North Korea 101: Are We Really Primed for War?


Salon,  By Tim shorrock, Alternet

America’s current policy toward North Korea is an utter failure — here’s how we got here.

We all know it’s a crisis. Every night this week, NBC, CBS and every other media outlet in the country have led their evening newscasts with increasingly grim news out of Korea.

It’s gone like this. A state of war has been declared between North Korea and the United States by Kim Jong-un, the North’s 27-year-old hereditary dictator. North Korea has battle plans to attack Washington and other U.S. cities, including, of all places, Austin, Texas, with atomic weapons. The Kaesong Industrial Zone, the last demonstration of North and South Korean cooperation just above the DMZ, has been temporarily shut down after the North refused entry to South Koreans who work there. Pyongyang has threatened to restart its Yongbyon nuclear power plant, mothballed since 2007 under a nuclear proliferation agreement with Washington and other regional powers, and begin producing bomb-ready plutonium again. And on Thursday, North Korea was allegedly moving missiles to its east coast facing Japan.

The sense of hysteria and impending doom has been magnified by the Obama administration and the Pentagon. In a show of force not seen in East Asia for decades, the United States, as part of a series of war games with South Korea, dispatched B-52 and stealth B-2 bombers capable of devastating nuclear and tactical strikes screaming across Korean skies. F-22 warplanes, perhaps the most advanced in the U.S. arsenal, are there too, along with two guided-missile destroyers. A new THAAD portable missile defense system is being deployed to nearby Guam as a “precautionary” measure against possible North Korean missile strikes, and plans are underway for a massive expansion in U.S. missile defense systems in Alaska and the West Coast. Meanwhile, U.S. and South Korean troops practice simulated nuclear attacks and even regime change in their massive military drills, which both governments described as “defensive.”

The rhetoric has ratcheted up too – to alarming levels. “We formally inform the White House and Pentagon that the ever-escalating U.S. hostile policy toward the DPRK and its reckless nuclear threat will be smashed” by “cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means of the DPRK,” a spokesman for the Korean Peoples’ Army (KPA) declared this week, using the formal name for the North – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel responded in kind, calling the DPRK a “real and clear danger and threat” to the United States and its allies. “They have nuclear capacity now,” he added. “They have missile delivery capacity now.”

And then, out of the blue, President Obama and his military leaders came out on Thursday and sought to calm the waters – and the skies. “The White House is dialing back the aggressive posture amid fears that it could inadvertently trigger an even deeper crisis,” the Wall Street Journal reported in Thursday’s editions. It quoted a “senior administration official” explaining that the concern was “that we were heightening the prospect of misperceptions on the part of the North Koreans, and that that could lead to miscalculations.” U.S. officials, the Journal added, didn’t believe the DPRK had “any imminent plans to take military action.”

What the hell is going on? Are we really as close to war as this sounds? Why all the buildup if North Korea was bluffing? What’s up with the “dialing back” of U.S. forces? And what brought us to this point?

Before getting to those questions, everybody should take a deep breath. First, as anyone familiar with North Korea knows, any attack by the DPRK on the U.S. or its allies would be suicide for the country of 30 million: It would be met by a relentless counterattack by the most powerful military force the world has ever seen. Threats sound ominous, but at this point that’s all they seem to be: threats, designed to trigger a response in Washington that, in the mind of Kim and his military advisers, might lead to direct talks. (Remember his plaintive request to Dennis Rodman? “Obama should call me.”)

Second, contrary to Hagel’s assertion about DPRK’s nuclear and missile capabilities, there is no evidence that North Korea has the means to lob a nuclear-armed missile at the United States or anyone else. So far, it has produced several atomic bombs and tested them, but it lacks the fuel and the technology to miniaturize a nuke and place it on a missile (many of which have failed in tests anyway). North Korea’s problems in this area were clarified this week by Siegfried Hecker, one of America’s preeminent nuclear scientists, who has been invited to visit the DPRK’s nuclear facilities several times.

“Despite its recent threats, North Korea does not yet have much of a nuclear arsenal because it lacks fissile materials and has limited nuclear testing experience,” Hecker said this week on a website run by Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, according to the Associated Press. And whatever U.S. intelligence knows about the actual capabilities of North Korea – which is more closely watched by U.S. spy satellites and planes than any country on earth – is highly classified.

Beyond that, the answers to our questions about the current situation lie deep in the history of U.S. involvement in Korea, which dates back to 1945 and the terrible war that engulfed the peninsula from 1950 to 1953. That war, in which over 3 million Koreans and some 60,000 Americans were killed, ended in an armistice, not a peace agreement (signed, incidentally, by the United States and the DPRK). North Korea also remembers it as a hellish time when the U.S. Air Force bombed the country into cinders – literally.

But for now, let’s go back just a few years. We’ll start in the waning days of the Clinton administration.

It’s hard to believe today, but in 2000, Kim Jong-il, dispatched his second-in-command, Vice Marshal Jo Myong-rok, to Washington. There, Jo met in the White House with President Clinton as well as the secretaries of State and Defense. At that time, Clinton officials later said, the United States and the DPRK were on the verge of an agreement in which North Korea was going to end its missile production and testing program in return for guarantees from Washington that the United States would recognize the DPRK and respect its sovereignity. Those talks grew out of Clinton’s 1994 accord with Kim Il-sung – the current leader’s grandfather. North Korea shut down its Soviet-era nuclear power program and the United States, South Korea and Japan agreed to help build a light-water reactor for civilian use and supply fuel oil to fill the gap.

The 1994 agreement, in turn, set the stage for South Korean President Kim Dae-jung – at one point that country’s most famous dissident – to initiate a broad “Sunshine Policy” with the North designed to build political and military trust and lead eventually to normalization and a form of unification. During the sunshine era, Kim’s successor as president, Roh Moo-hyun, reached an agreement with Kim Jong-il to build the Kaesong industrial zone – now the only thread remaining of this brief period of glasnost on the Korean Peninsula. The warming was symbolized in late 2000, when Secretary of State Madeleine Albright flew to Pyongyang and met with Kim Jong-il in the highest-level meeting in U.S.-North Korean history.

But Clinton’s missile agreement was never completed, and in 2000 incoming President Bush declared that North Korea could not be trusted as a negotiating partner and stopped all talks with the DPRK. Then, after the 9/11 attacks, Bush decided to place North Korea in the company of Iran and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as partners in the “Axis of Evil.” That ended any chance of rapprochment. The hostility only deepened when Bush invaded Iraq and installed a pro-U.S. government – a move that Pyongyang understood as a clear statement of Bush’s intentions in Korea. This was followed in 2002 by U.S. accusations, denied at the time by the DPRK, that it was running a secret uranium facility to build bombs. After that, the earlier Clinton agreement completely unraveled. In 2006, North Korea shocked the world by testing its first atomic bomb (for a detailed timeline of North Korea’s program, click here).

By 2007, however, Bush began to rethink his policies as the costs of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan escalated. Prodded by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was edging out Dick Cheney as Bush’s chief foreign policy guru, the administration participated in a series of negotiations involving China, Japan, Russia and North and South Korea. The so-called six-party talks ended in an accord that extended Clinton’s 1994 agreement, shut Yongbyon for good, and set a timeline for deepening U.S.-North Korean ties. That agreement ended what historian Bruce Cumings called at the time “the most asinine Korea policy in history.” The DPRK even broadcast video of the Yongbyon cooling tower being blown up (those images were replayed on U.S. television this week when the North threatened to restart that plant).

A year later, Barack Obama, running in part on a platform that promised U.S. talks with countries like North Korea and Iran, was elected president. Shortly into his administration, a new Korea policy began to evolve under the stewardship of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It was called “strategic patience,” and was designed on the premise that Kim Jong-il was about to die and that the Kim dynasty, torn by internal power struggles, was bound to collapse. Clinton and Obama also made it clear that they would not reopen any talks with the North until it turned away from nuclear weapons and opened itself to change. That policy turned out to be a strategic miscalculation: Kim did die last year, but the transition to his third son, Kim Jong-un, has gone smoothly. The regime is still there, as strong as ever.

One incident from 2010 underscores how little Obama was interested in negotiations. That fall, a delegation of former high-ranking U.S. officials visited Pyongyang and met with senior officials in Kim Jong-il’s government. As I reported shortly after their return, the delegation was told “that Pyongyang is prepared to ship out all of its nuclear fuel rods, the key ingredient for producing weapons-grade plutonium, to a third country in exchange for a U.S. commitment to pledge that it has ‘no hostile intent” toward the DPRK.”  Joel Wit, a former State Department official who was part of the delegation, recalled last week that the offer “would have been a first step toward permanently disabling the [Yongban] facility, making sure the reactor would never again be a threat.” The offer, he added, “was dutifully reported to the Obama administration in briefings for the White House, the State Department, the Department of Defense, and the intelligence community.” But the Obama White House “didn’t even listen,” Wit said.

There was another complicating factor in Obama’s policies. After 2008, South Korea’s president was Lee Myung-bak, a conservative. Lee strongly opposed the “sunshine” policies of his predecessors and began to take a much harder line on military issues with the North. Relations across the DMZ took a nose-dive in March 2010, when Lee’s government blamed the North for blowing up a South Korean warship off Korea’s west coast, killing 46 sailors. The DPRK denied it, but a South Korean commission and an international team of investigators held the North responsible (many in the South still question those conclusions).

That incident kicked off the last big confrontation that had the Koreas and the United States talking of war. In November 2010, the United States and South Korea staged another major naval exercise on the west coast near where the Korean warship had gone down. The DPRK issued a series of warnings, saying that if any shells landed on their side of a disputed North-South maritime border, they would retaliate. Some did, and the North struck back ferociously by shelling the island of Yeonpyeong, killing several civilians.

South Korea, stung by this cruel attack on a non-military target, vowed to continue the exercises; the North issued more strong warnings. With several dozen U.S. soldiers on Yeongpyeong as observers and thousands more participating in the exercises, any clash was bound to draw in the United States. For a few days the world held its breath to see if war would break out. Lights were on 24/7 at the crisis center at the Pentagon (I explained what led up to that crisis in a long interview on “Democracy Now”).

Then something unusual happened. At the height of the crisis, on Dec. 16, 2010, Gen. James Cartwright, the outspoken vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that he was deeply concerned about the situation escalating out of control. In words designed to be heard in Seoul, he made it clear that the Pentagon wanted to ratchet down the situation. If North Korea “misunderstood” or reacted “in a negative way” by firing back, he said, “that would start potentially a chain reaction of firing and counter-firing.  What you don’t want to have happen out of that is for the escalation to be — for us to lose control of the escalation.” Cartwright, and the Pentagon, had no desire to be drawn into a war that was not of their own making.

Few noticed the significance of these words – but I did. Four days later, I tweeted: “When Gen. Cartwright warned of a ‘chain reaction’ that would cause the United States to ‘lose control of the escalation,’ he was talking to SK -not NK.” The morning the military drills were scheduled to restart, many reporters and Korea-watchers on Twitter were predicting that a second Korean War was about to begin. Then, as the time came close for the first live-firing to commence, the South Korean military put out the word that the exercises would be “delayed” because of weather. They were – and then were scrapped altogether. Cartwright’s warning apparently worked. The crisis ended. But a year later little had changed – except that Kim Jong-un was now in charge of the DPRK.

The current crisis began last December, when Kim’s military defied global warnings against his weapons program and successfully launched a rocket that actually placed a satellite in orbit. The move was quickly condemned by the United States and South Korea, but this time the criticism also came from China and Russia. Then, in February, North Korea carried out its third test of a nuclear weapon that was nearly twice as large as its last one. A few days later, the U.N. Security Council imposed deeper sanctions on North Korea. Its government lashed out again, but this time the rhetoric had changed. In the past, the North had always blasted South Korea as its primary antagonist, but early in January it began to frame its problems in the context of its decades-long confrontation with the United States.

As I explained to “Democracy Now” on Feb. 12, in recent weeks North Korea has “increasingly been focused on the role of the United States, the role of the United States military in South Korea and the whole Asian region. And they’ve been talking a lot about these massive war games that the United States and South Korea take that take place almost every year, and which one took place last week. And they see the United States and these war games as very hostile and as a threat to their sovereignty, as they put it.”

In other words, their “primary enemy” had shifted from the South to the United States. Since then, the DPRK has said again and again that Washington is to blame for the ongoing tensions in Korea, and that until those tensions are resolved, the region will remain in crisis. That position was summed up by the KPA official quoted earlier. “The U.S. high-handed hostile policy toward the DPRK aimed to encroach upon its sovereignty and the dignity of its supreme leadership and bring down its social system is being implemented through actual military actions without hesitation,” he said. “The responsibility for this grave situation entirely rests with the U.S.”

And that’s basically where we are today. The Obama administration has a choice: It can continue a policy of sanctions, military pressure and no talks until North Korea agrees to abandon its nuclear weapons; or it can try something that’s been tried, with varying success in the past: negotiate, possibly with the assistance of China and other regional powers, toward a peaceful solution that benefits everyone in the region, including the DPRK. But two things are clear. One: America’s current policy toward North Korea is an utter failure. Two: Another Korean War is unthinkable. With the latest statements from the Pentagon today about “dialing back” tensions, those lessons may be sinking in.

_

 

IPPNW statement on the Korean nuclear crisis


 

_

April 5, 2013
tags: International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, IPPNW, North Korea, nuclear disarmament, nuclear war, nuclear weapons, South Korea
by IPPNW

[The co-presidents of IPPNW have sent the following letter to the leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea, and the United States, in response to the escalating series of nuclear threats over the past several days.]

The use of nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula must be prevented. Regardless of the reasons for the current escalation in tensions, the recent displays of nuclear force by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and by the US, on behalf of its ally the Republic of Korea, can have only one of two outcomes: either both sides will step back from the precipice or deterrence will fail and millions of people will suffer the fate of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The humanitarian consequences of the detonation of nuclear weapons, regardless of who might use them or where, were examined in depth only one month ago in Oslo, at a conference attended by 127 States. The sobering scientific and medical analysis presented in Oslo—millions dead; millions more suffering from injuries, burns, and radiation sickness without hope of medical treatment; social and economic collapse; and the potential for global climate disruption and nuclear-war-induced famine—compelled the participants to call for accelerated action to delegitimize nuclear weapons and to eliminate them from the world’s arsenals. This has been IPPNW’s core message since 1980. The current crisis only underscores the urgency of negotiating a comprehensive, global treaty to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons.

As long as nuclear weapons exist, adversaries who own them will be tempted to engage in nuclear threats and counter-threats calculated to make the other side back down. This is why nuclear deterrence is already a bankrupt policy. Should this be the moment when deterrence fails, as it eventually must, both North and South Korea will be devastated. Even if the use of nuclear weapons were confined to the Korean peninsula, unlikely as that would be, the repercussions for the rest of the world would be catastrophic.

Expressions of willingness—or even intent—to use nuclear weapons, either preemptively or in retaliation, provide security to no one and increase the risk of mutual self-destruction. IPPNW urges the DPRK, the ROK, and the US to refrain from further rhetorical provocations and inflammatory displays of force, and to reopen diplomatic channels where cooler heads can prevail.

 

 

Korean Civil and Labour organisations condemn State violence on anti-POSCO villagers


 

 

Dear Friends:

Yesterday, February 07, 2013, 10 Korean NGOs held a press conference in front of the Indian Embassy in Korea.
The co-statement below in the conference was delivered to the Indian Embassy (toward the prime minister) urging them to stop the violence.

Souparna Lahiri

For AIFFM

T0: His Excellency Dr. Manmohan Singh Prime Minister of India
From: Korean Civil and Labor organizations
Date: 7th February, 2013

We strongly request the Indian government to halt forcible land acquisition immediately, which is for securing sites for project of POSCO.

Korean civil society has strongly argued that the Indian government should push ahead the project with consideration of human rights of the villagers and environment. Some of committees of the Indian government and National Green Tribunal clarified their position that the proposed project failed to obtain villagers’ consent and environment effects should be examined thoroughly.

Despite POSCO Project acquired legitimacy from the Indian government, it is clear that mobilization of police force should not be principal means of resolving deportation cases.

The Indian government must be aware that how much painful the Indian villagers, who are dismissed from their lifelong lands and houses and received unfair compensation, feel. Early in the morning of 3rd February 2013, Indian police attacked peaceful protesters. They attacked women and children, cut the trees and devastated facilities of the village. Furthermore, as from 5th February, police and Indian government employees have conducted forcible land acquisition procedures in the village opposing to the proposed project.

Also, Korean civil society doubt why the police force is involved in POSCO project, which attracts attention of international society, at this time even though the government refrained from putting troops.

As of 28th January 2013, when South Korean Minister of Knowledge Economy visited India, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma referred “We have been concerned about the delays and will be conducting a review. Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh) himself has been monitoring this project”

Korean civil society is disappointed in the Indian government if the outcome of ‘review’ and ‘monitoring’ is resorting to violence and brings the armed forces.
Not only opponents of the project in the village, but international civil society including South Korea are skeptical whether POSCO launched the project with villagers’ full consent through ‘valid’ procedures. In addition, we doubt whether the Indian government clings to environment permitting guidance. For this reason, as of October 2012, civil society of India, South Korea, Norway and Netherlands petitioned NCPs of Korea, Netherlands and Norway, regarding POSCO project as an undertaking which has violated OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises. In this situation, enforcement of the project with armed forces would never be beneficial to POSCO as well as the Indian government.

Korean enterprises including POSCO have expanded investment in India. However, Korean civil society does not want disadvantaged people in India to go through human rights abuses and discrimination as investment of Korean companies escalates. The Indian government, as a state fully respecting human rights, has to pay attention to Korean civil society and those who are fearful of expropriation of land, instead of focusing on enterprises such as POSCO.

We therefore urge the Indian government to

– Withdraw the police force as soon as possible and prosecute those who are responsible for the assault.
– Provide treatment to the injured villagers and compensate those who lost their trees and other sources of livelihood.
– Reexamine POSCO project and ensure that villagers’ right to partake in decision making.
– Respect villagers’ human rights and protect them from brutality. 
1.  Advocates for Public Interests Law

2.  Corporate For All

3.  Energy & Climate Policy Institute

4.  GongGam, Human Rights Law Foundation

5.  Korean Confederation of Trade Unions

6.  Korean Federation for Environmental Movement

7.  Korean House for International Solidarity

8.  Korean Lawyers for Public Interest and Human Rights

9.  National Association of Professors for Democratic Society

10.    People’s Solidarity for Social Progress

 

Open Letter to Naveen Patnaik from Korean Human rights groups


The Chief Minister of Odisha State, Naveen Pat

Teheranro (Teheran Avenue) area in Seoul, Korea

Teheranro (Teheran Avenue) area in Seoul, Korea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

naik

 Bhubaneswar-751001.

Odisha, India

March 23, 2012

 We -human rights, labor, and civic organizations in Korea– are writing to you with our deep concern regarding the current attacks continuously made to villagers who are opposing the construction of POSCO steel plant.

Even 6 years have been passed since the project in Odisha State had begun, POSCO could never have had approval from the villagers. And conflicts surrounding the construction of ironworks are continued.

The villagers made their peaceful resistance lying down on the roads while the government of Odisha State mobilizing the police to take their lands by force. This was on the rise to international community, including Korea, as a human rights issue.

Recent few months, however, the villagers and Anti-POSCO activists are being attacked by anonymous groups of armed men. On December 14, one person was killed and many were injured by a group of armed mafias while protesting. Bapi Sharkel is suspected to be the leader of this attack, however, Odisha police had not made proper investigation on this. Rather, questions are suggested that Odisha State is securing him.

Odisha State had not made fair work on Bapi Sarkhel, principal offender of the violence on December 14, and even had released him on February 29. And after 2 days from his release, another villager was attacked by an unidentified armed man.

A group of armed men came around 1PM on March 2, 2012 and took away Umakant Biswal, a known activist of the Anti-POSCO struggle. We got reports that he has been kept in Paradip police station and is being physically and mentally tortured. We do not know whether the attackers were the police, or the group of Bapi Sarkhel. What is certain, however, is that Umakant Biswal, who was injured, could not exercise his legal rights. We are aware of the fact that, as per the Indian Criminal code, the police are supposed to produce him before the magistrate within 24 hours of arrest. However, more than 24 hours have passed but he has not been produced before the magistrate. No one including the villagers, lawyer or even the parents is allowed to meet him in the police station.

We are concerning on the reason that why Bapi Sarkhel didn’t went through appropriate investigation and the testimony that he had received all kind of conveniences. Also, we strongly question the correlation between his release and the violence 2 days after that. If POSCO and the Odisha State government who wants to push ahead the construction are behind this series of incidents, this is gross abuse of human rights as well as significant part that damages the legitimacy of POSCO project.

There are many cases in korea which government and corporations oppressed the resistance of civilians by mobilizing gangsters over developments. The development project that does not protect right to life and right to live could never be successful.

We request Naveen Pattnaik, the Chief Minister of Odisha State

– To make thorough investigation into Bapi Sarkhel, including the criminals of the violence on December 14, 2011.

– To punish the offenders who had attacked Umakant Biswal and the police who had violated the article 57 of the code of criminal procedure and had refused to hospitalizing and conference with attorney.

– To stop the suppression on the villagers who oppose the construction of POSCO.

– Not to push ahead the construction without the consent of villagers.

 

Sincerely yours,

 

1.      Advocates Public Interests Lawyers

2.      Corporation For All

3.      International Solidarity Committee of Minbyun

4.      Korean House for International Solidarity

5.      Korean Lawyers for Public Interest and Human Rights

6.      Network for Glocal Activism

7.      People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy

8.      Public Interest Lawyers’ Group Gonggam

9.      SARANGBANG group for human rights

 

Mr. Hyun Phil NA

Vice Executive Director

 Korean House for International Solidarity

 Telephone: (+82)-2-736-5808, (+82)10-5574-8925

 Fax 😦 +82)-2-736-5810

Email: khis21@hanmail.net

 

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