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What’s So Crazy About North Korea?


Certain adjectives are always used whenever western statesmen or the press talk about North Korea. It is “crazy” because it is developing a massive military while its people go hungry. But in which state in the world is the priority that people get enough to eat and then the state starts developing nuclear weapons? Nowhere.

“Reclusive” is another indispensable descriptor. Meaning: North Korea withdraws from the normal intercourse between nations – diplomatic, military, economic. It goes its own way. But why should that be a problem? Evidently, this violates the west’s interest in some fundamental way.

The hostility between North Korea and the USA is easy to see, but you never hear about its real substance. If a state decides to oppose the principle of opening its borders to the world market, this is a practical obstacle to the American economy. The basis of the American criticism of North Korea is that US business should have unlimited access to resources worldwide – whether it makes use of those resources or not. The North Korean state excludes its resources from capitalist exploitation, so its leader is a “madman.”

The media likes to say that North Korea is “a hermit kingdom out of the stone age.” Its a funny accusation. North Korea can see what happened when the USSR gave up its state program and the fate of all the former soviet republics who decided to take part in the world market. What became of them? The choice for North Korea is clear: starving under military mobilization or starving under the condition of being useless for the world market. Its a lose-lose situation.

Behind all the west’s anti-North Korea propaganda is the fact that it is not interested in being part of the world market. This draws the animosity of the USA. So North Korea must mobilize the means to exist to face that animosity. That means a total mobilization of the nation and its resources. That’s the political-economic reason for its military policy: an inordinately huge military in relation to its population; an entire country in arms, force-fed propaganda; people going hungry and advanced weapons being developed.

From the North Korean point of view, one thing is certain: if it is to continue pursuing its interests as a sovereign state, it needs nuclear weapons. So what is its national interest? The negative side is its refusal to be part of the capitalist world order; it doesn’t want to use the world market. According to its understanding, its sovereignty depends on being a communist state. It is not simply a planned economy, but a wartime economy. All war economies are about supporting the state with whatever resources it has.

Just to be clear: to say that North Korea has a defensive project it is not a defending North Korea. If a state defines itself as anti-imperialist, this is not saying anything positive about that state. If a state insists on its sovereignty in the face of aggression, then this is what a state defending itself looks like: total mobilization; miserable living conditions.

Another term for North Korea is “bellicose.” Everybody in the west knows that Kim is a bad guy, a dictator, a threat to his neighbors and to the world. It is taken for granted that North Korea is the provocateur, that it is threatening other countries with nukes. But is that really so clear? The USA has a massive military presence on the Korean peninsula and is maneuvering there. The US says to North Korea: if you attack us or our allies, we will wipe you out. Who is provoking who? The provocation is mutual. Of course, Kim’s a bad guy; he’s developing nuclear weapons. But who has the most nukes in the world?

The US always represents its demands ideologically as the world’s demands. The US won’t just say: they don’t accommodate us. It says: they violate universal norms; they want war. This is a strange criticism to level against another state. Do other states want peace? North Korea is the one that supposedly wants war.

How does the US come to the conclusion that North Korea wants war? The US would never describe itself as “bellicose.” If North Korea is bellicose, then what it perceives as necessary to protect its interests is perceived by the USA as aggression.

The US wants a world of independent states that rule their own territories and peoples. And at same time this independence should work out for America’s benefit. Yet this is never guaranteed by independence. That’s a contradiction. The US goes around world saying “yes” and “no” to states; it does this on the Korean peninsula too. North Korean sovereignty is outside the mission of the US. It is not an approved state. It may make agreements with the west, but it is a flawed state from the inception. First, it has decided not to be capitalist and is not going to be part of the world market, but makes its own demands. Second, it will not subordinate itself to American hegemony. The US only concedes sovereignty to another state when it is submissive to all its demands.

America is making this demand not only on North Korea, but to China in regards to North Korea: you need to make sure your junior partner cooperates; if it doesn’t, then we will be knocking on your front door with an increased military presence. Either help us take care of North Korea or you will have to face new military bases and the further militarization of Japan. China didn’t ask for this role, but it is one that America assigns to China: the status of America’s helper.

China doesn’t like this. China’s interest is that it doesn’t want America assisting South Korea in unifying the Korean peninsula under the American-led world order. China wants to secure its own interests on the Korean peninsula – all the more since the US “pivot” towards Asia.

So China is supporting North Korea as a buffer zone. But China is faced with a problem because North Korea insists on its sovereignty in its attempt to develop nukes. It may use Chinese sponsorship, but it is still sovereign. This is similar to the relation of the US and Israel. The other state is a bastion of its influence, its instrument, and to that end it equips the other state with the means of sovereignty (weapons) and gives it an economy. But on the other hand it is dealing with a state that uses that aid to insist on its own sovereignty. China is unhappy that North Korea is dragging China into a conflict with the US that is not of China’s own making.

Another descriptor is that Kim is said to be “suicidal.” If he makes good on his threats, he would instantly be wiped out. But suicide by definition is something done to yourself. In this case, he would be killed by others. For the US, any state that contradicts its demand for open markets, for open borders to capital, for allowing everything on its territory to be used in capitalist competition, for granting access to every sphere – that’s “suicidal.”

Geoffrey McDonald is an editor at Ruthless Criticism. He can be reached at:

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