Next on Washington's hit list?

Wednesday, May 22, 1991

By David Easter

Is North Korea being set up as the next "Iraq"? Korean solidarity activists have sounded a warning that Pyongyang may become the next "new world order" target.

"There is a very striking pattern emerging in the statements of US policy-makers and the press, taking a very aggressive stand toward North Korea", said Millie Kang of the Washington-based Korea Coalition.

"The Pentagon regularly lashes out at manufactured enemies", notes Jean Basinger of the Iowa Korea Support Network. "In 1983 it was Bishop in Grenada; in 1986 it was Qadhafi; in 1989, Noriega; in 1991, Saddam Hussein." She believes Kim Il Sung in North Korea may be next.

In March, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff issued their 1991 Joint Military Net Assessment, which listed two regions where the threat to the United States is "heavy": the Persian Gulf and the Korean peninsula. The Pentagon also issued a war scenario that could last at least four months and involve the mobilisation of 200,000 troops.

Also in March, Admiral Charles Larson, who heads the US Pacific Command, told the US Senate Armed Services Committee, "North Korea poses the greatest immediate threat to regional stability and the security of the Republic of [South] Korea".

And in April, US Defense Department official Carl Ford told a US House Armed Services subcommittee, "The fact remains that the Korean peninsula is still the most likely scene of any large conflict in Asia for the foreseeable future." Ford added that US troops would continue to maintain a presence on the Korean peninsula past the year 2000.

These dire warnings are being made despite the Defense Department's own Congressional testimony that a worldwide "Soviet threat" no longer exists. This purported danger has long been the pretext for stationing some 40,000 US troops in South Korea. Absent the Cold War, North Korea is being demonised.

Defence analyst Leslie Gelb used highly emotional language to make this argument in a recent New York Times article: "What country with 23 million people run by a vicious dictator has missiles, a million men under arms and is likely to possess nuclear weapons in a few years?" wrote Gelb. "The renegade, and perhaps, the most dangerous country in the world today, is North Korea."

Much is being made of North Korea's potential production of nuclear weapons. The main focus of the anti-Pyongyang campaign, as with the drive against Saddam Hussein, is the alleged nuclear threat. In an April 19 Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, Leonard Spector, director of the Carnegie Endowment's Nuclear Non-Proliferation Project, wrote, "One of the final acts of the Cold War is now unfolding on the Korean peninsula. It could ultimately be among the most dangerous, unless Mr Kim's bid for nuclear arms can be stopped." According to US and South Korean sources, North Korea has a 30-megawatt research reactor at Yongbyon, about 100 kilometres north of Pyongyang. Washington says its spy satellites have spotted a rectangular building under construction near the research reactor that intelligence analysts say could eventually house facilities to extract plutonium produced from the reactor's fuel. On the basis of this "evidence", US officials now talk as though such a reprocessing facility already exists. Western analysts agree in any case that it would take Pyongyang a minimum of five years to acquire nuclear capability.

North Korea has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but has not allowed its reactor to be inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It denies it has any plans to build nuclear weapons and says it will open its facilities to inspection by the IAEA once the US nuclear threat against it is removed. The US has hundreds of nuclear weapons deployed in South Korea. Pyongyang says it will cooperate with the agency as soon as Washington provides "legal guarantees" that it will not use nuclear weapons based in South Korea against the North.

The Soviet Union has joined in the pressure campaign against North Korea. Moscow has publicly called for North Korea to allow international inspection of its nuclear plants or face a cut-off of all Soviet nuclear technology.

Amid this drumbeat, South Korea made a direct threat of war against the North. Speaking to a group of newspaper editors last month, South Korean Defence Minister Lee Jong Koo said Seoul might launch an "Entebbe-style" commando raid on the nuclear facilities if they are not opened to international inspections.

Popular organisations in South Korea responded to Seoul's threat by launching a mass campaign to gather 10 million signatures on a petition demanding a nuclear-free zone on the Korean peninsula. North Korea has supported the creation of such a zone for many years.

Washington, however, is opposing this demilitarisation drive. In March, Richard Solomon, US Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern and Pacific Affairs, told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, "We cannot support the creation of a nuclear-free zone on the Korean peninsula as proposed by the North Koreans. If there is a proliferation problem on the Korean peninsula, the responsibility for it rests with the North Koreans."

This position was advanced despite Seoul's possession of nine nuclear reactors and the presence of hundreds of US nuclear weapons in the South. These weapons are involved in the massive annual "Team Spirit" military exercises conducted jointly by the US and South Korea.
[Abridged from the US Guardian.]

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