The Korean Peninsula: U.S. Military Aggression and Pyongyang’s Response

The presence of a socialist country in East Asia has been a threat to U.S. economic hegemony in the region although it has also served as a magnet that would justify U.S. military supremacy in the guise of “preserving democracy and free market.”


A peninsula in East Asia, the Korean Peninsula (called by the Koreans as Choson bando or Han bando) extends southward for about 1,100 kilometers from northeast China and southeast Russia into the Pacific Ocean and is surrounded by the Sea of Japan on the east, the East China Sea to the south, and the Yellow Sea to the west, the Korean Strait connecting the first two bodies of water. The peninsula is highly strategic in that from the Pacific it is the door to mainland Asia particularly the world’s two large countries, China and Russia. It is also a staging point in reaching Japan and beyond, the region of Southeast Asia and Oceania.

North Korea, the only remaining socialist country in East Asia today, has been the target of acts of war, provocative actions and isolationist measures by U.S. imperialism after World War II, first with the Korean War in which its major cities were carpet-bombed with a threat to use atomic weapons. Since then, North Korea had been in the Pentagon’s war map marked by provocative actions with the deployment of nuclear-armed warships in waters surrounding the peninsula and the deployment of tens of thousands of forces based in Okinawa, South Korea and elsewhere. The U.S. has also imposed economic embargoes and other sanctions against North Korea often with the backing of the United Nations, Japan and other capitalist allies.

The presence of a socialist country in East Asia has been a threat to U.S. economic hegemony in the region although it has also served as a magnet that would justify U.S. military supremacy in the guise of “preserving democracy and free market” but in reality to protect its long-term trade and commercial interests in the region. At the height of the Cold War, U.S. military supremacy had been justified as a deterrent to the two big socialist camps – China and the USSR – in East Asia.

U.S. officials have repeatedly emphasized that strong military presence in the Korean Peninsula is a key component in U.S. imperialism’s strategy of “forward military deployment” to project its influence throughout Asia.[1] Today, the U.S. maintains 37,000 troops in South Korea and another 50,000 troops are stationed in Japan. Altogether, over 100,000 U.S. troops are permanently based in Asia Pacific while U.S. naval forces prowl the seas.

However, if there were no “North Korean menace”, U.S. imperialism would be hard put in justifying its strong military presence in the region. This is another reason why the U.S. has opposed the reunification of the two Koreas negotiations for which actually began under South Korea’s “sunshine policy” during the mid-1990s until U.S. President George W. Bush, Jr., torpedoed such efforts with his “axis of evil” vilification against Pyongyang. “Reunification,” said the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based foreign policy think tank, “threatens vital U.S. interests in Korea…The emergence of a reunified Korea might prompt the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the ROK (Republic of Korea or South Korea) and mean the end of the special security role and influence of the United States in East Asia, a reunified Korea may mean the loss of the ROK as the sixth largest importer of U.S. arms.[2]

Erstwhile Secretary of State and foreign policy realist Henry Kissinger echoed similar sentiments in a 2001 Washington Post article: “Were tensions to ease dramatically, the presence of American troops could become highly controversial within South Korea. In turn, if these forces were removed, the future of American bases in Japan would become problematic. And if American troops left the rim of Asia, an entirely new security and, above all, political situation would arise all over the continent. Were this to happen, even a positive evolution on the Korean peninsula could lead to a quest for autonomous defense policies in Seoul and Tokyo and to a growth of nationalism in Japan, China and Korea.”[3]

U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen said in Seoul in April 1997 that the U.S. intends to keep its forces stationed in Korea even if the two Koreas reunite.[4]

U.S. acts of provocation heightened in 2001 when Bush included North Korea in his “axis of evil” along with Iraq, Iran, Cuba and Syria. Accusing North Korea of developing “weapons of mass destruction” particularly nuclear arms, the U.S. included North Korea as a nuclear target in the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review and increased its number of forces and nuclear warships in the peninsula. In his January 2002 State of the Union address, Bush again threatened to launch a pre-emptive attack against the DPRK. Japan, meantime, also undertook its own war preparations including ship deployments in the Sea of Japan even as it threatened economic sanctions against North Korea.[5]

All these would precipitate Pyongyang’s resumption of its nuclear program as a defensive posture and as a deterrent against potential U.S. pre-emptive nuclear attacks, citing Article 10 of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that “each party shall in exercising its national sovereign have the right to withdraw from this Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this Treaty have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country.”[6]

Although at first claiming it as civilian-oriented, Pyongyang resumed its nuclear program after the U.S. decided to stop shipments of heavy fuel oil to North Korea for its light water reactors needed for energy and food production under the 1994 Agreed Framework[7], which was a precondition to Pyongyang’s freezing of its nuclear production. Critics said the U.S. deliberately stopped implementing its own obligations to the agreement to blackmail Pyongyang and surrender to American terms and preconditions. In October 2002 and upon instructions by Bush, U.S. Assistant State Secretary James Kelly told North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Wan in Pyongyang “that the U.S. now had a precondition to further engagement (negotiations on the nuclear issue) – that the DPRK’s uranium enrichment program be dismantled immediately.”[8]

With the U.S. already violating every provision of the Agreed Framework there were no reasons for Pyongyang to honor the agreement any further. A few days before Christmas of 2002 it removed the monitoring devices from the Yongbyon nuclear facilities and started repairs. Before the October 2006 Korean Peninsula crisis, North Korea and the United States had engaged in multilateral talks hosted by Beijing, along with South Korea, Japan and Russia. The talks came into a deadlock in 2005 with North Korea’s insistence that it be allowed to pursue a civilian nuclear energy program along with a commitment by the U.S. to agree to a non-aggression treaty and another commitment to remove its nuclear threat to North Korea. It has insisted that bilateral talks between Pyongyang and Washington be pursued instead of the multilateral talks.[9]

North Korea was forced to finally walk out of the six-party talks in November 2005 and in particular due to the sanctions already being implemented against it by Washington forcing U.S. banks to end relations with a number of Asian and European banks that have DPRK accounts. Under the guise of opposing illicit activities, the sanctions were aimed at restricting North Korea’s limited access to foreign exchange and economically strangling the DPRK.[10]

It should be noted that South Korea had agreed earlier to reunification talks with its northern neighbor and saw no problem with Pyongyang pursuing a civilian nuclear program. Both positions run opposite that of the U.S.[11]

North Korea has no other choice but to develop its nuclear weapons as a deterrent to a nuclear attack by the U.S., a possibility that has loomed due to the provocative acts of the U.S. and Japan. On April 6, 2003, it announced that only by arming itself with a “tremendous military deterrent” could it guarantee its security.[12] Pyongyang cannot count on the full or unequivocal support of China either owing to the latter’s soft policy vis-à-vis the U.S. and the latter’s offensive military presence in East Asia. Still, although now ideologically split with Pyongyang, China – and, for that matter, Russia – need socialist North Korea as a buffer against U.S. imperialist hegemony in East Asia especially because of the Pentagon’s hostile military encirclement of the former socialist giants.

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