DPRK’s nuclear deterrent and the 6-Party Talks

On Saturday 24 February another major demonstration was held in London against the US and British governments illegal occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. It attracted some 60,000 people, filling Trafalgar Square, and the march was decidedly hostile to the Labour government that has been perpetrating this criminality, with chants of ‘Labour, Labour, Labour, Out, Out, Out’, from people who would definitely not be voting conservative! Current US imperialist war preparations against Iran were also very much on protesters’ minds.

The Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) [CPGB-ML] organised a post-demonstration meeting on the importance of the anti-war movement taking on the defence of the DPRK, which has been the target of imperialist aggression throughout its existence, subjected to threats of nuclear first strikes, and bombarded also with economic and financial sanctions. The CPGB-ML considers it most important to imbue the peace movement with the understanding that the weapons in the hands of countries which are the subject of imperialist of aggression are weapons promoting peace, not war, and as such are to be welcomed rather than condemned.

The meeting brought together progressive people of every hue, including pacifists and communists, and gave rise to a lively discussion on the question of nuclear weapons as an instrument of peace.

Ella Rule, the Vice President of the CPGB-ML took the chair, and the main speakers were Godfrey Cremer of the CPGB-ML and Keith Bennett, an independent political researcher and expert on the Far East.

Comrade Godfrey spoke about a recent visit to the DPRK by members of the CPGB-ML, along the lines of the report on this visit which was reproduced in the December issue of the party newspaper, Proletarian, and which can be read on-line at www.cpgb-ml.org. Godfrey’s remarks were designed to help people understand what tremendous benefits socialism has brought to the people of north Korea, and the extent to which the Korean people really appreciate this and enjoy life (despite some hardships caused by hostile US action), contrary to the relentless lying imperialist propaganda that paints the DPRK as a police state where people are kept docile by being kept in a constant state of fear.

Comrade Keith’s speech, outlining the current situation as far as relations between the US and Korea are concerned, was also very illuminating and, since it is not available elsewhere, we reproduce it in full.

Agreement reached at the 6-party talks

The latest position, said Comrade Keith, is that an agreement has been reached at the 6-party talks being held in Beijing.. Under that agreement the DPRK, North Korea, will – quoting from the text signed at the end of the talks “shut down and seal for the purpose of eventual abandonment the Yongbyon nuclear facility including the nuclear processing plant and invite back International Atomic Agency personnel to conduct all necessary monitoring and verifications”. The DPRK further committed itself to discussing with the other parties a list of all its nuclear programmes. In exchange for this, the DPRK and the United States are to start bilateral talks aimed at moving towards the establishment of full diplomatic relations. The United States will also move towards taking the DPRK off its notorious list of terrorist states as well as stop applying the Trading with the Enemy Act to the DPRK, under which Washington has imposed crippling economic sanctions on Pyongyang for decades. And a similar diplomatic process is supposed to take place between the DPRK and Japan. As the DPRK takes steps to dismantle its nuclear programme, the other parties have agreed to provide the country with economic, energy and humanitarian assistance up to the equivalent of 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil, with an initial shipment equivalent to 50,000 tons. The parties agreed to meet again on March 19 to review progress in implementing this Agreement and to discuss the next steps in a regional peace process.

It was separately agreed that representatives of the United States and the DPRK would meet within 30 days to resolve the problem of banking sanctions imposed by the US on DPRK financial institutions and on international banks doing business with them.

Now I think that this Agreement that has been reached has to be understood in the following ways: first of all, we are not there yet. This is just a stage in an ongoing process and there will be lots more twists and turns in the future. As of now, let us be clear, the DPRK has not ceded any of its hard-earned nuclear potential or deterrent, although they have agreed to freeze at the moment their reprocessing plant. That of course says nothing about the nuclear weapons that they have already developed. Nothing is envisaged to happen for a considerable period that cannot easily be reversed if the other side does not honour its reciprocal commitments. Moreover, in taking the steps that the DPRK has done, it is important that international public opinion be fully educated and be able to see with its own eyes who really stands for peace on the Korean Peninsula. As Mohammed Al-Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said in an interview this week, you simply cannot un-invent the human knowledge necessary to equip yourself with nuclear weapons once you have acquired that knowledge. That is one act of disarmament which it is impossible to carry out.

History of denuclearisation negotiations

Moreover, in terms of the stage where things are at the moment, we have essentially been here three times in the past. The first time was when the Geneva Accord was signed between the DPRK and the United States in October 1994, when the United States agreed to lead an international consortium to provide North Korea with two light-water reactors. The second time was when agreement was reached by the then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright with Kim Jong Il in October 2000, which provided the basis for full normalisation of relations between the US and the DPRK and which was to have been followed by a visit by President Clinton. The third was the agreement reached at these same 6-party talks in the round held in September 2005. The key difference between that agreement and the present one is that there is a rudimentary timetable to this one, but the provisions are essentially the same. Indeed, this round of talks was billed as being to discuss the implementation of the September 2005 agreement, and that of course was the one that the United States promptly sabotaged by imposing banking sanctions. Therefore the situation we are in at the moment is by no means unprecedented, and it follows that the tasks of the friendship and solidarity movements and the tasks of anti-imperialists with regard to the Korean question remain just the same as they always were.

Socialism abhors nuclear weapons

The next point I would like to make in looking at this process of negotiations and the agreement that has been reached is that of course North Korea never wanted to develop nuclear weapons. We know of course that in the DPRK the people have achieved many things in building their country and providing facilities for their people. Nevertheless, the DPRK remains essentially a poor country, a country which has suffered under sanctions imposed by the United States and other imperialist powers over half a century, and a country which also has a lop-sided economy by virtue of the fact that the natural economic unit – the Korean Peninsula – has been partitioned and divided by outside forces leaving the north with almost none of the useful agricultural land, for example, that the country should enjoy, which is overwhelmingly in the south. The DPRK is a country which has a social system and a political system geared towards meeting the needs of the people. It is therefore a country which has tremendous development needs to which it would far rather devote its precious resources than to bomb-making. In the light of imperialist threats against it, however, it has had no choice but to look to its defences.

However, people need to be clear on the nuclear issue. Nuclear weapons were first developed by imperialism and have only ever been used by imperialism. Socialist countries, on the other hand, have only ever developed nuclear weapons to defend their own security and world peace. This is the case with the USSR, the People’s Republic of China and the DPRK – the three socialist countries that have had nuclear weapons. If there is one reason, for example, why the United States did not use nuclear weapons in the Korean War of 1950-53, it was simply because the USSR had managed very recently to develop its own nuclear weapons. Likewise, the People’s Republic of China developed nuclear weapons as the US was building up its war in Vietnam and threatening China with a possible nuclear strike. Moreover, from the start, China became the only nuclear power to state that it would never be the first to use nuclear weapons, would never use them against a non-nuclear power and that it stood for the complete prohibition and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons.

In the case of the DPRK, we are talking about a country which has lived with nuclear threats from the United States for 50 years, and a country which only seriously began to develop its own nuclear deterrent after the collapse of the USSR had totally disturbed the balance of the international balance of forces and imparted a new degree of aggressiveness to US imperialism in its confrontation with anti-imperialist countries.

After the DPRK carried out its nuclear tests in October last year, the DPRK declared as follows:

“The DPRK was compelled to substantially improve its possession of nukes to protect its sovereignty and right to existence from the daily increasing danger of war from the United States. Although the DPRK conducted the nuclear test due to the US, it still remains unchanged in its will to denuclearise the Peninsula through dialogue and negotiations. The de-nuclearisation of the entire Peninsula was President Kim Il Sung’s last instruction and an ultimate goal of the DPRK.”

And the Statement continued “the DPRK clarified more than once that it would feel no need to possess even a single nuke when it is no longer exposed to the US threat, after it has dropped its hostile policy toward the DPRK and confidence has been built between the two countries.”

So what I hope to have demonstrated so far, comrades, is that the DPRK’s basic policies and goals have remained completely consistent and comrades should bear this in mind through all the many twists and turns that inevitably lie ahead.

History of US/DPRK relations

I want now to turn to the historical background of DPRK/US relations. I dealt with this issue in a talk I gave in Marx House a few months ago and do not intend to go over all the same ground. The text of this talk is reproduced in the November issue of Lalkar.

Having been the first country to have suffered from the brutal rule of Japanese militarism from the beginning of the 20th century, Korea should have been one of the first countries to have enjoyed the fruits of the victory over fascism in World War II. However, as everybody knows, the United States occupied the south of Korea and 5 years later, in 1950, a brutal war broke out on the Peninsula. Combined, the Korean and Chinese casualties in the conflict from 1950-1953 are estimated at some 3.8 million. The entire country was destroyed. General Curtis LeMay masterminded the US bombing campaign in Korea. At the end of the war he said: over a period of 3 years or so, we burned down every town in north Korea and south Korea too. General MacArthur ordered the US air force to turn north Korea into a wasteland by destroying “every installation, factory, city and village”. He congratulated the air force when it used napalm to burn the city of Hyeryung. MacArthur declared that “a large part of enemy lines is now a wilderness of scorched earth”. General MacArthur also wanted to drop some 50 atomic bombs on north Korea and in north-east China. Atrocities against civilians were official US policy during the Korean War. On May 29th last year, Charles J. Hanley and Martha Mendoza in the Washington Post (‘U.S. policy was to shoot Korean refugees’) reported as follows:

“More than a half century after hostilities ended in Korea, a document from the war’s chaotic early days has come to light. A letter from the US ambassador to Seoul informing the State Department that US soldiers would shoot refugees approaching their lines. The letter, dated the same day as the US army’s mass killing of refugees at No Gun Ri in 1950 is the strongest indication yet that such a policy existed for all US forces in Korea and the first evidence that that policy was known to upper ranks of the US government.

“‘If refugees do appear from north of the US lines they will receive warning shots and if they then persist in advancing, they will be shot’ wrote ambassador John J Muccio in his message to Assistant Secretary of State, Dean Rusk.

“The letter reported on decisions made at a high-level meeting in south Korea on 25 July 1950, the night before the US seventh cavalry regiment shot the refugees at No Gun Ri. Estimates vary on the number of dead at No Gun Ri. US soldiers’ estimates ranged from fewer than 100 to hundreds dead. Korean survivors say about 400 – mostly women and children – were killed at the village, 100 miles south-east of Seoul, the south Korean capital. Hundreds more Koreans were killed in later similar episodes, survivors said.”

The Washington Post report continued “The No Gun Ri killings, as well as others in the ensuing months, remained hidden from history until the AP report of 1999 in which soldiers who were at No gun Ri corroborated the Korean survivors’ accounts. Survivors say that soldiers first forced them from nearby villages on July 25th, 1950, and then stopped them in front of US lines the next day when they were attacked without warning by aircraft as hundreds sat atop a railroad embankment. Troops of the seventh cavalry followed with ground fire as survivors took shelter under a railroad bridge….

“Since that episode was confirmed in 1999, south Koreans have lodged complaints with the Seoul government about 60 other alleged large-scale killings of refugees by the US military in the 1950-53 war. The army report of 2001 acknowledged that investigators learned of other non-specified civilian killings but said that these would not be investigated. AP research uncovered at least 19 unclassified US military documents showing that commanders ordered or authorised such killings in 1950-51”.

How redolent is this of the current reports of US soldiers firing on parties of innocent Iraqis and with the shameful refusal to even attempt to calculate the number of Iraqi civilian deaths under the occupation. One must say that the United States’ grotesque violation of human rights at Abu Ghraib prison, in the village of Haditha and at Guantánamo Bay were all pre-figured in the Korean and then the Vietnamese wars.

In its September-October 2006 edition, the US Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists identified four occasions when the United States threatened to use nuclear weapons against north Korea. The first was in November 1950 by President Truman, the second in 1953 by President Eisenhower, the third in August 1976 when American and north Korean soldiers clashed when the Americans had attempted to cut down a tree in the Demilitarised Zone which still divides north and south Korea, and in 1994 when President Clinton ordered plans to be drawn up for a pre-emptive strike on north Korea’s nuclear production facilities. The full details of these cases itemised in the US Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is fully quoted and annotated again in the Lalkar talk. Although there are four examples that the American study cited, there have been several other occasions when the United States has actively threatened north Korea with nuclear weapons, for example after the capture of the US spy ship Pueblo in January 1968. The potential for that visit to have developed into a nuclear attack against the DPRK was fully explored in a book published by the University of Kansas Press in 2003 entitled The Pueblo incident, a spy ship and the failure of US foreign policy by Mitchell B Lerner. So, the point I want to make by itemising these occasions when the United States has threatened north Korea with a nuclear attack is that for the Korean people talk of a nuclear crisis is not some passing headline or soundbite, but a bitter reality over more than 50 years from which both the people and their leaders have drawn the necessary conclusions.

No use begging for peace – it must be won by struggle against imperialism

For myself, I first visited the DPRK in July 1983. At that time I attended a conference at which there were delegates from the Soviet Union, from China, from eastern Europe, from throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America, from national liberation movements like the ANC and SWAPO and the PLO and from different communist parties from western Europe, north America and so on. Back in 1983, the international situation was that on the one hand you had both the Soviet Union and China putting emphasis on improving their bilateral relations with the United States, and the Soviet Union and China had not themselves yet fully buried the hatchet between themselves. At the same time you had an advancing revolutionary process as it then appeared in countries such as Nicaragua, El Salvador and Grenada. Zimbabwe was newly independent and their was an intensified regional struggle against apartheid with the Cuban and South African forces confronting each other in Angola in particular. And all these varied trends in the international situation were reflected in the contributions of the people who attended that Conference. Although the struggle was mostly veiled, the struggle between different lines in the progressive movement was actually quite sharp at this Conference. In the course of the Conference, President Kim Il Sung invited all the delegates to a dinner that he hosted, and he made a speech on that occasion. There was one key point that he wished to make in that speech and that was very clearly reflecting what had been passing in the preceding days of the Conference. The key point that Comrade Kim Il Sung made in his speech to all the delegates attending this Conference was that world peace cannot be won by begging. It can be realised and safeguarded only through a resolute struggle against imperialism (applause).

This is the spirit in which Comrade Kim Il Sung had consistently organised and educated his party and his people, and I believe that this is the secret of tiny Korea’s strength and resilience against the mighty United States of America.

Success of DPRK policy

In his famous ‘axis of evil’ speech, George Bush said we will not allow the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most dangerous weapons. It was under this signboard of course that the United States went to war against Iraq and it is under this signboard that some sort of attack against Iran looks to be increasingly likely. So therefore one wonders what did Bush have to say after the DPRK conducted its nuclear test on 9 October 2007? You might have thought that it would be something like Shakespeare’s King Lear when he was driven out on to the heath and he rages against his enemies about the revenge he is going to take on them and he says “I do not know what it shall be but it shall be the ends of the earth”. You would have expected a fairly robust reaction from Bush. But what did Bush actually say? Two days after the DPRK conducted its nuclear test, George Bush stood in the rose garden of the White House and declared as follows: “we have no intention of attacking north Korea”. Therefore, as Madeleine Albright said in a Financial Times interview, at about that same time: “The message out of Iraq is that if you don’t have nuclear weapons you get invaded. If you do have nuclear weapons you don’t get invaded.”

Madeleine Albright is not some kind of softy. This is the same woman who, when asked on television ‘is the death of a quarter of a million children a price worth paying if it helps to isolate Saddam Hussein?’, and she said yes, it was.

The point that we reached in October last year, the way that events have evolved from there up to the agreement we have now, is an illustration of the fact that the strength of the DPRK and its determination to develop that independent nuclear deterrent has given it the ability to resist the pressures that imperialism seeks to bring down on it. This was actually noted quite well in the bourgeois press in the immediate aftermath of the DPRK’s nuclear test. The nuclear test was announced by north Korea on 9 October. On 10 October a journalist called Simon Tisdall wrote in The Guardian, under the title ‘Happy bomb kills ideas of regime change’. The term ‘happy bomb’ was used because the Korean Statement on the nuclear explosion said that the event had brought great joy to the Korean people. So, the day after the Korean nuclear test, The Guardian wrote as follows (and one must keep what they were saying in October in mind when looking at the present situation):

“A barrage of condemnation did little to disguise the weakness of the international community’s position yesterday after north Korea finally crossed the line and apparently proved that it is what it has long claimed to be – a nuclear weapons state. The big powers can huff and puff but there is not a lot new in practical terms that they can do. The explosion was expected. They simply couldn’t stop it.”

The article then goes on to quote an academic called Professor David Wall who said that what was really required was a change in Washington’s approach to negotiations. The Guardian continued: “North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Il, may be calculating that the jolt of the weapons test will achieve exactly that and once the fuss dies down he may prove to be right”. And he was proved to be right.

On the same day, 10 October last year, the Financial Times carried an article under the headline ‘Bush warns north Korea – but options are limited’. That article said: “President Bush yesterday delivered a stern warning to north Korea about the consequences of its nuclear test but analysts say that the US has in reality few options and must rely on its limited leverage over China, Russia and south Korea. Stopping the weapons of mass destruction has been the cornerstone of Washington’s new national security policy and a justification for invading Iraq. Though north Korea’s nuclear ambitions can be traced to the presidency of Ronald Reagan, critics say that the Bush administration blundered in trying to confront north Korea in 2002 as it was committed to ousting Saddam Hussein. ‘The Bush administration deserves particular criticism’, said Gary Samore, the president of the Independent Council on Foreign Relations. ‘They have unrealistic expectations of what they could achieve through pressure. The US ability to coerce north Korea is quite limited, especially in the middle of a war with Iraq.’”

Tribute to the Iraqi resistance

Samore, who has just been quoted, is quite an interesting character. Before he took up the job mentioned by the Financial Times, he was here in London as the director of studies at the London Institute for Strategic Studies. Before that he was under-secretary of state for non-proliferation affairs in the Clinton administration and in that capacity he made numerous visits to Pyongyang and took part in nuclear discussions with the Korean government. In fact, one of his main interlocutors was Ambassador Ri who has just completed his term here as ambassador in London. Samore says that the US ability to coerce north Korea is quite limited especially in the middle of a war with Iraq. There are a number of reasons why the DPRK has not met the fate of Iraq, which is the title of tonight’s meeting, and I have been trying to summarise some of those above. This intelligent representative of US imperialism can see what so much of the British left and working-class movement can’t or won’t see. Yes, the Iraqi resistance is a thoroughly progressive manifestation of the Iraqi people’s struggle to win back their independence and self determination and as such alone is fully deserving of support. But more than that: the Iraqi resistance has long since ceased to have solely national or even regional significance. In the 1930’s the International Brigades went to Spain and those that went from this country said that if they failed to stop fascist bombs falling on Madrid and Barcelona, then those same bombs would come to fall on London and Paris. Tragically, because of the treacherous policy of non-intervention pursued by Britain and France, those warnings were proved all too right. Today, if the American fascists (how else does one describe the Bush clique) are not raining bombs on Pyongyang, Havana or Caracas, then part of the thanks should deservedly go to the heroic women, men and children of Iraq who are, in the words of that wonderful old Chinese expression, drowning the aggressors in a sea of people’s war (applause).

Encirclement of China

The final point that I wish to make is that another reason for US hostility to the DPRK, whether in 1950 or today or at any other time, is that the US pressure on the DPRK represents a key part of the United States contention – often suppressed but nevertheless real – with China. The fact that the United States is engaged in a confrontation with China was reiterated earlier this week by Vice President Dick Cheney who made a speech during his visit to Australia where, having gone through the motions of thanking the Chinese for their role in the 6-party talks, went on: “However, other actions by the Chinese government send a different message. China’s destruction of an inactive weather satellite last month as well as its continued fast-paced military build-up are less constructive and are not consistent with China’s stated goal of a peaceful rise.” It is interesting that the BBC’s Nick Bryant in Sydney said that “this is significant because Mr Cheney often delivers the authentic voice of the White House”.

People should never underestimate what a shattering blow the victory of the Chinese revolution and the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 was to US imperialism. This was the most fundamental extension of the great October socialist revolution that there has ever been and it is something that made a decisive tip in the balance of forces on the international scale. It hurt the United States very badly. The cry ‘who lost China?’ was the banner under which McCarthyism emerged in the United States. In the 1980’s Teng Hsiao Ping made an observation on which people can agree or disagree that the Korean and Vietnamese wars were both actually wars fought against China. Since the victory of the Chinese revolution, the United States has been engaged overtly or covertly in seeking to contain and encircle China. Despite the fact that there are, of course, counter indications, or counter trends in Sino-US relations (e.g., the huge levels of mutual trade and investment), this strategy of US imperialism, far from being rescinded, is now not only being fought out in Asia, but also in Africa, Latin America and essentially on a world-wide scale. Every 4 years the Pentagon publishes what it calls its Quadriennial Defence Review. In the Review published last year, the 2006 review, it states that “China is the biggest potential long-term challenge to US global interests.” In 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, during the first Gulf War against Iraq, the United States adopted a security doctrine according to which the United States should be able to exercise what it calls ‘full spectrum dominance’ – that means on land, on sea, in the air and also in space. And further that the United States should be and should remain more powerful than the whole of the rest of the world combined and that no power or group of powers should ever be allowed to reach the point where they would be in a position to challenge US global dominance – not China, Russia, India or the European Union or any combination of them or anyone else you care to mention. With regard to China which last year passed Britain to become the world’s fourth largest economy, and on some indications may become the world’s largest economy overtaking the United States around 2032 (according to Goldman Sachs). The rise of China becomes the biggest challenge to this clearly set out US doctrine. Further, a few weeks ago China demonstrated that it had now become the third country with the ability to shoot down satellites in outer space. This is the most profound step in China’s military defence since it joined the nuclear club in 1964. It is pretty much an open secret that the US program for missile defence (or son of Star Wars as it’s usually called), whatever excuses are given, is mostly directed against China. The purpose of this US Star Wars programme is that by rendering any country unable to retaliate against the United States, every country is therefore by definition at the mercy of the United States. If the Chinese now have the ability, as they have demonstrated, to shoot down satellites in outer space, this essentially renders the US missile defence programme redundant. It is typical of Blair’s genius that he chooses the time that it has become redundant to actually go begging to be allowed to be included in it!

As Proletarian, your party’s newspaper, put it, the response from powers like Washington and London to this Chinese missile test “reflects the frustration of the imperialists at the scuppering of their plans to use space weaponry to assist them in achieving economic and political domination over the planet.”