Where does North Korea come on the Bush agenda

by Paul White

New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh, a participant in White House strategy meetings, has offered this assessment of where the US administration stands on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea): “Bush and Cheney want that guy’s (Kim Jong Il’s) head on a platter. Don’t be distracted by all this talk about negotiations. There will be negotiations, but they have a plan, and they are going to get this guy after Iraq. He’s their version of Hitler.”

The historian Bruce Cummings phrases this more elegantly, but to the same effect. He describes the US administration as harbouring an “exterminist hatred” rooted in the fact that North Korea fought the US to a standstill in the 1950s and has resisted its power ever since. The Bush administration’s hatred for Kim Jong Il will be appeased by nothing short of regime change.

Bush has reversed all Clinton’s gains in the 1990s, which saw positive moves toward a peaceful resolution of the last Cold War standoff. First came the Agreed Framework in 1994, by which NK ended its building of nuclear power stations which had the potential to produce material for nuclear weapons. The US promised to help the North build “safe” power stations, meanwhile supplying it with the fuel it needs to keep its buildings heated and its industry running. Clinton brokered the first-ever south-North summit in 2000. The first visit by a Japanese prime minister to Pyongyang broke the ground for normalization between the two countries. The European Union countries rushed to set up full diplomatic relations with Pyongyang. Economic cooperation between the south and the north, as well as cultural, tourism and other ventures started going full steam ahead. For the first time since the Korean War (1950–1953), road and rail links are being restored between the two halves of the divided peninsula. South Korean business people are eager to invest in the north’s new export development zones.

Then George W. Bush came to power. One of the first things he did was to summon then-President of South Korea Kim Dae-jung, and tell him that his “sunshine policy” towards the north smacked of dangerous appeasement. He included North Korea in the “Axis of Evil,” and halted work on the nuclear energy project and stopped oil shipments to the North. Following this, he sent Deputy Secretary of State James Kelly to Pyongyang to accuse the North of violating the Agreed Framework by pursuing a secret nuclear weapons program. The North denied the allegation.

It is most important in this context to note that Kelly produced no evidence of his accusation, although the major media in the West assured the gullible public that the Northern side had admitted to having such a programme “in the face of overwhelming evidence.” On Dec. 11, 2002, two months after his bombshell accusation, in a speech titled “George W. Bush and Asia: A Midterm Assessment” given at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington D.C., Kelly said, “I did NOT confront the Vice Foreign Minister [Kang Sok Ju] with specific evidence of its uranium enrichment programme, but I was emphatic [that we knew about it].”

Pyongyang then withdrew from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, kicked out UN inspectors, and announced that it was starting a nuclear weapons programme.

At first sight, this looks like a disastrous foreign policy blunder on Bush’s part. But was it? Perhaps everything was going to plan.

Zbigniew Brzeziński, an old US foreign policy hawk may shed some light on this way of thinking: “The three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together.” The historian Gavan McCormack elaborates on this: “Throughout the developing Bush imperium, vassals ingratiate their way into imperial favour, tributaries nervously weigh options to retain some measure of autonomy, and barbarians sharpen their spears. Of its vassals, the empire demands sycophantic dependence; of its tributaries, obedience; of its enemies unconditional surrender. In East Asia, the wishes of the imperial regime are echoed in Tokyo (the vassal), questioned in Seoul (the tributary) and contested in Pyongyang (the barbarian). The possibility of tributary Seoul and barbarian Pyongyang actually coming together is a nightmare scenario for the US, for this empire, like all empires, stands or falls not on the military force it can project, but on its ability to convince vassals, tributaries and barbarians alike of its invincibility.”

North Korea was founded by guerrilla bands which had fought the Japanese occupiers for decades. It has lived in the nuclear age under constant threat of nuclear attack—first by General McArthur during the Korean War and right up until Bush included it two years ago in a first-strike scenario. It has lived under a US trade and investment embargo for 20 years longer than Cuba has. Pyongyang is looking for ways to open up and relieve its people of continual tension and deprivation. The international community is keen to help it do so, and thereby remove at least one possible source of global trouble. But disappearance of the “North Korean threat” would remove the justification for US military bases in South Korea and Japan and for the construction of an anti-missile system in the region. Besides, growing economic cooperation between the two Koreas undermines the US embargo on the North by introducing foreign investment and helping the North build up export industries so that it can earn foreign currency and raise its standard of living by integrating with the international trade order.

If there’s one thing we can say about George W. Bush it’s that the prospect of global trouble doesn’t worry him one little bit. It’s the prospect of global peace that keeps him awake at night. The only glimmer of hope in this region is that Pyongyang and Beijing have a mutual defence pact: Attack one, and you find yourself at war with the other as well. I hope Condoleeza Rice knows about this—and reminds her boss!

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