Is there any limit to the hypocrisy of the US over the pending North Korea summit in Singapore?
If you listened to the White House and Pentagon, you’d get the impression that North Korea is the major threat to world peace. So far as Trump and his cronies are concerned, the main goal of the pending summit is “the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”.
North Korea’s stockpile of, perhaps, 10 nuclear warheads must be wiped out if the menace of a nuclear confrontation in east Asia is to be eliminated. Only then can the world breathe easy.
But if we’re talking about removing the nuclear threat in the region, let’s start with the most likely source of nuclear Armageddon, the United States itself.
The US has proven itself time and again to be a reckless power. It is the only country that has dropped nuclear weapons during wartime, wiping out 220,000 Japanese lives in 1945 simply to demonstrate its new-found capacity for destruction.
The US has taken the world to the edge of an all-out nuclear war on at least two occasions – during the Korean War and again during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Since 1945, the US has produced more than 70,000 nuclear warheads, more than the rest of the world put together.
Today, the world stands once again at the risk of nuclear annihilation. The Bureau of Atomic Scientists says that the world is closer to catastrophe than at any time since 1953 – the height of the Cold War.
The US, along with Russia, holds overwhelmingly the largest nuclear stockpile in the world. Its current, usable armoury is 4,000 nuclear warheads, of which 1,400 are deployed in missile silos, or on submarines and heavy bombers. Any one of the 920 nuclear missiles on board US submarines has destructive power equivalent to many Hiroshimas, capable of destroying an entire country and bringing on a nuclear winter.
The US today is ratcheting up the arms race. The process started with the nuclear modernisation program initiated by president Obama, which involved a generational upgrade in the country’s missiles, nuclear submarines, strategic bombers and nuclear bombs. Trump now accelerates that process, as per the Pentagon’s Nuclear Posture Review released in February.
The review spelled out plans to develop “non-strategic nuclear forces”, that is, lower power nuclear bombs that would enable the US to use nuclear weapons in a regional conflict. But far from being “smart” or “tactical”, any use of such weapons would affect hundreds of millions of lives by destroying food production and, if they became the catalyst for a broader exchange, would trigger a cataclysmic outcome affecting billions.
The review also reaffirmed that the US is prepared to use nuclear weapons first in a wide range of circumstances. The US is also examining expanding the range of its submarines capable of carrying ballistic missiles. Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of US periodical the Nation, summed up the Pentagon’s agenda:
“The United States is building a new generation of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, will deploy more usable nuclear weapons in ‘forward’ areas, remains committed to possible ‘first use’ of nuclear weapons even against non-nuclear attacks in defence of 30 countries, retains missiles on active alert ready to launch, is sceptical of the possibility of any progress in arms control and is hostile to the global movement to make nuclear weapons illegal.”
US pretensions about peace on the Korean Peninsula are easily debunked. Trump makes that plain. Who can forget his speech to the UN last September, when he threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea? This came on top of his threats to unleash “fire and fury” on the country the previous month.
Trump’s program of “maximum pressure” involves the extension of draconian sanctions against the Pyongyang government, which have been going on for decades and which are in part responsible for the economic misery and malnutrition faced by the mass of the population. All this comes with threats by the US and South Korea to kill the North’s top leadership.
In January, the Pentagon released its National Defense Strategy, which outlined its ambition to “deter and counter rogue regimes such as North Korea and Iran” and slammed North Korea for its “outlaw actions and reckless rhetoric”. The Pentagon accused North Korea of using its growing ballistic missile capability to “gain coercive influence over South Korea, Japan, and the United States”, when the Kim regime’s main motivation is to use its nukes to prevent its overthrow by the US.
The verbal attacks continued last month when Trump threatened North Korea with “decimation” if the Pyongyang regime did not agree to surrender its nuclear program, while vice president Mike Pence and national security adviser John Bolton threatened Kim Jong-un with the “Libyan model”, referring to the fate of Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator overthrown and killed in 2011.
But given that Gaddafi had given up his nuclear program in return for the lifting of US sanctions some years earlier, the Pyongyang regime is unlikely to accede readily to US demands for denuclearisation, especially now that the US has just walked away from its nuclear deal with Iran.
The Turnbull government, one of the US president’s most loyal supporters, has backed Trump all the way, while the Labor opposition is only slightly less enthusiastic about Trump’s aggressive militarism.
The US backs its violent rhetoric with military hardware. The Trump administration is boosting the US military budget, adding $80 billion to the already bloated outlays over the next two years, for a total of more than $1.4 trillion.
If the US wants to talk about “coercive influence” in east Asia, it only needs to look in the mirror. The US garrisons 80,000 soldiers, sailors, air crew and marines on 33 bases in Japan and South Korea. Its Seventh Fleet comprises 60-70 ships and submarines, 300 aircraft and 40,000 Navy and Marine Corps personnel, and operates out of two bases in Japan and a third in Guam.
These tens of thousands of personnel conduct annual joint exercises with Japanese and South Korean forces involving hundreds of thousands of troops in dress rehearsals for war with North Korea.
Nuclear armed B52 and B2 bombers are stationed at US bases in Guam within easy striking distance of North Korea.
None of this US firepower is on the table at the forthcoming negotiations between Trump and Kim: both the US and South Korean governments have stated that US troop levels in South Korea are not up for discussion. Winding back “military tension” on the Korean peninsula is regarded as the sole responsibility of North Korea.
The US wants to develop the capacity to carry out a nuclear first strike against North Korea or China. But it has to be confident that its targets cannot strike back. That is the purpose of the Terminal High Altitude Aerial Defense system (THAAD), an anti-ballistic missile shield which Obama and now Trump have been trying to convince South Korea to host. If THAAD becomes operational, the threat of a US nuclear attack is substantially increased.
And that’s the bottom line for the US. If the negotiations for “denuclearisation” (of the North only) fail, the US reserves the right to annihilate the country. The US has done this once, during the Korean War, when it turned every building from the Yalu River to the capital into charred remains.
Now, aware that its primacy in the world system is being eroded by the rise of China and its weakness demonstrated by the fact that, despite years of sanctions and bloodthirsty threats, North Korea has acquired nuclear weapons capable of striking US territory, the US is prepared to lash out once again.
That such a military confrontation might involve the deaths of millions of people is of no consequence to the monsters who run the United States or the Western media who cheer them on.