The following article below was originally published by the Return to the Source news blog:
March 8, 2013
Fox News, CNN, the BBC, and a host of other Western news outlets were aflame yesterday – no pun intended – after a representative from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) said that their country would launch a preemptive strike against US aggression. The sensationalist headlines kicked into high-gear, with Fox News reporting, “‘North Korea vows nuclear attack on US, saying Washington will be ‘engulfed in a sea of fire.’” Almost 60 years after the armistice that ended the Korean war, the US media seems more eager than ever to make people believe that a nuclear strike by a small, partitioned nation is likely.
For all of the venom the Western press has spilled over the DPRK’s latest comments, it’s incredibly difficult to find the full quote or the context of such a statement. Also absent from any of the reporting is a real definition of the term “preemptive strike,” compared to a “preventative strike.”
University of Chicago Professor of Korean History Bruce Cumings famously said that reading the DPRK’s official news network gives you a better understanding of the truth in the Korean Peninsula than reading the South Korean or US press. This is indeed the case.
The Korean Central News Agency published the statement by the Foreign Ministry that caused so much controversy in the US. Entitled, “Second Korean War Is Unavoidable: DPRK FM Spokesman,” the statement details the multitude of ways that the US is trying “to ignite a nuclear war to stifle the DPRK.” Since the US and European media refuse to quote the piece in context, we will quote it at some length:
The U.S. is now working hard to ignite a nuclear war to stifle the DPRK.
Key Resolve and Foal Eagle joint military exercises kicked off by the U.S., putting the situation on the Korean Peninsula to the brink of war, are maneuvers for a nuclear war aimed to mount a preemptive strike on the DPRK from A to Z.
The U.S. is massively deploying armed forces for aggression, including nuclear carrier task force and strategic bombers, enough to fight a nuclear war under the smokescreen of “annual drills.”
What should not be overlooked is that the war maneuvers are timed to coincide with the moves to fabricate a new “resolution” of the UN Security Council against the DPRK, pursuant to a war scenario of the U.S. to ignite a nuclear war under the pretext of “nuclear nonproliferation”.
It is a trite war method of the U.S. to cook up “a resolution” at the UNSC to justify its war of aggression and then unleash it under the berets of “UN forces.”
That is why the U.S. is hurling into the war maneuvers even armed forces of its satellite countries which participated in the past Korean War as “UN forces”.
After directing the strategic pivot for world hegemony to the Asia-Pacific region, the U.S. regards it as its primary goal to put the whole of the Korean Peninsula under its control in a bid to secure a bridgehead for landing in the Eurasian continent. It also seeks a way out of a serious economic crisis at home in unleashing the second Korean war.
The U.S. is, indeed, the very criminal threatening global peace and security as it is staging dangerous war drills in this region, the biggest hotspot in the world and a nuclear arsenal where nuclear weapons and facilities are densely deployed.
Ignoring this context changes the entire message of the article. If we took the US media’s claims at face value, many are led to believe that DPRK Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un woke up on the wrong side of the bed and haphazardly declared his intent to bomb Washington D.C. An actual study of the KCNA statement paints a different picture, namely one in which the US is the primary aggressor whose bellicose military exercises and insistence on debilitating sanctions on the DPRK are bringing the region closer to war.
The statement goes on to address the DPRK’s response to the aggressive war games that the US carries out in the Korean Peninsula. We quote it here:
The DPRK has so far made every possible effort while exercising maximum self-restraint in order to defend the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the region.
The U.S. is, however, responding to the DPRK’s good will and self-restraint with large-scale nuclear war maneuvers and the “annual” war drills are developing into a real war. Under this situation the opportunity of diplomatic solution has disappeared and there remains only military counteraction.
Is the statement really incorrect? The DPRK is surrounded by US warships containing nuclear missiles. They have pushed for dialogue with the international community about their nuclear weapons program, but Washington has rebuffed their attempts and responded with harsher sanctions, which is a form of economic warfare. Former US President George W. Bush once said that North Korea is “the most sanctioned country in the world,” Independent scholar Stephen Gowans explains the terms of these sanctions, which restrict “the export of goods and services,” the “blocking of any loan or funding through international financial institutions,” and a “ban on government financing of food and medicine exports to North Korea.” Rather than attempting good-faith rapprochement with Pyongyang, the US continues to point its most deadly weapons at the small country and heavily sanction its access to essential goods and industrial equipment.
Let’s now look at the statement in controversy from the Foreign Ministry of the DPRK:
First, now that the U.S. is set to light a fuse for a nuclear war, the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK will exercise the right to a preemptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors and to defend the supreme interests of the country.
The Supreme Command of the Korean People’s Army declared that it would totally nullify the Korean Armistice Agreement (AA) from March 11 when the U.S. nuclear war rehearsal gets into full swing. This meant that from that moment the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK will take military actions for self-defence against any target any moment, not restrained by AA.
Contrary to the media’s fixation on the phrasing of the first statement, it is actually the following paragraph that explains the DPRK’s understanding of a preemptive strike. Joe Barnes of Rice University describes the difference between a ‘preemptive strike’ and a ‘preventative strike’ in a March 2007 paper entitled, “Preemptive and Preventative War: A Preliminary Taxonomy.” The following quote from Barnes’ paper illustrates the ‘right to a preemptive nuclear attack’ that the statement alludes to:
The two categories of national strategy are preemption and prevention. Preemption is the taking of military action against a target when there is incontrovertible evidence that the target is about to initiate a military attack. Prevention is the taking of military action against a target when it is believed that an attack by the target, while not imminent, is inevitable, and when delay in attacking would involve greater risk.
For most US citizens, their first exposure to the term “preemptive war” was when the Bush Administration invoked in in 2003 to justify their imperialist invasion of Iraq. They unleashed brutal war and occupation on the Iraqi people on the basis of a total lie, namely that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and might be a threat to the US. However, if we look at Barnes’ quote, we understand that the war in Iraq was a preventative war, not a preemptive war. There was no “incontrovertible evidence that the target is about to initiate a military attack.” Instead, all of the evidence pointed to Iraq not having weapons of mass destruction, much less having the capability and the will to fire such weapons at the US. As Noam Chomsky puts it:
The grand strategy authorizes Washington to carry out “preventive war”: Preventive, not pre-emptive. Whatever the justifications for pre-emptive war might be, they do not hold for preventive war, particularly as that concept is interpreted by its current enthusiasts: the use of military force to eliminate an invented or imagined threat, so that even the term “preventive” is too charitable. Preventive war is, very simply, the “supreme crime” condemned at Nuremberg.
The DPRK has threatened preemptive war, not preventative war. The difference is so glaring that one can only conclude that the US media is knowingly distorting and lying about the DPRK’s military intent. Because the DPRK rightly recognizes the crippling sanctions on itself as a form of economic warfare and they recognize the growing threat of US invasion, they have made a strong statement expressing their willingness to shoot first if “there is incontrovertible evidence that the target is about to attack.” This becomes painstakingly clear in the second paragraph of the statement in question, in which the DPRK claims it will only nullify the armistice “when the US nuclear war rehearsal gets into full-swing.”
Admittedly, the use of the term “when” rather than “if” seems fatalist and damning, but when one considers the 63+ year aggression that the DPRK has continually faced by the US, their cynicism at the US radically changing its pro-war policy seems justified.
This statement is nothing new from the DPRK, which has continually upheld its right to self-defense and self-determination. The DPRK acquired nuclear weapons out of necessary reality, a point further underscored by the US war with Iraq and NATO’s war with Libya in 2011. Again, we quote Gowans about the deterrent provided by nuclear weapons in his article, “Why North Korea Needs Nuclear Weapons“:
Subsequent events in Libya have only reinforced the lesson. Muammar Gaddafi had developed his own WMD program to protect Libya from Western military intervention. But Gaddafi also faced an internal threat—Islamists, including jihadists linked to Al Qaeda, who sought to overthrow him to create an Islamist society in Libya. After 9/11, with the United States setting out to crush Al Qaeda, Gaddafi sought a rapprochement with the West, becoming an ally in the international battle against Al Qaeda, to more effectively deal with his own Islamist enemies at home. The price of being invited into the fold was to abandon his weapons of mass destruction. When Gaddafi agreed to this condition he made a fatal strategic blunder. An economic nationalist, Gaddafi irritated Western oil companies and investors by insisting on serving Libyan interests ahead of the oil companies’ profits and investors’ returns. Fed up with his nationalist obstructions, NATO teamed up with Gaddafi’s Islamist enemies to oust and kill the Libyan leader. Had he not surrendered his WMDs, Gaddafi would likely still be playing a lead role in Libya. “Who would have dared deal with Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein if they had a nuclear capability?” asks Major General Amir Eshel, chief of the Israeli army’s planning division. “No way.”
Rather than threatening to destroy Washington D.C. in a sea of nuclear flames – which even the Western media admits the DPRK has no way of doing, even if they wanted to – the DPRK is once again asserting its right to defend itself and strike first if the US provokes nuclear war. The stakes are too high, and although liberals in the US and Western Europe may complain about these measures, they do so from the safety and comfort of their homes within imperialist countries. The people of the DPRK hang in the balance of a life-and-death struggle against nuclear war with the US. No one in the DPRK wants war, including the leadership. However, the DPRK has made clear that they will not hesitate to retaliate and defend their people from nuclear holocaust.
Once we cut through the lies of the US media, one truth stands above all others for US citizens: The ball is in your court if you don’t want nuclear conflict with the DPRK. Washington has shown a total disregard for human life – whether Korean, Iraqi, Libyan, or even American – when it comes to starting imperialist wars. They have continued economic warfare on the DPRK in the form of sanctions and currently carry on war games in the Korean Peninsula. They are not going to change on their own.
Nuclear war is a disturbing and horrific possibility, and all freedom-loving people should do everything they can to prevent it from happening. In the US, this means organizing and rebuilding the anti-war movement as an anti-imperialist movement. Rather than playing into the racist and chauvinistic rhetoric of US politicians, the US Left should pursue international solidarity with oppressed nations like the DPRK and stand resolutely against any military aggression by their own government.
Incredibly, former Chicago Bulls Forward Dennis Rodman may have set a better line on the DPRK than most of the US Left. His recent travel to Democratic Korea may have irked social-chauvinists like George Stephanopoulos, but Rodman has allowed many people in the US to view the DPRK through a different light. Even Rodman said in his interview with Stephanopoulos that Kim Jong-Un wanted US President Barack Obama to “call him.” The level of distortions and outright falsehoods by the US media is incredible when we consider that the DPRK wants dialogue, not warfare. Anti-imperialists on the US Left must make this clear and challenge the false narrative put forth by the imperialist class.
Ultimately, this is why reactionaries like Stephanopoulos and US politicians decried Rodman’s trip so loudly. Realizing that the DPRK is not a nation hell-bent on destroying the people of the US, but rather a nation that enjoys many of the same things that Americans do, makes it harder for the imperialists to build popular consensus for war. The US Left should commend and learn from Rodman’s example and seek to build greater cultural and political ties with the people of the DPRK while boldly opposing sanctions and military aggression by the US.