Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tensions increased on the Korean penisula

Tensions have heightened dramatically on the Korean peninsula, with the artillery exchange between the two Koreas on the disputed Northern Limit Line. North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong island, which is only ten miles from the North Korean coastline. While the US and South Korea immediately blamed Pyongyang for an unprovoked attack, let’s take a look at the background issues pertaining to this latest flareup.

The latest attack by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) or North Korea on the Yeonpyeong island was provoked by the South Koreans and the US. The US military along with their client regime in Seoul staged massive military exercises simulating an invasion of the North, and this on Yeonpyeong island which is only ten miles from the North Korean border. It is the political conduct of Washington and its ally in Seoul that ceaselessly threaten and incite violence against the DPRK.

The DPRK has been subjected to a sustained and intensive US blockade, denying its people basic medical equipment, food, and access to all the commodities that we take for granted here in Australia.

The South Korean regime has taken a direct confrontational stance against Pyongyang, and this stance has lead to an escalation of tensions. US has backed the Seoul regime all the way, including cooperating in joint military exercises aimed at North Korea. The latest exercise, code named 'Hoguk' involved 70 000 South Korean troops and simulated an invasion of Pyongyang.

In March this year, North Korea was accused of sinking a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, and while Seoul initially dismissed reports of North Korean responsibility, quickly changed its tune and accused Pyongyang of sinking the ship. This incident was used by Seoul to cut all diplomatic and economic ties with the North, and take on a confrontational stand. While the official South Korean-American investigation into the Cheonan held Pyongyang responsible, several US scientists conducted their own investigations and found no involvement by the North Korean regime.

The 1953 armistice which concluded the Korean war agreed on a land border, but did not extend into the maritime area. The US unilaterally drew a line in the sea, which placed Yeonpyeong on the south side, a demarcation that Pyongyang never agreed to. Yeonpyeong has been a bone of contention between North and South Korea twice before, back in 1999, and again in 2002.

North Korea's leaders are routinely derided in the corporate-controlled media as lunatics, hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons, deliberately starving their own people and pursuing an aggressively confrontational foreign policy. However, an examination of the historical record shows that the leaders of the DPRK have adopted a pragmatic approach, entering into negotiations with international bodies, only to face the constant provocations and sanctions by the United States and its South Korean ally. Between May 1992 and January 1993, the DPRK did allow six on-site inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). That did not stop the United States from charging that the DPRK was developing nuclear weapons, and advocating increasing the already tight economic sanctions in place against that country. The US and South Korean then staged joint military exercises involving 200 000 US and South Korean troops, with weapons that included nuclear arms.

In 1994, former US president Jimmy Carter travelled to Pyongyang and arranged a deal under which the DPRK agreed to abolish its nuclear generation program in return for oil supplies from Japan and the US. The tension on the Korean peninsula was reduced, and this diplomatic success was followed up by increasing contacts between the two Koreas. The North and South were moving towards some kind of rapprochement over the past year, at least before March this year. There were openings of diplomatic contact, business links and trade, and cultural exchanges between the two Koreas under the previous South Korean president. However, since the current South Korean president assumed office, Lee Myung-Bak has escalated tensions, broken off economic and diplomatic contacts, and has directly threatened North Korea with military attack. At least, Lee Myung-Bak's predecessor, Kim Dae-jung pursued a conciliatory approach, terming it "sunshine policy". This involved reducing tensions, entering into negotiations with Pyongyang, and even meeting with the leaders of the North Korean regime.

Nuclear weapons should be banned and the current nuclear powers encouraged to disarm their respective nuclear stockpiles. It is the politically selective way that the United States applies its opposition to nuclear weapons; why only target those regimes with which the US disagrees? Why does the US insist on maintaining and developing its own massive stockpile of nuclear weapons, while hypocritically demanding that other countries should comply with international law? It is the stench of this hypocrisy from the US that is intolerable. If the DPRK should be punished for pursuing nuclear technology, then why does the Obama administration insist on maintaining the largest, most well-stocked nuclear arsenal in the world?

The corporate-controlled media routinely asserts that the North Korean people are starving and that this situation is directly attributable to the economic mismanagement of the DPRK's leaders. Every country has its economic woes - the United States has been having deep economic troubles since 2008, and every European country is currently undertaking steps to avert the worst of the current economic crisis. In the United States, the Wall Street bankers and financial speculators who are responsible for creating this deep economic turmoil have so far avoided prosecution for their malpractices. In the DPRK, the country is under an economic blockade that tightly restricts the flow of goods and services. In the early 1990s the DPRK lost is main benefactor when the Soviet Union dissolved. So yes the country is going through its financial hardship, and that is no secret.

The current economic malaise in the DPRK is directly attributable to the crippling sanctions imposed on it by the US and its allies. Every time the US and South Korea hold joint military exercises, the DPRK gets nervous thus maintains a continual war-footing. This diverts crucial investment away from the provision of healthcare, education and housing into military expenditure. The US is calculating that the sanctions-afflicted economy will break under continuous pressure. Outspending the political opponents of the US is a dangerously reckless tactic, one that leads to increasing poverty in the US itself while escalating tensions in the Korean peninsula to the brink of all-out war. The shortages of the DPRK economy can then be blamed on the maladministration of its leaders, and not on the real culprits, the US military-industrial complex. The US administration callously denies the DPRK the basic necessities and financial aid needed to develop its economy, then turns around and hypocritically blames Pyongyang for economic mismanagement.

In April 2010, The World Health Organisation carried out a study of the DPRK's health care system, and found that while the system faces numerous challenges, the following points can be made:

There is no shortage of doctors and nurses; there is no "brain drain" of healthcare professionals as can be seen in the former Soviet republics, and there is an elaborate health infrastructure and a developed network of primary health care physicians. The author of the report states that Pyongyang has done “a good job in areas such as immunization coverage, effective implementation of maternal, newborn and child health interventions, in providing effective tuberculosis treatment and in successfully reducing malaria cases.”

You can read the story here:

WHO Chief Notes N. Korean Achievements in Public Health Care

And this was reported in the Voice of America news; not exactly a bastion of pro-DPRK propaganda.

Canberra has joined the chorus of warmongering rhetoric emanating from Washington and Seoul. Let us desist from outright aggression and provocation, and advocate a peaceful solution, such as the one suggested by Russia and China. That solution involves an immediate resumption of the six-party talks involving both Koreas, Russia, China, the US and Japan. A solution that includes regional as well as international players is the only way to bring about a just and lasting peace based on international law. The sanctions against the DPRK must be immediately abolished so that Pyongyang is not driven into a corner where its only option is the use of military force. The suffering of the Korean people on both sides of the armistice line can be alleviated by removing the crippling sanctions and working towards a mutually acceptable solution through dialogue.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

This is what the new American-sponsored democratic Iraq looks like

Gareth Porter, a long-term investigative journalist and historian, has written yet another incisive article about the disturbing strategy of the US military to incite sectarian violence, thus keeping Iraqis divided among themselves and undermining Iraqi-Arab nationalism.

The US wants to create a subordinate Iraq, a country bereft of any political and educated leadership that can challenge its puppets in Baghdad. One of the ways the US does this is instigate horrifying sectarian hatred, like this example documented by Gareth Porter. The US military deliberately pitted Shias, Kurds and Sunnis against each other, to stoke the fires of sectarian hatred and poison relations between these communities. Like a noxious weed, the US and its proxies have spread their malignant hate to new fields.

General Petraeus was hailed (and still is regarded) as the man to bring stability to Iraq. We can see from this evidence that all he did was escalate the Iraq war to new levels of horrifying violence. He is a terrorist and war criminal who should be put on trial for his crimes against humanity.

As Porter documents, "the U.S. military command issued “FRAGO [fragmentary order] 242″, which provided that no investigation of detainee abuse by Iraqis was to be conducted unless directed by the headquarters of the command, according to references to the order in the Wikileaks documents.

The order came immediately after Gen. Petraeus took command of the new Multi-National Security Transition Command in Iraq (MNSTC-I). It was a clear signal that the U.S. command expected torture of prisoners to be a central feature of Iraqi military and police operations against Sunni insurgents."

So Petraeus is a mass murderer and torturer who will go down in history as a butcher, an execrable criminal-general whose name emits the same foul stench as his fellow war-criminals Franco, Pinochet and Rodolfo Graziani.

If anyone thought that the US can play the role of a peacekeeper in Iraq, or was motivated by a desire to bring peace to the Middle East, then this essay by Porter should give them pause for thought. And such crimes by the committed United States military and political authorities (along with their Iraqi auxiliaries) underscores the necessity for a strong antiwar movement in Australia.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The economic system we live with

The following two articles are from Links, a magazine from Australia dedicated to the revival of socialism, and seeks the active collaboration of socialist parties around the world. The Links e-magazine has many strengths, one of which is its continued coverage of political economy.

Yes, I can hear the groans from the readers already; oh no, not economics! Boring! But please, bear with me.

Links does have academic articles, but it is not aimed primarily at academics. It is aimed at promoting discussion and cooperation among socialist ground and individuals. Part of changing the capitalist society is understanding how the political economy works. Now it is fine to talk about interest rate rises, mortgages and superannuation. But these microeconomic issues are subordinate to the major issues of how the Australian, and global, economy works. Economics is often presented as this incredibly complex subject that only people with super-brains can fathom. While economics does contain its own complexities, I think that economists and economics writers need to do a better job at informing the public (you and me) about how corporate profit is draining money from socially-necessary projects, like health care and education.

To that end, I am linking to the following fantastic articles. One is called Turning the tide of oil in US and world politics. This essay examines the huge impact of the oil industry on our lives and how to provide an alternative to this insane, polluting profit-driven system.

The second is a longer piece called Currency wars and the privilege of empire. Recently in the corporate-controlled media, there have been emotional (sometimes xenophobic) attacks on China and the measures by that government to protect its economy. The impulsive denunciations of China from American politicians are motivated by the deep economic malaise in the United States itself. This article, a longish piece, analyses the historical origins of the rise of American capitalism and its current demise.