28,000 U.S. troops are occupying the Korean peninsula. Most are stationed near the 38th parallel, which borders North Korea.Is it possible that there could be a new war between North Korea and the United States? The answer is unquestionably yes, but it requires some additional clarification.
Neither side wants war at the moment. They have different goals.
The Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea or North Korea is seeking to defuse tensions, to eliminate punishing economic sanctions and to normalize relations with the U.S. government. The Bush administration is seeking to overthrow the North Korean government.
North Korea detonated its first nuclear test on Oct. 9. It asserted its right to develop such weapons as long as it was being threatened by the largest nuclear power in the world.
After the U.N. Security Council approved new economic and military sanctions against North Korea on Oct. 14, North Korea’s U.N. ambassador, Pak Gil Yon, told the council that his country “would no longer need to possess even a single nuke when it is no longer exposed to the United States’ threat, after it dropped its hostile policy towards [the north] and confidence has been built between the two countries.”
A recent poll showed that more than 40 percent of the people in South Korea hold the U.S. government responsible for the deepening crisis.
Bogged down as it is by the armed resistance forces in Iraq, the United States seems hardly in shape for another military conflict in another region of the world. Yet the Bush administration’s provocative acts and its economic warfare against North Korea have set the stage for an intensifying confrontation.
The Bush administration does not want a war, but it wants to overthrow the government of North Korea. North Korea is using its ability to produce nuclear weapons as leverage to demand an end to hostility, threats and sanctions from the United States. The country is firmly and militantly trying to defend itself from the U.S. plans for “regime change.”
Although neither side desires war, the confrontation is deepening. History provides countless examples of unanticipated military conflicts and wars. The U.S. anti-war and labor movements should expose the absolute responsibility of U.S. imperialism for this deepening crisis.
Resolution 1718, drafted by the United States and adopted by the U.N. Security Council on Oct. 14 authorizes U.N. member states to interdict and search cargo ships going to and from North Korean ports for weapons and weapons material. It also adopts comprehensive economic, financial and military sanctions aimed at strangling North Korea’s economy.
Following North Korea’s announcement that it carried out a test of a nuclear device, President Bush went on national television proclaiming that North Korea posed “a grave threat.” This language was last used by Bush in January 2003 to describe the government of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
In recent months, the Bush administration has applied pressure on international banks, demanding that they cut off credit to North Korea and prevent it from obtaining the hard currency necessary for the purchase of oil and other strategic industrial commodities.
During the past twelve months Stuart Levey, U.S. Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, has visited banks throughout Europe and in Singapore, China, Macao, Hong Kong, Vietnam and South Korea. Levey’s message has been simple: if these banks want to do any business with the United States or with any international financial institutions, they have to shut down any operation or business with North Korea.
This is a global full-court press on North Korea.
The Koreans have said that any additional U.N. sanctions would be considered a “declaration of war” and that they will take counter-measures. The stage has now been set for major and rapid escalation.
Should North Korea carry out another nuclear test, or if the U.S. government can find some other pretext, the stage will be set for an expanding conflict. The Bush administration is hoping that the North Korean government implodes under the pressure.
But the leaders of North Korea are determined to resist the full recolonization of their country. They have had in place what they call an “army first” policy since the cold counter-revolutions overthrew the Soviet Union, East Germany and the other Eastern European governments between 1989-1991.
The ever-vapid bourgeois “liberal” critics of Bush’s war in Iraq condemn the White House for being bogged down in Iraq and, thus, “unable to deal with the real nuclear threat threat from North Korea.” This position badly misleads progressive anti-Bush public opinion.
Not only is North Korea the victim and not the aggressor, but U.S. imperialism and its military collosus will certainly climb the escalation ladder if North Korea takes additional steps in its own defense.
No one should ever forget the official reason given by the U.S. government for refusing to sign the international treaty banning land mines. Peace crusaders brought worldwide attention to the need to ban these horrific weapons that are universally reviled because they have killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of civilians. The United States refused to sign the treaty because it stated that they may be needed in a new Korean War.
A war that has never ended
In both a formal and legal sense, the two countries are already at war and have been since June 25, 1950.
The United States led the invasion of Korea in late June 1950, but it was officially carried out under the name of the United Nations. Between 1950 and 1953, more than 5 million Koreans perished, most of them civilians. (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1967) Thirty-six thousand U.S. soldiers also died. The U.S. Air Force, flying under the flag of this great “world peace” organization, leveled every building north of the 38th parallel.
While it devastated the peninsula, the U.S.-U.N. forces were defeated in their effort to smash the socialist government in North Korea. They were driven out of the north and back below the 38th parallel by the combined military counteroffensive of the Korean People’s Army and nearly one million Chinese volunteers in December 1950.
The two sides signed a truce in July 1953, but the United States has refused to sign a peace treaty with North Korea. Thus, the two sides technically are at war. This has given the United States a flimsy pretext to station tens of thousands of U.S. troops in South Korea for more than a half century. It has also imposed economic and financial sanctions against North Korea just it has maintained the blockade of Cuba.
Current crisis could lead to renewed war
The Bush administration has been engaged in a behind-the-scenes effort to crush the government of North Korea.
A combination of ever tightening economic and financial sanctions has been imposed in recent years at the same time that the U.S. military has conducted large scale military war games simulating the bombing and invasion of North Korea. This is a classic destabilization strategy
North Korea’s once robust economy had already been reeling for more than a decade following the overthrow of the Soviet Union and other socialist governments of Eastern Europe. When its main trading partners were overthrown, the North Korean economy suffered a major nosedive from the loss of energy supplies and industrial spare parts.
Declaring in January 2002 that North Korea was part of an “axis of evil” along with Iraq and Iran, it was abundantly clear to the government in Pyongyang that the goal of the Bush administration was to smash the North Korean state.
It was then that North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and expelled the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency. North Korea forthrightly proclaimed that it would embark on developing nuclear weapons as a form of self-defense.
Although the United States possesses 16,000 nuclear weapons, has an annual military budget of over half a trillion dollars, and maintains 37,000 soldiers on Korean soil, John Bolton, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said that North Korea’s detonation of one low-yield nuclear device was the biggest threat to world peace in recent times.
The stakes are high in the Korean Peninsula. As long as U.S. imperialism and the other major capitalist powers possess nuclear weapons, it is understandable and valid for their intended victims to seek the means to defend themselves.
While all sane people desire an end to the scourge of nuclear weapons, a pacifist appeal to the imperialists to give up their weapons won’t change anything. The lessening of tensions in Korea and in northeast Asia requires a militant defense of the sovereignty and independence of North Korea.
The U.S. anti-war movement must be crystal clear that real war makers are in Washington, D.C., not Pyongyang.