“North Korea’s continued work on its nuclear and missile programs seriously undermines regional and international peace and security, and threatens the security of a number of countries, including the United States.” – US envoy to the United Nations, Susan Rice
There’s nothing quite like the foreign policy outbursts of the United States government. The bravado always astounds. In just one short sentence, the Obama administration not only accuse North Korea of a diabolic plan to use its nuclear program to terrorize the world, but also – and most importantly – presents itself as a country that is willing to brave these threats in order to safeguard international peace. And it seems they are not alone: after the UN Security Council’s emergency meeting on 12 February – which took place only 12 hours after North Korea’s nuclear test – the entire 15 member Security Council joined the United States and pledged to “take significant action” on North Korea. This condemnation of North Korea's nuclear test should not be taken lightly, as when it comes to matters of nuclear weapons the UN Security Council clearly knows what it’s talking about. In 2012 it was estimated that the current 15 member Security Council has 17,055 nuclear weapons between them; 16,965 of which are the property of the five Permanent Security Council Members (France, United Kingdom, China, Russia and the USA). We can only hope that the extensive nuclear armouries of these five countries – the largest history has ever seen – does not conflict with their duty as Permanent Security Council members to safeguard international peace.
Undeterred by these apparent contradictions, the United States have ruled that North Korea is simply incapable of dealing with the pressures and responsibilities involved with maintaining a nuclear arsenal, and consequently are a “global threat”. This is despite the well known fact that the North Koreans are not currently able to engineer a “miniaturized” nuclear device small enough to be fitted to a missile, and furthermore, only have enough plutonium and uranium supplies for 4-8 nuclear weapons – significantly less than the 4,950 active nuclear weapons currently owned by the US. Such self-righteous and partisan foreign policy declarations of the US government is a clear example that there are two standards in world politics: one that applies to the United States and its growing pool of allies and lackey’s, and another that applies to everyone else.
North Korea – or the Democratic People Republic of Korea (DPRK) as it is officially known – is no stranger to international criticism. Ever since the DPRK withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1993, the nuclear ambitions of the DPRK have been well known and fiercely criticised. Under former leader Kim Jong-Il, these ambitions reached were finally realised with their first nuclear test in 2006, followed by another in 2009. Widespread economic sanctions followed each of these tests, adding to an already vast and comprehensive array. While the US and the UN Security Council would like you to believe that these nuclear tests were the actions of an aggressive and belligerent North Korean regime, upon closer inspection it becomes clear that the nuclear ambitions of the DPRK are a direct result of six decades of hostile US foreign policy. The Korean War of 1950-53, in which over 350,000 American soldiers were sent to the Korean Peninsula to assist the South's conquest of the North, marked only the beginning of the DPRK’s long and painful relationship with the US. The fact that the US still refuses to sign a peace treaty – only an armistice was ever signed – is quite appropriate considering the fierce attitude shown by successive US administrations toward the DPRK.
Although condemned as the actions of an aggressive and militant regime, the DPRK’s withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1993 perfectly encapsulates how US policy has effectively led to a nuclear North Korea. In February 1993, Lee Butler, then the head of US Strategic Command, announced that the United States was retargeting hydrogen bombs aimed at the former USSR on North Korea. One month later, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. From the perspective of the North Koreans, it was clear that without the protection of the former USSR an effective deterrent to US bullying was needed.
Here we arrive at the million dollar question – is the North Korean nuclear program necessary in maintaining their independence and sovereignty? A common retort to this question is that any increase in the global stockpiles of nuclear weaponry should be opposed as it ultimately increases the risks of war. Recent history tells us that the reverse is true. Former Libyan leader Mommar Gaddafi’s elimination of all Libyan nuclear weapons in 2003 did not decrease the risks of war – it paved the way for it. Similarly, Iraq’s removal of its nuclear arsenal in the early 2000s did not prevent a US invasion, but instead made it more likely. Clearly, as long as the US has nuclear weapons, every country that actively resists US influence without any means of defending themselves is at risk. From these facts, in conjunction with the constant US military presence in neighbouring Japan and South Korea – which currently includes 22,294 soldiers, 4014 warships, 21,213 warplanes and over 17 thousand marines – it should come as no surprise that new DPRK leader Kim Jong-un concluded that an effective deterrent to US aggression is necessary.
Considering that the US military is by far the largest in the world, the Obama administration’s claim that the North Korean nuclear program is a “threat to the United States, to regional stability, and to global security” is absurd. If the DPRK were to attack unprovoked, as the US and their allies allege, the DPRK would not stand a chance against the might of the US military. After all, the US military spent 1.415 trillion dollars on its military budget in 2012, compared to the DPRK’s annual military budget of approximately 6 billion. The United States are only too aware of this fact – they consistently threaten the DPRK with their massive military might safe in the knowledge that a pre-emptive strike by the DPRK would be suicidal.
While the US consistently play on their obvious military supremacy over the DPRK – as shown with the regular war games held in the Sea of Japan that brazenly rehearse an amphibious invasion – the centrepiece of US foreign policy is to cripple the DPRK’s socialist economy. For six decades the US have imposed harsh economic sanctions, making the DPRK by far the most sanctioned country on earth. Within the Obama administration this policy is known as ‘strategic patience’ – which is essentially means they will lay siege on the DPRK’s economy until it cracks under the weight. One of the United States’ constant criticisms of the DPRK – that they deliberately starve their population in order to allocate more resources to the military – is closely related to the vast array of economic sanctions imposed upon them. Former President George W. Bush sums up the attitude of the US perfectly, stating he was “determined to squeeze North Korea with every financial sanction possible” until its economy collapsed, regardless of the costs to the North Korean people. As North Korean trade is restricted in every imaginable way, the DPRK have effectively been forced to become self-sufficient, which, for a country as small as the DPRK, has many potential problems. Only China deals openly with the DPRK, selling them invaluable supplies of oil and foodstuffs. In fact, the sanctions imposed on the DPRK are so vast that the US is barely able to impose anymore. As the New York Times reported in 2013, there “there are few sanctions left to apply”. The arrogant statements of the US – such as the one that began this article – should be viewed within this context. Portraying the DPRK as a ‘global threat’ is the last refuge of a desperate giant. For the US, whether the DPRK is a ‘global threat’ is beside the point – the fact is they will never let a socialist economy operate freely in a world dominated by US capital. The United Sates’ 50 year trade embargo imposed on Cuba – a country with no military weapons – is a clear example of the aggressive attitude shown to any country unwilling to allow US capital to roam freely. By forcing the DPRK into a corner with constant aggressive rhetoric and sanctions, the US has given the North Koreans two choices: either political independence, with all the economic and military threats that come with it; or submit themselves to every whim and desire of US capitalism. Which would you choose?