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Volume 3,  Number 23              July 13 - 19, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines

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US positions its forces for first strike against North Korea


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The United States has decided to redeploy its troops now stationed in two dozen bases along the North Korean border. They will be moved 120 kilometres to another American base south of Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. It might seem that this is meant to decrease political tensions and the chance of war, but it is not.

On 13 June, many thousands of Koreans demonstrated throughout the South to demand that US troops get out of their country. Protestors insisted that two American soldiers who killed two 13-year-old Korean girls a year ago face Korean justice. A 50-tonne armoured vehicle crushed the girls during military exercises. Under the rules made by the US occupiers, the two sergeants were tried for manslaughter by the American army, which let them go, sparking huge anti-US demonstrations last year. On the anniversary this year, Seoul demonstrators clashed with thousands of riot police in front of the American embassy. Hundreds of demonstrators tried to storm one of the US bases at the border, with some students succeeding in getting in before the base was sealed off. Ironically, this protest came shortly after the US announced that this camp and others like it would be closed. The announcement only made the demonstrators angrier, because instead of leaving Korea the US is digging in.

The troop shift, defined by US authorities as a matter of the "consolidation" of existing US military facilities, is really part of a four-year, 11 billion dollar programme to strengthen the 37,500 US forces in the South. The South Korean government has also just announced plans to boost its military spending by a quarter. According to the North Korean news agency (KCNA), this increase was forced on the South Korean government through US pressure. US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz visited South Korea 2 June. Among other bellicose statements in a speech there, he bragged that the US would soon be in a position to "take down" the North Korean army in an hour and destroy Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. One reported purpose of his trip was to "convince reluctant South Korean leaders that US troops should withdraw south of Seoul". The New York Times described the South Korean government as "bitterly sceptical" about the move.

The 16,000 troops in the US 2nd Infantry Division, which includes armoured, artillery and helicopter units, are currently within artillery range of North Korea. As the London Guardian wrote, "once the troops have been removed, the US will be in a stronger position to use its vastly superior long-range weapons" against North Korea without fear of suffering high losses when the North Koreans fight back. The New York Times wrote on 2 June, "South Korean officials see the move as part of an elaborate American plan, one that would allow the United States to stage a pre-emptive strike on North Korean nuclear facilities without fear of the north's artillery".

A "pre-emptive strike", as the whole world knows after Iraq, means an unprovoked US assault.

Earlier this year the North Korean government dropped a political bombshell when it unexpectedly declared that it already has nuclear weapons, at a time when American authorities were saying otherwise. The North seemed to feel it needed this proclamation as a deterrent to the US troops massed at its borders in the context of Bush's threats. According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists North Korea has at most "a small number" of small bombs and no long-range missiles capable of hitting the US. The only imaginable military purpose of its nukes is to deter a US invasion. While the US government likes to call Kim Jong Il "paranoid", articles in the American press have revealed that the US has plotted to murder him with cruise missiles, just as they tried to do to Saddam Hussein. Bush accuses the North of "nuclear blackmail" against the US, but it seems that the only "blackmail" involved is trying to convince the US not to attack and perhaps to strike some kind of agreement with the US about the regime's survival.

Actually, Korean history provides one of the strongest proofs that the US is not invincible. In the Korean war that ended in 1953, North Korean ground troops, aided by volunteers from Mao's China after the US threatened to invade China, inflicted one of the worst defeats the US armed forces have ever suffered. The US is redeploying its troops now because this is exactly the kind of war that it wants to avoid. Under the Rumsfeld doctrine, the US wants to fight the kind of war it fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, where it relied on bombs and missiles to cause mass destruction while minimising large-scale infantry engagements. This is important to the US if it is going to be able to attack governments all over the world at once or one after another.

The reported North Korean strategic decision to downgrade its strong conventional army while relying on its nukes to try to frighten the US or to threaten it in the domain where the US is strongest will not necessarily make it more able to defeat a US attack.

One aspect of American political aims has been clearly stated. As with Saddam and Khamenei in Iran, the US is not willing to accept even Kim Jong Il's efforts to compromise. It wants "decapitation", a "regime change", in the North.

But the other half of the American target is South Korea. For many Koreans, the death of the two girls and the arrogant way the US dealt with the case symbolised America's contempt for them and their national feelings, and its cruel bullying, including the CIA's imposition of military dictatorships on the South for many decades. Today, the United States wants to prevent the emergence of a united Korea that would not be under its heel. On 14 June, the governments of both halves of Korea celebrated the completion of a rail link between the capitals for the first time since the war. South Korean president Roh Moo Hyun was elected on a promise to work towards the reunification of the country, which all observers say is the strong wish of the people in South Korea and apparently a section of the South Korean ruling class, and the long-time stated policy of the North (although Roh's game with the US is ambiguous). American control of Korea is a key to the US ruling class's determination not to allow a regional line-up of Japan and its former colonies Korea and China to emerge as an obstacle to US world domination.

The US arms build-up in South Korea scheduled for the next few years does not mean that the US is necessarily planning to attack right now, when it has its hands full with Iraq and the Middle East. In fact, lately Bush has made more dire threats against Iran, which definitely is not even close to having nuclear weapons. The Bush regime has its targeting priorities, which have nothing to do with preventing the spread of nukes and everything to do with the centrality of the Middle East to its strategy for world domination. The first of Bush's three "axis of evil" countries to be invaded under the "weapons of mass destruction" pretext was Iraq, which despite the lies, and unlike the other two, had abandoned its nuclear programme entirely a decade ago, as has now been made clear. But there is less reason than ever to think that Bush's "axis of evil" speech was just bluster. On the anniversary of the two girls' death, with all of South Korea expressing outrage, Bush issued an apology for the incident but ruled out any change in status for the occupation troops and rejected the demand that the US sign a pledge not to start a war in Korea.

For once, Bush was being honest. The US is making very concrete preparations for another Korean war. 

June 30, 2003


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