The Facts: Who Has Escalated the U.S.-North Korea Confrontation, Time and Time Again?

September 25, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


The U.S. confrontation with North Korea has escalated to a point where now, the world stands on the precipice of a catastrophic war—a war that could take the lives of literally millions and spark vast, unpredictable destruction (even as mouthpieces for the ruling class deliberately try to downplay and hide the imminent peril to humanity that’s looming).

According to U.S. officials and the media, North Korea is at fault. They say North Korea has violated agreements by building nuclear weapons and testing missiles. That it is threatening to attack the United States, perhaps with a nuclear bomb. That it is run by a “madman.” Each new U.S. move and counter-move is described by America’s bourgeois media as a “reaction” to a North Korean “threat” or “provocation.” Statements by the Trump/Pence regime that it hasn’t closed the door on a diplomatic solution are taken at face value and as hopeful signs—while people hear next to nothing about what the North Korean government is actually proposing, and are being taught to dismiss it as a gang of murderous lunatics. For example, three days after Trump threatened to “destroy” North Korea before the UN, a New York Times headline blared, “North Korea Hits New Level of Brinkmanship in Reacting to Trump.”

But what are the actual facts? Let’s take a brief look at what’s happened over just the past 20 years.

In the mid-1980s, North Korea began nuclear enrichment as part of its nuclear power program. By 1993, the North Korean regime had no nuclear weapons, but the U.S. and others accused it of producing enriched uranium that could be used to make nuclear weapons. By the summer of 1994, the U.S. under Bill Clinton was close to launching a preemptive attack against North Korea. But in October 1994, North Korea and the U.S. agreed to a deal under which North Korea froze its nuclear program in return for fuel oil and two light water nuclear reactors that could be used to generate power but not enrich uranium.

Historian Bruce Cumings points out about the 1994 agreement, “It’s very important to underline that that freeze was completely monitored and checked for eight years, 24/7. You had UN inspectors on the ground, closed-circuit cameras watching it at all times. The reactors were sealed. And of course we know with our intelligence when a reactor starts up. So there’s no question. The North Koreans didn’t have an ounce of plutonium from 1994 to 2002.”

During this period North Korea also maintained an agreement with South Korea to keep the Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons and established diplomatic relations with a range of countries.

But that agreement was shattered in 2002 when George W. Bush called North Korea a member of an “Axis of Evil” and announced his doctrine of preemptive war to overthrow regimes that stood in the U.S.’s way. In March 2003, the U.S. carried out this threat by invading Iraq, toppling the Hussein regime, and occupying the country—a war of empire that was based on outright lies about “weapons of mass destruction.”

The clear message that this delivered to North Korea was that the U.S. was aiming to overthrow their regime. North Korea’s response, according to Cumings, was: “They got back their plutonium, kicked out the inspectors, and systematically began building atomic weapons, and tested the first one just three years later, in 2006.”

There were further attempts at a negotiated end to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program with the so-called Six Party Talks—carried out by the world’s major powers. North Korea again promised to dismantle its nuclear weapons and missile programs in return for a nonaggression pact with the United States and an end to its threats as well as financial aid and a light water nuclear reactor. By 2007, North Korea had shut down its main reactor after receiving some aid and fuel oil. But the U.S. soon torpedoed this agreement as well, including by blocking the provision of a light water reactor and supporting a new South Korean government that took power in March 2008 and took a hostile stance against North Korea. Within a year, North Korea had ended its military and political dealing with South Korea.

“It’s a small country, and the largest power in the world is constantly threatening it with nuclear annihilation,” Bruce Cumings points out. “President Obama did this too. He routinely sent nuclear-capable B1 and B2 bombers over South Korea for exercises.” The Obama administration also rejected a deal for a cessation of North Korea’s nuclear program in return for an end to the threatening U.S. military maneuvers on North Korea’s borders and diplomatic recognition of North Korea’s government. By September 2015, North Korea had confirmed that it had restarted its main nuclear enrichment plant at Yongbyon, which had been shut down since 2007.

All these threats have escalated to whole new levels under the Trump/Pence regime, which has repeatedly threatened military attack, preemptive attacks, and has never ruled out the use of nuclear weapons. And it has carried out massive military maneuvers, and provocative, threatening military actions right near North Korea’s border. (See the article “Escalating War Dangers in Korea: Who’s the Biggest Warmonger and Threat to Humanity?”)

Most outrageously, in his speech this past week at the UN, Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea—which means wiping out its 26 million people in a massive genocide. This was followed by an aggressive tightening up of sanctions on North Korea, which will have a devastating effect on the lives of the people in that country. And now the U.S. has flown B-1B nuclear-capable bombers and F-15C fighters over waters well north of the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea, the farthest north “any U.S. fighter or bomber aircraft have flown off North Korea’s coast in the 21st century,” according to the Defense Department.

North Korea has stated, most recently at the UN, that its nuclear program was a deterrent aimed at preventing a U.S. invasion. Their foreign minister said, “We do not have any intention at all to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the countries that do not join in the U.S. military actions against” North Korea. They have also offered to freeze their missile and nuclear weapons programs in return for an end to U.S. threats and recognition of their regime. But the U.S. demands that North Korea disarm first, before any talks can take place.

All this shows that what is happening is not a question of “two madmen facing off.” In every instance over the past 20 years, North Korea has shown that its weapons are to deter a much more powerful adversary that has refused to recognize its legitimacy, waged economic and diplomatic war against it, repeatedly threatened it militarily, and openly talked of overthrowing its regime. And it has also shown that its goal is, as the New York Times recently acknowledged, a peace treaty with the U.S., “diplomatic recognition, the easing of decades-old sanctions and the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea, which Pyongyang considers its existential threat.” And it’s been the U.S. that has repeatedly escalated the confrontation, broke or undermined agreements, or made any agreement impossible by demanding that North Korea, which is under constant threat, disarm before serious talks can take place, while the U.S. and other world powers maintain—or expand!—their enormous arsenals of nuclear genocide.

And Trump is leaving North Korea no way out, no way to back down—not only by threatening to destroy his country but by personalizing his attacks on North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un and forcing his regime to respond tit for tat in military moves and rhetorically. “When Trump stood before the United Nations General Assembly and threatened to totally destroy his country, Kim Jong-un had to take that as the United States telling the world of its intention for possible military action,” one Korea expert told the New York Times. “He had to respond in kind, launching the same kind of verbal bombs.”

All this is heading in an extremely dangerous direction—and the facts show it is the U.S. which has put the world in this horrific situation. The blood from any war or military catastrophe will be on the hands of America’s rulers.



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