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US-North Korea: Why rapprochement is the only solution

US policy of isolating North Korea has led to the US consistently underestimating North Korea’s capabilities and the determination of its leadership. A change of approach is urgently necessary. The US should engage fully with North Korea and establish diplomatic relations with it.

Alexander Mercouris

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Though it is rarely reported in that way, the story of North Korea’s bomb provides another case study of how the US and the US media report claims about US adversaries that are simply wrong.

The US has in the past simultaneously exaggerated the threat from North Korea whilst underestimating North Korean capabilities. If that sounds contradictory, the answer is that it is, but it is what the historical record shows the US has done.

Rumours in the US of a North Korean nuclear weapons programme extend far back into the 1960s.   By the 1980s they were being reported in the US as a fact.  In fact already at that time reports would sometimes appear in the US and Western media claiming that North Korea was actually already in possession of nuclear bombs.

These reports were simply untrue.  North Korea did not have nuclear bombs before its first nuclear test in 2006.  It did ask the USSR and China for help to develop nuclear weapons in the 1960s after the US deployed nuclear weapons to South Korea. 

Both the USSR and China however refused, with the USSR however agreeing to help North Korea develop a civilian nuclear programme and offering North Korea a Soviet security guarantee, which North Korea accepted.

North Korea had no option but to accept the Soviet offers, which led to Soviet help in setting up the now infamous Yongbyon nuclear research facility, which was originally created with Soviet help in 1962.  Yongbyon’s first reactor – a Soviet IRT2000 research reactor – was supplied at around this time.

Not only did North Korea lack the capability in the 1960s to develop a nuclear weapons programme of its own, but until 1991 in was in all essentials a Soviet satellite state. 

The extent to which behind the facade of Kim Il-sung’s juche ideology North Korea was dependent on Soviet support only became fully clear in the 1990s when that Soviet support was withdrawn.  Quite simply, despite its odd displays of independence, before 1989 North Korea was tightly integrated into the Soviet economy and was heavily dependent upon the USSR for supplies of military goods, advanced technology and machinery, fertilisers for its farmlands, and above all for political support.  Soviet economic planners during this period apparently even set targets for specific North Korean factories. 

Before 1989 North Korea could not have pursued its own nuclear weapons programme because Moscow would not have allowed it to.

The North Korean nuclear programme in fact began in 1989 in response to the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, which understandably enough caused the North Korean leadership to lose faith in the USSR’s security guarantee.  

An important secondary factor in getting the North Korean nuclear weapons programme going after 1989 was however almost certainly and paradoxically the rumours in the West that it already possessed such weapons.

As the North Koreans were increasingly pressed by the US and Western diplomats after 1989 to give up a nuclear weapons capability which at that point they didn’t have, it would not have escaped their notice that US and NATO behaviour showed that by acquiring such weapons North Korea would not only increase its security but would acquire an importance and a status – and a degree of diplomatic leverage – which up to then it didn’t have.

In other words one effect of the false stories before 1989 of North Korea having the bomb was that it put into the North Koreans’ heads the idea of acquiring it.

In the 1990s the North Korean nuclear programme was however a fitful affair.  In the first few years following the collapse of the USSR the North Korean leadership had no option but to focus nearly all its energies on crisis management, as it struggled to cope with the massive disruption to its economy caused by the loss of Soviet economic support. This left little time or resources for an ambitious nuclear weapons programme, and there is little evidence of anything very much being achieved at this time.

In 1994, at a time when the economic crisis was at its peak, with tens of thousands of North Koreans dying every year of malnutrition, the North Koreans agreed to put their nuclear weapons programme – such it was – on ice as part of the so-called Agreed Framework agreement it agreed with the US.  This was in return for a US promise to provide North Korea with two modern pressurised water reactors.

This was a rational trade-off from the North Korean point of view: freezing a nuclear weapons programme which at the time North Korea lacked the resources to see through for a promise of economic support and normalisation of its relations with the West.

The US reactors were never delivered and the Agreed Framework agreement collapsed amidst mutual recriminations in 2003, with North Korea openly targeted for regime change by the Bush II administration at the time of the invasion of Iraq as part of the “axis of evil”.  The North Korean nuclear weapons programme appears to have been restarted in earnest from around this time, which not coincidentally is around the time when North Korea appears to have finally got on top of its post-Soviet economic crisis.

If North Korea did not have a nuclear weapons programme before 1989, and did not – contrary to numerous claims – have nuclear weapons before or indeed for some time after its first nuclear test in 2006, it is quite clear that the US was taken completely by surprise by the speed with which North Korea developed nuclear weapons after the nuclear weapons programme resumed in 2003.

Within three years of the nuclear programme resuming in 2003 the North Koreans carried out their first test.  A succession of tests have followed, with the largest now suggesting that they not only have a serviceable bomb, but that they are close to developing warheads that can be placed on ballistic missiles.

Whilst the nuclear weapons programme has proceeded apace, North Korea’s ballistic missile programme has also moved forward rapidly.  Rocket technology is complicated and many ballistic missile tests have ended in failure, but North Korea has now demonstrated that it has the capability to place objects in space and to launch missiles from submarines.

Obviously we are not talking here of a capability that remotely approaches that of the great nuclear powers – the US and Russia – but it is an impressive capability nonetheless and one which is developing rapidly.

The North Koreans apparently obtained some of their nuclear weapons technology from Pakistan, which in turn seems to have originally sourced technology and equipment from the Netherlands, and they allegedly have used certain medium range Soviet ballistic missiles in their possession as a starting point in their own ballistic missile programme.

The fact nonetheless remains that the North Koreans could not have developed a nuclear weapons and ballistics missile capability of the sort they now have without a technological and industrial base of their own, and one which given the speed of both programmes is clearly bigger and more sophisticated than the US suspected.

This illustrates a further problem in the US’s whole approach to North Korea.  Since the US refuses to engage with North Korea it is profoundly ignorant about it.  It has little knowledge of the extent of North Korea’s industrial and technological capabilities, and no understanding of the thinking of its leadership.  North Korean leaders like Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un are treated in the US as comic strip villains.  Not only is remarkably little known about them, but there is almost no understanding of what sort of institutions or administrative structures they work within or who the important people they have around them and consult are.

In place of proper information obtained through regular contacts with North Korea and its leadership, far too much credence is given to stories which regularly circulate in the South Korean media, which look at times to be little more than ill-informed gossip. 

Thus Kim Jong-il during his lifetime was regularly and it seems inaccurately portrayed as an alcoholic sybarite, whilst lurid accounts which regularly appear in the South Korean media of murders and executions supposedly taking place in North Korea are not only unverified but on occasion demonstrably untrue.  A good recent example is the case of General Ri Yong Gil who the South Korean media claimed had been executed only for him to turn up alive and well and occupying an important post at the recent North Korean party congress.

The result of all this ignorance is that the US has consistently underestimated North Korean determination and capabilities, repeatedly getting North Korea wrong, and now finds itself in a nuclear arms race in the eastern Pacific against a country it knows almost nothing about.

This is a disastrous record by any measure, and it is time it was brought to an end. The time is long overdue for the US to engage properly with the North Koreans and to open an embassy in Pyongyang. 

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Ukraine Wants Nuclear Weapons: Will the West Bow to the Regime in Kiev?

Efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation are one of the few issues on which the great powers agree, intending to continue to limit the spread of nuclear weapons and to prevent new entrants into the exclusive nuclear club.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The former Ukrainian envoy to NATO, Major General Petro Garashchuk, recently stated in an interview with Obozrevatel TV:

“I’ll say it once more. We have the ability to develop and produce our own nuclear weapons, currently available in the world, such as the one that was built in the former USSR and which is now in independent Ukraine, located in the city of Dnipro (former Dnipropetrovsk) that can produce these kinds of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Neither the United States, nor Russia, nor China have produced a missile named Satan … At the same time, Ukraine does not have to worry about international sanctions when creating these nuclear weapons.”

The issue of nuclear weapons has always united the great powers, especially following the signing of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The decision to reduce the number of nuclear weapons towards the end of the Cold War went hand in hand with the need to prevent the spread of such weapons of mass destruction to other countries in the best interests of humanity. During the final stages of the Cold War, the scientific community expended great effort on impressing upon the American and Soviet leadership how a limited nuclear exchange would wipe out humanity. Moscow and Washington thus began START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) negotiations to reduce the risk of a nuclear winter. Following the dissolution of the USSR, the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances persuaded Ukraine to relinquish its nuclear weapons and accede to the NPT in exchange for security assurances from its signatories.

Ukraine has in recent years begun entertaining the possibility of returning to the nuclear fold, especially in light of North Korea’s recent actions. Kim Jong-un’s lesson seems to be that a nuclear deterrent remains the only way of guaranteeing complete protection against a regional hegemon. The situation in Ukraine, however, differs from that of North Korea, including in terms of alliances and power relations. Kiev’s government came into power as a result of a coup d’etat carried out by extremist nationalist elements who seek their inspiration from Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera. The long arm of NATO has always been deeply involved in the dark machinations that led to Poroshenko’s ascendency to the Ukrainian presidency. From a geopolitical point of view, NATO’s operation in Ukraine (instigating a civil war in the wake of a coup) follows in the footsteps of what happened in Georgia. NATO tends to organize countries with existing anti-Russia sentiments to channel their Russophobia into concrete actions that aim to undermine Moscow. The war in the Donbass is a prime example.

However, Ukraine has been unable to subdue the rebels in the Donbass region, the conflict freezing into a stalemate and the popularity of the Kiev government falling as the population’s quality of life experiences a precipitous decline. The United States and the European Union have not kept their promises, leaving Poroshenko desperate and tempted to resort to provocations like the recent Kerch strait incident or such as those that are apparently already in the works, as recently reported by the DPR authorities.

The idea of Ukraine resuming its production of nuclear weapons is currently being floated by minor figures, but it could take hold in the coming months, especially if the conflict continues in its frozen state and Kiev becomes frustrated and desperate. The neoconservative wing of the American ruling elite, absolutely committed to the destruction of the Russian Federation, could encourage Kiev along this path, in spite of the incalculable risks involved. The EU, on the other hand, would likely be terrified at the prospect, which would also place it between a rock and a hard place. Kiev, on one side, would be able to extract from the EU much needed economic assistance in exchange for not going nuclear, while on the other side the neocons would be irresponsibly egging the Ukrainians on.

Moscow, if faced with such a possibility, would not just stand there. In spite of Russia having good relations with North Korea, it did not seem too excited at the prospect of having a nuclear-armed neighbor. With Ukraine, the response would be much more severe. A nuclear-armed Ukraine would be a red line for Moscow, just as Crimea and Sevastopol were. It is worth remembering the Russian president’s words when referring to the possibility of a NATO invasion of Crimea during the 2014 coup:

“We were ready to do it [putting Russia’s nuclear arsenal on alert]. Russian people live there, they are in danger, we cannot leave them. It was not us who committed to coup, it was the nationalists and people with extreme beliefs. I do not think this is actually anyone’s wish – to turn it into a global conflict.”

As Kiev stands on the precipice, it will be good for the neocons, the neoliberals and their European lackeys to consider the consequences of advising Kiev to jump or not. Giving the nuclear go-ahead to a Ukrainian leadership so unstable and detached from reality may just be the spark that sets off Armageddon.

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Mike Pompeo lays out his vision for American exceptionalism (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 158.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and International Affairs and Security Analyst via Moscow, Mark Sleboda take a look at Mike Pompeo’s shocking Brussels speech, where the U.S. Secretary of State took aim at the European Union and United Nations, citing such institutions as outdated and poorly managed, in need of a new dogma that places America at its epicenter.

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Speaking in Brussels, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unwittingly underscored why nobody takes the United States seriously on the international stage. Via The Council on Foreign Relations


In a disingenuous speech at the German Marshall Fund, Pompeo depicted the transactional and hypernationalist Trump administration as “rallying the noble nations of the world to build a new liberal order.” He did so while launching gratuitous attacks on the European Union, United Nations, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund (IMF)—pillars of the existing postwar order the United States did so much to create. He remained silent, naturally, on the body blows that the current administration has delivered to its erstwhile allies and partners, and to the institutions that once upon a time permitted the United States to legitimate rather than squander its international leadership.

In Pompeo’s telling, Donald J. Trump is simply seeking a return to the world that former Secretary of State George Marshall helped to create. In the decades after 1945, the United States “underwrote new institutions” and “entered into treaties to codify Western values of freedom and human rights.” So doing, the United States “won the Cold War” and—thanks to the late President George H. W. Bush, “we won the peace” that followed. “This is the type of leadership that President Trump is boldly reasserting.”

That leadership is needed because the United States “allowed this liberal order to begin to corrode” once the bipolar conflict ended. “Multilateralism has too often become viewed as an end unto itself,” Pompeo explained. “The more treaties we sign, the safer we supposedly are. The more bureaucrats we have, the better the job gets done.” What is needed is a multilateralism that once again places the nation-state front and center.

Leave aside for the moment that nobody actually believes what Pompeo alleges: that multilateralism should be an end in itself; that paper commitments are credible absent implementation, verification, and enforcement; or that the yardstick of success is how many bureaucrats get hired. What sensible people do believe is that multilateral cooperation is often (though not always) the best way for nations to advance their interests in an interconnected world of complicated problems. Working with others is typically superior to unilateralism, since going it alone leaves the United States with the choice of trying to do everything itself (with uncertain results) or doing nothing. Multilateralism also provides far more bang for the buck than President Trump’s favored approach to diplomacy, bilateralism.

Much of Pompeo’s address was a selective and tendentious critique of international institutions that depicts them as invariably antithetical to national sovereignty. Sure, he conceded, the European Union has “delivered a great deal of prosperity to the continent.” But it has since gone badly off track, as the “political wake-up call” of Brexit showed. All this raised a question in his mind: “Is the EU ensuring that the interests of countries and their citizens are placed before those of bureaucrats and Brussels?”

The answer, as one listener shouted out, is “Yes!” The secretary, like many U.S. conservative critics of European integration, is unaware that EU member states continue to hold the lion’s share of power in the bloc, which remains more intergovernmental than supranational. Pompeo seems equally unaware of how disastrously Brexit is playing out. With each passing day, the costs of this catastrophic, self-inflicted wound are clearer. In its quest for complete policy autonomy—on ostensible “sovereignty” grounds—the United Kingdom will likely have to accept, as the price for EU market access, an entire body of law and regulations that it will have no say in shaping. So much for advancing British sovereignty.

Pompeo similarly mischaracterizes the World Bank and IMF as having gone badly off track. “Today, these institutions often counsel countries who have mismanaged their economic affairs to impose austerity measures that inhibit growth and crowd out private sector actors.” This is an odd, hybrid critique. It combines a shopworn, leftist criticism from the 1990s—that the international financial institutions (IFIs) punish poor countries with structural adjustment programs—with the conservative accusation that the IFIs are socialist, big-government behemoths. Both are ridiculous caricatures. They ignore how much soul-searching the IFIs have done since the 1990s, as well as how focused they are on nurturing an enabling institutional environment for the private sector in partner countries.

Pompeo also aims his blunderbuss at the United Nations. He complains that the United Nations’ “peacekeeping missions drag on for decades, no closer to peace,” ignoring the indispensable role that blue helmets play in preventing atrocities, as well as a recent Government Accountability Office report documenting how cost-effective such operations are compared to U.S. troops. Similarly, Pompeo claims, “The UN’s climate-related treaties are viewed by some nations simply as a vehicle to redistribute wealth”—an accusation that is both unsubstantiated and ignores the urgent need to mobilize global climate financing to save the planet.

Bizarrely, Pompeo also turns his sights on the Organization of American States (OAS) and the African Union (AU), for alleged shortcomings. Has the OAS, he asks, done enough “to promote its four pillars of democracy, human rights, security, and economic development?” Um, no. Could that have something to do with the lack of U.S. leadership in the Americas on democracy and human rights? Yes. Might it have helped if the Trump administration had filled the position of assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs before October 15 of this year? Probably.

Equally puzzling is Pompeo’s single line riff on the AU. “In Africa, does the African Union advance the mutual interest of its nation-state members?” Presumably the answer is yes, or its members would be headed for the door. The AU continues to struggle in financing its budget, but it has made great strides since its founding in 2002 to better advance security, stability, and good governance on the continent.

“International bodies must help facilitate cooperation that bolsters the security and values of the free world, or they must be reformed or eliminated,” Pompeo declared. Sounds reasonable. But where is this “free world” of which the secretary speaks, and what standing does the United States today have to defend, much less reform it? In the two years since he took office, Donald Trump has never expressed any interest in defending the international order, much less “returning [the United States] to its traditional, central leadership role in the world,” as Pompeo claims. Indeed, the phrase “U.S. leadership” has rarely escaped Trump’s lips, and he has gone out of his way to alienate longstanding Western allies and partners in venues from NATO to the G7.

When he looks at the world, the president cares only about what’s in it for the United States (and, naturally, for him). That cynicism explains the president’s deafening silence on human rights violations and indeed his readiness to cozy up to strongmen and killers from Vladimir Putin to Rodrigo Duterte to Mohammed bin Salman to too many more to list. Given Trump’s authoritarian sympathies and instincts, Pompeo’s warnings about “Orwellian human rights violations” in China and “suppressed opposition voices” in Russia ring hollow.

“The central question that we face,” Pompeo asked in Brussels, “is the question of whether the system as currently configured, as it exists today—does it work? Does it work for all the people of the world?” The answer, of course, is not as well as it should, and not for nearly enough of them. But if the secretary is seeking to identify impediments to a better functioning multilateral system, he can look to his left in his next Cabinet meeting.

“Principled realism” is the label Pompeo has given Trump’s foreign policy. Alas, it betrays few principles and its connection to reality is tenuous. The president has abandoned any pursuit of universal values, and his single-minded obsession to “reassert our sovereignty” (as Pompeo characterizes it) is actually depriving the United States of joining with others to build the prosperous, secure, and sustainable world that Americans want.

“Bad actors have exploited our lack of leadership for their own gain,” the secretary of state declared in Belgium. “This is the poisoned fruit of American retreat.” How true. Pompeo’s next sentence—“President Trump is determined to reverse that”—was less persuasive.

 

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Russia calls on US to put a leash on Petro Poroshenko

The West’s pass for Mr. Poroshenko may blow up in NATO’s and the US’s face if the Ukrainian President tries to start a war with Russia.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Russia called on Washington not to ignore the Poroshenko directives creating an active military buildup along the Ukrainian-Donbass frontier, this buildup consisting of Ukrainian forces and right-wing ultranationalists, lest it “trigger the implementation of a bloody scenario”, according to a Dec 11 report from TASS.

The [Russian] Embassy [to the US] urges the US State Department to recognize the presence of US instructors in the zone of combat actions, who are involved in a command and staff and field training of Ukraine’s assault airborne brigades. “We expect that the US will bring to reason its proteges. Their aggressive plans are not only doomed to failure but also run counter to the statements of the administration on its commitment to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine by political and diplomatic means,” the statement said.

This warning came after Eduard Basurin, the deputy defense minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic noted that the Ukrainian army was massing troops and materiel for a possible large-scale offensive at the Mariupol section of the contact line in Donbass. According to Basurin, this action is expected to take place on 14 December. TASS offered more details:

According to the DPR’s reconnaissance data, Ukrainian troops plan to seize the DPR’s Novoazovsky and Temanovsky districts and take control over the border section with Russia. The main attack force of over 12,000 servicemen has been deployed along the contact line near the settlements of Novotroitskoye, Shirokino, and Rovnopol. Moreover, more than 50 tanks, 40 multiple missile launcher systems, 180 artillery systems and mortars have been reportedly pulled to the area, Basurin added. Besides, 12 BM-30 Smerch heavy multiple rocket launchers have been sent near Volodarsky.

The DPR has warned about possible provocations plotted by Ukrainian troops several times. Thus, in early December, the DPR’s defense ministry cited reconnaissance data indicating that the Ukrainian military was planning to stage an offensive and deliver an airstrike. At a Contact Group meeting on December 5, DPR’s Foreign Minister Natalia Nikonorova raised the issue of Kiev’s possible use of chemical weapons in the conflict area.

This is a continuation of the reported buildup The Duran reported in this article linked here, and it is a continuation of the full-scale drama that started with the Kerch Strait incident, which itself appears to have been staged by Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko. Following that incident, the president was able to get about half of Ukraine placed under a 30-day period of martial law, citing “imminent Russian aggression.”

President Poroshenko is arguably a dangerous man. He appears to be desperate to maintain a hold on power, though his approval numbers and support is abysmally low in Ukraine. While he presents himself as a hero, agitating for armed conflict with Russia and simultaneously interfering in the affairs of the Holy Eastern Orthodox Church, he is actually one of the most dangerous leaders the world has to contend with, precisely because he is unfit to lead.

Such men and women are dangerous because their desperation makes them short-sighted, only concerned about their power and standing.

An irony about this matter is that President Poroshenko appears to be exactly what the EuroMaidan was “supposed” to free Ukraine of; that is, a stooge puppet leader that marches to orders from a foreign power and does nothing for the improvement of the nation and its citizens.

The ouster of Viktor Yanukovich was seen as the sure ticket to “freedom from Russia” for Ukraine, and it may well have been that Mr. Yanukovich was an incompetent leader. However, his removal resulted in a tryannical regíme coming into power, that resulting in the secession of two Ukrainian regions into independent republics and a third secession of strategically super-important Crimea, who voted in a referendum to rejoin Russia.

While this activity was used by the West to try to bolster its own narrative that Russia remains the evil henchman in Europe, the reality of life in Ukraine doesn’t match this allegation at all. A nation that demonstrates such behavior shows that there are many problems, and the nature of these secessions points at a great deal of fear from Russian-speaking Ukrainian people about the government that is supposed to be their own.

President Poroshenko presents a face to the world that the West is apparently willing to support, but the in-country approval of this man as leader speaks volumes. The West’s blind support of him “against Russia” may be one of the most tragic errors yet in Western foreign policy.

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