The Real Reason Washington is Worried about North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un arrives for the opening ceremony of a newly built residential complex in Pyongyang on April 13 [2017]. Photo: Reuters

By Stephen Gowans in What’s Left

A number of countries have recently tested ballistic or cruise missiles and a handful, not least Russia and China, possess nuclear-tipped ICBMs capable of striking the United States. And yet the missiles and nuclear weapons program of only one of these countries, North Korea, arouses consternation in Washington.

What makes tiny North Korea, within its miniscule defense budget, and rudimentary nuclear arsenal and missile capability, a threat so menacing that “worry has spread in Washington and the United Nations”? [1]
“The truth,” it has been said, “is often buried on the front page of The New York Times.” [2] This is no less true of the real reason Washington frets about North Korea’s missile tests.
In a July 4, 2017 article titled “What can Trump do about North Korea? His options are few and risky,” reporter David E. Sanger, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the unofficial think-tank of the US State Department, reveals why Washington is alarmed by North Korea’s recent test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
“The fear,” writes Sanger, “is not that [North Korean leader] Mr. Kim would launch a pre-emptive attack on the West Coast; that would be suicidal, and if the North’s 33-year-old leader has demonstrated anything in his five years in office, he is all about survival.”
Washington’s alarm, according to Sanger, is that “Mr. Kim [now] has the ability to strike back.” In other words, Pyongyang has acquired the means of an effective self-defense. That, writes Sanger, makes North Korea “a dangerous regime.”
Indeed, to a world hegemon like the United States, any renitent foreign government that refuses to place itself in the role of vassal becomes “a dangerous regime,” which must be eliminated. Accordingly, allowing pro-independence North Korea to develop the means to more effectively defend itself against US imperialist ambitions has no place in Washington’s playbook. The United States has spent the past 70 years trying to integrate the tiny, plucky, country into its undeclared empire. Now, with North Korea’s having acquired the capability to retaliate against US military aggression in a manner that would cause considerable harm to the US homeland, the prospects of those seven-decades of investment bearing fruit appear dim.
US hostility to North Korean independence has been expressed in multifarious ways over the seven decades of North Korea’s existence.
A three-year US-led war of aggression, from 1950 to 1953, exterminated 20 percent of North Korea’s population and burned to the ground every town in the country [3], driving the survivors into subterranean shelters, in which they lived and worked. US General Douglas MacArthur said of the destruction the United States visited upon North Korea that “I have never seen such devastation…After I looked at the wreckage and those thousands of women and children and everything, I vomited.” [4]
A vicious seven-decades-long campaign of economic warfare, aimed at crippling the country’s economy, and engendering attendant miseries among its people, has conferred upon North Korea the unhappy distinction of being the most heavily sanctioned nation on earth. Nestled among the tranches of US sanctions are those that have been imposed because North Korea has chosen “a Marxist-Leninist economy,” [5] revealing what lies at the root of US hostility to the country.
For decades, North Koreans have lived under a US nuclear Sword of Damocles, subjected repeatedly to threats of nuclear annihilation, including being turned into “charcoal briquettes” [6] and “completely destroyed,” so that they “literally cease to exist” [7]—and this before they had nuclear weapons and the rudimentary means to deliver them. In other words, in threats to vaporize North Koreans, Washington has threatened to make them the successors to aboriginal Americans as objects of US perpetrated genocides.
We should remind ourselves why North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in the first place. As University of Chicago history professor Bruce Cumings writes, for North Korea the nuclear crisis began in late February 1993, when
“General Lee Butler, head of the new U.S. ‘Strategic Command,’ announced that he was retargeting strategic nuclear weapons (i.e., hydrogen bombs) meant for the old U.S.S.R, on North Korea (among other places.) At the same time, the new CIA chief, James Woolsey, testified that North Korea was ‘our most grave current concern.’ By mid-March 1993, tens of thousands of [US] soldiers were carrying out war games in Korea…and in came the B1-B bombers, B-52s from Guam, several naval vessels carrying cruise missiles, and the like: whereupon the North pulled out of the NPT.” [8]
Two and half decades later the B1-B bombers and several naval vessels carrying cruise missiles—this time, US ‘power-projecting” aircraft carriers—are back.
Last month, Washington sent not one, but two aircraft carriers, the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Ronald Reagan, to the waters between Japan and Korea, to conduct “exercises,” “a show of force not seen there for more than two decades,” reported The Wall Street Journal. [9]
At the same time, the Pentagon sent B1-B strategic bombers, not once, but twice last month, to conduct simulated nuclear bombing runs “near the Military Demarcation Line that divides the two Koreas;” in other words, along the North Korean border. [10]
Understandably, North Korea denounced the simulated bombing missions for what they were: grave provocations. If the communist country’s new self-defensive capabilities spurred consternation in Washington, then Washington’s overt display of its offensive might legitimately enkindled alarm in Pyongyang. The Wall Street Journal summed up the US provocations this way: the “U.S. military has conducted several flyovers near the Korean Peninsula using B-1B [i.e., nuclear] bombers and directed a Navy aircraft carrier group to the region—all to North Korea’s consternation.” [11]
Robert Litwak, director of international security studies for the Wilson Center, explains the reason for Pyongyang’s consternation, if it’s not already blindingly obvious. US-led war games “[may look] like a defensive maneuver for us, [but] from North Korea‘s perspective, they may think we’re preparing an attack when you start bringing B2 fighters.” [12]
In January, North Korea offered to “sit with the U.S. anytime” to discuss US war games and its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Pyongyang proposed that the United States “contribute to easing tension on the Korean peninsula by temporarily suspending joint military exercises in south Korea and its vicinity this year, and said that in this case the DPRK is ready to take such responsive steps as temporarily suspending the nuclear test over which the U.S. is concerned.” [13]
The North Korean proposal was seconded by China and Russia [14] and recently by South Korea’s new president Moon Jae-in. [15] But Washington peremptorily rejected the proposal, refusing to acknowledge any equivalency between US-led war games, which US officials deem ‘legitimate’ and North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests, which they label ‘illegitimate.” [16]
US rejection of the China-Russia-South Korea-backed North Korean proposal, however, is only rhetorically related to notions of legitimacy, and the question of legitimacy fails to stand up under even the most cursory examination. How are US ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons legitimate and those of North Korea not?
The real reason Washington rejects the North Korean proposal is explained by Sanger: an agreed freeze “essentially acknowledges that the North’s modest arsenal is here to say;” which means that Pyongyang has achieved “the ability to strike back,” to stay the US hand, and deter Washington from launching a regime change aggression in the manner of wars it perpetrated against Saddam and Gaddafi, leaders who led pro-independence governments which, like North Korea, refused to be integrated into the informal US empire, but which, unlike North Korea, relinquished their means of self-defense, and once defenseless, were toppled by US-instigated aggressions.
“That is what Mr. Kim believes his nuclear program will prevent,” writes the Council on Foreign Relations member, referring to the US effort to bring the United States’ seven-decades-long campaign of regime change against Pyongyang to a head. And he may, Sanger concedes, “be right.”
Anyone concerned with democracy should take heart that North Korea, unlike Gaddafi’s Libya and Saddam’s Iraq, has successfully resisted US predations. The United States exercises an international dictatorship, arrogating onto itself the right to intervene in any part of the globe, in order to dictate to others how they should organize their political and economic affairs, to the point, in North Korea, of explicitly waging economic warfare against the country because it has a Marxist-Leninist economy at variance with the economic interests of the upper stratum of US society whose opportunities for profit-making through exports to and investments in North Korea have been accordingly eclipsed.
Those countries which resist despotism are the real champions of democracy, not those which exercise it (the United States) or facilitate it (their allies.) North Korea is calumniated as a bellicose dictatorship, human rights violator and practitioner of cruel and unusual punishment of political dissidents, a description to a tee of Washington’s principal Arab ally, Saudi Arabia, a recipient of almost illimitable military, diplomatic and other favors from the United States, showered on the Arabian tyranny despite its total aversion to democracy, reduction of women to the status of chattel, dissemination of a viciously sectarian Wahhabi ideology, an unprovoked war on Yemen, and the beheading and crucifixion of its political dissidents.
If we are concerned about democracy, we should, as Italian philosopher Domenico Losurdo argues, also be concerned about democracy on a global scale. The worry that has spread in Washington and the United Nations is a worry that democracy on a global scale has just been given a boost. And that should not be a worry for the rest of us, but a warm caress.


co-founding editor of OffGuardian (retired)

Filed under: conflict zones, latest


co-founding editor of OffGuardian (retired)

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Johny Beldad
Johny Beldad

Who do we you think will win if the war will arise, without the aid of any countries for both parties, just depending on their own? North Korea is strong in military, yes, I agree with that but US is also strong in this area where in fact they are stated as the top no.1 (2017) of all the defense forces all over the world with
Budget: $601 billion
Active front line personnel: 1,400,000
Tanks: 8,848
Total aircraft: 13,892
Submarines: 72
while N Korea is ranked 23 over 133 countries (2017)?
In the past wars N Korea lost 20% of its people because of hunger but still they continue to cultivate their military forces, not considering the health of his countrymen that would serve him his war. How about US they are rich country who has the ability to provide the needs of his countrymen? Who would really win this war if it arises?


They significantly advanced the Soviet nuclear arsenal at the height of the Cold War. They set up Israel and Iran (and apartheid S Africa) with raw materials to make nuclear weapons.
I go back to my original point: America has had an indirect hand in arming N Korea with nuclear weapons: the very nation they now rail against.

Jone Ronfa

War against North Korea for nuclear nukes
is same as the earlier Us’s war against Iraq for WMDs
grow up )


Here’s a little peek behind the heavy red curtain that may reflect how the Chinese leadership views current events. China’s interests are threatened if the US attacks and topples the regime in North Korea using massive force in the process. How the Chinese react is gonna be crucial. Do they simply watch the Americans destroy North Korea, or do they intervene?


The RT link is kaput.
Re the question: That’s a good question. I always wonder about behind the scenes crap. The US sees China there. It’s not ignoring it. And that, the apparent blindness to China, itself is an action that reveals, possibly, what is happening. That is to say, If the US is continuing to sabre rattle and menace NK, then it may have made a deal with China that we don’t know about. My thought: No deal can protect China from radioactive contamination from a nuked NK.

John Jeffery
John Jeffery

The BIS and Israel were both created by the Rothchilds.
Israelis have the balance of power in the US Congress. (Over 150 Iaraelis). This delivers political control.
The BIS controls the world’s “Central Banking” including the Federal Reserve.
Ask the Rothchilds what it is all about.


I have a friend who is very interested in the Rothschilds. He asked me what I think and I could only honest tell him that besides knowing that they are part of the 1%, I don’t much. I saw a book on the Rothschilds in the second hand bookstore the other day. It was substantial. Something about it caused me to leave it on the shelf and I don’t remember what it was. It was either the plugs for it or the author or my lack of familiarity with the author. If anyone has a good recommend for such a book, I’d be open to checking it out.


“A three-year US-led war of aggression, from 1950 to 1953, exterminated 20 percent of North….” It is crap like this that keeps The Guardian a Stalinist joke. Read the time-line from the North Korean invasion of the South , to the Pusan Perimeter, to the Inchon Landing, to the Chosin Reservoir, to the final truce. The US can be accused of a lot of things but starting the Korean War is not one of them. And the North Korean devastation of the South was not just an inescapable byproduct of war, as was the later devastation in the North, but a series of carefully planned and coordinated acts of terror. The mass murders of civil servants and others, when the North invaded Seoul, was as deliberately and meticulously executed an act of terror and suppression as was the communist massacre of Polish leadership in the Katyn Forest and elsewhere a decade earlier.


Are you calling US Air Force general Curtis Lemay a Stalinist???
This is what he said about the Korean War:
“We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea anyway, someway or another, and some in South Korea too.… Over a period of three years or so, we killed off — what — twenty percent of the population of Korea as direct casualties of war, or from starvation and exposure?”

Dominic Pukallus

They also seem to believe this is The Guardian… oh dear.

Greg Bacon

The USA’s economy has become so dependent upon preparing for and making war, that we have to stay in a constant state of agitation to keep the economy from imploding.

Boo Radley
Boo Radley

You lost me at: “The United States has spent the past 70 years trying to integrate the tiny, plucky, country into its undeclared empire”.
So far off the mark as to negate the need to read any more.
Read Kit’s excellent analysis of the North Korea situation.

Jim Porter
Jim Porter

I think the worry here is not NK but the fact that a poor, small country can develop nuclear weapons. Other small, poor countries will be looking at this and thinking ‘how hard could it be?’ and maybe doing a little research. This situation only exists because the US tends to throw their weight around. If they didn’t, then the necessity to build nuclear weapons wouldn’t exist and humanity could get on more important things like sustainability.


While it would probably be a stretch to say that America has had a direct hand in arming its rivals with nuclear weapons: it is fair to say that they have not been as careful as they might with their atomic secrets. This goes all the way back to the Manhattan Project: when Klaus Fuchs supplied the Soviets with the blueprint for the bomb. Whoops! North Korea has a long military alliance with Pakistan, and have got much of their missile and nuclear technology from them: including intelligence and gas centrifuges supplied by the AQ Khan network. As every other person in the network was, or had, CIA contacts: you could argue that was by design. Or, as James Corbett has argued: incompetence is the new competence. At the very least, the CIA did not stop the transfer of atomic secrets: which you might argue, they really ought to have done. Double whoops!


The U.S. stopped Taiwan from building nuclear weapons when they were just 1-2 years away from completing their first test. A CIA spy working in Taiwan’s nuclear program defected to the U.S. and brought with him evidence of a clandestine nuclear program in Taiwan. When the Americans confronted the Taiwanese with it, the latter admit the program’s existence and stopped it.


The US supplied heavy water, aluminium tubes, and graphite to the Soviets: all essential to making an atomic bomb. Technically, they were still allies at the time. Fuchs supplied the blueprint for the ‘Fatman’ bomb, and early calculations for the hydrogen bomb. Not very top secret.
They were definitely no longer allies in the early ’70s: when the Soviets were unable to MIRV their missiles. Kissinger provided the specialist grinders they needed via the diplomatic bag. That gave the Soviets a technological leap forward in the arms race: very strange to furnish an enemy with the capability of your own destruction, at the expense of your own nuclear supremacy???
In prosecuting the Karen Silkwood case: Daniel Sheehan was able to gather evidence that the CIA’s Israeli desk had been smuggling 40lbs of 98% pure weapons grade plutonium to Israel, Iran, and South Africa. The NSA tracked them doing it. Karen Silkwood gave her life to expose it. The CIA shut the case down.
Over 30 years, the AQ Khan network proliferated nuclear secrets to Pakistan, Iran, Libya, and N Korea. The Dutch were in a position to arrest and bust up the network in both ’75 and ’86. The CIA stood them down. No one has done any real time for these crimes. The Dutch trial collapsed when key files disappeared. The Swiss trial collapsed when key evidence was ordered to be destroyed by the US (CIA?) CIA whistleblower Richard Barlow collated a ream of evidence on the network that was never acted on. He even set up a sting, but the main target (Inam ul-Haq) was tipped off. This ties in BCCI and the funding of Bin Laden to the Khan network. It goes without saying, Barlow was fired for his efforts.
I go back to my original point: America has had an indirect hand in arming N Korea with nuclear weapons: the very nation they now rail against. They significantly advanced the Soviet nuclear arsenal at the height of the Cold War. They set up Israel and Iran (and apartheid S Africa) with raw materials to make nuclear weapons. They set up Pakistan with nuclear weapons; and shielded from prosecution the network that proliferated nuclear weapons (for them). Fire and fury: courtesy of the USA.


That’s correct. In life, there are many ‘no win’ situations. Putin’s resistance to the abominable global dictatorship of the United States is great, relatively speaking. But extraction industries are flourishing under Putin and he has big plans for Russia’s nuclear industry. And, like so many other countries, Russia is a big producer weapons that bring it much revenue. I forget how many orders there are for Russian nuclear power stations, but there’s many. The world is a mess. The US insists that it’s exceptional and must lead (dominate) the world, yadda, yadda. And it does, even though a few ‘rogue’ states give it trouble (which it greets warmly because 1. it likes a fight [when it’s bigger] and 2. it’s profitable for important, large sectors of the Corporatocracy). And thereby the US ruling class (political and corporate components) condemns itself, for under its ‘leadership’ the world has become the armed to the teeth, violent, dark world that it is. States can’t stand down or behave (fully) because to do so welcomes being devoured by bigger neighbors (primarily the US) who have all been armed by the US, and similar godless states, and conditioned to think and do violence. It has become ‘eat or be eaten’.


What the article also omits to mention, is that the NK army is largely comprised of reservists whose day job is in agriculture, which is very important for heavily sanctioned NK. The biggest US war games off the coast of NK are deliberately scheduled in the autumn, to force NK to call up these reservists to defend the country in case this time the ‘games’ are for a real invasion, and thus preventing them from bringing in the harvest.


Indeed, Bernhard H of Moon of Alabama will back you up on your comment.
“… Each time the U.S. and South Korea launch their very large maneuvers, the North Korean conscription army (1.2 million strong) has to go into a high state of defense readiness. Large maneuvers are a classic starting point for military attacks. The U.S.-South Korean maneuvers are (intentionally) held during the planting (April/May) or harvesting (August) season for rice when North Korea needs each and every hand in its few arable areas. Only 17% of the northern landmass is usable for agriculture and the climate in not favorable. The cropping season is short. Seeding and harvesting days require peak labor.
The southern maneuvers directly threaten the nutritional self-sufficiency of North Korea. In the later 1990s they were one of the reasons behind a severe famine. (Lack of hydrocarbons and fertilizer due to sanctions as well as a too rigid economic system were other main reasons.) …
… Its nuclear deterrent allows North Korea to reduce its conventional military readiness especially during the all important agricultural seasons. Labor withheld from the fields and elsewhere out of military necessity can go back to work. This is now the official North Korean policy known as ‘byungjin’. (Byungjin started informally in the [mid 2000s] after U.S. President Bush tuned up his hostile policy towards North Korea – Chronology of U.S.-North Korean Nuclear and Missile Diplomacy)
A guaranteed end of the yearly U.S. maneuvers would allow North Korea to lower its conventional defenses without relying on nukes. The link between the U.S. maneuvers and the nuclear deterrent North Korea is making in its repeated offer is a direct and logical connection …”


Thanks for the info JJA and Jen.


One also has to appreciate that if a tiny and impoverished state like North Korea can successfully confront a powerful empire like the United States because it has a nuclear deterrent, then other nations may learn important lessons from NK’s stance. Seen from Washington’s perspective, NK cannot be allowed to challenge the United States like this and get away with it without paying a heavy price.


One aspect of this crises is that at least it’s pushed the news agenda away from the saturation coverage of the alleged Russian hacking scandal and Trump’s relationship to his godfather, Putin. I’m sure none of this is taken into account by the White House.


The US doesn’t care about NK, or solving it. They care about stirring it up and prepetuating that threat at its limit, hot enough to justify their presence in SK, and Japan, and to keep the dollars flowing from the taxpayers, to the MIC.


David E. Sanger, an Israeli propagandist, is not expected to tell the truth about United States warmongering against tiny North Korea – just like he never admitted that Washington’s problem with Iran was not a threat from the Mullahs to America – but an ‘existential threat’ to the Zionist regime due to Iran’s open support to Assad, Hizbullah and Hamas.
Only Joe Biden had the courage to spill the truth. “The only thing that would satisfy (US-Iran nuclear) deal opponents including Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is “a regime change” that could only come with US power,” Biden told audience at the Ahavath Achim synagogue in Atlanta in September 2015.
North Korea doesn’t recognize Israel, and is a close ally of Iran and Pakistan.


So was Biden admitting that the US will always do Israel’s bidding?


The only way out of this conundrum, is through diplomacy. Any attempt by the US to settle it with weapons will destroy not only North Korea but the South as well and possible destroy American cities or assets. It simply is not worth the risk!


You’re obviously not one of the oligarchs.

Arthur Cadbury
Arthur Cadbury

American ‘foreign policy’ should be rebranded ‘US Foreign Policing’, for while their homeland deteriorates, the American State Department continues its interference in regions which it had no business in establishing its military presence. Trump is but a leaf in the wind, for he will blow in any direction forced upon him by the worshippers of Mammon. Is it possible that all the cannon-fodder of the American military will soon wake up to the reality that if the American Ego spirals any further out of control, it will be their families too, their loved ones, their children and grandchildren, their homes, businesses and cities that will not be exempt from the ‘fire and fury, the like of this world has never seen’ recently exclaimed by this psychopathic narcissist. But I doubt he will go through with it – he has too many hotels and golf courses scattered around these parts. . . .


“American ‘foreign policy’ should be rebranded ‘US Foreign Policing’,” that is correct. And then it goes on by saying “the American State Department continues its interference” that is not correct.
All these interference, bullying, building military establisments throughout the world is a US INC. affair.
IMO it has nothing to do with the American national people, the states of the United States of America.
US INCorporated is acting in this way, since at least onehundredandfifty years, since 1863 when the economical robbery of the Southern states took place, according to real American history was not a Civil War as learned in the schools, but an ordinary economical robbery of The Southern states by the Northerners.
The US military must wake up because they are working (or making wars) for the UN and not for the US Inc.
UN is the commander of the US military. UN is a private company.
Mr. Trump is being bullied by his own people who in reality are serving The Deep State and betraying the fifty states of the United States of America and its people. The fifty states of the USA have to stand up for their state and stop their Service Contract with US. US is nothing more than a Service Provicer for the states but look what a power it built for itself and stole land from the states thru the years.
The states of the United States are the original states, are unincorpurated and the Law of the Land is their law.
US Inc. is in a separate state, is an incorporated private company, has been bankrupt three times (the last time in May or June of this year), is a parasite of the fifty states, has no jurisdiction and no executive power in the fifty states, is grabbing land from states and convert it into US property which is not allowed.
US Inc. is a Service Provider for the fifty states, has an formal Service Contract with defined rules with the fifty states.
Now always go back to the source and we come to the original states of the United State of America.
Why are the governments of the respectively states letting so many actions carry out by US of which I assume are not in the Service Contract, just happen?
Why is not one state up till now standing up for its American national people, people born in their own state where their properties and life are, who are the owner of their properties and belong to their native state?
Why are the states letting the IRS, a private debt collector company, situated on Porto Rico, collect money from their American nationals and where are all these moneys go and for what purpose?
Back to the point North Korea. The US Incorporated company (french company?) is pestering North Korea for seventy years. Why?
May be there could be a lot of resources in this socalled “empty” country?
North Korea wants to keep its independence which is to be respected by US Inc.and others.
North Korea does not want war, but has been forced to build a defense against aggression from specially US Inc. The choice is made: Nuclear weapons as assured defense to keep aggressors away from its door. And Mr. Kim is serious about the independence of his country. US Inc. better forget the war-games.
I suggest the career slaves in the WH better report to their Deep State: Hands off North Korea, our man means what he says. We have to go and talk with each other!
If true such decision: How Wise!


In the end North Korea might not be the real Point. See also:
“North Korea: War Games, Cyber War, De-Escalation and Provocation, Some Speculations”: https://wipokuli.wordpress.com/2017/04/18/north-korea-war-games-cyber-war-de-escalation-and-provocation-some-speculations/


Schluter, I am persuaded by your analysis. I made some comments only this morning on my own blog regarding US Petro Dollar hegemony, and the over ripe prospects of economic collapse, 9 years into the recovery from 2008suggest a certain running out of the road for the Ephors of debt. http://letthemconfectsweeterlies.blogspot.se/2017/08/its-geo-politics-not-economy-stupid.html