politicization of the concept of human rights for the nefarious purpose of facilitating an oligarchic geopolitical agenda is now debasing and discrediting the very concept itself.  In classic Orwellian style, the countries whose economic systems, based on profit maximization, most notoriously abuse human rights are condemning the countries whose socialist economies are founded on the most humanitarian principles and practice. That the UN tolerates this disgraceful  scam morally discredits the organization, and may lead to its ultimate demise.

Resolution L.23 on the DPRK may easily be refuted, almost line by line, with examples of barbaric human rights abuses systematically committed by the very same countries which co-sponsored the resolution, and these barbaric practices are documented in such pristine Western publications as  The New York Times, The New Yorker,  Harper’s, and numerous other publications which  catalogue human rights abuses over centuries, but an examination of the most recent decades will suffice.

US Human Rights Record. Recent History

In September, 1971, at the infamous Attica political prison  (described as a “correctional facility”) in New York,  1,300 political prisoners rebelled against the brutal treatment they were enduring during their incarceration.  This action symbolized a class revolution of mostly impoverished African Americans, and some white citizens, mostly destitute, arising from their enslavement and demanding human dignity.  Tragically, they had no weapons to defend themselves. Political prisoners in Attica included members of the Black Panther Party, the Puerto Rican Young Lords, the Weather Underground, and numerous other political organizations within the USA.

Four days after the uprising, Governor Rockefeller, in a notorious action typical of systemic capitalist repression and constituting a crime against humanity, ordered armed troopers to enter the prison, where they massacred and tortured the prisoners who had protested against the hellish conditions of their imprisonment .  The recently published masterpiece, entitled “Blood in the Water,” by United States historian Heather Ann Thompson documents the horrific tortures inflicted during the murderous repression of unarmed prisoners.  Among those slaughtered in the massacre ordered by Governor Rockefeller, was  “Kenny Malloy, His skull had been riddled with so many bullets that his eye sockets were shredded by the shards of his own bones.”

Invading with chemical poison CS gas, orthochlorobenzyldene, the heavily armed state troopers began murdering the unarmed prisoners.  The tortures to which the “surviving prisoners were subjected were described by victim Frank Smith:

Page 487:  “ He was chained to a table.  ‘They say you like to play football, we’re going to put this football into you nigger, and then we’re going to kill you.’  The torturers shoved a football under his chin, and told him if he let it drop, they would shoot him.  As recounted by Smith, the troopers kicked him ‘repeatedly in the testicles, and were spitting on me, dropping lit cigarettes on me…I would flex my body to make the cigarette fall off me, so it wouldn’t burn too long.’”  “ his legs hung over the edge of the table for six hours until they started to go numb.  ‘my head was hurting, my back was hurting, and the most excruciating pain I had was in my testicles.  It was a very excruciating pain in my genital area.’  He was then forced to run through a gauntlet with fifty armed officers on both sides, with broken glass on the floor.  Still completely naked, he endured the blows of ax handles and the baton with pig handles as he was forced to run this gauntlet.  The pain had been horrendous, ‘unbearable pain;  my testicles, my fingers gouged, and arms and back,’ accompanied by endless barrage of vile racial attacks, slurs.”

This was standard torture of the prisoners, including rape:

”An officer pulled out a Phillips screwdriver and told the naked inmate to get on his feet or he’d stab the screwdriver in his rectum…then he just started stabbing him.”

When the prisoners’ attorney, the great civil rights lawyer William Kunstler, witnessed the carnage of mangled dead bodies strewn everywhere on the ground,  Kunstler, who had grasped that this was a  legitimate political rebellion, wept uncontrollably at the sight of fascism’s  work.  And, of course, Governor Rockefeller, the man responsible for the massacre, was never held accountable, but history condemns him for perpetrating this infamous state terror.

The New Yorker, May 2, 2016 describes current torture and murder of mentally disabled prisoners in Florida prisons.  This is documented in an article by Eyal Press.  As prisoner Darren Rainey, diagnosed as schizophrenic, had defecated in his cell, after being tormented by his guards,  he was, as punishment, put in a “shower,”  “locked in a stall whose water supply was delivered through a hose controlled by the guards.  The water was over one hundred and eighty degrees, hot enough to brew a cup of tea…It was later revealed that Rainey had burns on more than ninety percent of his body, and that his skin fell off at the touch.”

Rainey was boiled to death in the shower, but it was learned that many other prisoners had been subjected to the same torture of being boiled alive.  None of the perpetrators of this torture were held accountable.  Prisoners were routinely beaten.  Other prisoners were starved, some starved to death.  Any witnesses who might have spoken against this abuse were threatened and silenced.

On May 15, 2016, the exact day on which Resolution L.23 against the DPRK was adopted at the UN Third Committee, The New York Times published a front page article describing the torture of prisoners in a jail in Utica, New York.  In addition to the usual tortures of defenseless prisoners, anal rape is common.

“Prisoner Raymond Broccoli recounted:  “as he lay on the floor an officer hissed, ‘You want to know what it feels like to feel weak?’ The guard then jammed something metal into his rectum.”  Other prisoners described being anally raped….  When a guard ordered Pablo Dones, 58 to stand up, Mr. Dones, who had recently undergone hernia surgery said he struggled to his feet. ‘I made it to one knee and the guard kicked me right where I had the operation.’  He screamed in pain, he said, but another guard grabbed him and began banging Dones’ head against the wall.  ‘He was hitting me against the wall so many times, my head went right through it.’”

Of course the recent historic record includes the famous cases of Abner Louima, raped in police custody with a broomstick rammed up his rectum, which perforated his intestines, necessitating surgery and months of hospitalization, and the case of the Amidou Diallo, an unarmed immigrant who stood in the vestibule of his own home, and was shot to death there 41 times by police officers.  The police who murdered him were acquitted of all charges.

Suffice to demonstrate that right up to the very moment at which the US hypocritically co-sponsored resolution L.23 condemning the DPRK, the heinous human rights abuses to which the US is subjecting its own citizens continue to be staggering.

Among its preposterous allegations,  Resolution L.23

“expresses  grave concern about the impact of diverting resources to advance nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles programmes on the humanitarian and human rights situation of the citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”

The worst offender of this criminal diversion of resources into nuclear weapons is the USA, which this year authorized expenditure of one trillion dollars in development of advanced nuclear weapons.  And a report by the New York based charity, “Meals on Wheels,” stated that 2 million elderly citizens in the United States must constantly choose between buying food or buying urgently needed medicines.  5 million Americans are deprived of adequate food altogether.  Almost 10 million Americans, and a vast number of elderly persons live below the poverty level.   The figures of the homeless and hungry in the United States are enormous, while the government neglects its own citizens, leaving many to starve, and beg, while squandering 1 trillion dollars on developing advanced nuclear weapons.

Resolution L.23 on the Human Rights Situation in the DPRK “underscores its very serious concern at the systematic abduction, denial of repatriation and subsequent enforced disappearance of persons, on a large scale and as a matter of state policy, including those from other countries…”

On November 14, 2016, in its report on Preliminary Examination Activities of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, prosecutor of the ICC is planning major investigation into war crimes tantamount to crimes against humanity committed by US soldiers in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The report states, section 211:

“Members of the US armed forces and CIA appear to have subjected numerous persons in Afghanistan, and others transported to secret prisons in Poland, Romania, Lithuania and elsewhere to torture, ‘outrages upon personal dignity and/or rape.”  The report states in section 212:  “These alleged crimes were not the abuses of a few isolated individuals,”  section 213 states:  “The office considers these alleged crimes were committed in furtherance of a policy or policies aimed at eliciting information through the use of interrogation techniques involving cruel or violent methods which would support US objectives.”  It is important to point out that Poland, Romania and Lithuania were among the co-sponsors of the resolution against the DPRK, and these  same countries were also the very sites of the notorious secret CIA prisons to which abducted prisoners were flown to be tortured.  These “co-sponsors” are accessories to war crimes.

L.23 accuses the DPRK of “all-pervasive and severe restrictions on freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief,…torture, imprisonment of individuals exercising their freedom of opinion, etc…”

The United Nations has imposed no sanctions against Saudi Arabia, which has inflicted a 10 year imprisonment and a punishment of 1,000 lashes upon journalist Raif Badawi, for criticizing Saudi Arabia’s hardline religious establishment.  Edward Snowden lives in exile for exercising his human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The UN has imposed no sanctions upon their countries which are violating the basic rights of their own citizens.

Resolution L.23 arbitrarily targets the DPRK in an attempt to fraudulently “justify” imposing further strangling sanctions on the DPRK, singled out for its nuclear program (though 9 other countries possess nuclear weapons, and one has already used them.)

It is therefore imperative to highlight the fact that the DPRK voted “Yes” on First Committee Resolution L.41:

“Taking Forward Multilateral Disarmament Negotiations,” which aims at the total prohibition of nuclear weapons.  This is indisputable evidence that the DPRK’s nuclear program is defensive, a protection against nuclear attack by the US.  It is also imperative to note that the US voted “No” on the very same resolution, again evidence that the US has no intention of giving up its own enormous and potentially world shattering nuclear arsenal, one of the most profitable industries, which essentially provokes and impels other nations to obtain nuclear weapons in defense against imminent or potential attack.

DPRK is a socialist country, and the ferocious determination of capitalist powers to obliterate socialism, despite strong evidence that capitalist economies are failing to provide the basic necessities of life for their citizens, is threatening world stability.  And despite the fact that the barbarous UN Security Council Resolution 2270 sanctions have inflicted enormous economic hardship and suffering on the people of the DPRK, their government remains committed to universal free medical care, free education, free housing and equality between men and women.

Resolution 2270 is based almost exclusively on the widely discredited Commission of Inquiry which contains statements by defectors, highly paid to concoct gruesome and false statements of human rights violations within the DPRK, statements refuted by the defector community itself, and the central statement on which the Commission of Inquiry report is based was later repudiated by the very defector himself, Shin Dong-hyuk , who admitted he had lied and falsified his statements.

Section 2 of L.23 expresses

“very serious concern about discrimination “which classifies people on the basis of assigned social class or birth…”

It is important here to mention the 2016 report by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Global Justice Clinic, New York University School of Law.  The report is entitled:  “Excessive Use of Force By the Police Against Black Americans in the United States.  Page 23 of the report states:

“Police violence which disproportionately affects black Americans, also intersects with discrimination based on socio-economic status, gender, mental health and sexual orientation and gender identity, among other factors.  The cities where some of the highest profile police killings have occurred in the past two years – including Ferguson, Missouri (where Michael Brown was shot dead by a police officer) and Baltimore, Maryland (where Freddie Gray died in police custody) are marked by long histories of economic inequality drawn along racial lines.  These persistent inequalities stem from both explicit government policies and implicit social dynamics.”

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Simonovic admitted that the report by the Commission of Inquiry, (which was based on statements by defectors highly paid to provide the salacious fabrications they understood were sought by the “inquiry,”)  does not meet the standard of proof required for consideration in court.

And directly contradicting the report of the Commission of Inquiry are reports by Dr. Brandon K. Gauthier, an American historian who recently traveled within the DPRK, and favorably described his impressions and regular interactions with citizens living within North Korea.  He described these “normal people living normal lives, as quite comfortable within their nation, and revealing little distress or fear,” contrary to the portrayal of the DPRK by Western propaganda.  Dr. Gauthier described, in a recently published article, how, witnessing the US-NATO devastation of Iraq and the demolition of Libya, followed by the extrajudicial murder of Khadafy, after he had renounced efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, convinced Kim Jong Il that “only one weapon could prevent the chance of a foreign attack on North Korea”:  a nuclear weapon.

And as a famous American mainstream media reporter, accredited to the UN was overheard saying to Chinese Ambassador Liu at a reception:

“If I were Kim Jong-un witnessing the attack on Libya, and the torture-murder of Khadafy, after he had abandoned their nuclear program, I’d hold on to my nukes!!!”

And recalling the 80 million bombs which, according to CNN on September 6, 2016, the US dropped on tiny Laos during the Vietnam war, one can understand the constant terror of suffering such an attack which is endured daily by the DPRK.

It is a courageous small progressive nation trying to survive in a struggle where they are David confronting Goliath.

Posted in North Korea, USA0 Comments

Peace with Russia and China, But More Wars in the Middle East?

Peace with Russia and China, But More Wars in the Middle East? The Contradictions of Trump’s Foreign Policy
D. Trump

Who will replace the current Secretary of State John Kerry once the President-elect Donald Trump takes over the White House in January? It will no doubt be one of the most important decisions when it comes to Trump’s foreign policy.

The Secretary of State will define Trump’s foreign policy in his first four years in office as to whether the world will witness more wars or a lasting peace. In his search for the Secretary of State, more wars seem inevitable with the several names mentioned from the political establishment as possibilities. But one of the most recent and surprising developments concerning Trump’s search is the meeting he is having with former Republican Nominee Mitt Romney this weekend as reported by CNN:

President-elect Donald Trump will meet this weekend with one of his fiercest critics: 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, a discussion that could include the position of secretary of state 

The former mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani and extremist neocon John Bolton who held various positions in several Republican administrations have also been mentioned. Bob Corker, the Senator from Tennessee who supported the war in Iraq and led the effort to supply lethal arms to the Ukraine for the war in Donbass is also a possibility. Republican and former speaker of the US House of Representatives Newt Gingrich was on the list but he has confirmed he will not be on Trump’s cabinet. CNN also reported that Trump will soon meet with several other politicians and a Navy Admiral for the position:

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is under consideration by President-elect Donald Trump for secretary of state, and other cabinet positions, a transition source told CNN Wednesday, despite their rocky history.

Trump is going to meet with Haley, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Cincinnati Mayor Ken Blackwell, Admiral Mike Rogers and Rep. Jeb Hensarling on Thursday, according to Trump’s communication director Jason Miller and Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is the politician who signed into law a bill to prevent her state from doing business with any firm that boycotts Israel under what is known as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement or the ‘BDS movement.’ The Jerusalem Post published the story in 2015 ‘South Carolina becomes first US state to take action against anti-Israel boycotts’ which said the following:

South Carolina’s governor has signed into law a bill to stop efforts to boycott, divest and sanction Israel on Thursday afternoon, in a first for the nation on a statewide level. The bill makes no mention of Israel directly, but prevents public entities from contracting with businesses engaging in the “boycott of a person or an entity based in or doing business with a jurisdiction with whom South Carolina can enjoy open trade.” The premise of the law is that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, colloquially known as BDS, discriminates against the people of Israel and weakens the economy of South Carolina 

CNN also mentioned that war criminal and pro-Israel advocate Henry Kissinger is also considered for the job. Appointing Henry Kissinger would be a slap in the face for Trump’s supporters. If Trump decided to appoint Henry Kissinger to run US foreign policy, a war will no doubt be on the horizon. U.S. Navy Admiral Michael S. Rogers who serves as the Commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Chief of the Central Security Service will also be interviewed for the position. According to The Times of Israel Rogers met secretly with Israeli officials earlier this year:

The director of the US National Security Agency, Admiral Michael Rogers, reportedly paid a secret visit to Israel last week to discuss cooperation in cyber-defense, in particular to counter attacks by Iran and its Lebanon-based proxy Hezbollah

One thing in common with all of the candidates for Secretary of State is that they all seem to be pro-Israel which should be a serious concern for the Middle East. Trump said he would like to orchestrate a peace deal between the Palestinians and the Israeli’s, but to the contrary Israeli hardliner and Education Minister Naftali Bennett declared that the “era of the Palestinian state is over” when Trump was declared the winner of the elections. That statement is not encouraging for the Palestinians who support a two-state solution. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Trump a “true friend of Israel”. So what do the Israelis know that we don’t know about Trump’s foreign policy in the Middle East?

Trump’s Confusing Foreign Policies towards Russia and China

Trump wants better relations with Russia in order to fight the Islamic State. Trump also wants a better relations and trade deals with China, but calls Iran (an ally to both Russia and China) the “biggest sponsor of terrorism around the world.” So what should we think about Trump’s foreign policy when it comes to the Middle East? For sure Trump’s “element of surprise” will surely come soon as he will announce his Secretary of State. With that said, Russian President Vladimir Putin has reached out to the President-elect to “to offer his congratulations on winning a historic election.” The Los Angeles Times reported what the conversation between Putin and Trump had entailed:

The release said the two men discussed “a range of issues including the threats and challenges facing the United States and Russia, strategic economic issues and the historical U.S.-Russia relationship that dates back over 200 years” and that Trump looks forward to “a strong and enduring relationship with Russia and the people of Russia”

Reuters reported on the conversation that took place between Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping. Xi had told Trump that “The facts prove that cooperation is the only correct choice for China and the United States” according to China Central Television (CCTV) cited Xi as saying.” Reuters also published what The Global Times had said if Trump went forward with his plan to charge China “heavy tariffs” for its exports to the U.S.:

The Global Times, a nationalist tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper, said if Trump slapped China with heavy tariffs it would “paralyze” bilateral trade. “When the time comes, large orders for Boeing planes would switch to Europe, U.S. auto sales in China would face setbacks, Apple phones would essentially be crowded out, and U.S. soybeans and corn would be eradicated from China,” the paper said in a commentary

There is a real possibility of a trade war looming between the U.S. and China. But what is most concerning about Trump’s U.S. foreign policy so far is not that he wants a diplomatic and peaceful relationship with Russia and to renegotiate trade deals and build a better relationship with China, it is his dangerous rhetoric against Iran and their allies in the Middle East. So let’s take a closer look at what Trump has said about Iran during his campaign. Here is an excerpt from Trump’s AIPAC speech this past March:

In Gaza, Iran is supporting Hamas and Islamic jihad. And in the West Bank, they’re openly offering Palestinians $7,000 per terror attack and $30,000 for every Palestinian terrorist’s home that’s been destroyed. A deplorable, deplorable situation. Iran is financing military forces throughout the Middle East and it’s absolutely incredible that we handed them over $150 billion to do even more toward the many horrible acts of terror. Secondly, we will totally dismantle Iran’s global terror network which is big and powerful, but not powerful like us. Iran has seeded terror groups all over the world. During the last five years, Iran has perpetuated terror attacks in 25 different countries on five continents. They’ve got terror cells everywhere, including in the Western Hemisphere, very close to home. Iran is the biggest sponsor of terrorism around the world. And we will work to dismantle that reach, believe me, believe me.

Trump’s comments that “Iran is the biggest sponsor of terrorism” will raise tensions with Tehran as more evidence points to the fact that Trump’s will most likely appoint a pro-Israel, anti-Iran Secretary of State.

Will there be War or Peace? US-Iran Relations under a Trump Presidency

Those who supported Trump during the campaign will be offered a position in the White House including Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who was a vocal critic against Iran’s nuclear deal:

“We must commit ourselves to unconditional victory against them [terrorists],” Giuliani said. “This includes undoing one of the worst deals ever made – Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran that will eventually let them become a nuclear power and is putting billions of dollars back into a country that is the world’s largest supporter of terrorism.

“We are actually giving them the money to find the terrorists who are killing us and our allies. We are giving them the money – are we crazy? Donald Trump will make sure that any agreement with Iran meets the original goals of the UN and our allies – a non-nuclear Iran”

On October 12th CBS news reported what Trump’s Vice-President Mike Pence had said about Iran’s nuclear deal in a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina when he said “that a Trump administration would “rip up the Iran deal.”Trump took an aggressive stance towards Iran following recent incidents that occurred between the U.S. Navy and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). One of the incidents happened on August 24th when U.S. battleships (the USS Nitze and the USS Mason) and Iranian ships of the IRGC confronted each other in the Strait of Hormuz which could have easily led to a conflict. “Commenting on the incident, Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan said the nation’s forces patrol the area to protect its territorial waters” according to an RT News report. The report also mentioned another incident that occurred on September 4th involving the USS Firebolt coastal patrol boat and an Iranian vessel in the Persian Gulf:

An American patrol ship had to change course in the Persian Gulf after an Iranian military vessel came within 100 yards (90 meters) and did not respond to attempts to contact it, US defense officials told Reuters. The incident happened on September 4, according to the news agency, which cites two US Defense Department officials. The USS Firebolt coastal patrol boat had to change course after a vessel of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard sailed directly into its path

The Washington Post published an article on September 9th titled ‘Trump: Iranian boats that make improper ‘gestures’ will be ‘shot out of the water’ on what Donald Trump had said during the campaign trail in Pensacola, Florida on the incidents involving both navies:

“And, by the way, with Iran, when they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats, and they make gestures at our people, that they shouldn’t be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water,” Trump said to thunderous applause. Soon the crowd began to chant: “USA! USA! USA!”

Trump’s posture towards Iran and its close allies including Hezbollah seems likely to be confrontational. One other problem facing the Middle East is Trump’s position on Jerusalem becoming the capital of Israel which is extremely controversial and dangerous. In a provocative statement, Trump said he would move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem which would spark a conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Trump said “I have said on numerous occasions that in a Trump Administration, the United States will recognize Jerusalem as the one true capital of Israel.” As Trump’s advisor David Friedman told The Jerusalem Post in article titled ‘Trump adviser to ‘JPost’: President-elect will be best friend Israel ever had’ that the “Israelis are going to have a friend in president-elect Donald Trump “never seen before” by the State of Israel” after Trump’s victory speech in New York City. The Jerusalem Post continued:

“The level of friendship between the US and Israel is going to grow like never before, and it will be better than ever, even the way it was under Republican administrations in the past,” he told the Post. Friedman is said to be a leading candidate to become the new US ambassador to Israel

He said one of the administration’s first moves would be to follow through on a campaign promise that Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, made last month, according to which her father would move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. “It was a campaign promise, and there is every intention to keep it,” Friedman said. “We are going to see a very different relationship between America and Israel in a positive way”

According to The Jerusalem Post “one change he hinted at was the removal of the restriction on Israel not to ask the US for additional money.” What this means is that there is a possibility that the Trump administration will remove one of the restrictions on the 10-year $38 billion military aid deal that restricts the Israeli government to ask Washington for more U.S. taxpayer money. In other words, under a Trump administration, Israel would receive more funds if they ask for it. One other issue that will concern the Palestinians is the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and other Palestinian territories. The Wall Street Journal published an article titled ‘Trump Adviser: Israeli Settlement Building Not an Impediment to Peace’ on Jewish only settlements in the West Bank as told by Trump’s co-chair of the Israel Policy Committee during the presidential campaign, Jason Greenblatt:

Jason Greenblatt, who Mr. Trump named co-chair of an Israel policy committee during his campaign in July, on Thursday played down any risk from the building activity to peace prospects.

“Mr. Trump does not view the settlements as being an obstacle for peace,” Mr. Greenblatt told Israel’s Army Radio. “The two sides are going to have to decide how to deal with that region, but it’s certainly not Mr. Trump’s view that settlement activity should be condemned and that it is an obstacle to peace. It is not the obstacle to peace”

Trump called Obama’s and Clinton’s foreign policies in the Middle East (Iraq and Syria) and Northern Africa (Libya)“disasters”, but Trump’s policies are following in the same footsteps of previous administrations. Although Trump has suggested that he is opposed to targeting Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian government and has emphasized attacking the Islamic State with Russia, Trump’s statements against Iran is provocative. Trump was called an anti-establishment candidate but is eying several Republican neoconservatives and Washington insiders from previous administrations. If Trump selects John Bolton, a neoconservative war hawk from the Bush administration who perceives Iran, Russia and China as enemies of the United States, the world would witness a rise in tensions or even a possible war against Iran. Trump believes that the Iranian nuclear deal would allow Iranian government to develop nuclear weapons that would eventually be used against the United States, Israel or Europe.

Russia is one of Iran’s largest trading partners. Russia and Iran also have extensive economic ties and are jointly working on various projects in the energy sector, port facilities, hydrocarbons and railways. They also have agreements in a joint oil exchange program, agriculture and telecommunications sectors. Major Russian oil companies such as Gazprom and Lukoil have been developing several Iranian oil and gas projects as well. RT Newsreported in August that “Russian President Vladimir Putin has praised the successful cooperation between Moscow and Tehran, and has expressed hope that a free trade zone can soon be established between Iran and the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union.” According to the report, Putin had said:

“Iran is Russia’s longtime partner. We believe that bilateral relations will benefit from the reduction of tensions around Iran following the comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear program,” Putin said in a major interview with Azerbaijani state news agency Azertac released on Friday. He added that Iranian leaders shared his approach

China also has economic, political and social ties with Iran since the 1950’s. Press TV recently reported that both China and Iran have signed an agreement to elevate military cooperation and to fight the scourge of terrorism:

The agreement was inked by Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan and his Chinese counterpart General Chang Wanquan in Tehran on Monday at the end of an earlier meeting between the two sides.

“The development of [Iran’s] long-term defense-military relations and cooperation with China is among the top priorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s defense diplomacy,” Dehqan said in the meeting.  He added that the two countries’ defense-military cooperation would guarantee regional and international peace and security

So the prospect for peace in the Middle East seems like a slim chance under a Trump presidency although he wants peace with Russia and to a point peace and economic cooperation with China. Will Trump or his newly appointed Secretary of State come to realize that war against Iran means war against Russia and China?

Posted in China, Russia, USA0 Comments

The Korean Peninsula within the Framework of US Global Hegemony


On 8 July 2016 it was announced in Seoul that the US would, as had long been anticipated, deploy an initial unit of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea.1 The announcement was made at a press conference hosted by the South Korean Deputy Minister of Defense Ryu Je-seung and the Chief of Staff of US Forces in Korea (USFK) who has the significant, if unfortunate, name of General Vandal. The decision did not attract much attention in the international media being overshadowed by the Brexit drama in Europe, shootings and electioneering in the US, and Obama’s last NATO summit in Warsaw.

General Thomas Vandal, the Chief of Staff for the US Forces in Korea and South Korea’s Deputy Minister Of Defense Ryu Je-seung announce the decision to deploy the THAAD missile defense system in South Korea, at the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul, July 8. (Yonhap News)

The limited coverage however was definitely ‘on message’:

  • US and South Korea agree THAAD missile defence deployment (BBC)2
  • South Korea and US agree to deploy THAAD missile defence system (Guardian)3
  • Pentagon to deploy anti-missile system in South Korea (Washington Post)4
  • South Korea and US Agree to Deploy Missile Defense System (New York Times)5

It was Reuters which delivered the whole message in the headline:

South Korea, US Agree to Deploy THAAD Missile Defense to Counter North Korea Threat6

So, the message goes, we have two equal allies–South Korea and the US (and that is often the order in which they are given) –who after much deliberation are stationing this segment of Missile Defense precisely to defend South Korea against a belligerent North Korea. It must be admitted that China7 and Russia8 are making a bit of a fuss although it has been patiently explained many times that the sole purpose of THAAD was, as Minister Yoo reiterated at the press conference “to guarantee the security of [South Korea] and its people from the threat of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles” and is “not aimed at a third country”9. Indeed, Jane Perlez suggested in the New York Times, China was peeved because the deployment show that despite its attempts to woo Seoul ‘Ms. Park’s government showed that it was embracing its alliance with Washington more than ever, and that it would rely less on China to keep North Korea and its nuclear arsenal at bay.’10

However, a little burrowing beneath the surface reveals that the reality is very different from the official US and South Korean government line so assiduously reported by the media.

There are, for a start, serious doubts amongst experts that THAAD would in fact be effective against North Korean missiles. Even those in the military-industrial-security complex such as Michael Elleman formerly of the US Department of Defense and now with the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) who is, by profession, ‘pro-THAAD’ cautions that it would not offer complete protection.

Adding THAAD to missile-defense deployments that already include Patriot systems would likely substantially enhance South Korea’s capacity to minimize the damage caused by a large North Korean missile attack. However, it is important to note that a layered defense will not be able to completely block such an attack. As a result, missiles armed with nuclear weapons could cause significant casualties as well as damage in the South.11

A similar point is made by Garth McLennan, who refers to the technique of haystacking where a large number of missiles are fired, only a few of which have nuclear warheads (because they are in short supply). The nuclear component then becomes a needle in a haystack:

THAAD would not, however, serve as an effective tool in countering a North Korean nuclear strike if such an attack were haystacked among a barrage of conventional warheads.12

A more trenchant, and independent critic, is Theodore Postol, emeritus professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who is frequently cited by the liberal Seoul newspaper Hankyoreh.13 Postol argues that North Korea could make its missiles tumble or fragment in flight in order to confuse THAAD and hence penetrate defences.14

There appears to be a consensus amongst experts that despite claims by the South Korean Defense Minister a single THAAD unit would be ineffective against Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMS) because it only has a 120 degrees azimuth, or window, and since SLBMs can be launched from any direction it would be necessary to have at least three to cover the whole 360 degrees.15

THAAD on the Korean peninsula, used for detecting Chinese ICBM (hypothetical)16

Then there is the question of where the THAAD unit would be stationed. The right wing Chosun Ilbo has expressed concern that it would be positioned to protect US bases, rather than Seoul.17

Postol concludes, in a lengthy technical presentation given at Harvard, that “The claim that the US is aiming its missile defense at North Korea is simply nonsense.18

If THAAD offers little or no protection against North Korea’s missiles, why the deployment? The answer lies in THAAD’s AN/TPY-2 radar system which can penetrate deep into China, and Russia.19 Postol explains:

The Chinese are concerned about the THAAD radar because it was designed from its beginning to provide cuing information to the US National Missile Defense. The placement of a THAAD radar in South Korea has the unambiguous technical appearance of placing the radar in a location where it can provide track information on Chinese ICBMs before they rise over the curved earth-horizon and can be seen by the main radars of the US National Missile Defense in Alaska…

South Korea will get no military benefit from the THAAD defense system, and China will consider the radar‘s deployment to South Korea as a hostile act by South Korea against China. It therefore has a significant negative impact on South Korean/Chinese relations, with essentially no real benefit to South Korea.20

Russia has warned that it ‘could deploy missile bases to its Far East region that would be within reach of THAAD bases in South Korea’.21

China has gone further in an editorial in the authoritative Communist Party newspaper Global Times, which outlined a number of measures in response to the THAAD deployment:

We recommend China to take the following countermeasures.

  • China should cut off economic ties with companies involved with the system and ban their products from entering the Chinese market.
  • It could also implement sanctions on politicians who advocated the deployment, ban their entry into China as well as their family business.
  • In addition, the Chinese military could come up with a solution that minimizes the threat posed by the system, such as technical disturbances and targeting missiles toward the THAAD system.
  • Meanwhile, China should also re-evaluate the long-term impact in Northeast Asia of the sanctions on North Korea, concerning the link between the sanctions and the imbalance after the THAAD system is deployed.
  • China can also consider the possibility of joint actions with Russia with countermeasures. 22

The enormous implications of these measures are obvious. For one thing it seems likely that the deployment, combined with US containment of China in the South China Sea, will reinforce Chinese rethinking of its conciliatory policy over the Korean issue.

In South Korea there have been serious concerns raised about the commercial impact of the response from China, its major economic partner. The Korea Times, in an article entitled ‘Businesses fear backlash from China’ reported:

Company officials and analysts expressed concern that THAAD may stoke anti-Korean sentiment in the neighboring country.

They also said business ties with China could worsen, heightening uncertainties about the Korean economy.

“The THAAD issue is more about politics and diplomacy, but it could hurt Chinese consumer sentiment about Korean products,” Hyundai Securities analyst Kwak Byeong-yeol said.

Company officials expressed worries over retaliatory actions such as higher tariffs and stricter rules on some Korean products manufactured in China.23

South Korean companies exporting to, or producing in China, would not be the only casualties. There is also tourism. The Hankyoreh noted that

What the South Korean government and business are most concerned about in connection with the THAAD debate are economic sanctions. China is by far South Korea’s number one export market, accounting for 26% of exports as of 2015 – a figure that rises to 31.8% if Hong Kong (5.8%) is included.

Last year, 45% (6 million) of foreign visitors to South Korea were Chinese, and they are lavish consumers, spending five times more than the average foreign tourist’s expenditures (US$400). Chinese investors hold 17.5 trillion won (US$15.22 billion, 18.1%) in government bonds and other publicly traded securities in South Korea, more than any other country. Furthermore, around 23,000 South Korean companies were doing business in China as of 2013. Sanctions from China would deliver a body blow to the South Korean economy.24

So we have a situation where the South Korea government has, it claims, willingly agreed to the deployment of a weapon system which will afford it little or no protection against North Korea, but will exacerbate North-South tensions which are already at highest level in decades.25 THAAD will inevitably increase the danger of South Korea being a target of Chinese and Russia counterattack in the case of war.26 And in the meanwhile it is producing the likelihood of substantial damage to the South Korean economy as the relationship with China and Russia sours.27

The United States is inflaming the situation on the Korean peninsula, and worldwide. THAAD is clearly one part of a larger pattern. Obama at the NATO summit in Warsaw 8 July confirmed ‘Russia as implacable enemy No. 1, while Defense Secretary Carter’s recent campaign to up the military ante in the western Pacific casts China as a close No. 2.’28 At the same time Abe Shinzo, with another electoral victory under his belt continues his inexorable journey towards revision or ‘reinterpretation’ of the Japanese ‘peace constitution’ and the remilitarisation of Japan. 29 How do we explain the hysteria and the war-mongering? And, in the case of South Korea, the self-harm?

Choi Sun-sil depicted as a Shaman

A framework for analysis with the US at its core

In order to make sense of this and, lay the foundation for activism, as appropriate, we must contextualise and establish a framework for analysis. The starting point for this framework is that we must look in the right direction. Most writing and discussion on Korean peninsula issues focuses almost exclusively on North Korea. We are told of the North Korea problem, the North Korea threat, how North Korea, or the Kim family, is mad, bad, unpredictable, and so forth. The clue is to look at phrases such as the “Vietnam War”, the “Korean War”, “invasion of Afghanistan”, “invasion of Iraq”, and work out what they have in common; or rather what is left out that they have in common. The answer of course is the United States. The US is the common denominator.

No doubt some wise person thousands of years ago pointed out that we will not see the mountain, however high it may be, if we are looking in the wrong direction. And the American mountain is very high indeed. The US is the global colossus. It is the world’s major economy (although now overtaken in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) terms by China) and one relevant consequence of that has been its fondness for economic warfare. Physical sanctions may devastate a target economy without impinging on the far larger American one. The US had an embargo against China for 25 years without American business protesting; mind you they didn’t realise what they were missing out on. Sanctions on North Korea have been in place for some 70 years, with no apparent protest from American business. The US dominance in the international business and banking architecture makes financial sanctions very appealing; again they cause great damage without much cost to the US. 30American economic might means there is plenty of cash to buy friends and influence people. General David Petraeus claimed that ‘money is my most important ammunition in this [Iraq] war’ and this insight led to a US Army manual entitled Commander’s Guide to Money as a Weapons System.31 Vicky Nuland’s boast, in December 2013, just before the coup in the Ukraine, that they had ‘invested’ $5 billion in the Ukraine is one example; then there are all the stories of CIA operatives sashaying through Afghanistan and Iraq with dollars, not in fistfuls but in suitcases. 32

The US is uniquely blessed by nature, with extensive agricultural and mineral resources meaning it cannot be blockaded into submission, however strong a future enemy might be. It is protected by vast oceans east and west and bordered by small, non-threatening countries north and south and surrounded by a huge network of overseas bases.33 Despite this geographical invulnerability, the US spends on its military nearly as much as the rest of the world put together. If one adds to its military budget that of its ‘allies’ and compares that to the military wherewithal of potential adversaries the disproportion is staggering. At a rough calculation using data from the latest Military Balance assessment from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the military expenditure of US and its ‘allies’ is about $1 trillion a year. 34They outspend China seven times, Russia 15 times and North Korea somewhere between 100 times and, if one accepts the estimate of Pyongyang’s military budget made by the director of the South Korean Defence Intelligence Agency back in 2013, 1000 times.35

The United States also has immense Soft Power which includes diplomatic power and its domination of the global intellectual space which are linked together, the one feeding off the other.

The US has immense diplomatic power. Hence for instance all those dubious UN Security Council resolutions censuring North Korea, and violating the sovereignty of Libya, Yugoslavia, Iraq, or Iran.36 The US is able to bully, cajole or perhaps just instruct permanent and non-permanent members of the UNSC to commit egregious violations of the UN Charter, damaging its enemies and protecting its friends, such as Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, and of course itself. Again its power is not absolute, but it is extraordinary.

The official US narrative not merely fashions Western media and academia but also much of that in Russia and China. If you look at Russian or Chinese media, in English at least, you will see that unless national interests are directly challenged – in Ukraine and Eastern Europe for the Russians and the South China Sea for the Chinese, the default position is to accept uncritically what the Western news agencies, and hence Western officials, portray. This, needless to say, only works one way. No Western newspaper would ever regurgitate a statement from Tass or Xinhua without inserting it in a political envelope telling the reader not to believe it.

As a result of this domination of the international intellectual space no one seems to blink when the US, with its thousand nuclear tests, fulminates against North Korea’s five, or with its myriad nuclear and conventional missiles, bombers, fighters, aircraft carriers, and submarines claims that it is being threatened by North Korea with its very limited and uncertain ability to project power far beyond its borders. This goes beyond hypocrisy and double standards into the construction of a special sort of unreality.

Of all countries in the world North Korea alone has been censured by the UNSC for launching satellites, and that on the strange ground that they utilised ballistic missile technology. Strange because not merely are all satellites launched by ballistic rockets, but ballistic missiles are not themselves illegal.37 How could they be when the US has so many of them?

There are various bilateral and multilateral agreements by which the US attempts to fortify its hegemony by managing the utilisation of missiles by other countries – there is, for instance, the limitation it has imposed on South Korean missiles (they don’t want Seoul attacking China without permission) but missiles per se are not prohibited Similarly for nuclear tests and weapons. There are various ‘voluntary’ agreements – the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and the Non-Proliferation Treaty – but these are different in nature from, for instance, the prohibition on invading other countries which is enshrined in the United Nations Charter, and dates back to the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.38 In this regard the construction of North Korea as an international pariah is an expression of American power rather than, as is usually claimed, a result of the infringement of international law. In fact, the discriminatory charges against North Korea are themselves a violation of the norms of international law and the equal sovereignty of states.

American power means that nothing much happens in the world without the US being involved although that is frequently hidden. Sometimes it is the dominant actor, sometimes just an endorser, but the US is always there. This does not mean that the US is omnipotent. Indeed it is intriguing the way that clients sometimes have surprising leverage against the US One thinks of Syngman Rhee in South Korea the 1950s, or more recently Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. These are people who were installed by the US, had not much popular support and many domestic enemies, but nevertheless at times could disobey orders quite flagrantly. The client/master relationship is constantly being negotiated and is complex. However, if push comes to shove the master prevails, as Rhee found out in 1960.

Deciphering US global strategy

So, in analysing world affairs the starting point must be the US What does America want? That, needless to say, often bears little connection with what it proclaims as its objective. Analysis must be hard-nosed looking beyond the spin and rhetoric, focussing on actions and seeking real explanations. When we have some idea of America’s position we can start looking at the other players, in descending order of importance. For most countries, most of the time, the United States is their major strategic partner-cum-adversary. They tend to tailor their policy in relation to third countries in the light of their political relationship with the United States. However for many countries, and South Korea is by no means alone, there is the dilemma of reconciling the economic importance of China with the relationship with the US.39 At the same time we must presume that Washington has a global grand strategy (however incoherent and subject to various factions that may be) and that this strategy prioritises and subordinates the part to the whole.

US Vice President Joe Biden clasps hands with President Park Geun-hye at the Blue House before Biden signs the visitor’s book, Dec. 6. (Blue House photo pool)40

The failure to put the US at the core of geopolitical analysis is a fundamental reason why so much writing on the Korean peninsula is usually off the mark. We have innumerable websites and NGOs, books and articles focusing on North Korea, often with little attention paid to the US, other than considering what effect North Korea, and often ‘the North Korean threat’ has on America. Looking in the wrong direction, asking the wrong questions, they get misleading or meaningless answers. Associated with this, and arguably a result of it, is the fact that virtually all the experts, all the pundits we hear from are, to use Perry Anderson’s term ‘state functionaries’. 41He was talking about American experts on China but the same term can be applied to American experts on Korea, and much the same holds for experts from Britain, Russia, and China. Most of these experts either currently work for the US government or have in the past – in the CIA, Defence, or State usually. If they are former employees they now work for think tanks or NGOs which are, to put it politely, state-aligned. Even academics are constrained by the desire for research funding. There are very few neutral, dispassionate, disinterested (in the proper meaning of the term) voices. One simpler indicator is that virtually all of them express horror at the idea of North Korea having nuclear weapons but few have any qualms about the US and its arsenal. They tend to view the prospect of the US attacking North Korea with moral equanimity. There are, of course, honourable exceptions. Donald Gregg, former CIA operative and George H. Bush’s ambassador to South Korea has become a leading advocate of engagement, as well as offering a critical perspective on US policy.42 James Hoare, the British diplomat (and Korean scholar) who opened the British mission in Pyongyang.43 Robert Carlin, with a background in the CIA and State Department, who offers such interesting insights into US negotiations with North Korea.44

The Korean peninsula in US strategy

Why is the US interested in the Korean peninsula? The answer is location. Korea is the most valuable piece of geopolitical real estate in the world. It is the nexus where most of the great powers meet and contend. China and Russia share a land border with Korea, Japan is separated by a small sea, and although the Pacific is a large ocean it is also ‘the American lake’. None of these powers want a unified Korea subservient to any of the others and since the US is by far the most powerful it has the most pro-active policy. The US is also different in that it alone, at the moment, has aspirations for global hegemony. This means keeping Japan subservient, and containing China and Russia with the longer term aim of fragmenting them so that they are no longer competitors. It is easy to see how Korea fits in with these strategic objectives. As a physical location it provides bases adjacent to China and Russia and whilst the number of troops permanently deployed in South Korea is small, one of the functions of the joint exercises with the ROK is to practice the rapid influx of massive reinforcements. Japan fulfils the same role.

As an aside it might be noted that Korea also provides a base for keeping an eye on Japan. Whilst the US has been an enthusiastic supporter of Japanese remilitarisation, thinking in terms of the containment of China, it is possible this may change. A remilitarised Japan (and it should be remembered that Japan has the expertise to rapidly develop nuclear weapons and delivery systems that might well be superior to China’s), made a ‘normal’ country again, may want to assert its independence from the US. As Palmerston remarked, back in the nineteenth century, countries don’t have perpetual friends and enemies, merely perpetual interests.45

In the meantime Japan remains America’s main asset in East Asia and an important aspect of the US presence in the southern part of the Korean peninsula, dating from 1945, is its function as a bulwark protecting Japan from any military threat from the Asian mainland. In 1945 that meant the Soviet Union but as time passed China has been perceived as the bigger threat. However the military facet is less important than the political one. The US has to be concerned that Japan does not become too friendly with its Asian neighbours, South Korea and Taiwan being obvious, but ultimately perhaps partial, exceptions. This concern was well illustrated by the ‘Dulles Warning’ of 1956 when Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, alarmed at peace treaty negotiations between Japan and the Soviet Union, threatened that the US would not relinquish Okinawa if Japan went ahead by agreeing to a Soviet proposal for a compromise solution to the territorial dispute (Kurils/Northern Territories) between the two countries. Dulles was also worried that if Japan concluded a peace treaty with the Soviet Union this might lead to a normalisation of relations with China.46 Dulles got his way and relations between Japan and Russia are still bedevilled by territorial disputes, as are Japan’s relations with China.47 Fears that Prime Minister Koizumi’s visit to Pyongyang in 2002 might lead to a rapprochement with North Korea may have been the trigger that led to the Bush administration’s abrogation of the Agreed Framework.48 Japan is the jewel in America’s East Asian crown, but the Korean peninsula has been regarded as essential to its protection.

The Korean peninsula not merely provides the US with physical bases for its military; it provides access to a huge reservoir of Korean military assets. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies( IISS) report, Military Balance 2016, South Korea has a total troop complement – that is the combination of service personnel and reserves – of about 5.1 million. For comparison this is 2.6 times as much as that of North Korea’s ostensible 2 million, considerably more than America’s 2.2 million and quite a bit more than China’s 3.5 million.49 As an aside it might be noted that South Korean scholars using census data estimate the North Korean armed forces at about 700,000.50 In addition, it is claimed that 400,000 are engaged full time in construction. 51 Which leaves about 300,000 for ordinary soldiering, rather less that the IISS estimate of 1.19 million.

Because of interoperability, these South Korean troops can fight alongside America, under American command, but probably can’t operate on their own in a major war. The Joint military exercises such as Key Resolve, Foal Eagle and Ssang Yong are described as defensive to deter North Korean aggression. Given North Korea’s incredible military inferiority against the US-led forces this is obviously a pretext. The exercises practise more than the invasion of the North. The Chosun Ilbo which, like Donald Trump sometimes blurts out an inconvenient truth, recently made this comment about the exercises:

The underlying aim is to bring South Korea, Australia, Japan and the US closer together to thwart China’s military expansion in the Pacific.52

When the United States looks at Korea, it sees China.

The 20th CBRNE Command (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives) is participating in Exercise Ulchi Freedom Guardian in South Korea, Aug. 17 – 28. (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Antwaun J. Parrish, 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)53

So it is clear that for the Unites States the Korean peninsula is hugely important. This is partly in its own right – its 75 million people put it on a par with Germany or France. However its main significance to the US is that it is a strategic asset in its confrontation with China, and to a lesser extent, Russia. If the peninsula could be detached from the Asian mainland, towed down to the South Pacific and parked near New Zealand, then the US would be far less interested. We would not have had the division of Korea, the war, or the militarisation of the peninsula and of Japan.54

All this means that the US’s North Korea policy, and hence its South Korea policy, must be seen within the context of its struggle with China, and Russia. In 1945 when the US had the peninsula divided its main concern was the Soviet Union. At that time the US ‘owned’ China, through Chiang Kai-shek. This changed over time and now China is the major component in its East Asia strategy. However Russia should not be overlooked. The US is a global power, and Russia straddles Europe and Asia, and although it is the European face of Russia which concerns the US, it is its Asian side which is most vulnerable.

To recap, the US’s Korea strategy is a component of its global strategy, and China is the major focus of that, with Russia coming in behind. North Korea is important because of the role it has in that strategy; it is not really important in itself. So, if for instance, the US decided that good relations with North Korea would better serve its containment of China than the present hostility – by no means a foolish idea – then its Korea policy would change, whatever the screams in Seoul.

US North Korea policy

What, then, is the US’s North Korea policy? Most people, left or right, find that easy to answer. It sees North Korea’s nuclear programme threatening and its focus is the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. The reality is not quite so straightforward. For one thing US hostility long preceded North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons. More important and telling is the fact that there has never been a serious, bipartisan, and sustained attempt to negotiate with Pyongyang on the issue. There was, indeed, the Agreed Framework of 1994 but that was sabotaged by the Republicans while out of the White House, and torn up by them, by George W Bush, when they did hold the presidency. Bush did go through the motions of negotiating for some years, but despite North Korean gestures such as blowing up the cooling tower of its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon in 2008, these came to naught. Obama, under the rubric of ‘strategic patience’ has refused to negotiate. To some extent this history can be ascribed to infighting within the power elite, and between government agencies; for instance Treasury’s actions against Banca Delta Asia which scuttled the negotiations for some time. American governments are also reluctant to negotiate with adversaries because negotiation implies compromise, thus exposing themselves to charges of being soft and unpatriotic by opponents – Trump, Cruz, Rubio, et al. However, underlying this is a fundamental strategic dilemma.

Some argue that the US could easily negotiate a deal by offering a grand bargain where it guaranteed North Korea’s security with perhaps the concession of allowing Pyongyang to retain its present, probably inoperable and certainly tiny, nuclear deterrent. Sig Hecker’s ‘The Three No’s’ is an example of this – ‘no new weapons, no better weapons, no transfer of nuclear technology.’ 55 With Libya in mind, let alone the abrogation of the Agreed Framework, it is difficult to see how the US could offer credible guarantees, even if it wanted to. But it is scarcely likely that it wants to. North Korea’s major threat to the US is not its nuclear weapons but its proposal for a peace treaty. If North Korea, by developing a nuclear deterrent, by building a formidable, but primarily defensive, military, by refusing to buckle down under sanctions and having the temerity to launch satellites – if North Korea by doing all this is able to force the US into accepting peaceful coexistence then its example might be followed by others. The one thing empires detest above all else is independence; that and its brother, rebellion. It was for this crime that the Roman Empire reserved crucifixion. 56North Korea’s success would also have implications for China and Russia in their struggle with the US

Having said that, the US would probably negotiate if it were genuinely concerned that North Korea’s nuclear weapons presented a serious threat. It seems that despite the posturing, they do not. Firstly it is a deterrent, not an offensive weapon, so if North Korea is not attacked then it does not come into play. Barring accidents, the initiative lies with Washington. Secondly, there is no evidence that North Korea can actually deliver a nuclear weapon, certainly not to substantial US territory. This may change; miniaturization may proceed beyond photo opportunities, and an ICBM may someday be tested. Thirdly, the US, bolstered by its allies, has overwhelming military superiority. For the moment there is no pressing need to negotiate.

This brings us back to China policy. If the US did negotiate a peace treaty, or if it were able to invade and conquer North Korea and extend Seoul’s administration up towards the Yalu (under an American general of course) without provoking a Chinese intervention, what would this do to its China policy? If China did intervene then we would have a second Sino-American war, with all that might entail. But leaving aside that possibility and just considering the implications of a peaceful Korean peninsula we immediately see problems in justifying the US military presence, and missile defences. How would the US keep South Korea cooperating with the containment of China at great cost to itself without a North Korean threat? 57

It seems that the present situation of managed tension serves US policy towards China (and towards Russia) very well. Going to war to remove North Korea’s nuclear weapons would be perilous, negotiating them away by accepting peaceful coexistence might be even more problematic for US global interests should other small countries follow North Korea’s example.

China and Russia – shared predicaments, common strategies

There are considerable differences between China and Russia but the most relevant in this context is the huge economic interpenetration of the Chinese and US economies. The US, and in particular Hillary Clinton appear to contemplate the economic consequences of war with Russia with so little concern that it seems never to be mentioned.58 China is different. It is plausibly argued that for various geo-economic and geopolitical reasons China would suffer much more than the US in the event of war. Much of US trade would be impervious to Chinese action while Chinese trade, especially imports of oil, are vulnerable to US interdiction.59 These are the strategic reasons behind China’s drive to develop rail and road links across Eurasia; the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to provide a more secure gateway for Middle East Oil, and rail links to the European market.60 They also underlay America’s interest in the South China Sea.61

Whilst economic considerations may be a restraint, especially in respect of China, it would be foolish to lay too much hope on economic rationality. Norma Angell famously argued in The Great Illusion that the consequences of ripping up the economic interdependence that by then existed between states made war obsolete. That book was published in 1910, on the eve of the Great War’.62

Despite their differences what China and Russia have in common is more relevant in this context. Both are competitors to the Unites States and so both are targets of US global strategy. In addition, both are resurgent states. Russia is recovering from the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the Yeltsin years, and China from the 19th century meltdown of the Qing dynasty. Other things being equal, this means that both are getting stronger relative to the US, but both are currently very much weaker, Russia of course more than China.63But the shift in relative power means that the US has an incentive to go to war earlier rather than later, while for China and Russia the longer they can delay any such clash the better. This in itself does not mean that the US will attack either of them, although there is plenty of conjecture from all quarters on that. However, current weakness combined with the likelihood of greater security in the future, as the balance of military power moves against the US does present both China and Russia with a shared predicament.64 How do they cope with an America in relative decline, but which is still very strong, has a history of aggressiveness and, the current presidential campaign suggests, may be more adventurist in the future.65

This surely is no easy matter. It requires cool and calm judgement in balancing the need to be firm on core issues while giving the United States neither cause nor pretext to attack on more peripheral ones. But what is core and what is peripheral? And where does Korea fit in?

It is often said that the Korean peninsula is the most likely place for conflict between the United States and China (though the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea are also candidates). For Russia it is more likely to be Eastern Europe or Syria, but a war in Korea would involve Russia to some degree. It is also the place where Russia is most vulnerable. Whilst the US keeps a pretty firm grip on South Korea (it does have wartime control of its military for example66) China has little leverage over North Korea and Russia even less. So while the US can ratchet tension up and down as it requires, neither China nor Russia have much control over Korean events; an unenviable strategic position to be in.67

However, whilst recognising the dilemma they face it can be argued that they have erred on the side of timidity, even perhaps appeasement, especially in relation to the UN Security Council. They were both complicit in voting for UNSC resolutions censuring North Korea for actions which were quite legal such as attempting to launch a satellite.68 They have done this on other occasions; Libya comes to mind, but they seem to have learnt a lesson from that and have stood firmer on the issue of Syria. UNSC resolutions against North Korea stretch back to 1950, when unfortunately the Soviet Union absented itself and was not in a position to utilise its veto to defeat the US’s resolution to go to war in Korea, but the modern series of resolutions date from an attempted satellite launch in 2006.69Once having accepted that a satellite launch by North Korea was sui generis and uniquely a violation of the UN Charter they have been on a slippery slope with no way back.

The word ‘appeasement’ is often used loosely in order to condemn compromises which are the natural consequence of negotiations between adversaries of some degree of equality. Country A makes a demand of country B. If country B complies will that be the end of the matter; indeed will A reciprocate with a gesture of good faith? If so, well and good. However, if country A’s demands are really stepping stones on the way to an objective – perhaps the enfeeblement or destruction of B – then giving way only whets its appetite.

The problem for China is that America’s North Korea policy is really aimed at it itself. As Kim Ji-suk puts it ’Even when the US points at North Korea, we should understand that it is really aiming at China’.70 This means that concession does not solve the problem, but probably exacerbates it. The same, with obvious differences, applies to Russia.

It might be argued that China, and Russia, have followed a strategy in the UNSC of conciliation rather than confrontation. Given that the present composition of the Council automatically favours the United States they would have either been defeated or forced to use the veto which both, though China more than Russia, have been loath to do. Instead they have negotiated a softening of the resolutions and then not implemented them vigorously. 71 This has not been a wise strategy because it means they are constantly on the defensive. North Korea will remain intransigent, because it has no choice, and the US will continue its pressure. Putin’s response to the US-assisted coup in Ukraine and the US-assisted crisis in Syria offers lessons. Nimble footwork and countermeasures, a judicious amount of military intervention, both in quantity and duration, while at the same time restraining criticism of America with plenty of face-saving gestures.72 Even so it is reported that he is coming under pressure to take a firmer stand against the US.73

China, supported by Russia, calls for the resurrection of the Six Party Talks as a solution to the problem. 74 However, the Six Party Talks are probably dead, partly because as explained above the US has little interest in negotiating with North Korea but also because the Obama administration concluded that Bush had made a strategic mistake in agreeing to them in the first place. Allowing China, your main competitor, to chair and host the major security forum in East Asia while you, and your allies Japan and South Korea, sit on the second tier with North Korea and Russia was not a smart move. The US can go in either of two directions. One is to expand the number of countries in the talks to dilute China’s role.75 The other direction is the bilateral one, which has been much discussed over the years.76

China’s contortions, and those of Russia, have been painful to watch. They have condemned North Korea for its violations of the UNSC resolutions forbidding satellite launches and nuclear tests, but they are partly responsible for the resolutions in the first place. They are also partly responsible for the nuclear tests. The United States does provide security and a nuclear umbrella for South Korea. Because it is a master-client relationship it has been able to prevent the South developing nuclear weapons in the past, during Park Chung-Hee’s time, and will surely do so in the future despite Trump’s comments during the election campaign.77 Neither China nor Russia provides real security assurances, or a nuclear umbrella, to North Korea, so they can scarcely be surprised if it attempts to look after itself. To be fair, the United States is far superior in military terms and they perhaps cannot be expected to match America’s muscular approach. This leaves China in particular in a vulnerable, defensive position where the initiative is in America’s hands. Foreign Minister Wang Yi has warned that “As the largest neighbour of the peninsula, China will not sit by and see a fundamental disruption to stability [there], and will not sit by and see unwarranted damages to China’s security interests.” 78.

But what does this mean in practice? Is he saying that if the US does invade North Korea, China will intervene? If so, surely it would be wise for China to be more explicit. It should be recalled that in 1950, with no direct communication with the US, China conveyed a message through Indian Ambassador K. M. Panikkar that it would intervene if US forces invaded the North and moved towards the Yalu. Washington did not hear, did not listen, or just ignored that warning.79 The first Sino-American War ensued. Will history repeat itself for a lack of a clear understanding of the consequences of invasion?

If, however, the U S decides that now is the time to give resurgent China a bloody nose, explicit warnings will be irrelevant. Starting the conflict in Korea would give the US signal advantages, not available elsewhere. It would automatically bring in the formidable South Korean military, with the world’s largest reservoir of military manpower. It would certainly utilise Japan, whose military budget is 25% higher that South Korea’s and whose air and seapower is reputedly superior to China’s.80

Japan – leveraging the Korean situation for remilitarisation

Japan’s position in all this is relatively straightforward. The conservative Liberal Democratic Party has long sought to remilitarise, to shed itself of the constraints of Article 9 of the ‘Peace Constitution’ imposed by the US after its defeat in 1945, and so become a ‘normal’ nation again. This process has accelerated under Abe Shinzo.81 It has used the Korean situation, and the perceived ‘North Korean threat,’ buttressed by a good dose of Japanese colonial racism as a pretext for remilitarisation.82 This has been supported by the US, not in respect of North Korea, where it is scarcely needed except as a place for bases, but as a bulwark against China.83 Japan’s recent eagerness to join in conflict on the Korean peninsula, however, has caused considerable anguish in Seoul.84 Fighting fellow Koreans under an American general is bad enough, but for South Korea soldiers to fight alongside Japanese troops would be a public relations disaster.

South Korea – the pivot which did not turn

When Lee Myung-bak’s term of office came to an end in 2013 it seem reasonable to suppose that whoever succeeded him there would be a shift in North Korea policy. His policy had been such a disaster that it seemed that the new president would move in some ways to correct things. Lee had increased the danger of war, and his sanctions had damaged the South Korean economy while pushing the North’s into the hands of China. Even on his own terms nothing had been achieved.

Whilst Park was less likely than a progressive to want to improve the relationship with the North she has a distinct advantage in being able to do so, if she wishes. Just as Nixon, with his anti-Communist reputation could go to Beijing and play the ‘China card’ against the Soviet Union without being accused of being ‘soft on Commies’ so too could Park, as the daughter of the late anti-Communist dictator, Park Chung Hee, engage Pyongyang in ways that the more liberal Moon Jae-in (her opponent in the 2012 presidential election) could not.

Back in 2011, before the election President Park published an article in Foreign Affairs entitled ‘A new kind of Korea: building trust between Seoul and Pyongyang’ where she talked about ‘Trustpolitik.’85 That, and the phrase ‘peaceful unification’ was often on her lips; a notable occasion being her speech in Dresden in 2014.86 She described unification as a ‘bonanza’ and described her dream, stolen in fact from Kim Dae-jung, of a Eurasian land bridge through the Koreas and Russia through to Western Europe. 87The words still live on. Yet her actions have always belied her words.

Obviously, if she had been serious about building trust she would have cancelled the May 24 Sanctions, have built economic and social links between South and North, and have at least attempted to curtail the joint military exercises88. She did none of those things. On the contrary, she has now done what Lee couldn’t do, and closed down the Kaesong industrial Park, and the current exercises are larger than ever. It is commonly agreed that she has brought inter-Korean relations to a nadir. The Cheonan and Yeonpyeong incidents of 2010 were spurious but they did provide Lee with an alleged justification for his actions.89 Nothing comparable has happened during Park’s term of office. The things that did happen, and were seized upon by her to escalate tension with the North, related primarily not to South Korea but to the United States. Long range missile development and nuclear tests were a response to US policy and had little to do with South Korea in itself. The exception was the satellite launch programme which was in fact part of North-South competition. 90But even this was construed, incorrectly, as the development of an ICBM aimed at the United States.91 And an ICBM, by definition, was not relevant to inter-Korean combat.

Park Geun-hye aside South Korea remains what might be called a ‘pivot state’. All the other actors in this drama, from the US through to North Korea, have their lines written for them. The United States is an empire and will do what empires do. It has many options within that characterisation but the general thrust is fairly ineluctable. Mao Zedong once said that we shouldn’t expect imperialism to put down its butcher’s knife and become a Buddha. Conceivably it could, but it won’t. North Korea is a vulnerable target state and will do what it can to defend itself, wisely or unwisely. It has few options and cannot avoid the role it has to play.

South Korea is different. Born as a client state of the US from the ruins of the Japanese empire it now has considerable economic and social strength. It has options. It can make choices. It can, at its most brutal, choose between putting Korea first or serving the US. Roh Moo-hyun, in a rather sad exchange with Kim Jong Il at their 2007 summit described how he was attempting to make gradual moves towards autonomy from the US. 92 He did not succeed but the challenge is still on the agenda.

Park Geun-hye’s administration has not been a happy or successful one. South Korea is beset with economic problems, due in part to encroaching Chinese competition. 93 It is reported that ‘Most Koreans Feel Economy Is in Crisis’.94 There is a general lack of manufacturing competitiveness against Japan and China.95 Key South Korean industries such as shipbuilding96, shipping97, automobiles98, and overseas construction99 are faltering, with some top companies going into receivership. Dreams of Seoul becoming an East Asian financial hub are fading.100 Samsung’s woes with its ‘exploding’ Galaxy Note 7 smartphone have captured headlines around the world but an editorial in the Chosun Ilbo suggested that the problems lie deep and are symptomatic of much of the South Korean economy – 3rd generation chaebols which cannot cope with competition from China, and a political class so entangled with them that it cannot seek solutions.

South Korea has social problems common to many countries – corruption, ageing society, lack of meaningful employment, nepotism, and limited social mobility.101 However the problems are felt to be so pressing and intractable that young people have coined a term for their country: ‘Hell Joseon’ (variously ‘Hell Chosun’ and ‘Hell Korea’).102

All countries tend to utilise foreign threat – real , imagined, or exaggerated- to divert attention from domestic problems but for South Korea this has been so inbuilt by historical circumstance that it is more part of the political fabric than is the case in most other places. Conservative politicians, and Park Geun-hye, is no exception are prone to use the ‘North Wind’ – the perceived threat from North Korea – both for electoral advantage and for diversion.

Under Park Geun-hye South Korea’s foreign relations have followed a distinct pattern, reminiscent of the Cold War and a definite regression since the days of Roh Moo-hyun’s attempt to position the country as a ‘balancer’.103 The relationship with North Korea is the worst it has been in decades. That with Japan is bedevilled by the ghost of Japanese colonialism, exemplified by the ‘comfort women’ issue, territorial disputes and lingering mutual antipathy. Park Geun-hye, under American pressure, has given into Japan over the comfort women issue.104 That, though galling, is mainly symbolic. More important she has antagonised China, and Russia, over the proposed deployment of THAAD missiles in South Korea. This is not a temporary irritant because THAAD is just a stage in the incorporation of South Korea into the US missile defense architecture, so the problem will not fade away, but rather grow.105 This in itself is important, but it is also a symbol of a deeper and continuing dilemma. The United States sees South Korea as a pawn in its struggle against China, and Russia. Pawns, as we know, sometimes survive but are often sacrificed.

The one country with whom relations have blossomed during her tenure in office is the United States, and therein lies the root of Park’s failure. She has shown herself willing to sacrifice the interests of Korea to those of the United States, with THAAD being the most prominent recent example.

Early revelations, with presumably more to come, on the role played by Choi Sun-sil (also transliterated Choi Soon-sil), Park Geun-hye’s ‘Shaman confidante’ in influencing policy towards North Korea are shedding new light on this strange, rather dysfunctional administration.106 Choi Sun-sil inherited her relationship with the Park family, father and daughter, from her father Choi Tae-min, who was labelled in State Department cable, Korea’s Rasputin.107

President Park Geun-hye, center, who served as first lady for her father President Park Chung-hee, left, after her mother was assassinated, speaks to Choi Tae-min, her mentor and the father of Choi Soon-sil, at a hospital owned by Guguk (save-the-nation) missionary group, set up by the senior Choi, in 1976. / Korea Times file

In particular it is alleged that Choi Sun-sil was instrumental in the closure of the Kaesong Industrial Park, and propagated the myth of North Korea’s imminent collapse.108 Obama’s policy of ‘Strategic Patience’ is widely supposed to have been based on the collapse myth – no negotiations with North Korea were necessary because collapse was just around the corner.109 We are left with the intriguing possibility that recent US policy towards North Korea has been based on Shamanistic prediction, unconsciously echoing the Reagans’ predilection for astrology.110

North Korea – limited options of a target state

Most writers put North Korea first; here it is last because there is less to say. There are few options to discuss.

Militarily speaking, as we have seen, North Korea is vulnerable and far inferior to its adversaries who outspend it from a hundred to a thousand times. It has survived sanctions so far – some 70 years and counting – but that is to a large degree due to uncertain and undependable Chinese policy.

There are many things about North Korea policy that are difficult to fathom. It is unclear, for instance, why Kim Jong Un has not worked harder at relations with China and Russia. There may be good, but unknown reasons, why he did not attend the anniversary celebrations in Moscow and Beijing in 2015, leaving the stage to Park Geun-hye.111Why, with his overseas education did he not do anything to reform North Korea’s notoriously dysfunctional foreign communications/propaganda apparatus? Having lived in Switzerland he must have been aware of how superbly the Americans do these sorts of things. Lack of resources is clearly an issue and frankly however sophisticated and adroit the communications became it would not make much difference to the way that North Korea is portrayed in the mainstream Western media.112 The Russians run a pretty sophisticated show but that has not stopped the demonization of Putin and the vilification of Russia. But it would help on the margins. Then there are the ridiculously excessive prison sentences imposed on foreigners, most of whom are seemingly mentally unstable or pawns, for petty crimes.113 There is a long list.

Nevertheless these are relatively minor matters compared with the overriding reality of the problems that North Korea faces, circumstances forged by geography and history, and forged primarily, but not exclusively, by US policy. If South Korea can be seen as a pivot state with some freedom of action to develop autonomy, North Korea can be thought of as a responsive state whose main challenge is how to cope with the United States. It cannot deflect or ignore American hostility, but it must respond to it.

North Korea is constantly portrayed as a threat to the United States.114 In military terms it could conceivably be considered as a threat to South Korea on its own (but not in alliance with the US), although the South is very much stronger. However given the huge disparity in power between the US, buttressed by its allies, its bases, and with its geographic invulnerability the assertion of a North Korea threat is nonsense. It is a belief produced by unrelenting propaganda and indoctrination which even a cursory examination of reality should dispel. It is part of a pattern in which the US is depicted as threatened by countries which are far weaker and have absolutely no ability to project power to attack it – Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Iran come immediately to mind.

North Korea cannot threaten the US, but the US certainly does threaten North Korea and has waged war against it since the late 1940s.

First of all North Korea is constantly under military threat – the frequent joint military exercises with South Korea, increasingly involving Japan,115 are just one example – and is subject to continual economic, propaganda, and psychological warfare.116 Sometimes this is relatively straightforward with physical and financial sanctions. Occasionally it is very petty as illustrated by a couple of stories from Japan, one of a South Korean who was arrested for sending sweets, garments, dishes, spoons and forks to North Korea and another of the Chinese woman arrested for selling knitwear.117 Sometimes the warfare is more invidious. Recently there were media stories from Australia of goods for the sports clothing company Rip Curl being made in Pyongyang by ‘slave labour’.118 Unnerved by the hype, Rip Curl apologised and cancelled the contract. Perhaps the unfortunate textile workers in Pyongyang lost their jobs – which were probably highly prized – just like those of their compatriots in Kaesong.

‘Slave labour’ is also a term used in respect of North Koreans working abroad and whilst the propaganda has been around for some time, 2016 has seen a concerted push by the US. The intention is to dissuade countries from permitting the employment of North Korea citizens by a mix of bilateral pressure and action through the United Nations.119 It is unclear how much remittances from overseas workers contribute to the North Korean economy. The South Korean Ministry of Unification estimates $200-300 million a year.120Others suggest $500million.121 The Chosun Ilbo goes up to $1billion and an article in Foreign Affairs came up with a high of $2.3 billion. 122 In the other direction Yonhap, perhaps drawing on US estimates quotes ”low $100s of millions” a year.123 Remittances from overseas workers (and migrants) are an important part of the global economy. In 2015 it was estimated that China would receive $66billion in remittances, continuing a trend stretching back centuries.124 Remittances to lower and middle income countries in 2016 were projected to reach $422billion.125 The Philippines has some 10million overseas workers ‘often employed in low-paying service jobs and under harsh working conditions. Stories of maltreatment and abuse are …common’.126 In fact the global migrant worker industry is often revealed as scandalous, with stories about Qatar being just a recent example.127 Ironically in this context, South Korea has a particularly bad reputation in respect of migrant (i.e. non-Korean) workers, both at home and abroad.128

There is no credible evidence that North Korean workers overseas in general fare any worse than others. Plenty of lurid stories from the propaganda mills of course but nothing substantial. It was reported in August 2016 that the State Department had issued a report to Congress on the subject and it might perhaps have been expected that it would contain some solid evidence. However the South Korean state news agency Yonhap admitted that ‘Details of the latest report were not immediately available’.129 That was August; the report had not appeared on the State Department website by the end of October, suggesting that something was amiss. Many of the stories about North Korean overseas workers revolve around allegations that they are left with little disposable income after deductions by North Korean government agencies. 130 There is no rigorous evidence on the level of deductions but it appears that they escape the fate of so many migrant workers who fall into a debt trap in which they find it very difficult to repay their debt to the recruitment agency. One estimate has 21 million people worldwide trapped in this ‘modern-day slavery’. 131 Are North Koreans to be counted amongst them? Andrei Lankov, the Seoul-based Russian academic who is certainly no friend of the North Korean government, is scathing:

But are these people actually “modern day slaves?” Well, they certainly do not see themselves as such, and not because they have been brainwashed by North Korean propaganda, but rather because they are doing what they and their compatriots overwhelmingly see as a prestigious and exceptionally [well] paid job. Indeed, the selection process is highly competitive, and nearly all those who make it have to make use of family connections and/or bribes to get selected.132

Most discussion about North Korea are infused with hypocrisy – for a country which has conducted over a 1000 nuclear tests, many atmospheric with damage to both humans and the environment, to express such indignation over a country that has conducted just five underground tests requires considerable chutzpah. The subject of overseas labour is no exception, providing fruitful ground for displays of insincerity and historical amnesia. The United States was founded to some extent on slave labour and, more relevant, the economic development of South Korea was due in large part to the export of labour. Park Chung-hee sent over 300,000 troops to Vietnam between 1964 and 1973, which provided a great stimulus to the economy, and foreign exchange133. Then the ‘Middle East Boom’ of the 1970s provided a further opportunity. Between 1975 and 1985 nearly one million labourers were sent to the Middle East to work mainly in construction, often for Korean chaebol, providing profit and foreign exchange. In the peak year of 1982 Middle East construction constituted 6.6 percent of South Korea’s GDP.134 By comparison North Korea’s overseas labour is small beer, but it does provide a useful source of foreign exchange, where such opportunities are much constrained by sanctions, as well as income for the workers and their families.

The ostensible rationale given for trying to stop North Koreans working overseas, and for sanctions on exports – from coal to fish – is that the foreign revenue is used for nuclear weapons. We are told that North Korea ‘ is likely to expand the export of fish to continue pursuing development of nuclear weapons.135 So, the argument goes, if foreign exchange is cut off then spending on weapons will go down. This is both untrue and masks the strategy behind sanctions. Since money is fungible and the North Korean government, like others, spends its revenue on a wide variety of activities from defense through to importing grain for domestic consumption, building hospitals and schools, agricultural and industrial development and so on, then constraining revenue streams does not necessarily impact on expenditure of a certain type.136 In fact any government faced with an existential threat will prioritise national defence so if sanctions impose constraints they are more likely to impact on general, civilian expenditure. Moreover, as noted below, since a nuclear deterrent is cheaper than a conventional one, the nuclear weapons programme is unlikely to suffer from sanctions, and may even get a boost.

If sanctions cannot stop North Korea’s development of a nuclear deterrent, what is their purpose and strategy? Here we might go back to the classic studies of US sanctions conducted by Gary Hufbauer and colleagues who describe the objective of sanctions against North Korea, stretching back to 1950 as ‘1) impair military potential 2) destabilize communist government’.137’Destabilisation’ covers a range of objectives from creating a dysfunctional ’failed state’, with impaired military potential to the replacement of a hostile or independent regime with something more compliant. Sanctions are one way of achieving such objectives – propaganda campaigns and funding opposition movements – being alternative or complementary mechanisms. By creating economic distress which is blamed on the government, rather than the sanctioner, they seek to create an environment in which the victims try to escape (as refugees or, or in South Korean parlance, ‘defectors’) or rebel in some way against the government. No doubt there are those in Washington, and Seoul, who hope that sanctions will produce food riots in Pyongyang which would provide a justification for a ‘humanitarian intervention’. However, sanctions tend not to be very effective in achieving these objectives. Famine in the 1990s did not lead to massive protest against the government and realistic observers see no likelihood of that happening today even if increased sanctions were to result in similar food shortages.138 Hufbauer tends to be sceptical about them and as we have seen in the recent case of sanctions against Russia they may have the opposite effect, of actually increasing the popularity of the government.139 Nevertheless they can cause immense suffering and damage. One North Korean source estimates the damage done by ‘economic sanctions and blockade, the products of the US hostile policy toward the DPRK….for six decades up to 2005 to 13,729,964 million US dollars’.140

North Korea has sought to counter American hostility by a dual strategy. It has basically been open to genuine negotiations with the US. ‘Genuine’ primarily revolving around negotiations without preconditions that would deliver to the US its objectives without concessions on its part.141 The conventional wisdom is that the US honestly has tried over the years to negotiate with North Korea but has not got anywhere because Pyongyang is untrustworthy and ‘cheats’.142 The logic of the situation suggests that the reverse is more likely. North Korea is a small, tightly controlled state for whom these negotiations are of huge, existential importance. It has a strong incentive to honour an agreement. The US is very different. It is the global hegemon with many choices to make and is run by a large fractious elite within which foreign policy is contested between cliques, institutions, personalities and of course succeeding administrations. The US finds it very difficult to honour its commitments.143 For North Korea Hillary Clinton’s destruction of the Gadhafi government in Libya in contravention of Condoleezza Rice’s assurances must be the outstanding example.144

The other side of this dual strategy is the development of defensive and deterrent capability, culminating in Kim Jong Un’s Byungjinpolicy. This strategy of a simultaneous development of a nuclear deterrent with economic development is sensible and perhaps inevitable although it has often been pilloried as evidence of economic mismanagement and irrationality.145 It is really merely a special variant of the guns and butter dilemma that all governments face and can be analysed dispassionately.146

There is clearly no easy way for North Korea to counter what it rightly calls the ‘hostility policy’ of the US except with nuclear weapons. For all their direct and indirect costs, they do make sense. They are cheaper than conventional arms.147 Although the long-term development costs, which crucially must include delivery systems, are considerable, some costs are surprisingly modest. For instance the South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS) estimated that the fifth nuclear test on 9 September 2016 ‘Only Cost $5 Million’.148 Moreover, even if it suddenly acquired huge wealth North Korea could never match the conventional military power of the US and its allies. It may be the best option for North Korea in the circumstances, but it does have its drawbacks. ‘Best option’ of course does not mean that something is desirable, merely that of all of the possible options it is the best choice. This obvious point is often avoided or obscured by people who do not recognise the predicament that North Korea is in; a predicament produced by geographical location, by history and by US global strategy. It was the US that divided the Korean peninsula; it is the US that is hostile to North Korea. This is not a situation that North Korea can avoid, but only seek to cope with.

Being cheaper than conventional weapons means that more resources can be devoted to the economy. There are indications that this is happening.149 The March 2016 budget showed a small decrease in the proportion devoted to national defense.150

As a corollary, it should be remembered that one function of the military threat, as exemplified by the invasion exercises, is to force North Korea to divert resources from the productive economy into defence. ‘Going nuclear’ offers a way of avoiding that trap.

The most authoritative assessment of the Byungjin policy comes from the Russian Koreanologist Georgy Toloraya. Writing in 38 North,the Washington website set up by former US official Joel Wit, he noted that he saw evidence in his recent trips to North Korea substantial (though constrained) economic growth and pronounced the Byungjin policy a success:

Despite all the mockery, North Korea’s Byungjin policy seems to have proven more effective than foreign critics expected. This is evidenced by empirical data I have collected during recent visits to North Korea…

What are the sources of this [economic] growth? One explanation might be that less is now spent on the conventional military sector, while nuclear development at this stage is cheaper—it may only cost 2 to 3 percent of GNP, according to some estimates.151

There are however three major disadvantages of the nuclear weapons option.

Firstly the early stage of nuclear weapons requires physical testing. The US no longer needs that, because it already has under its belt those 1000 physical tests in the past that brought it to this position. Unlike, for instance, acquiring an F-35 fighter or an Aegis destroyer nuclear tests are obvious and newsworthy and attract much opprobrium, hypocritical though most of that is. One of the great successes of American propaganda has been to attach to non-proliferation the assumption of peace and disarmament. In fact it has nothing to do with that, it is merely preserving the monopoly of nuclear weapons states. The authoritative US political scientist Kenneth Waltz argued that proliferation is peace-enhancing because it provides protection to small states that that they would not otherwise have.152

Secondly, nuclear weapons for North Korea can only be used as a deterrent. However unlike the prospect of mutually assured destruction (MAD) of the US-Soviet Cold War, North Korea’s deterrent is rather like the ‘Sampson Option’ described by Seymour Hersh in respect of Israel.153 It is similar to a suicide bomber who kills himself, and in the process some, but not all, of the enemy.

In any case deterrence is a matter of convincing the other side that attacking you would result in intolerable damage to them, and that it is not worth the risk. So it is a matter of perception rather than reality. You may be bluffing – and bluff is an inherent aspect of deterrence – and your defences may in reality be weak, but that is irrelevant.

North Korea is often mocked for making extravagant claims about its military capabilities and accused of being crazy for threatening to attack the US. That is a misunderstanding of what it is all about. North Korean threats are always essentially conditional. For instance the warning by the Korean People’s Army (KPA) Supreme Command regarding stories that the US was preparing to launch a ‘decapitation’ attack:

…all the powerful strategic and tactical strike means of our revolutionary armed forces will go into pre-emptive and just operation to beat back the enemy forces to the last man if there is a slight sign of their special operation forces and equipment moving to carry out the so-called “beheading operation” and “high-density strike.”[Emphasis added] 154

The media often, especially in headings, leaves out the crucial little word ‘if’ thereby creating the false impression that North Korea is being threatening and bellicose, when in reality it is the other way round. The military exercises, the practising of decapitation and amphibious landings, and of the invasion of North Korea are surely threatening and belligerent – one can well imagine the uproar in the West if it were Chinese and North Korean forces practising to invade the South. North Korean statements therefore are not a matter of threat, but of deterrence.

However, the third problem for North Korea is that its deterrent in respect of the US is a nuclear one. If the US were not involved and it were merely a matter of deterring the South then North Korea’s artillery, which it claims can turn Seoul into a sea of flames, would be sufficient. 155 But it is the US that must be deterred and the only feasible way to do that is to convince American leaders that there is a real chance that America itself might be damaged in a counterattack and that means nuclear weapons. In this context bluff is quite reasonable since it is a matter of instilling doubt in the minds of the other side. North Korea almost certainly can’t deliver a nuclear warhead on the US at the moment but it just might.156

The phrase used above -not worth the risk- is relevant here. From the point of view of the US it is a matter of risk-benefit analysis. The amount of risk must be related to the amount of benefit. We might image some megalomaniac strategist sitting in Washington and calculating that it might be worthwhile losing the West Coast if it meant destroying China. With China out of the way the US would have no challengers for generations. The world would be at its feet. It would be a big prize.157 North Korea is quite a different matter. It is a very small prize and as discussed above removing it through war, or indeed peace, would cause problems for the containment of China.

Moreover a nuclear deterrent is a blunt instrument. For a small country like North Korea, faced by vastly more powerful adversaries, a retaliatory attack has to be all out, no holds barred. No calibrated response, no escalation such as a powerful country might apply to a weak one – Vietnam comes to mind. But, as noted above, this is the Samson option, one that could result in the devastation of North Korea.

This brings us to the word ‘pre-emptive.’ This was misconstrued by George W. Bush to mean unprovoked. A simple dictionary definition is an action to prevent attack by disabling the enemy. Since Iraq was in no position to attack the US, the invasion was clearly not pre-emptive. Pre-emption is normally associated with the action of a weaker person or country faced with what is perceived as an imminent attack by a stronger adversary. This is probably what would happen in a conflict between the US and China, apart from the scenario of China intervening, as in 1950, in response to a US invasion of North Korea.158 The US would force China into a situation, say in the South China Sea or Taiwan Straits, in which it felt it was compelled to make a pre-emptive strike.159 Being by far the stronger combatant the US would absorb this strike, and then having gained the moral high ground would launch the attack, now a counter-attack, that it had planned; a variant on Pearl Harbour.160

Leaving aside the moral deception involved in shifting blame there is the danger that the weaker party might misinterpret the actions of the stronger and launch a pre-emptive strike unnecessarily. This is particularly plausible in the case of North Korea which has very limited surveillance and intelligence capabilities compared with the US (North Korea’s satellite programme is an attempt to remedy this deficiency).161 The US makes a feint which North Korea interprets as presaging, say, a decapitation strike and launches a pre-emptive all-out attack. The war, so long desired in certain quarters, comes about.

It might well be argued that for North Korea nuclear deterrence is unwise and might in fact incite the US to attack now, before it is too late. If tomorrow the enemy will be invulnerable, better to attack today. This is the inevitable predicament in developing a deterrent. Certainly to do so is to enter a dangerous period, as Stratfor explains:

As Pyongyang approaches a viable nuclear weapon and delivery system, the pressure is rising for the United States and other countries to pre-empt it. Consequently, the final moments of North Korea’s transition from a working program to a demonstrated system are the most dangerous, providing a last chance to stop the country from becoming a nuclear weapons state. For North Korea, then, these final steps must happen quickly.162

This is probably the explanation for the frenetic pace of North Korea nuclear and missile tests in 2016. 163 The US is unlikely to attack during a presidential election year, but 2017 is different. It is probable that the bellicose Hillary Clinton will be in her first year of office, and Park Geun-hye in her final full year.164 It might be that Clinton will be less of a hawk than most observers expect or too occupied with Russia to embark on a potential war with China.165 It might be that Park Geun-hye will be impeached or her political power fatally wounded by the Choi Sun-sil affair.166 However at this stage it would be prudent to assume that 2017 will be a particularly dangerous year for North Korea. Indeed, Josh Rogin, writing in the Washington Post on the eve of the 2016 election in an article entitled ‘The coming clash with China over North Korea’ concluded that:

…the North Korea issue could mean that the first foreign crisis of a potential Clinton presidency will come not in the Middle East or with Russia, but in northeast Asia.167

The report that the US command in Korea (United States Forces Kores, USFK) has begun to practice the evacuation of US civilians is surely a better indicator than any article of speech that the US military is anticipating that conflict is likely under the incoming administration.168

North Korea could say ‘if you invade we will unleash a people’s war – remember the 1950s, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan.’ The problem with that is what might be called the ‘Stalingrad factor’. Stalingrad, it has been said, was easier to defend against the Germans when it had been reduced to rubble. But who wants their cities reduced to rubble?

North Korea’s nuclear deterrent also have the potential to force the US into some sort of peace agreement in a way that a conventional defence, which by its nature would pose little danger to the US, ever could. Whether that might come to pass is another matter but since peace with America must remain North Korea’s major foreign policy goal, it will always be on the agenda even if denied. 169


The American empire is a curious one, rather different to the ones with which most of us are familiar – the Roman, the British, or the French. It is an empire which does not proclaim itself; indeed it denies its existence, to the condescending amusement of admirers such as Niall Ferguson. 170It often names its weapon systems after vanquished peoples – Apache and Iroquois –perhaps in a somewhat cannibalistic attempt to acquire their fruitless valour and to deny their subjugation. Denial goes a long way back; what other group of slave owners would have written in their declaration of independence that ‘all men are created equal’? The United States does not erect statues of its presidents in its foreign possessions. Its imperial forces in Europe are described as those of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and those in South Korea, in the ‘Republic of Korea’ are called the United Nations Command. There is little doubt where the power really lies; an American general is in command of both. Indeed, General Curtis M. Scaparrotti the commander of the US forces in South Korea, and hence of the United Nations Command, and the ROK army, was transferred to Brussels in March 2016 to become NATO commander, in a career move which would have been familiar in the Roman Empire.171 Despite its relative invisibility the American empire is the greatest in history and the salient reality of contemporary geopolitics. Any analysis of a geopolitical situation must start with the US, though not end there.

The US is by no means omniscient or strategically coherent, and it is certainly not omnipotent; the relationship with ‘allies’ and adversaries is under constant negotiation. This means the relationships have to be carefully scrutinised, avoiding simplistic narratives. Nevertheless it is the dominant factor in most circumstances and in general, and in the long term (though not necessarily in the short term) it is the initiator to which other countries respond. The US divided Korea in 1945 as part of its strategy of containing the Soviet Union and protecting its war booty of Japan. The focus has now shifted to China but the basic thrust is the same. The US has a necessary and crucial interest in Korea because of its strategic location and this situation informs its Korea policy. North Korea is far too small to threaten the US, but the US does threaten North Korea and has conducted economic and diplomatic war against it since the late 1940s. The Korean War itself had its own specific causes and effects but it was one episode in a longer historical struggle. This hostility has moulded North Korean politics into a particular defensive and distorted configuration, and has produced, amongst other things, the putative nuclear deterrent. North Korea has long proposed a peaceful coexistence in the form of a peace treaty to the US, and the US has refused out of concerns about the impact on its global strategy of preserving nuclear superiority (‘non-proliferation’) and its containment of China, and Russia.172North Korea’s commitment to a peace treaty is likely to endure because it is the gateway to survival and prosperity. American policy on that may conceivably change as it attempts to cope with shifts in the international landscape. In order to understand what is going on, and attempt to anticipate future developments, it is essential to start with the US and move out from there.

This is a revised and updated version of a paper prepared for webinar Crisis in Korea – Causes/aftermaths of 2016 H-bomb test and Satellite Launch, 19 March (US/Canada) 20 March (Korea/New Zealand) 2016 organised by the Korea Policy Institute, Los Angeles.


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79 Thomas J. Christensen, “Threats, Assurances, and the Last Chance for Peace: The Lessons of Mao’s Korean War Telegrams,” International Security 17, no. 1 (1992).

80 Jeremy Bender and Gus Lubin, “Why Japan’s Smaller Military Could Hold Its Own Against China,” Business Insider, 5 May 2014.; Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., “China’s Dangerous Weakness, Part 1: Beijing’s Aggressive ‘Self-Defense’ “ Breaking Defense, 26 September 2013.

81 Alexis Dudden, “The Nomination of Article 9 of Japan’s Constitution for a Nobel Peace Prize,” The Asia Pacific Journal Japan Focus, 20 April 2014. Gavan McCormack, “Abe Days Are Here Again: Japan in the World,” The Asia Pacific Journal, 1 December 2012.; Ichiyo Muto, “Retaking Japan: The Abe Administration’s Campaign to Overturn the Postwar Constitution “ The Asia Pacific Journal, 4-5 August 2015.

82 Yonhap, “Japan could go nuclear in 10 years to contain N. Korea provocations: study,” Korea Times, 8 October 2016.; Nobuhiro Kubo and Tim Kelly, “North Korean missile advances expose Japan in two-decade arms race: sources,” Reuters, 3 October 2016.; Ayako Mie, “Defense Ministry requests ¥5.1 trillion for fiscal 2017 to address new threats,” Japan Times, 31 August 2016.

83 Lawrence Repeta, “Japan’s Proposed National Security Legislation — Will This Be the End of Article 9?,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, 22 June 2015.

84 “Defense Ministry in Deepening Mire Over Japanese Troops,” Chosun Ilbo, 23 October 2015.; Yun-hyung Gil and Byong-su Park, “Could Japan intervene militarily on the Korean peninsula?,” Hankyoreh, 22 September 2015.

85 Geun-hye Park, “A new kind of Korea: building trust between Seoul and Pyongyang,” Foreign Affairs 90, no. 5 (2011).

86 , 28 March 2014.

87 ———, “Remarks by President Park Geun-hye at the 2013 International Conference on Global Cooperation in the Era of Eurasia,” Cheong Wa Dae, 18 October 2013.

88 Editorial, “Sanctions on N. Korea,” Korea Times, 22 May 2015.

89 Tim Beal, Crisis in Korea: America, China, and the risk of war (London: Pluto, 2011); ———, “Korean Brinkmanship, American Provocation, and the Road to War: the manufacturing of a crisis,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, 20 December 2010.

90 ———, “Satellites, Missiles and the Geopolitics of East Asia.”

91 Whan-woo Yi and Ji-hye Jun, “N. Korea fires long-range rocket,” Korea Times, 7 February 2016.; John Schilling, “Satellites, Warheads and Rockets: Is North Korea’s Space Program Really about Missile Development?,” 38 North, 28 September 2015.

92 Kyu-won Kim, “At 2007 inter-Korean summit, then-Pres. Roh discussed autonomy “ Hankyoreh, 26 June 2013.

93 “For S. Korean businesses, China patent blitz is a clear and present danger “, Hankyoreh, 2 April 2015.; “Chinese Manufacturers Threaten Korean Rivals,” Chosun Ilbo, 7 May 2016.

94 Hyeon-cheol Bang, “Most Koreans Feel Economy Is in Crisis,” Chosun Ilbo, 24 October 2016.

95 Sung-jin Choi, “Korea’s manufacturing competitiveness behind Japan, China “ Korea Times, 12 March 2016.

96 “Korea Plummets to 6th in Global Shipbuilding Orders,” Chosun Ilbo, 3 June 2016.

97 Hyun-woo Nam, “Hanjin Shipping files for court receivership “ Korea Times, 1 September 2016.

98 Seung-bum Kim and Eun-jin Shin, “Fresh Woes for Hyundai Crisis as Exports Plunge by Half,” Chosun Ilbo, 13 October 2016.

99 Ki-hong Kim, “Shipbuilding, Construction Orders from Overseas Plummet,” Chosun Ilbo, 21 July 2016.

100 Jae-won Kim, “Seoul’s dream to become financial hub evaporating,” Korea Times, 22 January 2016.

101 Jun-beom Hwang, “Less than 1.5 years left, more corruption bombs expected in Park government,” Hankyoreh, 24 September 2016. Hwangbo Yon, “Due to aging, South Korean population headed for structural reversal,” Hankyoreh, 20 October 2016. Park. Hyong-ki, “Inequality concerns grow amid increased income distribution to rich,” Korea Times, 16 October 2016.

102 Se-Woong Koo, “Korea, Thy Name is Hell Joseon,” Korea Expose, 22 September 2015.; No-ja Park, ““Hell Joseon” — a country where sleepless toil brings no mobility,” Hankyoreh, 6 October 2015.

103 Emanuel Pastreich, “The Balancer: Roh Moo-hyun’s Vision of Korean Politics and the Future of Northeast Asia,” The Asia Pacific Journal Japan Focus, 1 August 2005.

104 Editorial, “Humiliating comfort women settlement incurs fierce backlash,” Hankyoreh, 5 January 2016.

105 Seong-hun Park and Sarah Kim, “U.S. Defense Department is developing Thaad 2.0,” JoongAng Ilbo, 19 July 2016.

106 Young-jin Oh, “Choi Soon-sil – Shaman or con artist?,” Korea Times, 6 November 2016.; Ha-young Choi, “Don’t call Choi a shaman, it’s disgrace to shamans,” Korea Times, 8 November 2016.; Ye-rin Choi, “Park Geun-hye believed in Choi Tae-min after he predicted her father’s death,” Hankyoreh, 6 November 2016.

107 Aidan Foster-Carter, “Did Park Geun-hye’s Rasputin run her North Korea policy?,” NK News, 28 October 2016.; Min-hyuk Lim, “Leaked U.S. Embassy Cable Warned of ‘Rasputin’ Behind Park,” Chosun Ilbo, 28 October 2016.

108 Sang-hun Choe, “A Presidential Friendship Has Many South Koreans Crying Foul,” New York Times, 27 October 2016.; Yong-in Yi, “Strange memories of a President’s late and ambiguous decisions,” Hankyoreh, 4 November 2016.; Jin-cheol Kim and Eui-gyum Kim, “Was Choi Sun-sil behind the closing of the Kaesong Industrial Complex? ,” Hankyoreh, 27 October 2016.

109 John Delury, “The Urgency of Now: Why Obama Needs to Take the Lead on North Korea,” 38 North, 9 December 2014.; Aidan Foster-Carter, “Obama Comes Out as an NK Collapsist,” 38 North, 27 January 2015.

110 Steven V. Roberts, “White House Confirms Reagans Follow Astrology, Up to a Point,” New York Times, 4 May 1988.

111 “N.Korea Mum Over China Parade,” Chosun Ilbo, 4 September 2015. “Park Attends China Parade,” Chosun Ilbo, 4 September 2015.

112 Hoare, “Potboiler Press: British Media and North Korea.”

113 Nate Thayer, “Freed American Matthew Miller: ‘I wanted to stay in North Korea’,” Guardian, 20 November 2014. Konstantin Asmolov, “Fifteen Year’s Sentence for a Motto Torn Off,” New Eastern Outlook, 17 April 2016.

114 David Ignatius, “North Korea is scarier than ever,” Washington Post, 13 October 2016.

115 Yonhap, “S. Korea, US, Japan to conduct joint military exercise against N. Korea,” Korea Times, 14 May 2016.

116 Ji-hye Jun, “Tensions grow as joint drills begin,” Korea Times, 7 March 2016.; Alexander Vorontsov, “War Games: who is responsible for tension on the Korean peninsula?,” NK News, 15 September 2016.

117 Jiwon Song, “Chinese woman arrested in Japan for selling knitwear to N.Korea,” NK News, 2 March 2016.; Jiwon Song, “S.Korean arrested in Japan for export to N.Korea through Singapore,” NK News, 26 February 2016.

118 Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker, “Surf clothing label Rip Curl using ‘slave labour’ to manufacture clothes in North Korea,” Sydney Morning Herald, 21 February 2016.

119 Whan-woo Yi, “UN rights resolution may include N. Korea workers,” Korea Times, 16 October 2016.; Yi-jun Cho, “Seoul, Washington to Push on N.Korean Slave Labor at UN,” Chosun Ilbo, 17 October 2016.; Yong-in Yi, “UN seeking to fill few existing loopholes with additional sanctions on North Korea,” Hankyoreh, 13 September 2016.

120 “Up to 100,000 N.Koreans Labor Abroad,” Chosun Ilbo, 18 March 2016.

121 ———, “UN seeking to fill few existing loopholes with additional sanctions on North Korea.”

122 Cho, “Seoul, Washington to Push on N.Korean Slave Labor at UN; Sarah E. Mendelson, “Outsourcing Oppression: Trafficked Labor from North Korea,” Foreign Affairs, 28 May 2015.

123 “U.S. State Department to release report on N. Korea’s labor exports this week “, Yonhap, 15 August 2016.

124 “Overseas Chinese to send home US$66 bln this year,” China Daily, 22 June 2015. Mark Selden, “East Asian Regionalism and its Enemies in Three Epochs: Political Economy and Geopolitics, 16th to 21st Centuries,” Japan Focus, 25 February 2009.

125 Dilip Ratha, “Trends in Remittances, 2016: A New Normal of Slow Growth,” World Bank, 6 October 2016.

126 Ana P. Santos, “Why is Duterte so popular in the Philippines?,” DW, 9 September 2016.

127 Pete Pattisson, “Revealed: Qatar’s World Cup ‘slaves’,” Guardian, 25 September 2013.

128 Michael Field, “Slave fishing in NZ waters exposed,” Sunday Star-Times, 8 November 2011.; Hyun-woong Noh, “Government investigation finds foreign workers on Korean vessels were abused,” Hankyoreh, 11 June 2012. “South Korea: End rampant abuse of migrant farm workers,” Amnesty International, 19 October 2014. Ko, “In the hurt of the sea,” Korea Times, 20 October 2016.

129 Yonhap, “US State Department submits report on N. Korea’s labor exports to Congress,” Korea Times, 30 August 2016.

130 Greg Scarlatoiu, “Testimony to Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission entitled “North Korea’s Forced Labor Enterprise: A State-Sponsored Marketplace in Human Trafficking”,” Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, 29 April 2015.

131 Pattisson, “Revealed: Qatar’s World Cup ‘slaves’.”

132 Andrei Lankov, “North Korean workers abroad aren’t slaves,” NK News, 27 November 2014.

133 “60 Years of the Republic: Troop Dispatch to Vietnam “, Chosun Ilbo, 23 July 2008.; Charles Armstrong, “America’s Korea, Korea’s Vietnam,” Critical Asian Studies 33, no. 4 (2001).

134 Editorial, “Second Middle East boom,” Korea Herald, 3 March 2015.; Alon Levkowitz, “The Republic of Korea and the Middle East: Economics, Diplomacy, and Security,” Korea Economic Institute, Academic Papers Series, August 2010.

135 Whan-woo Yi, “North Korea earning currency through fish sales,” Korea Times, 19 October 2016.

136 Leo Byrne, “North Korea quadruples rice imports after flood,” NK Pro, 3 November 2016.

137 Gary Clyde Hufbauer et al., Economic Sanctions Reconsidered, 3rd ed. (Washington DC: Peterson Institute for International Economics, 2007). (Case 50-1)

138 Andrei Lankov, “North Korea: Don’t dream the impossible,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1 June 2016. Georgiy D. Toloraya, “Byungjin vs the Sanctions Regime: Which Works Better?,” 38 North, 20 October 2016.

139 Gary Clyde Hufbauer, “Sanctions-Happy USA,” Washington Post, 12 July 1998. Andrew Osborn and Maria Tsvetkova, “Putin firms control with big win for Russia’s ruling party,” Reuters, 19 September 2016.

140 “KCNA on Tremendous Damage Done to DPRK by US “, KCNA, 24 June 2010. For comparison a Cuban estimate of the damage caused by the US embargo was $125.9 billion;

141 Ji-hye Jun, “NK-US thaw unlikely under Obama,” Korea Times, 20 December 2015.; Alexander Vorontsov, “The reasons for the crisis on the Korean Peninsula,” Strategic Culture Foundation, 12 April 2013.

142 Michael Auslin, “Kim Jong Untrustworthy,” Foreign Policy, 11 January 2016.; Michael Green, “Six Reasons Why Trump Meeting With Kim Jong Un Is a Very Bad Idea,” Foreign Policy, 18 May 2016. Robert A. Manning and James Przystup, “What’s Wrong with Both Sides of the North Korea Debate,” National Interest, 9 October 2016.

143 Babak Dehghanpisheh, “Iran’s Khamenei: Nuclear Deal Proves Pointlessness of Negotiating With U.S.,” Haaretz, 2 August 2016.; Tim Arango, “Kurds Fear the U.S. Will Again Betray Them, in Syria,” New York Times, 1 September 2016.; Andrew C. Kuchins, “That brief U.S.-Russia strategic partnership 15 years ago? New interviews reveal why it derailed.,” Washington Post, 23 September 2016.

144 In-sun Kang, “Libya Intervention Makes It Harder to Denuclearize N.Korea,” Chosun Ilbo, 30 March 2011.; Christine Kim, “Libyans should have kept nukes, says Pyongyang,” Joongang Ilbo, 24 March 2011.

145 Scott Snyder, “The Economic Costs of North Korean Nuclear Development,” Council on Foreign Relations, 25 November 2013.; Joseph R. DeTrani, “North Korea’s Irrational Approach to Diplomacy—Is There Any Hope?,” 38 North, 17 December 2013.

146 Jeffrey Sachs, “The fatal expense of American imperialism,” Boston Globe, 30 October 2016.

147 Dingli Shen, “What’s Behind the North Korea Nuclear Test? ,”, 20 January 2013.

148 Seung-sik Yang, “N.Korea’s Nuke Test ‘Only Cost $5 Million’,” Chosun Ilbo, 12 September 2016.

149 Tim Beal, “The transformation of the nuclear weapons calculus,” NK News, 19 June 2014.

150 Ha-young Choi, “North Korea to decrease national defense proportion this year,” NK News, 31 March 2016.

151 Toloraya, “Byungjin vs the Sanctions Regime: Which Works Better?.”

152 Kenneth N. Waltz, “The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Better,” International Institute for Strategic Studies: Adelpi Papers171(1981).

153 Simon Shen, “Have Nuclear Weapons Made the DPRK a Rogue State? Studying the Korean Peninsula Crisis from the Waltzian Theory,” Journal of Comparative Asian Development 10, no. 2 (2011). Seymour M. Hersh, The Samson Option: Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy (New York: Random House, 1991).

154 “Crucial Statement of KPA Supreme Command,” KCNA, 24 February 2016.

155 “KPA Mission Statement on US-S. Korea Joint Military Exercises,” KCNA, 27 February 2011.

156 James R. Clapper, “A Conversation With James Clapper,” Council on Foreign Relations, 25 October 2016.

157 Gompert, Cevallos, and Garafola, “War with China: Thinking through the Unthinkable; Peter Apps, “Commentary: Here’s how a U.S.-China war could play out,” Reuters, 9 August 2016.

158 Robert Farley, “Asia’s Greatest Fear: A U.S.-China War,” National Interest, 9 June 2014.

159 Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., “China’s Fear Of US May Tempt Them To Preempt: Sinologists “ Breaking Defense, 1 October 2013.

160 Richard Sanders, “How to Start a War: The American Use of War Pretext Incidents,” Global Research, 2 May 2002.

161 Tim Beal, “North Korean satellites and rocket science,” NK News, 3 February 2016.

162 “A Rare Congress and Mixed Signals in North Korea,” STRTFOR, 5 May 2016.

163 John Schilling, “Musudan Could Be Operational Sooner Than Expected,” 38 North, 17 October 2016.

164 Tim Beal, “The Dangerous Year, 2017 – Part 1,” Zoom in Korea, 20 July 2016.; ———, “The Dangerous Year, 2017 – Part 2,” Zoom in Korea, 28 July 2016.

165 Michael Kranish, “Hillary Clinton regrets her Iraq vote. But opting for intervention was a pattern,” Washington Post, 15 September 2016.; “‘Surgical’ U.S. strike on N. Korea would lead to ‘bloodbath,’ war with China: expert warns,” Yonhap, 1 November 2016.

166 Anna Fifield and Yoonjung Seo, “South Korea’s presidency ‘on the brink of collapse’ as scandal grows,” Washington Post, 29 October 2016.; Hyo-jin Kim, “Hard-line N. Korea policy put on line,” Korea Times, 30 October 2016.

167 Josh Rogin, “The coming clash with China over North Korea,” Washington Post, 6 November 2016.

168 Yong-weon Yu, “USFK Practices Evacuating American Civilians,” Chosun Ilbo, 8 November 2016.

169 Robert Carlin, “Paying Attention Helps: Pondering North Korean Signals,” 38 North, 6 September 2016.

170 Niall Ferguson, “Is the U.S. an Empire in Denial? A Lecture by Niall Ferguson,” Foreign Policy Association, 17 September 2003.

171 “NATO announces nomination of General Curtis M. Scaparrotti as Supreme Allied Commander Europe,” NATO Press Release, 11 March 2016.

172 Christine Ahn, “To End North Korea’s Nuclear Program, End the Korean War,” Foreign Policy in Focus & The Nation, 7 January 2016.; Nam Hyok Jong, “Replacing Armistice Agreement with Peace Agreement is the best way for ensuring peace on the Korean Peninsula and the rest of the northeast Asian region,” PacNet Newsletter, 10 March 2016.; Mike Mullen and Sam Nunn, “How to deal with North Korea,” Washington Post, 15 September 2016.

Posted in North Korea, South Korea0 Comments

US Feigns Human Rights Concerns in Philippines. Extrajudicial Executions and Duterte’s “War on Drugs”


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is heading a controversial campaign against crime, embodied in his “war on drugs” which has led to violence spanning the nation’s troubled urban centers. President Duterte’s comments have ranged from reasonable, to utterly indifferent regarding fears of extrajudicial executions, vigilantism, and very real human rights abuses – opening a door of opportunity for his political opponents both at home and abroad.

President Duterte’s inability to clearly condemn extrajudicial executions and vigilante violence, along with his inflammatory, provocative, even dangerously demagogic statements both invites further abuses, as well as both legitimate and opportunistic criticism of him, his administration, and his policies.

While legitimate criticism is both necessary and justified, it is undermined by disingenuous political opportunism, wielded by hypocrites who only stand to compound the Philippines’ current crisis, not solve it.

America the Humane? 

Among President Duterte’s more opportunistic political opponents is the United States.

While the United States would otherwise be justified and morally grounded in its criticism of President Duterte’s administration, there are some current and past complications that reveal such criticism as stark hypocrisy, crass opportunism, and even the cynical political exploitation of abuse, rather than any genuine attempt to constructively address or stop it. The most recent manifestation of America’s feigned concern regarding the Philippines’ ongoing campaign against accused illicit narcotic dealers was the blocking of a shipment of US-made rifles destined for Philippine police units. Some 26,000 rifles were on order before being blocked by the US Senate based on “concerns about human rights violations.”

These concerns, however, have not prevented the US from selling billions of dollars worth of weapons, including warplanes, munitions, tanks, and helicopters to Saudi Arabia, who is using this vast US-made arsenal to oppress its own people and execute a war of aggression against neighboring Yemen. Saudi Arabia is also admittedly involved in arming and funding terrorist organizations in Syria and Iraq, including with US-made weapons – particularly anti-tank TOW missiles. This hypocrisy exposes US “concerns” as merely politically motivated, designed to put pressure on Manila in an effort to reassert US influence over the Southeast Asian state. Not only has the US previously enjoyed greater influence over the Philippines since the end of World War II, but before the war, and for half a century, the United States literally controlled the Philippines as a US territory. It seized the Philippines in a bloody 1899-1902 war that claimed the lives of over a quarter of a million people (some sources estimate over half a million), and initiated an occupation marked by brutality, oppression, and torture, including the introduction of water boarding (then called “water curing”) conducted by the US as a means of attitude adjustment for local Philippine leaders.

It is ironic and telling that both water boarding and attempts by the US to maintain influence over the Philippines both persist to this day. Attempts by the US to predicate its desire to control Manila on “concerns about human rights violations” not only is bitterly ironic, it undermines those genuinely attempting to expose and stop real abuses taking place amid the Philippines’ current crisis. President Duterte has been able to insulate himself from criticism precisely because of US hypocrisy and meddling. Had independent, local activists and media platforms – networked with regional and international organizations – attempted to expose and rein in President Duterte’s anti-crime campaign, it would have been immeasurably more difficult to dismiss the facts and continue with impunity. The US has in essence discredited genuine human rights concerns by hijacking them for self-serving political objectives.

Extrajudicial executions, vigilante violence, and President Duterte’s indifference, even defense of both, needs to be opposed – but by the people of the Philippines – not disingenuous, exploitative, and self-serving foreign interests who are not only notorious human rights abusers today – worldwide – but who have carried out campaigns of extermination, torture, and human rights abuses in the Philippines itself, as a foreign conqueror and occupier.

For President Duterte, it is more than possible for him to lead a more dignified and just campaign against criminals operating across the Philippines. Nations like Singapore have used stern, popular, but legitimate judicial measures to rein in the drug trade and organized crime, so can the Philippines. Doing so would close this door of opportunity President Duterte himself opened to the Americans, and leaves open with his current policies.

Posted in Far East, USA0 Comments

Politics Over Principles: US Denies Philippines Weapons, Continues Arming Saudis

phillipines rifles guns

Perhaps the biggest challenge the US faces regarding its credibility globally is the self-inflicted damage it does to its alleged principles and values as a center of global power.

A perfect example of this is unfolding in the dramatic unraveling of US-Philippine relations where any and every means of finding leverage over Washington’s wayward ally is being brought to bear on Manila.

The most recent manifestation of this occurred when the US blocked the shipment of US rifles destined for the Philippines’ police forces. PhilStar Global’s article, Duterte cancels rifle sale blocked by US over rights concerns,” would report that:

The US State Department had earlier halted the sale of about 26,000 rifles to the Philippines when US Sen. Ben Cardin said that he will oppose it due to concerns over human right violations attributed to the government’s war on drugs.

At face value, and ignoring any wider context, it would appear that the United States took a moral stand on what would have otherwise been a lucrative arms deal and would have helped draw Washington and Manila closer together politically. However, zooming out slightly from Manila, the situation in Asia Pacific finds the US being incrementally pushed out of the region as a geopolitical power broker. As nations, including the Philippines rebuff the United States and its attempts to reassert itself vis-à-vis China, Washington has resorted to leveraging human rights issues, economic pressure and even covert political and military pressure to maintain its grip on each respective nation in the region.

Putting pressure on Manila through a humiliating political stunt, not adhering to moral convictions, is the primary factor driving Washington’s decision to block its own delivery of weapons to the Philippines’ police forces.

And beyond simply identifying the true motive of America’s recent stunt, there is the matter of overt hypocrisy to account for.

Philippines Denied Rifles, Saudis Given Tanks, Warplanes and Bombs 

While the US poses as morally bound to block its weapons deal with the Philippines, it continues to supply the nation of Saudi Arabia with billions of dollars of advanced weaponry, including air-delivered munitions, warplanes and main battle tanks.

In fact, according to the Guardian, in 2010 the US approved of a record weapons deal amounting to $60 billion, the largest such deal in US history. It included the delivery of additional F-15 fighters, Apache gunships and Black Hawk transport helicopters, many of the weapons now being used in armed aggression against neighboring Yemen.

The war in Yemen prosecuted by Riyadh with US and European weaponry, has become a growing humanitarian disaster with even the US and Europe’s own human rights advocacy groups forced to acknowledge the growing abuses being carried out by America and Europe’s close Arab ally.

And just this year, Reuters would report that the US Senate approved of an additional $1.15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia for the delivery of over 130 M1 Abram main battle tanks as well as 20 armored recovery vehicles and addition equipment to support the newly acquired systems.

Absent amid these immense weapon deals with Saudi Arabia, noted globally as a dictatorship, guilty of brutalizing its own people including through the use of public beheadings and torture, was any semblance of hesitation based on moral convictions.

Indeed, the torrent of weapons the United States supplies the Saudis, in the face of a recent block on rifle sales to the Philippines, proves the United States places politics over principles. Special interests in Washington use such principles merely as a politically-convenient prop when the opportunity presents itself, and otherwise views such principles as a surmountable obstacle to be effortlessly skipped over.

A United States guided by true convictions would be arming neither nation. A United States that sees convictions as politically convenient gimmicks, easily denies the Philippines rifles based on selective moral outrage while propping up a regime on the Arabian Peninsula that is brutalizing its people at home, prosecuting a devastating war in a neighboring nation and sponsoring terrorism worldwide. It is this lack of genuine, consistent moral principles that undermines the United States’ own self-declared status as a global leader, undermining its credibility along with the faith both Americans and foreigners alike have in the waning superpower.

Posted in Far East, Saudi Arabia, USA0 Comments

What the Philippines Says Vs. What it Does

Image result for President Rodrigo Duterte CARTOON
By Joseph Thomas 

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has been identified as a menace to US foreign policy in Asia Pacific by both his supporters and his opponents. For his supporters, he is propped up as a hero of “anti-imperialism,” while his detractors claim his leadership incites instability, is nonconstructive and is leading his Southeast Asian state to ruin.

The truth, however, exists somewhere in between.

A look at the Philippines within Southeast Asia reveals a nation that has long existed within America’s geopolitical and economic sphere, but also a nation more recently emerging from that sphere, pulled into the political and economic orbit of Beijing and in a wider sense, an increasingly influential and growing Asia.

The Philippines eventually replacing its various, compromising dependencies on Washington is inevitable. Whether or not President Duterte’s recent rhetoric is proportional to the Philippines’ actual ability to replace these dependencies in the immediate and sweeping manner he has suggested is another matter entirely.

The necessity to compromise the Philippines’ sovereignty and independence in exchange for economic ties with the United States clearly is no longer in Manila’s best interests. Its trade with China and other Asian states far outweighs its trade with the United States.

Exports from the Philippines, for example, primarily remain in Asia, nearly two-thirds in fact. Exports to the US account for only about one-sixth of the Philippines’ exports. This is not insignificant, but it is clearly disproportionate to the political and economic influence the US seeks to wield both in Asia and in the Philippines specifically.

Nor is the need to continue depending on the United States to “underwrite” the Philippines’ security in the region necessary, especially since such “underwriting” generally involves protecting Manila from confrontations Washington itself intentionally provokes with the Philippines’ neighbours, including China. No clearer example of this can be seen than the recent Philippines-China row in the South China Sea, where the United States itself assembled a team of American and British lawyers to represent Manila in what it called an international tribunal which predictably ruled against Beijing in Manila’s favour.

The tribunal sought to inflame the confrontation, and bring it from a simple bilateral issue, to an increasingly serious international confrontation meant to isolate Beijing.

What the Philippines is Actually Doing… 

President Duterte’s rhetoric has been extreme, however the steps the Philippines is actually taking have been much more measured and proportional.

In regards to trade, the Philippines is on a natural trajectory to continue closing in with Beijing and the rest of Asia. Militarily, it also benefits the Philippines to incrementally remove US troops from its territory, scale back joint exercises, particularly those intentionally carried out to provoke Manila’s neighbours as well as seek new sources for cheaper and more reliable military hardware.

In terms of America’s showpiece conflict in the South China Sea, the Philippines has already distanced itself from Washington’s strategy of confrontation, encirclement and isolation in regards to Beijing and has instead attempted to resolve the issue bilaterally with Beijing itself. The expensive and time-consuming “tribunal” the United States organised for the Philippines has all but been thrown to the wayside as a result of this.

The Philippines’ shifting ties in Asia Pacific are more a matter of practicality than ideology. If practical matters dictate that the Philippines maintains some ties to the United States, it will do so. This is because despite shifting closer to Asia in general, the Philippines still has many economic and political ties to Washington that will be difficult to simply “cut” in the short-term. In the long-term, practical alternatives need to be created and incrementally implemented.

There are also a large number of Philippine political and business leaders who have no interest in severing ties with the United States, ties they directly benefit from and ties that they do not see alternatives to, with a Philippine pivot toward Beijing and the rest of Asia.

This political and economic bloc, however small, will receive increased support from the US to place pressure on Manila to slow down or even reverse its shifting ties. This can already be seen across various media platforms in and beyond the Philippines, as well as within the government itself.

Patience and Pragmatism 

President Duterte’s rhetoric is meant to stir up public support more than actually signal his nation’s real intentions. Other nations throughout Asia are also pursuing a “pivot” away from the United States and its attempts to reassert itself in Asia Pacific. However, they are doing it quietly, incrementally and are attempting to make whatever concessions they must with Washington to stave off large-scale, concerted attempts to destabilise or even overturn political order in each respective nation.

The Philippines has a long journey ahead of itself in establishing a more independent and self-sustaining nation state. It faces not only countervailing forces it must navigate amid Beijing and Washington’s ongoing jockeying for regional power and influence, but also internal challenges to overcome.

Should President Duterte place increased substance behind his extreme, often shifting rhetoric, and change tack toward more pragmatic and consistent policies, he may be able to enjoy the best of both worlds, popular support, and improved leverage for his nation amid a tumultuous time.

Posted in Far East0 Comments

Will the US Actually Be Tried in An International Court for Afghanistan War Crimes?

US soldiers in Afghanistan

After reports emerged alleging that the US may be tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over war crimes in Afghanistan, Radio Sputnik host Brian Becker discussed the possibility of such a scenario with international criminal lawyer Christopher Black.

Black, who is on the list of counsel at the ICC, told Loud & Clear that the initial report by Foreign Policy, suggesting Washington’s actions in Afghanistan may be investigated, appeared at a tough time for the organization. Prior to the publication three African nations — South Africa, Gambia and Burundi — withdrew from ICC over its alleged bias toward the continent.

Listen to Christopher Black:  ”ICC Opens Afghanistan War Crimes Investigation: Could the U.S. Actually be Tried?” on Spreaker.

“It’s something to reestablish [ICC’s] prestige and credibility, because it’s in a state of collapse at the moment,” Black commented on the occasion, adding that there’s little evidence that the US will actually appear before court.

Citing the ICC report from the last year, Black stressed that potential inquiry into Afghanistan’s war crimes will be referred to every party involved in the conflict, including the Taliban, Afghan government and other forces. But it won’t concern the states that investigate the purported war crimes on their own, he added.

“[The report] says that the US has disciplinary procedures set up. People are being investigated [by US courts] and [ICC] may have to assess whether it is a serious investigation on that. Because the ICC won’t charge a country with war crimes if its own internal procedures are in place and they are pursuing people who commit crimes.”

In case of Afghanistan, Washington largely justifies its actions in the country, Black said.

“They said they made that attack, aggression against Afghanistan, in order to go after the Taliban government, which was ‘harboring Osama bin Laden’,” he said. “But remember the history, the Taliban said ‘we do have bin Laden here and will hand him over if you present evidence of his crimes.’ All they received was bombs.”

Moreover, Black highlighted, the US is not a member of ICC and has its federal protection act in place that prevents American personnel and officials from being charged by international courts, which means it’s unlikely the ICC will ever charge any American with war crimes.

“I don’t see them [US] accepting anything from the ICC, if it had an independent prosecutor,” Black said, adding that the ICC, under its two prosecutors, has done nothing to deal with war crimes committed by NATO forces in Libya or Yugoslavia.

The ICC ultimately is a tool for extension of American power worldwide Black explained, adding that Washington controls the prosecution staff in the ICC, “by placing its personnel in key positions or by persons that can control key positions.”

“The NATO tribunals have three purposes: to demonize governments that they want to crush, to cover-up their role in those wars and to make sure those people will never come back to governments. And the rest is propaganda.”

Since its establishment in 2003, it has opened 10 investigations and has found guilty 39 people, all from Africa.

“The US and its Western allies are using the ICC to go after who are standing their way, But they do not go for people [Uganda’s President Yoweri] Museveni who commit war crimes on the daily basis all over the Congo. Their client-leaders are left away and the rest are targeted,” he said.

Posted in Afghanistan, USA0 Comments

Taking on militants: A fight for the soul of Pakistan

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia

By James M. Dorsey

Two high-level meetings in recent months involving senior military commanders and intelligence officials and/or top-level government representatives spotlight Pakistan’s difficulty in coming to grips with domestic and regional political violence resulting from decades of support of militant Islamist and jihadist groups for foreign policy and ideological reasons. Overcoming those difficulties could determine Pakistan’s future, the nature of its society and its place in the world.

The first of those meeting was a gathering in August of Pakistani military commanders in the wake of a massive bombing in Quetta that killed some 70 people and wiped out a generation of lawyers in the province of Baluchistan. The commanders concluded that the attack constituted a sinister foreign-inspired plot that aimed to thwart their effort to root out political violence. Their analysis stroked with their selective military campaign aimed at confronting specific groups like the Pakistani Taliban and the Sunni-Muslim Lashkar-e-Jhangvi rather than any organisation that engages in political violence and/or targets minorities.

Enemy within

The commanders’ approach failed to acknowledge the real lesson of Quetta: decades of Pakistani military and intelligence support underwritten by funding from Saudi Arabia for sectarian and ultra-conservative groups and religious schools in Pakistan that has divided the country almost irreversibly. Generations of religious students have their critical faculties stymied by rote learning and curricula dominated by memorising exclusionary beliefs and prejudice resulting in bigotry and misogyny woven into the fabric of Pakistani society.

This is what Pakistani columnist Ejaz Haider said in a recent commentary:

The enemy within is not a fringe… Large sections of society sympathise with these groups. They fund them, directly and indirectly. They provide them recruits. They reject the constitution and the system. They don’t just live in the “bad lands” but could be our neighbours. The forces have not only to operate in areas in the periphery, along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, but have also to operate in the cities where hundreds, perhaps thousands form sleeper cells, awaiting orders or planning to strike.

Top Pakistani political leaders echoed Mr Haider’s sentiment in a second meeting in October that gathered the country’s civilian and military leadership around the table. Reporting in Dawn, Pakistan’s top English-language newspaper, on differences between the civilian and military components of the state, united politicians and officers in their denials of differences and prompted a government investigation into what it alleged was a false and inaccurate story.

Dawn, standing by the accuracy of its story, reported that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other government ministers had warned their military and intelligence counterparts that key elements of the country’s two-year old national action plan to eradicate political violence and sectarianism, including enforcing bans on designated groups, reforming madrasas (Islamic schools), and empowering the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA), had not been implemented. The 20-point plan was adopted after militants had attacked a military school in Peshawar in December 2014, killing 141 people, including 132 students.

In a blunt statement during the meeting, Foreign Minister Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry charged, according to Dawn, that Pakistan risked international isolation if it failed to crack down on militant groups, including Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Haqqani network – all designated as terrorist groups by the United Nations. Mr Chaudhry noted that Pakistan’s closest ally, China, with its massive USD 46 billion investment in Pakistani infrastructure, continued to block UN sanctions on Jaish-i-Mohammed leader Masood Azhar, but was increasingly questioning the wisdom of doing so.

The State Bank of Pakistan announced barely two weeks after the meeting that it was freezing the accounts of more than 2,000 people associated with political violence, including the leaders of anti-Shi’i and anti-Ahmadi groups supported by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan’s military and intelligence agency. Not mentioned in the bank’s list of targeted people were those associated with groups such as Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), and Hizbul Mujahideen (HuM), whose main focus is Kashmir.

Supporting Wahhabi-inspired terrorists

The absence of those groups signalled the military and intelligence’s ability to safeguard the fundamentals of their strategic support of militant groups and the inability of the civilian government to impose its will. The government, moreover, is divided with some ministers being more supportive of links to militants. And even if there were a unified will to crack down on militants, the bank’s measure would at best be a drop in a bucket. Most of the funds available to militant groups are either not in bank deposits or, if they are, not in accounts belonging to the groups’ leaders.

In many ways, Mr Sharif’s effort to force the military and intelligence’s hand has a sense of déjà vu. A similar attempt by Mr Sharif when he was prime minister in the late 1990s ended with his overthrow in a coup, initial imprisonment and ultimate exile for a decade. Mr Sharif in cohorts with his loyal intelligence chief, Lieutenant-General Khawaja Ziauddin, tried to convince Taliban leader Mullah Omar to handover Osama Bin Laden and stop Saudi-backed anti-Shi’i militants of Sipah-e-Sabaha from attacking the minority in Pakistan from Afghan territory without consulting the military.

In response, Chief of Staff General Mohammed Aziz Khan and Islamist politician Fazl ur Rahman held separate talks with Omar in which they made clear to the Taliban leader who controlled the Pakistani levers of power and persuaded him to ignore Mr Sharif’s request. Mr Sharif’s effort was one reason for the 1999 military coup that led to his initial imprisonment and subsequent decade-long exile.

Proud sectarians

Leaders of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, the latest guise of Sipah after it was nominally banned, in a rare set of lengthy interviews prior to the bank’s announcement, had little compunction about detailing their close ties to Pakistani state institutions and Saudi Arabia. They were also happy to discuss the fact that both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were pushing them to repackage their sectarian policies in a public relations effort rather than a fundamental shift that would steer Pakistan towards a more tolerant, inclusive society.

According to a co-founder of Sipah,

The Saudis sent huge amounts often through Pakistani tycoons who had a long-standing presence in Saudi Arabia as well as operations in the UK and Canada and maintained close relations with the Al Saud family and the Saudi business community. One of them gave 100 million rupees a year. We had so much money, it didn’t matter what things cost.

Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat leader Ahmad Ludhyvani, a meticulously dressed Muslim scholar whose accounts are among those blocked, speaking in his headquarters and protected by Pakistani security forces in the city of Jhang, noted that Sipah as the group is still commonly referred to and Saudi Arabia both opposed Shi’i Muslim proselytisation even if Sipah served Pakistani rather than Saudi national interests.

Speaking over over a lunch of chicken, vegetables and rice, Ludhyvani said:

Some things are natural. It’s like when two Pakistanis meet abroad or someone from Jhang meets another person from Jhang in Karachi. It’s natural to be closest to the people with whom we have similarities… We are the biggest anti-Shia movement in Pakistan. We don’t see Saudi Arabia interfering in Pakistan.

The soft-spoken politician defended his group’s efforts in parliament to get a law passed that would uphold the dignity of the Prophet Mohammed and his companions. The law would effectively serve as a stepping stone for institutionalisation of anti-Shi’i sentiment much like a Saudi-inspired Pakistani constitutional amendment in 1974 that declared Ahmadis non-Muslim. As a result, all applicants for a Pakistani passport are forced to sign an anti-Ahmadi oath.

Flaunting Saudi support

Sipah officials said a Pakistani cleric resident in Mecca who heads the international arm of Aalmi Majlis Tahaffuz Khatm-e-Nubuwwat (AMTKN), a militant anti-Ahmadi Pakistan-based group, closely affiliated with Sipah, acts as a major fundraiser for the group.

Sipah put Pakistani and Saudi support on public display when last year it hosted a dinner in Islamabad’s prestigious Marriot Hotel for Abdallah Ben Abdel Mohsen al-Turki, a former Saudi religious affairs minister and general secretary of the Muslim World League, a major Saudi vehicle for the funding of ultra-conservative and militant groups. Hundreds of guests, including Pakistani ministers and religious leaders designated as terrorists by the United States, attended the event at the expense of the Saudi embassy in the Pakistani capital.

The corrosive impact of such support for groups preaching intolerance and sectarian hatred is reflected in a recent controversy over the Council of Islamic Ideology, whose offices are ironically located on Islamabad’s Ataturk Avenue, that was created to ensure that Pakistani legislation complies with Islamic law. The council has condemned co-education in a country whose non-religious public education system fails to impose mandatory school attendance and produces uncritical minds similar to those emerging from thousands of madrasas run by ultra-conservatives and those advocating jihadist thinking.

The council declared in 2014 that a man did not need his wife’s consent to marry a second, third or fourth wife and that DNA of a rape victim did not constitute conclusive evidence. This year, it defended the right of a husband to “lightly beat” his wife. It also forced the withdrawal of a proposal to ban child marriages, declaring the draft bill un-Islamic and blasphemous.

Continued official acquiescence and open support for intolerance, misogyny and sectarianism calls into question the sincerity of government and military efforts to curb without exception intolerance and political violence. The result is a country whose social fabric and tradition of tolerance is being fundamentally altered in ways that could take a generation to reverse.

Posted in Pakistan & Kashmir0 Comments

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