US ratchets up tension on Korean peninsular

Map by: Burmesedays

By Jane West

The bellicose response by the US and others to the latest developments in North Korea is in no way a proportional response to any real threat from the small East Asian state, but an excuse for quite other military objectives.

The US used its known language of war – ‘a real and clear danger’ – to announce its decision to extend its advanced missile defence system to the Pacific island of Guam. As no one in their right mind believes that North Korea has the capacity to hit the US – or virtually anywhere very far from its own borders – with a nuclear-armed missile, this step has other purposes. The country in the US’s binoculars is not North Korea but rising China, and the Guam move is a further step in its announced ‘pivot’ to Asia aimed at militarily encircling China.

Similarly, the argument of Cameron that North Korea’s nuclear capacity is evidence of the need for Britain to spend billions on replacing Trident is clearly ridiculous. North Korea does not nearly have the technological or scientific capacity to build a nuclear warhead compact enough to carry on a long-range rocket that could travel across the entire Asian landmass and reach mainland Europe, let alone Britain.

Cameron wants to keep Trident because it is a negotiating chip in Britain’s relations with the US, making it a more useful ally in the US’s imperialist projects world-wide, and therefore better positioned to gather a few crumbs from the US’s great power table. It has absolutely nothing – zero – to do with the military defence of Britain.

The real situation on the Korean peninsula is that North Korea has been the subject of bellicose talk from the US, South Korea and Japan since the 1950s, and especially in the last decade. While its closed, autarchic, ultra-bureaucratic regime has failed to take the people of North Korea forward economically, it has stood up to this imperialist aggression and refused to bow to the US’s demand that it re-unifies with South Korea on the West’s terms. Nor is its anti-Western paranoia without foundation.

The on-going tension on the Korean peninsula has its origins in the 1945 US occupation of the south of the country – to prevent the Soviet Union advancing through the whole of the peninsula as it rolled back the 40-year long Japanese colonial occupation. This led to the de facto partition of the country and the 1950-53 Korean War which ended without a peace treaty.

Since then, every year the US has engaged in extensive military exercises and war games in the region with South Korea and more recently Japan, simulating an invasion of North Korea. The present escalation of rhetoric coincides with a new set of US-South Korean exercises involving B-52 and B-2 stealth bombers. The upsurge of anti-US rhetoric from the North was in direct response to this.

Throughout the ‘Cold War’ these war games were accompanied by a grudging political acceptance of the status quo.

But an end to this was announced in Bush’s January 2002 State of the Union address, when he proclaimed the US’s war against the international ‘axis of evil’ of Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

Not surprisingly – especially following the actual invasion of Iraq – North Korea responded by stepping up investment in developing its nuclear capacity, including a nuclear test this February. This programme’s technological high point was the successful launch of a satellite into space on 12 December 2012 – which the US and its allies insisted upon calling a ‘ballistic missile’ test.

The US has stepped up its rhetoric against North Korea since this – even though scientific examination of launch rocket fragments that fell to earth in South Korea has found the material and technology used to be out-of-date, crude and unreliable. Its satellite station is considered to be ‘tumbling’ and out of control in its orbit.

Apart from this its missile tests have comprised short-range missiles fired into the sea between the Korean peninsular and Japan. This has provoked concern in Japan precisely because North Korea does not have the sophisticated satellite guidance technology that can ensure the exact point of impact of the missile, meaning Japan could be hit by mistake. But by the same token, North Korea would have to hit Guam by luck, even if it could fire a nuclear warhead that far.

In this sabre-rattling North Korea is a proxy for the US’s real target in the region – China. This is not to say that it would not like to get rid of North Korea. This would help and strengthen its ally South Korea, seal a loop-hope in its chain of reliable allies ringing China and, most importantly, give it a military sphere of influence up to a land border of China.

There is a danger that uncontrolled activity by North Korea could provoke a situation that made this possible. This is clearly China’s concern, which is intervening to try to calm the situation and soothe its somewhat fractious ally, while continuing to develop stronger economic ties to help improve the internal economic situation.

It is also why Fidel Castro has made what has become an increasingly rare personal intervention in international politics since June 2012, calling for calm and urging North Korea to consider the wider consequences of its actions. He says that now North Korea ‘has demonstrated its technical and scientific advances, we remind them of their duties with those countries that have been their great friend’, while also pointing to the responsibility of the US and Obama to relieve the tension in the region.

The truth is North Korea is a small, poor and undeveloped country that presents no real threat to anyone. Its aggressive talk is in response to the real provocation of the most heavily armed state in the world carrying out regular exercises on its land and sea borders, simulating invasions and moving the most advanced military hardware, including nuclear firepower, into its vicinity. The US could calm the situation immediately by repudiating Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ speech, ending its bellicose activities in the area, and recognising North Korea’s right to exist.