Update: Happy 65th birthday Mr Kim!
North Korea's Nuclear Bombshell Reveals US Hypocrisy
There are reports that North Korea may be preparing to test a nuclear device. Once again, Kim Jong Il has the rest of the world hanging on his every action. Once again he has won the diplomatic battle because he controls the entire plot.
The great advantage of being a pariah state is that one doesn't have to worry about what anyone else says. Especially, when the others doing all the talking are hypocrites. Nuclear non-proliferation is America's policy -- but only so long as it suits them. North Korea is doing nothing that hasn't been done before by India and Pakistan and Israel. But it plays into the USA's plans for global hegemony to allow these to countries to play the nuclear card and to deny the same to North Korea, and Iran.
Can you imagine what America would do if North Korea had nuclear-armed submarines sailing around just as the aggressively destructive Israelis do? Can you imagine the outraged consequences of North Korea selling nuclear technology to third world dictators as Pakistan and its intelligence community has done? And yet Israel and Pakistan are close allies of the US, receiving billions upon billions of US taxpayers' money to continue their nuclear adventures.
Hypocrisy, hypocrisy, hypocrisy! And all paid for with dollars stolen out of the working populations' pockets.
Land of Bliss and Fairyland
As regular readers will know, I have a certain fascination with life in North Korea. After all, where else would you have celebrations to honour the 20th anniversary since leader Kim Jong Il's "famous" work "On Improving and Strengthening Land Administration" was made public. The DPRK News Agency assures me that, under the wise tutelage of this brilliant analysis,
"[m]ountains of the country have been covered with trees of good species through a mass tree-planting campaign. Such beauty spots as Mts. Chilbo, Kuwol and Jongbang have been equipped with better conditions necessary for recreation grounds and other scenic spots including Songam Cavern and Ulrim Waterfalls have been found and visited by a large number of people. Many towns and counties have been facelifted.""
North Korean Minister of Land and Environment Preservation Jang Il Son, citing the anniversary,
"called upon all the officials and working people to turn out in a gargantuan campaign to convert the country into a socialist land of bliss and fairyland in the Songun era under the great Songun leadership of the Party and translate Kim Jong Il's far-reaching plan into reality."
You can't make this stuff up, folks. But when the joking is over, the fact remains that 23 million people live under the hard heels of a brutal egomaniac and his all-powerful Army.
While it is clear that the North Korean regime has an extraordinary ability to restrict unwanted information getting to its own people, and that it spends inordinate sums on internal propaganda, a recent article in Der Speigel suggests that the people still fight back when pushed too far. In a new book about North Korea, Jasper Becker, a British author and journalist living in Beijing, writes that "factories, military units, and even entire towns revolted against the leadership in Pyongyang."
"Becker obtained details about the biggest labor demonstrations in North Korea's history, which took place in 1998 in the industrial city of Songrim. The protests began on a cold February morning after the public execution of eight men, all managers at the Hwanghae Iron and Steel Works. Their crime? In an effort to provide food for the workers and their families, they sold parts of the factory to Chinese businessmen. Even though many of Songrim's inhabitants were starving at the time, the attempt to circumvent the defunct public supply system to obtain food was considered sabotage and treason ... A few hours later ... the factory's employees stopped working. The peaceful protest was short-lived. The next morning, tanks broke through the factory gates and mowed down the demonstrators. According to eyewitness reports, hundreds lost their lives. Several days later, dozens of suspected agitators were shot, and countless so-called counter-revolutionaries and their families were taken away to labor camps."
Most observers agree that the economic and food situation in North Korea is better now than it was in the 1990s. However, CNN quotes one leading Korean scholar as saying that, even today "it's quite easy to spot North Koreans criticizing their regime and Kim Jong Il in public." The same observer, perhaps indulging in wishful fantasy, links this to reports that official portraits of the Leader have been removed from public spaces.
"So these recent incidents surrounding his title and portraits in the official buildings may be an indication that Kim Jong Il is aware of the criticism toward his regime and is lowering the level of personality cult around him in order to appease the public sentiment."
However, the DPRK News Agency has furiously denied that portraits have been removed, and diplomatic reports suggest that nothing unusual is afoot.
Kim Jong Il has confounded his critics many times before. He acts the buffoon -- in our eyes, at least -- but he has a native survival intelligence and an equally native brutality. It will take quite some upheaval to overthrow him.
Mad Kim the Nuclear Magician
There are reports of a mushroom-cloud explosion in North Korea. Apparently it happened on Thursday, the anniversay of the foundation of the State. Other reports, like this one from the New York Times, describe activity that looks a lot like preparations for a nuclear test.
Looks probable that the madness that is the hermit kingdom has officially become member number 9 in the Nuclear Club.
Kim Jong-il, his father, and the central core of the DPRK's military leadership have proved that total totalitarianism can overcome almost any deficiencies in money and resources. I am reminded strongly of the Egyptian pharoahs whose total domination of a slave population allowed the creation of such monoliths as the great pyramids. Perhaps the regime's most impressive feat has been its ability to insulate its population from the influences of the outside world. The US, South Korea, Japan and all of their western allies, along with Russia, China and their various satelites, have bombarded North Korea with radio, TV and other messages for 40 years. And it has all been deflected in a massive and successful effort at absolute mind control. I doubt that there are jungles still deep enough to have populations less familiar wih the outside world than today live in North Korea.
Add to this a potent brand of internal propaganda that swamps even rumour in its ubiquity and you develop an entire nation with the inner cohesion of a cult, where identification with the nation and the party rather than with the individual is considered the biological norm. From this comes a particular type of strength. My guess based on reading various academic studies is that North Korea is militarily undefeatable, in the sense that its defences are so strong -- entire city infrastructures hundreds of feet below ground in nuclear-proof bunkers, a million man army, extensive stocks of missiles, a dedicated population -- that any attack would involve casualties too high for the attacking nation to sustain politically.
What then to do with North Korea? Beats me, but I'm thinking that the capitalist option should be to bribe North Korea in a massive way. If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em. Kim and his people have already proved themselves to be excellent poker players and so the cost is going to be very high. But is the alternative any cheaper?
Bush's Dangerous Failure in North Korea
In last month's Washington Monthly, Fred Kaplan treats us to a long article about the US government's attitude towards and action concerned with North Korea's nuclear weapons program. He argues with documented plausibility that Bush's foreign policy team dropped the ball after significant advances in the 1990s. And that this failure has led to ever more dangerous complications in the region.
Kaplan notes the North Koreans' constant search for nuclear technology, in the form of centrifuges and similar equipment. However, as he points out,
"the North Koreans had another route to nuclear weapons--a stash of radioactive fuel rods, taken a decade earlier from its nuclear power plant in Yongbyon. These rods could be processed into plutonium--and, from that, into A-bombs--not in years but in months. Thanks to an agreement brokered by the Clinton administration, the rods were locked in a storage facility under the monitoring of international weapons-inspectors. Common sense dictated that--whatever it did about the centrifuges--the Bush administration should do everything possible to keep the fuel rods locked up. Unfortunately, common sense was in short supply. After a few shrill diplomatic exchanges over the uranium, Pyongyang upped the ante. The North Koreans expelled the international inspectors, broke the locks on the fuel rods, loaded them onto a truck, and drove them to a nearby reprocessing facility, to be converted into bomb-grade plutonium."This looks to me like a typical far-right issue of ideological stubbornness overriding reasonable judgement. Kaplan agrees, but more comprehensively:
"The pattern of decision making that led to this debacle ... will sound familiar to anyone who has watched Bush and his cabinet in action. It is a pattern of wishful thinking, blinding moral outrage, willful ignorance of foreign cultures, a naive faith in American triumphalism, a contempt for the messy compromises of diplomacy, and a knee-jerk refusal to do anything the way the Clinton administration did it."Kaplan rehearses the 1994 scare during which Clinton was seriously considering war to stop the reprocessing of the rods, making on-the-ground preparations that persuaded Pyongyang he was serious. At the same time, he sent Jimmy Carter on a "private" mission to the country to negotiate on his behalf.
"Clinton's cabinet was divided over whether to let Carter go. Officials who had served under Carter--Clinton's secretary of state, Warren Christopher, and national security adviser, Anthony Lake--opposed the trip. Carter, they warned, was a loose cannon who would ignore his orders and free-lance a deal. Vice President Al Gore favored the trip, seeing no other way out of the crisis. Clinton sided with Gore. As Clinton saw it, Kim Il Sung had painted himself into a corner and needed an escape hatch--a clear path to back away from the brink without losing face, without appearing to buckle under pressure from the U.S. government. Carter might offer that hatch.The agreement unfortunately had a sorry history thereafter, with both sides failing to meet the basic terms. However, the nuclear rods stayed locked up. By 2000, relations had warmed again and Clinton felt he was close to a genuine agreement with the North Koreans. During the transition in the winter of 2000/2001,
Both sides in this internal debate turned out to be right. Kim agreed to back down. And Carter went way beyond his instructions, negotiating the outlines of a treaty and announcing the terms live on CNN, notifying Clinton only minutes in advance.
Four months later, on Oct. 21, 1994, the United States and North Korea signed a formal accord based on those outlines, called the Agreed Framework. Under its terms, North Korea would renew its commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, lock up the fuel rods, and let the IAEA inspectors back in to monitor the facility. In exchange, the United States, with financial backing from South Korea and Japan, would provide two light-water nuclear reactors for electricity (explicitly allowed under the NPT), a huge supply of fuel oil, and a pledge not to invade North Korea."
"The Clinton team briefed Powell for two hours on the status of the North Korean talks. Halfway into the briefing, Condoleezza Rice, the new national security adviser, who had just flown in from meeting with Bush in Texas, showed up. One participant remembers Powell listening to the briefing with enthusiasm. Rice, however, was clearly skeptical. "The body language was striking," he says. "Powell was leaning forward. Rice was very much leaning backward. Powell thought that what we had been doing formed an interesting basis for progress. He was disabused very quickly."The new President's people made it clear to Powell that his public pleasure at the possibility of such an agreement had to be publicly disavowed. Powell was forced to tell the world that he had leaned "too forward in my skis." At the same time, Bush himself publicly bitch-slapped Kim Dae Jung, President of South Korea, who had developed an open "sunshine" policy toward his northern brethren, and who was therefore seen as left-wing and weak.
"So when Kim Dae Jung arrived in Washington, Bush publicly criticized him and his sunshine policy. Bush and his advisers--especially Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld--decided not only to isolate North Korea, in the hopes that its regime would crumble, but also to ignore South Korea, in hopes that its next election would restore a conservative.These were indeed tense days and nights. In January 2002, Bush linked North Korea with Iran and Iraq in his "Axis of Evil" State of the Union address. At the same same time, he was planning for a visit to South Korea. Charles "Jack" Pritchard, who had been director of the National Security Council's Asia desk under Clinton and was now the State Department's special North Korean envoy, went to Soeul with the advance team:
Bush was the naïve one, it turned out. Kim Jong-il survived U.S. pressures. And Kim Dae Jung was replaced by Roh Moo Hyun, a populist who ran on a campaign that was not only pro-sunshine but also anti-American."
"The conversation in the streets of Seoul was, 'Is there going to be a war? What will these crazy Americans do?' Roh said to us, 'I wake up in a sweat every morning, wondering if Bush has done something unilaterally to affect the [Korean] peninsula."By September of 2002, it was clear that the west was never going to finance the reactors they had promised. At the same time, it became equally clear that the North Koreans werre making an end run arounf the Non-Proliferation Agreement by obtaining centrifuges from Pakistan. At this time, the North Korean situation became complicated with the developing situation in Iraq.
"On Oct. 4, Kelly flew to Pyongyang to confront North Korean officials with the evidence. The North Koreans admitted it was true. For almost two weeks, the Bush administration kept this meeting a secret. The U.S. Senate was debating a resolution to give President Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq. The public rationale for war was that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. If it was known that North Korea was also making WMDs--and nuclear weapons, at that--it would have muddied the debate over Iraq. Some would have wondered whether Iraq was the more compelling danger--or asked why Bush saw a need for war against Iraq but not against North Korea. The Senate passed the Iraqi war resolution on Oct. 11. The Bush administration publicly revealed what it had known for weeks about North Korea's enriched-uranium program on Oct. 17."At this point, everything broke down.
"On Oct. 20, Bush announced that it was formally withdrawing from the 1994 Agreed Framework. It halted oil supplies to North Korea and urged other countries to cut off all economic relations with Pyongyang. The North Koreans, perhaps realizing that they had once again boxed themselves into a diplomatic corner, decided to replay the crisis of 1994: In late December, they expelled the international weapons inspectors, restarted the nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, and unlocked the container holding the fuel rods. On Jan. 10, 2003, they withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty."Howver, at the same time, Pyongyang agreed to halt all re-processing if the US would go back to something similar to Clinton's 1994 Framework Agreement. They also sought unofficial diplomatic channels, most notably through Governor and former Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson. But none of these efforts were destined to work, partly because Richardson was a Clintonite (and therefore automatically anathema to the Bush camp) and partly because the warhawks -- Bush, Rumsfeld, Rice and Cheney -- believed that negotiating with such countries damaged their "moral clarity."
However, when push came to shove and Kim Jong-il felt obliged to go ahead and begin processing of the rods, the Bush regime did nothing.
"Specialists inside the U.S. government were flabbergasted. This was serious business. Once those fuel rods left the storage site, once reprocessing began, once plutonium was manufactured, the strategic situation changed: Even if we could get the North Koreans back to the bargaining table, even if they would agree to drive the fuel rods back, we could never be certain that they'd totally disarmed; we could never know if they still had some undeclared plutonium hidden in an underground chamber. (Even before this crisis, the CIA estimated that the North Koreans might have built one or two bombs from the plutonium it had reprocessed between 1989 and 1994.)The crazy guy -- Kim Jong-Il -- had scalded the tail of the paper tiger and got away with it. Kaplan puts the future situation clearly:
In March 2003, President Bush ordered several attack planes, as well as some B-1 and B-52 bombers, to the U.S. Air Force base in Guam, well within range of North Korea. The clear intent was to signal a possible impending air strike on the reactor. It was a feeble threat, a classic case of shutting the barn door after the horses escaped: By this time, the fuel rods were gone and possibly hidden away. Indeed, Bush made no moves to support, or otherwise prepare for, an air strike; there were no movements of ground or naval forces to deter or beat back a possible North Korean retaliatory strike or invasion. Nor was the movement of air forces accompanied by any diplomatic moves. In May, Bush ordered the aircraft back to their home bases."
"Conservatives today portray Bush's unwillingness to negotiate with Kim as a virtue that will make the world safer, and Clinton's '94 framework as something that rewarded evil and therefore undermined our security. But the simple fact is that if Clinton hadn't signed it, North Korea could have built dozens of nuclear bombs by now--to store as a deterrent, rattle as weapons of intimidation, sell to the highest bidder for much-needed hard currency, or all three. And if steps aren't taken to ward North Korea off its current course, Kim Jong-il could build dozens of bombs over the next few years. This is why, ultimately, Bush's no-negotiations policy is not merely puzzling but irresponsible. Kim may be playing the nuclear card as a bargaining chip, but if the United States declines to bargain, he will gladly keep his chips and stack them high.Late last year, the North Koreans announced that they had completed re-processing the rods. In addition, they said, they had solved the technical problems of converting the material to bombs.
Nor does Bush, at this point, have a plausible military option for thwarting Pyongyang's ambitions before they spiral out of hand. A preemptive strike would be less effective than it might have been in Clinton's day. Bush could destroy the Yongbyon reactor, but the strike probably wouldn't destroy the plutonium or the enriched uranium, which intelligence officials assume is stored underground--precisely where, they don't know. Then there is the possibility of North Korean retaliation, if not with the one or two nukes that they may already have, then with the thousands of artillery shells on the South Korean border, many of them loaded with chemical munitions, most of them within range of Seoul. In short, we have little leverage; the North Koreans have a lot; yet Bush refuses to take the North Koreans up on their offers to trade their weapons away. "
"Bush's failure to make a deal, while the fuel rods were still locked up, constitutes one of the great diplomatic blunders of our time ... The time is already late; at some point, it will run out."
Sounds of Silence
Every morning and evening I travel on the bus to and from work. Every morning and every evening my quiet contemplation is wrecked by a multitude of boring (though occasionally way too explicitly intimate) one-sided conversations as commuters use their cell phones to "keep in touch." I put that in quotes because I think what they are actually doing is conversational masturbation to pass the time in the absence of anything else to do -- and like all masturbation, this is something that I believe is best done out of the public gaze.
This won't be a problem in North Korea, though, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Having allowed mobile phones in November 2002, the commissars have decided that their introduction "caused floods of foreign culture" to invade the country. Mobile phones were, therefore, banned in May of this year.
And you thought there was nothing we could learn from Comrade Kim!!
From The Tongues of Fools ...
Now, I am well aware that Kim Jong Il and his gang of cronies are as wired as Tim Leary on a bad day, and that their craziness is often infectiously funny; but you got to hand it to them, they sure know how to say it out loud:
"Illusion about the U.S. imperialism and capitalism should be removed, Rodong Sinmun says in a signed article today. What is important in the struggle for independence at present is to dispel illusion about the U.S. and other Western powers, says the article. Noting that the capitalist society is a "paradise" for the bourgeois ruling class but a "hell" for the working masses, the article cites concrete data of the corrupt U.S. society to disclose that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer in the capitalist society.Now really, who amongst us hasn't said exactly that to oneself over the last few months?
The capitalist society should be called a society of darkness and a living hell, not the society of bliss, the article says, calling for discerning the essence of "aid," "cooperation" and "peace" touted by the U.S. and the West.
They force other countries to accept their reactionary political system and economic form in return for "aid" and "joint exploitation", talking about the advantages of their system and form and in this way they seek to Americanize and Westernize other countries, the article says, warning that anyone may be taken in by their art of disguise if he loosens vigilance against it.
As a wolf cannot change into a sheep, so the aggressive and plunderous nature of the U.S. imperialists never changes, the article says, adding that it is their trite method to wield moneybag in one hand and a stick in the other to achieve their dominationist purpose.
All those countries and people aspiring after independence and progress should correctly understand that any illusion about U.S. imperialism and capitalism will lead to death, ruin and subjugation, the article stresses, and notes: All the revolutionary parties and people should hold fast to the anti-U.S. independent stand and allow no slightest illusion about capitalism."
News From The Hermit Kingdom
North Korea is one of my favourite countries to think about. It seems quite impossible in this day and age that a whole industrialised people can be maintained in complete isolation from the entire globe. But the dictators have managed to do it. Juche, Songun, and the primacy of the Army in the life of the Nation rule as they have for fifty years. From the outside it is a fascinating study of absolute control.
While the rest of us wring our hands over images from Iraq, or chatter about the latest playoff gossip, and wonder whether she is still sleeping with him, the people of North Korea are more focused on matters of seriousness. Yesterday's editorial in the State newspaper Rodong Sinmum, as reported by the State news agency, explains what is important:
"All the servicepersons of the People's Army and people of the DPRK should live and struggle in a strained and revolutionary manner with more transparent anti-imperialist class consciousness than ever before, says Rodong Sinmun today in an editorial. It goes on: Transparent anti-imperialist class consciousness serves as a weapon of conviction that should be firmly maintained in the present confrontation without gunfire. The world greeted the new century and old generation is replaced by a new generation but there should not be any change in the class consciousness and fighting tradition of the revolutionary ranks.And "standing guard" against these dangers apparently means digging down -- a lot. That there are whole towns and industrial areas underground, I was aware. But this item at strategy page surprised me with news of marine caves for their Navy. Also
Everybody should judge and treat all issues arising in the revolution and construction from the viewpoint of the anti-imperialist class struggle as required by the Songun idea and deal merciless blows at the U.S. imperialists hatching sinister plots to gnaw at the ideology and system of the DPRK and destabilize it. The servicepersons and people should have bitter hatred for the reviving Japanese militarists and strong ideological awareness and determination to revenge themselves on the Japanese militarists, the sworn enemy of the Korean people, at any cost and give vent to their pent-up grudge.
They should live and struggle in a revolutionary and militant manner with the firm stand and viewpoint that they should wage a do-or-die battle with the U.S. and Japanese imperialists any time and they emerge victorious in it without fail.
It is necessary to learn from the staunch anti-imperialist class consciousness and revolutionary and militant spirit displayed by the People's Army standing firm guard over the anti-imperialist military front, the main front of the Songun revolution.
The editorial calls for always maintaining high revolutionary vigilance against the imperialists' ideological and cultural poisoning and psychological offensive, thoroughly reject and oppose them, firmly defend the ideology and system of the DPRK, the Korean style political mode, economic management system and way of living and give full play to their vitality."
"the tunnels dug by the North Korean Army beneath the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) separating North Korea from the democratic South. Between 1974 and 1990 four tunnels were detected by American and South Korea forces. These tunnels were up to 3,000 meters in length and were capable of infiltrating up to 30,000 troops an hour, including light-armored vehicles and artillery. One tunnel even had a small plaza in which troops could be called into formation. South Korean sources speculate that up to 20 more tunnels may be lying dormant beneath the DMZ."Archaeologists often speculate on the nature of ancient societies that could devote inordinate amounts of societal resources on the construction of Pyramids and stone circles and similar structures. I suspect that the North Korea of today may well provide a useful guide to the level of authoritarian brutality required.