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North Korea and Trump’s sabre rattling

The Cold War continues with threats of escalation

Before the Vietnam War in the 1960’s and 1970’s, there was the Korea Police Action in the 1950’s. Many similarities are shared by both, one being that they are products of the Cold War and the United States’ determination to stop the “evil spread of Communism”. The main difference is that for Vietnam there was a clear victory and reunification of the nation; whereas, Korea remains divided and militarized, seemingly without hope of resolution.

Korea is split

In December 1945, at the end of WW II, the Allies agreed to hold Korea under a U.S.-U.S.S.R. trusteeship to prepare Koreans for independence after 50 years of Japanese rule. Predictably, the two nations were unable to unify their joint administration and by 1946 the country was divided at the 38th parallel and travel between the two halves was restricted.

On November 14, 1947, the UN passed a resolution calling for free elections, foreign troops to be withdrawn, and a UN commission for Korea be created— United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea (UNTCOK). In response to Soviet opposition to the resolution, UNTCOK decided to only hold elections in the south (Buzo, Adrian, The Making of Modern Korea). May 1948 the election was held in the south leading to the establishment of the Republic of Korea.  A few months later “the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was declared in the north, with Kim Il-sung as prime minister. On December 12, 1948, the UN declares the Republic of Korea as the “only lawful government in Korea.” (Wikipedia)

The war

For the next year and a half, bloody conflicts occurred along the border until the civil war broke out in June of 1950 with the US-led UN military intervention in support of the south. The Armistice Agreement signed in July 1953 was not a peace treaty; it was simply an agreement stop fighting or a truce. According to reports by the Chinese and U.S. governments, military deaths totaled 1,598,429 with civilians deaths in the hundreds of thousands.

Since then, there has been a military stand-off at the 38th parallel. “The Korean peninsula remains a relic of the Cold War without any clear signs of conflict termination. Suspicion and mutual distrust emanating from the protracted conflict have further accelerated fierce conventional arms races on the Korean peninsula. Taking advantage of its economic growth and industrial maturity, South Korea has been maintaining an edge over the North in this arms race [in addition to military aid from the U.S.]. Meanwhile, North Korea has responded to the widening disparity in conventional forces by venturing to play the nuclear weapons card. As a result, peace and security on the Korean peninsula have become all the more precarious and uncertain.” (Chung-in Moon and Sangkeun Lee, The Asian-Pacific Journal)

‘The threat of North Korea is imminent’ — Rex T.

Former CEO of Exxon and now the U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has been in the news lately, ramping up the tense situation between the United States and North Korea while on his recent trip to Asia. Trump, too, has participated by Twittering “North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been ‘playing’ the United States for years.”

All of this is in response to North Korea having fired four ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan earlier in March and testing what has been reported as a high-thrust rocket engine. North Korea’s Chairman Kim Jong-un claims the test is a part of the country’s space program plan to send observation and communication satellites into orbit in addition to the two it launched in 2012 and 2016. The U.S. claims the test will lead to North Korea’s development of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Now add to this the joint South Korea-U.S. military drills that began March 1 and will not conclude until the end of April. Yonhap, a South Korean news agency, reported a military official shared, under anonymity, that “special operations forces, including the unit that killed Osama Bin Laden, will take part in joint military drills to practice incapacitating North Korean leadership in the case of conflict.”

It’s no wonder Tillerson and Trump aren’t the only ones a little upset. It sort of makes sense why Kim Jong-un is flexing a little muscle. But that’s not the only thing going on…

A little history

In January of last year, North Korea tested a nuclear device that Kim Jon-un claimed was a hydrogen bomb. According to Reuters, the White House considers North Korea’s move as mere propaganda, “We are obviously going to continue to look at this by monitoring the situation, assessing the available data and evidence. But the initial analysis is not consistent with claims that the regime has made a successful [underground] hydrogen bomb test,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said during a press briefing.

In February 2016, Obama responded by imposing sanctions created by Congress, and in July he made the decision to provide South Korea with the THAAD system in South Korea.

Lockheed Martin’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) is now being deployed by the U.S. in South Korea. According to the Lockheed Martin website, THAAD is a globally-transportable, rapidly-deployable capability to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles inside or outside the atmosphere during their final, or terminal, phase of flight.” The system intercepts missiles at high-altitudes to “mitigate effects of enemy weapons of mass destruction before they reach the ground.”

Not only is North Korea unhappy with THAAD, “Thousands of residents in the town of Seongju, the site for the U.S. system, rallied and demanded the government cancel its decision.” Seoul and Washington officials defend the decision as needed because of the “increasing North Korean military threats.” (AP)

China is also displeased and “has repeatedly voiced opposition to the THAAD radar, claiming the system could monitor military movements within Chinese borders.” (UPI) And, of course, the U.S. says it would never, ever do such a thing.

North Korea responded by testing another bomb in September—still not a hydrogen bomb.

The installation of THAAD began early last month and China “has now banned many imports from South Korea and stopped Chinese tourist groups from traveling there to try to prompt Seoul to change its mind on the missile system.” (Washington Post)

Alternative (but nonfiction) fact

Tillerson is calling the policies of past U.S. administrations a collective “failure.” Fortunately, that isn’t entirely true. The Clinton administration was able to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program for eight years, from 1994—2002. Former President Carter is primarily responsible in initiation of negotiations that lead to an agreement and it wasn’t done with sanctions and it wasn’t done with military threats. The end result is called the Agreed Framework, a political agreement signed by North Korea and the United States in 1994 – a good thing for which Clinton should be remembered, but few do.

In the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was similar to the situation happening today. North Korea was threatening to develop nuclear weapons and it had withdrawn from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and threatened to throw out the inspectors. The United States’ response was to call for sanctions and its Department of Defense was drawing up plans for an invasion. Fortunately “Clinton and his advisers suspected that the North Koreans did not want a war but could not tolerate the humiliation of capitulating to IAEA demands.” This is when Carter stepped in with permission from the White House and “accepted a long-standing invitation from President Kim il-ung.” (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter traveled to North Korea in June 1994 as representatives of The Carter Center. “Following two days of talks, President Kim agreed to freeze North Korea’s nuclear program in exchange for the resumption of a dialogue with the United States—the first between the U.S. and North Korea in 40 years.” (Carter Center) The U.S. and North Korea signed the agreement on October 21 of that year. In it North Korea agreed to suspend its nuclear weapons program and to allow monitoring by IAEA inspectors. The United States also agreed to build two light-water reactors—which would not produce plutonium—in North Korea by 2003 and would supply the country with fuel oil until them.=

The Agreed Framework also called for the two nations to work toward normalizing relations, which didn’t happen, and for North Korea to begin dialogue with South Korea, which did happen.

Then came GW

South Korean President Kim Dae Jung won the 2000 Nobel Prize for his implementation of the “Sunny Policy,” a policy meant to improve relations with North Korea by “encouraging interaction and economic assistance.” (Wikipedia) When Kim met with George W. Bush in March 2001, Bush made it plain that his administration viewed North Korea’s Kim Jong-il as “untrustworthy” and the high-level negotiations, initiated by Clinton, would not continue. Kim was stunned as it would be difficult for South Korea to continue engaging the North without U.S. involvement.

“Kim felt obliged to make a public appeal for Bush to reconsider. ‘We must not lose this opportunity. Without progress between the U.S. and North Korea, advances in South-North Korean relations will be difficult to achieve,’ he warned, suggesting that Pyongyang, in the absence of further engagement by Washington, may revert to its prior pattern of angry isolation and provocation.” (Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service)

But the real slap in the face would not happen until January 2002 during G.W.’s first State of the Union Address. First he describes North Korea as “a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.” (See sidebar.) He then goes on to describe North Korea, Iraq, and Iran (“and their terrorist allies”) as constituting “an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States.”

Later in mid-summer—and this is something that should seem somewhat familiar that also backs up Bush’s State of the Union claim—the CIA decides North Korea had a secret uranium enrichment program. According to PBS Frontline, the CIA had been collecting evidence “since the middle of Clinton’s second term. The uranium enrichment program is different from the plutonium-based program that Pyongyang agreed to freeze during negotiations for the 1994 Agreed Framework; however the U.S. will later argue that North Korea had violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the agreement.”

In October, the Assistant Secretary of State James Kelley confronts the North Koreans about the CIA’s allegations. According to U.S. officials, North Korea “admits to the program but refuses to end it.” (PBS Frontline) In November, the shipments of oil, agreed to under the Agreed Framework, are stopped and the work on the light-water reactors suspended.

“In response, North Korea expelled the IAEA inspectors in December 2002, withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and restarted the Yongbyon nuclear reactor. After reprocessing the fuel rods, North Korea tested a nuclear weapon in October 2006.” (The Carter Center)

The truth will out

Now you think that would be the end of that, but it’s not. Remember the lies that the Bush Administration made against Saddam Hussein about the same time it was making accusations against North Korea? How Saddam had weapons of mass destruction? Yeah, it’s same thing here.

In March of 2007, Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post wrote an article titled, “New doubts on nuclear efforts by North Korea.” In it he writes “The Bush administration is backing away from its long-held assertions that North Korea has an active clandestine program to enrich uranium, leading some experts to believe that the original U.S. intelligence that started the crisis over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions may have been flawed.

“The chief intelligence officer for North Korea, Joseph R. DeTrani, told Congress on Tuesday that while there is ‘high confidence’ North Korea acquired materials that could be used in a ‘production-scale’ uranium program, there is now only ‘mid-confidence’ such a program exists. Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill, the chief negotiator for disarmament talks, told a conference last week in Washington that it is unclear whether North Korea ever mastered the production techniques necessary for such a program.”

As for the October 2002 admission by a senior North Korean official that there was a uranium-enrichment program, North Korea had denied that any such admission took place. While “U.S. participants at the meeting said in interviews there was little dispute at the time North Korea appeared to be admitting the program, one said the admission was more ‘tonal’—such as the North Korean official’s belligerent attitude—than would appear in the transcript of the discussion.”

What do the North Koreans really want?

William Perry, former Secretary of Defense under Bill Clinton, was present at the negotiations that led to the Agreed Framework in 1994. In his Washington Post article (January 6), Perry wrote “during my discussions and negotiations with members of the North Korean government, I have found that they are not irrational, nor do they have the objective of achieving martyrdom. Their goals, in order of priority, are: preserving the Kim dynasty, gaining international respect and improving their economy.” So why the desire and effort by such a small and economically-depressed nation in developing nuclear weapons technology to the irritation of the world’s only super power?

As Scott Snyder of the Council of Foreign Relations testified at the Senate hearings, “North Korea has decided—based on lessons from Iran, Iraq, and Libya—that its only sure means of survival is to be too nuclear to fail.”

North Koreans watched—with the rest of us—the invasion of Iraq, and the videos of Kaddafi’s brutal murder and Hillary Clinton laughing; have read the news that reported the U.S. assassination of unarmed Osama bin Laden whose body was soon after dumped in the ocean; and have seen the statistics about the drone program that has killed so many innocents. The North Koreans have good reason to fear the U.S. – why should they worry if they are called paranoid?

Of Bush’s axis of evil, Korea is what one might call “the last nation standing”

Last month, in his article covering the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on North Korea, Jim Lobe wrote “In general, the [Senate] hearing reflected the U.S. view that America is an innocent bystander in a peninsula it has dominated militarily for 71 years. According to this conceptual framework, held by both Democrats and Republicans, massive U.S. military exercises conducted several times a year with South Korea, the Pentagon’s frequent dispatches of nuclear-armed warplanes to the peninsula, and a military alliance with a high-tech Japan have nothing to do with Pyongyang’s fears.”

As CNN reported “Beijing has been irked by calls that it isn’t doing enough to lessen tensions.” China’s position is that this is “an issue between the United States and North Korea.” And more to the point, China’s official press agency, the Xinhua News, stated “Washington needs to talk to North Korea, not terrorize it.

As proven during the Bush and Obama administrations, sanctions and military might meant to intimidate have not worked, will not work. The Global Times, the China government tabloid, commented that “the extreme isolation from the international community hasn’t been able to bring Pyongyang to its knees. Even if China cuts ties with [North Korea], there won’t be any difference. Washington needs to be reminded that its sanctions in history failed to topple any regime.”

North Korea knows that capitulating and meeting Washington’s demands is a fool’s errand and they likely would prefer to go down fighting. The only method that has been successful in the last 25 years is negotiation.

As William Perry stated, “I believe it is time to try diplomacy… We lost the opportunity to negotiate with a non-nuclear North Korea when we cut off negotiations in 2001, before it had a nuclear arsenal. The most we can reasonably expect today is an agreement that lowers the dangers of that arsenal. The goals would be an agreement with Pyongyang to not export nuclear technology, to conduct no further nuclear testing and to conduct no further ICBM testing. These goals are worth achieving and, if we succeed, could be the basis for a later discussion of a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula.”

It is also long past time that the United States sign a peace treaty ending the Korean War. When that happens maybe we can move towards normalizing our relationship with North Korea, restore South Korea’s Sunshine Policy, and tell the weapons industry to “take a hike.”

North Korea is not the crazy, rogue nation it has been made out to be—far from it.

Sylvia Smith is a graduate of Evergreen, a long-time WIPster, and a resident of Thurston County.


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