US maintains tensions in Korea

Issue 

By David Easter

The Bush administration is placing North Korea ever higher on its enemies list, despite Pyongyang's sweeping concessions on the volatile issue of nuclear proliferation.

The Pentagon cited the Korean peninsula as a likely war zone in a recent document drafted to justify a massive military budget. Nonetheless, North and South Korea are making progress on talks aimed at reducing tensions.

Washington's display of hostility coincides with North Korea's agreement to sigh the International Atomic Energy Agency's Nuclear Safeguard Agreement, which would permit international inspection of Pyongyang's nuclear research facilities. Shortly after the agreement was signed on January 30, North Korea's representative to the IAEA pledged that inspections would be carried out by June.

The State Department immediately announced it was not satisfied. Undersecretary of state for political affairs Arnold Kanter told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "I also worry that we are placing too much faith in the International Atomic Energy Agency's safeguards program.

"Monitoring by itself is not enough to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons technology, as we have discovered in Iraq", Kanter testified. "I am convinced that North Korea could operate a totally clandestine nuclear fuel cycle that would not be caught by safeguards."

Critics say that in a world where the United States has no significant military enemies, the Pentagon is manufacturing a North Korean threat.

Two remarkable documents, recently leaked to the New York Times, reveal the thinking of the Bush administration. The first is the draft of the Pentagon's Planning Guidance for the Fiscal Years 1994-1999. A companion document, reviewed in the Times on February 17, presented seven possible war scenarios for the US during the 1994-1999 period. Two involve war with North Korea.

Even the Times' Leslie Gelb, who last spring wrote, "Perhaps the most dangerous country in the world today is North Korea", noted, "The striking thing about the Pentagon list is how far its planners had to stretch to come up with any plausible threats. A resurgent Iraq or an attack by North Korea on South Korea are practically off imaginable charts."

The Planning Guidance document uses the threat of nuclear proliferation as a key pretext for high defence spending. "The US may be faced with the question whether to take military steps to prevent the,development or use of weapons of mass destruction", said the Pentagon planners.

In the documents, potential war with North Korea is the only specific justification for the tremendous US military presence in the Pacific, including all the ships of the 7th Fleet and 40,000 US troops each in Japan and South Korea. But the Defense Guidance gives another basic reason for the military build-up that has nothing to do with Korea: "To buttress the vital political and economic relationships we have along the Pacific Rim, we must maintain our status as a military power of the first magnitude in the area".

It presented quite baldly planned US efforts to remain the world's only superpower, particularly plans to keep Germany and Japan from gaining superpower status: "First the United States must show the leadership necessary to establish and protect a new order that holds the promise of convincing potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests".

While the US makes alarmist statements about the threat of North Korean nuclear weapons, there is evidence that Washington is trying to sabotage Korean efforts to establish a nuclear-free zone on the peninsula. On February 19, the prime ministers of North and South Korea formally ratified a Joint Declaration for a Nuclear-Free Korean Peninsula.

The two governments have had several meetings since then to define the authority and responsibilities of a joint committee that would inspect nuclear facilities in North and South.

Differences remain, however. The South is pressing for immediate inspections. The North wants an agreement that all USbases in South Korea, where US nuclear weapons could have been stored, will be inspected. The North also wants a pledge from South Korea to work together to seek international guarantees that no outside power will use nuclear weapons against any part of Korea.

Washington is throwing a monkey wrench into the talks. According to a March 5 Yonhap news agency report, the South Korean ambassador to the United States said the United States is pressing to be included in the inspections.

Pyongyang is bound to take exception, believing the United States has long threatened the North with nuclear destruction by keeping hundreds of nuclear weapons in South

Korea.
[Abridged from the US Guardian.]