In recent weeks, the war of words between the U.S. and northern Korea has ratcheted upwards. Northern Korea has kicked out inspectors for the international nuclear watchdog agency IAEA, threatened war if the UN security council places sanctions on the country, and withdrawn from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. In the meantime, the United States has moved more Weapons of mass destruction, troops, aircraft, and sailors into the region, contemplated a pre-emptive attack on the country, and pushed for sanctions against northern Korea. Japan and southern Korea are doing what they can to prevent events from getting out of hand between the two belligerents by encouraging conversations, making positive overtures to northern Korea’s government, and telling the Bush administration to shut up. So far, this strategy has worked. One wonders, though, for how long.
In fact, as I write this, the papers are running stories about North Korea’s threatened pullout from the 1953 armistice agreement signed by the U.S. and North Korean military commands that ended the shooting war fifty years ago. Their reason for doing this is the continued buildup of US forces in region. They fear a surprise attack and understandably want to be prepared. In the statement released by Pyongyang, the government press agency noted the continued violations by the United States of the armistice agreement’s limitations on troop strength and types of weapons. The United States, in its turn, considers Pyongyang’s recent nuclear moves as violations of various international treaties it had previously signed. Both governments are probably correct in these appraisals of their opponent’s actions and motives. The people of the region, meanwhile, are hoping that the tension can be resolved without war, as happened in the past, most recently in 1994. This hope is shared by the all of the world, especially the recently elected government of southern Korea, the governments of China and Russia, and the government of Japan. Most of these capitals are involved in efforts to de-escalate the tensions. It remains to be seen whether or not they will be successful.
I have often wondered (like any thinking individual), why isn’t there a peace treaty? Although some US government documents state that it is North Korea who does not want such a treaty, history tells us otherwise. It is Washington that does not want a peace agreement. Washington and its client regime sabotaged the political conference in 1954 that was to have been a forerunner to a peace conference and Washington has ignored most every other opportunity for such a conference since then. This is despite Pyongyang’s almost constant calls for this conference. The only exception to the US lack of interest in negotiating a permanent settlement that I can find occurred in 1994 when, after another near-war, the Clinton administration began talks that resulted in agreements that were designed to end Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons project and help that country overcome a drought-induced famine. Since Dubya took over in 2000, however, the relations between the two capitols has slipped to its worst state since 1968, when North Korea captured the U.S. Navy spy-ship, The Pueblo.
If one investigates the history books, s/he’ll discover that the U.S. foreign policy in the 1950s had one guiding principle: stop communism. The architects of this policy defined communism as any movement that threatened U.S. designs for empire. Oftentimes, this meant stopping democratic movements that opposed European colonialism and American support for that colonialism. This designation of national liberation movements as communist was self-fulfilling. Why? Primarily because the communist elements in these movements were the most committed and ended up making the most sense to the populations in the affected countries after less militant elements were co-opted or killed by colonial armies and U.S. intelligence operations.
Since the containment of communist regimes was the modus operandi of U.S. foreign policy during the period, the United States considered it absolutely necessary that the two largest communist nations-the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China-were contained militarily and economically. Maintaining a military presence in Korea was essential to this plan, and any peace treaty would have required the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the Korean peninsula. Hence, a peace treaty was the last thing the United States wanted. The best solution for Washington would have been a total defeat and occupation of the northern half of Korea, but the Korean conflict of 1950 – 1953 had proven that the political and human cost of such an endeavor was more than the American population was willing to pay. So, the next best strategy was the situation that has existed on the Korean peninsula since June 1953. No war, but no peace.
Although the cold war has been over for more than a decade, the same strategy of containment exists in that region of the world. China, now communist in name only, is still the greatest long-term military threat to U.S. hegemony in the eyes of the Pentagon and Defense Department. If one looks at where recent U.S. military bases have been built, s/he will note that, when added to existing U.S. military presence in Asia, these bases form an almost complete circle around the Chinese nation. This is not an accident.
Of course, the Pentagon does not want a war with China. These days it prefers smaller battles that it has a good chance of winning-Iraq, Afghanistan, and perhaps Colombia-but not with an equal combatant like China. In addition, China has no desire for war. In today’s world, this would probably only occur if the argument over Taiwan became a military one, although occurrences like the spy plane incident of 2001 have sparked wars between other nations before. There are those in the U.S. establishment, however, who would relish seeing their fantasy of one Korea under the rule of the United States army. One imagines that they are secretly hoping for some kind of incident that could be used as a rationale for attacking Pyongyang’s army. It is these ultra-right elements that seem to have the ear of Dubya these days. One can assume that it is these men and women who are encouraging the bellicose statements towards Korea as they simultaneously push our nation towards a war with Iraq.
So, why doesn’t the United States want a peace treaty with North Korea? Why are they willing to risk another bloody war with that country’s military? The reason is simple: because any peace agreement would require that the United States remove all of its forces, weapons, including its weapons of mass destruction (which include nuclear weapons) from the southern half of the country. This action would limit Washington’s ability to bully other governments in the region. In addition, it would end one more rationalization Washington likes to use for its marriage to the defense industry and the accompanying transfer of public funds to that industry in the name of what passes for national security in the warfare state. It seems to me that if Washington were truly interested in national security, it would want peace with Pyongyang, not war. In that case, a peace treaty with Pyongyang is a no-brainer.
RON JACOBS can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org