Summer Quarterly 2018 (Updated June 21, 2018)
By Kelly Lundeen
Extreme fluctuations in relations between North Korea and the rest of the world in recent months have kept war hawks and peace doves at the edge of their seats. At one moment the United States and North Korea were lobbing nuclear threats at one another, sounding closer than ever in recent history to a potential military conflict. In the next moment, North and South Korea were signing a “Peace Declaration” to denuclearize the Korean peninsula at an unprecedented meeting in the Demilitarized Zone. A historic summit between the presidents of North Korea and the United States was announced, then cancelled by Mr. Trump, and, then went ahead. Finally the Singapore Summit brought a sigh of cautious relief with many hopeful signs that relations will continue in the direction of peace. The new approaches to these relations are in line with the agendas of changing leadership of the three countries and understanding those help explain the unfolding news.
What’s in it for the US?
As North Korea is now a nuclear weapons state, the official US government position was to demand “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea.” Skeptics of the motives behind US leadership allege that the summit was planned to fail; that is, the US projects an image of working toward reconciliation while never having disavowed bellicose intentions. A week after the Summit, those fears have yet to be affirmed.
Throwing a curveball into the decades-long US policy of military threats, diplomatic hostility, and harsh trade sanctions, is the US “dealmaker” seeking to fulfill his need for celebrity, and desires for economic expansion into new territories and cutting military costs related to defense of other nations.
“President Trump should win the Nobel Peace Prize,” suggested South Korean President Moon Jae-in. This absurd prospect may have strategically furthered the continued opening of diplomatic relations with North Korea. The tension between those supporting long-standing US policy and others embracing Trump’s chaotic treatment of North Korean President Kim Jong-un (calling him a “madman” one month and “honorable” the next) has led to roller coaster relations.
The North Korean Deterrent
North Koreans have a justified fear that the US is looking for regime change. Both John Bolton, the recently appointed National Security Advisor, and Vice President Mike Pence have promoted the “Libyan model” in relation to the North. In Libya, relief from sanctions was offered in exchange for international oversight as the country relinquished its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Despite Libya’s disarmament, it was bombarded by the US and NATO allies in 2011, and Col. Muammar Gaddafi was publicly assassinated by US-supported militias. Additionally, the North views the regular joint military exercises by the US and South Korea as rehearsals for invasion and regime change. On June 17 Trump announced a halt to the exercises which he even referred as “war games.” The North has long offered denuclearization in exchange for a halt to the exercises and a non-aggression pact.
Again in May, a statement from the South Korean president’s office said: “The North showed willingness on denuclearization…. If military threats to North Korea decrease and regime safety is guaranteed, the North showed that it has no reason to retain nukes.” And now, that was agreed to in the peace agreement in Singapore. North Korea agreed to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” while the United States “committed to provide security guarantees” to North Korea.
What Does North Korea Want?
In 2017 there was a New Year’s announcement that the North was close to completing its nuclear program, and at the end of the year the government declared that mission accomplished. Tim Shorrock, who writes for the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism and The Nation, who was raised in South Korea and Japan, remarked about the nuclear weapons program that, Kim “does have the weapons, though [the] interesting thing about his program last year was that they stopped short of actually getting a weapon onto a missile that can enter the atmosphere and hit a target. So, they do not have a nuclear-armed ICBM that can hit the United States at this time. They may be two or three years away from that.”
High on the North Korean priority list are a peace treaty, a non-aggression pact, an end to the military drills, but also energy and food to ameliorate chronic malnourishment. “The policy of the North Koreans has been something called the Byungjin Line and it has been a dual track. One has been the pursuit of its nuclear and missile program,” said Christine Ahn, of Women Cross DMZ. “The other track has been improving the economy of North Korea, and that is so critical to understanding what is the incentive also for North Korea to be willing to give up its nuclear weapons, because they want so much to advance their economy,” she said.
Prospects and Progress
Whatever may happen between the United States and North Korea, there are high expectations for realization of parts of the Declaration of Peace between South and North Korea. That is what drove the South Korean grassroots movement that led the candlelight revolution when, according to Ahn, “almost for half a year where one in three South Koreans, 16 million people took to the streets to call for the impeachment of [President] Park Geun-hye” and in turn elected Moon Jae-in. Within two months of being elected Moon Jae-in reached out to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to meet. On Jan 1, 2018 Kim accepted the offer, followed by a slew of diplomatic moves fostering new levels of trust and common ground among the US, South Korea and North Korea. On April 27 the two Korean leaders met in Panmunjeom. Kim Jong-un was the first North Korean leader to ever set foot inside South Korea.
Some of the points in the Panmunjeom Declaration for Peace can be pursued independently between the Koreas. In the Declaration Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un pledged “there will be no more war on the Korean Peninsula and thus a new era of peace has begun.” In the brief document they agreed to three points to improve relations between the Koreas, alleviate military tension and establish a peace regime, determining the future of the “Korean nation on their own accord.”
Some of the specific points of the Declaration have begun to be fulfilled. The week after it was signed, South Korea ended their loudspeaker broadcast into North Korea. South Korean police even prevented activists from unloading a truck with 5,000 anti-North Korean leaflets. North Korea shifted its clocks by 30 minutes to be in sync with South Korea. A direct telephone link between the two leaders has been set up.
Other gestures indicating openness to reconciliation have been made. In addition to freezing nuclear weapons testing, North Korea has unilaterally destroyed its underground nuclear testing facility, and on May 9 released three United States prisoners. In the Singapore Summit North Korea also committed to returning remains of US veterans of the Korean War.
Even the United States has made concessions. According to the New York Times on May 3, Trump ordered the Pentagon to find ways to reduce the number of troops in South Korea. Later in May Trump abandoned further sanctions that he had been seeking.
The South Korean movement that nonviolently overthrew Park Geun-hye lit the fire for peace in Korea. The momentum for peace has been built and shot down over and over. Today it is moving in a direction that lets the doves be optimistic about one thing for the first time in a long time, even if for a brief moment.
—Sources: “Joint Statement of President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea at the Singapore Summit”, June 12, 2018; Wall Street Journal, May 28; Agence France Presse, May 6; New York Times, May 3; The Intercept, May 2; Democracy Now!, April 30; “Panmunjeom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula,” April 27, 2018
US Wasting Billions on Nuclear Bombs That Pose Threat to NATO – Experts
German Foreign Minister Calls for Ouster of US Nukes from Germany
Dismantling the EPA: 700 Flee Agency As Trump Nixes Regulations, Enforcement
2nd US Delegation to Join Peace Actions at German Air Base that Hosts US H-Bombs
Spring Quarterly 2018
The Trump administration has repealed a 2008 prohibition on the use of cluster munitions and declared that it will again make combat use of them, in spite of a 2008 UN treaty ban that’s been ratified by 120 countries. Cluster munitions—rockets, bombs, missiles and artillery projectiles that scatter hundreds of smaller exploding bomblets over wide areas—were outlawed by the treaty because they indiscriminately maim civilians, and because unexploded bomblets in war zones around the world have killed or wounded civilians many years after the conflict has ended.
CNN reported: “In 2008 then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates ordered the military to cease using older types of cluster bombs by Jan. 1, 2019, and to retain only newer versions of the bombs that explode at least 99% of the time or have advanced safeguards that would automatically defuse unexploded ordnance, reducing the risks of injuring civilians.”
The 2008 US prohibition was compromised, and in 2009 Cluster bombs in Cruise missiles were used by the Navy in an attack inside Yemen that Amnesty International reported killed 41 people, including 14 women and 21 children. The Pentagon keeps more than 1.5 million of the older munitions (containing over 90 million bomblets) in South Korea, where they imply readiness for war against North Korea, and another 2.2 million in the United States.
—New York Times, Dec. 1; CNN, Nov. 30, 2017
We know from the Clinton-era economic sanctions against Iraq, that the innocent suffered and died while the regime of Saddam Hussein remained unscathed. Half-a-million children starved to death, the blameless infants paying a price that Secretary of Hate Madeline Albright said was “worth it.”
Today’s sanctions against North Korea are inflicting the same sort of privations against blameless starving infants, children, their mothers and grandparents. Lee Eugene from South Korea’s Ministry of Unification said last September that the latest sanctions make North Korea’s malnourished children, nursing mothers and the elderly even more vulnerable. (9-16-17) Foreign visitors to the North report that sanctions haven’t changed life for the elite, while ordinary people lack tools, running water, and needed medicines in clinics.
Malnutrition and even starving has been going on in North Korea for decades, yet no amount of suffering seems to move rich countries to end the hunger or even “allow in the ambulances.” Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last September criticized a South Korean plan to donate a mere $8 million for food and medicines, complaining that relief efforts would weaken international pressure on the North to curtail its missile programs. (9-16-17)
Experts have estimated that between 1995 and 1998, two-to-three million North Koreans died of starvation and famine-related illnesses, mainly children and the elderly. Out of a population of 22 million in 1998, this was one of the worst famines of the 20th century. But don’t shed a tear for the victims of avoidable mass starvation, because the North is a deadly threat of ferocious strength and cunning, so fearsome that Mark McDonald in the New York Times warned readers in January 2011 to be “concerned” that the North could use “further intrigues” and “nuclear capabilities to force food aid” from the US and South Korea. (NYT, 1-2-11) Those commies never fight fair, as Phil Oaks said.
Even at the height of the famine in 1997 when the World Food Program said it could see “no food in the country at all” and North Korea admitted the same, the United States was not going to be fooled into sending emergency rations. Rather, it urged other countries to do so. (NYT, 3-3-98) In August of 1999, when the World Food Program said people were still starving, US Rep. Tony Hall, D-Ohio, harshly criticized Japan by for cutting off food aid. The United States itself threatened to do the same if the North tested a missile. (8-26-99) So embittered are relations between Japan and North Korea, that in 2002 when donations of food aid from other countries plummeted one Japanese charity sent a shipment of dog biscuits. (NYT, 12-5-02)
Today’s economic sanctions are targeted at North Korea’s energy supply, already chronically short of fuel and diesel oil, and hit impoverished segments of the population. Former UN coordinator in Pyongyang David Morton has reported that health and sanitation systems are damaged by energy shortages. (2-20-01)
In July 2013, over one-quarter of the children of North Korea under the age of five were still suffering chronic malnourishment and the North’s infant mortality rates were “several times higher” than rates in South Korea, according to United Nations surveys. (NYT 7-29-13) Two years earlier, in Sept. 2011, the World Food Program reported that one-third of all North Korean children under 5 were malnourished. (NYT 9-10-11) That April, former President Jimmy Carter condemned the government of Barack Obama for refusing to send assistance, saying the deliberate withholding of food amounted to “a human rights violation.” (NYT, 4-29-11) You know a crime is underway when a former liberal US president criticizes a sitting liberal US president from his own party over human rights. The US war against the dangerous starving North Koreans was still underway in December 2011, when four US relief groups including Mercy Corps publicly charged that the US was playing politics with children’s lives. (NYT, 12-2-11)
In spite of the North’s long-standing need for a more diverse food supply, and the fact that two-thirds of all North Koreans were enduring chronic food shortages (NYT 8-5-12), South Korean government and private aide for the North dropped “more than 95 percent” between 2007 and 2012.
In Feb. 2012, the Obama White House was still using food as a weapon. US negotiator Glyn Davies gave the impression of holding up 240,000 tons of energy bars and and grains contending that it could easily be transferred to the North Korean Army. Both the US and South Korean governments deny using malnutrition as a bargaining chip, but in Nov. 2011, S. Korean unification minister Yu Woo-ik said in Beijing that his bosses would not make a major shipment of rice unless North Korea apologized for shelling a South Korean island the previous November.
As if the population doesn’t suffer enough, August 5, 2012 saw a typhoon and a string of floods strike the North, killing hundreds, leaving 400 missing, and forcing 212,000 into homelessness. (NYT 8-5-12) That summer, the price of rice doubled. By November 2013, the World Food Program was warning that mothers and children in 80 percent of North Korean households had insufficient amounts of vitamins, minerals, fats and proteins in their diets. (NYT 11-28-13)
What a relief that the Pentagon held what it called a “table-top exercise” in February in Hawaii practicing how to attack the starving North Koreans. At least a bombing campaign would finally stop them tricking us into sending food aid.