1994.04 Korean War II

This was written in April 1994.

North Korea has become US Enemy No. 1, as the Defense Intelligence Agency head, Lt. Gen. James Clapper, recently confirmed: "North Korea will be the critical, major military threat for the next few years" (IHT 2/7/94:1). We should ask, hopefully before the war breaks out, how real this threat is. We know the military-industrial-intelligence establishment needs such threats to justify itself, so we would be fools not to question their pronouncements.

The perceived threat is not only that North Korea may be building a nuclear arsenal, as the same IHT article tells us: "Even if the nuclear issue were settled and the immediate crisis defused, the threat to the South would remain." The immediate question here is, what has changed to increase this threat in the past forty years? The answer, apparently, is an increasing military build-up by the North along the border. But the US and the South are also building up their forces. So who is threatening whom?

Another aspect of the threat, according to CIA director James Woolsey, is that NK has developed a couple of new longer-range missiles that "could eventually threaten all of Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia," and "if exported to the Middle East could threaten Europe as well" (IHT 3/19-20/94:1). It is touching that Woolsey is so worried about China, especially since "a minority view with the Defense Intelligence Agency holds that China could have assisted North Korea" in developing the missiles. And why are arms sales to Middle Eastern countries by NK a threat, when China and the US, as well as European countries, have been doing this for years?

The heart of the new threat, though, is NK's supposed defiance of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Secretary of Defense William Perry has announced US determination to fight another Korean war "to stop North Korea from developing a substantial arsenal of nuclear weapons" (IHT 4/1/94:1). Here we should ask, first, what right the Secretary of Defense has to threaten war on "our" behalf. I know Congress abdicated its constitutional right and responsibility to declare war long ago, but does this give the Cabinet, as well as the President, the right to make such threats, putting tens if not hundreds of thousands of American lives on the line?

Secondly, it is not clear to me, from the many articles in the IHT on the subject, just what sin the North Koreans have committed. We hear virtually nothing of their side of the story. The IAEA reported that NK "hindered inspection of its nuclear plants" in March, but in one of the few reports from the other side, NK said "it was the inspectors, not North Korea, who violated the terms of the Feb. 15 agreement between the UN agency and Pyongyang" (IHT 3/19-20/94:1). On April 4, NK responded to another UN Security Council demand that NK allow "full inspection of its nuclear facilities" by calling their demands "unjustifiable" and saying the Security Council "had been manipulated by the United States" (IHT 4/5/94:1). The latter charge is hardly implausible, since we know how the US bludgeoned the other members of the Security Council (with financial "incentives") into accepting UN-ited States policy in the Gulf War. We are not told in the IHT article -- though the North Korean report was "lengthy" -- in what way the US may have manipulated the Security Council this time, or why the North Koreans consider the UN demands unjustifiable.

Could this be because the Communist diehards from the North might actually have a point? We are told that the UN inspectors asked for "radioactive samples from a nuclear fuel reprocessing site" which "likely would have offered evidence of how much plutonium, the key ingredient in nuclear weapons, had been produced at the plant." What does "likely" mean? What would such samples prove, if anything? If it is not even certain what the samples would reveal, how was the request for them justified? Do the UN inspectors routinely obtain such samples from other countries, such as the US, to keep tabs on how much plutonium they "likely" have? If not, why should NK accede to such a request?

As an example of the alarmism -- and possibly misinformation -- rampant in the US government on this issue, dutifully reflected in the Establishment press, on Monday, April 4, the IHT reported that "North Korea has nearly doubled its capacity to produce plutonium for nuclear arms," citing "four knowledgeable sources, who asked not to be named" (4/4/94:4). This information was omitted from the IAEA's report to the Security Council on March 24, the mysterious "officials" said, "because of the agency's uncertainty about North Korea's motivations." Now, just what does this mean? In any case, the unidentified sources said a second reprocessing line at Yongbyon was "nearly finished" and when completed would "effectively double North Korea's plutonium production capacity."

The next day, the IHT reported that the inspection team had actually only seen "some evidence that a second reprocessing line is under construction," and quoted a "senior South Korean official" as saying that "the extra line may be more for show than for production, intended to strengthen the North's nuclear card 'at very little cost'" (4/5/94/:1).

What I miss in all of this reporting are the basic facts about 1) how much plutonium various countries are allowed to have under existing treaties, 2) how much they actually have, and 3) how this is determined (not guessed at).

I would also like to know why the US is so much more worked up about this "crisis" than anyone else. None of the countries the CIA pretends to be so worried about, including South Korea, as well as China and Japan, support the tough US stance on this issue. Japan, for example, is reluctant to interrupt the "river of money" (presumably from trade) that is "the North's chief source of hard currency" (4/5/94:1). Is the CIA more concerned about the Japanese than the Japanese are about themselves? Chinese "senior military figures" think the North Korean nuclear program has been highly exaggerated due solely to "guesswork by American intelligence," and have tried to "soften international indignation over North Korea's refusal to grant full access to UN inspectors" (4/4/94:1) -- though the IHT reporter here seems to have confused "US" with "international."

What about the historical aspect of the Northern threat? After all, one might think, if they invaded once, they can do it again. But those who take this as a justification for our Secretary of so-called Defense to threaten war should extend the same logic to the historical fact that the US, not North Korea, was the first and remains the only nation on earth to actually use nuclear weapons. And how many times in the last four decades has North Korea invaded another country? How many times has the US has done so (purely for self-defensive or philanthropical reasons, naturally)? Who has more reason, historically, to feel threatened?

The North Korean Central News Agency has quite rightly compared the current situation with the prelude to the first Korean War. It says "a war may break out any moment" (IHT 4/6/94:2) -- an assessment which, with an impressive Orwellian flair, the IHT refers to as "alarmist," but it is based on undenied US plans to stage "large-scale war games" with South Korea and prepare for the rapid deployment of "600,000 troops, 200 warships and 1,600 aircraft." These war preparations are in addition to the 35,000 US troops already stationed in South Korea, the Patriot battalion on the way and the second ready (IHT 4/1/94:5), and the openly announced and truly bellicose Pentagon plan, if hositilities break out, to launch a "fierce counteroffensive intended to seize the North's capital, Pyongyang, in the hope of toppling the government of Kim Il Sung" (IHT 2/7/94:1).

This situation indeed resembles the one forty years ago, when "although North Korea insists that U.S. and South Korean forces attacked northward on June 25, 1950, history generally records that it was the North that launched a massive invasion on that day" (IHT 4/6/94:2). Whatever the "general" recollection of those events may be, and regardless of which side attacked first (which is a moot point), there is no doubt that the North Korean offensive was provoked by aggressive US/South Korean military actions (see William Blum, The CIA: A Forgotten History, London: Zed Books, 1986, pp. 44-56). It is also worth recalling, as Sung Chul Yang, a South Korean political scientist, pointed out on April 5, that on the eve of the North Korean invasion in 1950, the Kim Il Sung government "made a last minute peace overture by proposing a swap of several prominent political detainees with the South" (IHT 4/5/94:8) -- which, obviously, the US and South Korea rejected.

The historical analogy fits exactly, since the Secretary of Defense has said in so many words that the US is willing to provoke a war if it does not get its way: "We do not want and will not provoke a war over this or any other issue in Korea, but we will take a very firm stand and very strong actions. It's conceivable that those actions might provoke the North Koreans into unleashing a war, and that is a risk that we're taking" (IHT 4/4/94:1). In other words, we don't want to provoke a war over this, but we're taking the risk anyway.

Consider the logic of it: the US is preparing for a war that our Secretary of Defense freely admits may well be provoked by these very steps. Who, then, is provoking the war?

But not to worry. "Senior American officials" say "it would only be a matter of time before an invading North Korean Army would be routed," although "it would be virtually impossible to prevent the devastation of much of the heavily populated and economically vital South Korean territory near the border" (IHT 2/7/94:6). Sound familiar? And though none of the articles I have read have mentioned it, surely Secretary Perry and President Bill (or is it the other way around?) would not have us forget the 33,746 American lives and 103,284 wounded that were offered for Korean War I -- which, as we can also read in the IHT (4/6/94:2), ended in a stalemate.