North Korea – The ‘Evil’ George W. Bush Can Live With

HERE’S A test. Which of these two regimes appears the most threatening?

Regime 1 – Reneges on its international treaties including nuclear non-proliferation; kicks out weapons inspectors; sells its ballistic technology abroad; puts its one million troops on a state of high alert; threatens a pre-emptive nuclear strike against its neighbour.

Regime 2 – Agrees to UN resolutions; lets UN inspectors in to disarm its weapons of mass destruction; is subjected to military and economic sanctions; has no proven links with Al Qa’ida terrorists.

That’s right, it’s regime 2 – Iraq. Well that’s what the US administration says. For while George Bush pursues a strategy of toppling Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship to impose a pro-US regime and exploit that country’s oil reserves, when it comes to regime 1 (North Korea) his response is ‘diplomatic talks’.

Hypocrisy is never in short supply in the White House. But, in reality, to fight two simultaneous wars, especially when one of them is pitched against a heavily armed foe like North Korea (that possibly possesses a limited nuclear capability), would put overwhelming pressure on the US military and economy.

But the tense situation in the Korean peninsula isn’t merely the result of a bellicose, fossilised Stalinist regime in the north. The crisis has come about by Bush’s hawkish foreign policy that seeks to isolate Kim Jong-il’s dictatorship.

Having deemed North Korea part of the ‘axis of evil’ Bush tore up the 1994 ‘agreed framework’ between the US and North Korea (under which the North would mothball its nuclear weapons programme in exchange for economic aid).

This prompted Kim Jong-il’s regime to restart its nuclear weapons programme, confounding the US hawks. This resulted in South Korea and Japan cutting off oil supplies.

Cold War legacy

NORTH KOREA has been under a strategic siege from the US since the 1950-53 Korean War ended (a peace treaty was never agreed and the north and south are still, technically, at war).

After the Soviet Union (North Korea’s principal backer), collapsed in 1990 its economy, weighed down by a heavily militarised bureaucracy has faced catastrophe, including a severe famine in the mid-1990s which caused up to two million deaths from starvation.

This disaster forced the regime to let private markets develop in agriculture and to open up special enterprise zones for foreign capitalists to invest and exploit the country’s cheap labour.

Now, North Korea is taking advantage of the US conflict with Iraq to use its weapons programme as a bargaining tool to gain economic and security concessions.

After the Korean War a US-backed dictatorship emerged in the South, propped up by American forces (37,000 US troops are still stationed in South Korea), which lasted into the 1990s.

South Korea’s capitalists, living under the threat of a new and possible deadly nuclear war, have tried to mollify the North’s rulers by making concessions and, diplomatically, by diverging from US foreign policy.

Many working-class and middle-class South Koreans are angered by the US’s role in meddling in its affairs. This anger recently boiled over into mass street protests when two US marines were acquitted by a US military tribunal after their armoured truck killed two schoolchildren.

Although ‘experts’ dismiss the North’s war-like noises as mere rhetoric, the fear is that if the US pursues a confrontational course a desperate North could seek a way out of the impasse by attacking the South – a horrendous prospect.

For a fuller analysis of North Korea, see the present issue of Socialism Today.