US aggression continues against North Korea

The North Korean military’s artillery-fire upon the disputed territory of Yeonpyeong Island last November was the latest response to an unceasing campaign of provocations by the US military and its South Korean ally. The Yeonpyeong incident resulted in at least four fatalities. The pretext for the clash was the decision by the US-backed South Korean regime to engage in provocative military exercises close to disputed territory in the Yellow Sea.

Although little acknowledged by the Western-corporate media, the North Koreans’ artillery barrage was a retaliatory response to the firing of live ammunition by the South into disputed territory. The North began firing after repeated calls were made for the South Korean forces to desist. Ominously, the US responded by sending the USS George Washington nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and other warships to conduct joint war exercises with the South Korean military. Fortunately the situation did not escalate and the South Korean military ceased its live firing exercises in the area.

The Yeonpyeong island incident, however, is only the latest of a series of attempts by the US-backed South Korean regime to increase pressure upon and isolation of North Korea. The disputed territory in the Yellow Sea, a consequence of the outcome of the Korean War armistice in 1953, has been the location of a series of provocations against the North.

In March 2010 the South Korean warship, the Cheonan, sunk with the loss of life of 46 crew members. The South immediately sought to blame the North, alleging that the vessel had sunk as a result of a torpedo attack. A phony “Joint Civilian-Military Investigation Group” was established to investigate the sinking. Dominated by South Korean military officials and Western imperialist allies it set out to prove North Korean responsibility. Much like evidence used to “prove” the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in the early 2000s, the group not unsurprisingly named North Korea as the culprit in September.

The South Korean regime and its Western backers could not conceal, however, that credible members of the group disputed its findings. Shin Sang-cheol concluded the sinking “was just an accident, and that the South had tampered with evidence to blame the North.” Shin was quickly removed from the investigation. Russia, another major stakeholder in the region, established its own investigation in June 2010. The South Korean regime was enraged when the Russian investigation concluded there was no evidence that the vessel sank due to a torpedo attack.

Disputed waters

Both incidents took place in disputed territory in the Yellow Sea. Yeonpyeong is one of several islands that were controlled by South Korean forces at the end of 1950-3 the war. The war ended with an armistice and the establishment of a demilitarised zone across the peninsula. The US, however, unilaterally imposed its own Northern Limits Line in the Yellow Sea. This line follows the North Korean coast closely and limits its sea access.  Furthermore, the Northern Limits Line has no legal legitimacy under international law and has been the location of a number of similar incidents over many years.

The most recent attempt to bring some resolution to the disputes was in 2007. Then South Korean president Roh Moo-Hyun used the inter-Korean summit meeting to produce a commitment by both sides to negotiate a joint fishing area and create a “peace and cooperation zone”.  However, a few months after the summit, newly elected South Korean President Lee Myung-bak rejected the agreements reached at that summit. Lee called for aggressive actions against the North. The US government supported Lee’s position. Both the Yeonpyeong and Cheonan incidents are outcomes of this campaign to isolate and stage further provocations against the North.

History of US aggression

These facts are rarely dealt with in the Western corporate media, which portrays North Korea’s autocratic Stalinist regime as an irrationally aggressive threat to peace on the peninsula and therefore justifies Washington’s attempts to bring about the collapse of this regime. It is in this context that the conflict between Washington and Pyongyang must be viewed.  North Korea’s main trade and economic relationships all collapsed along with the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. The result has been continuing economic decline and even intermittent famines throughout the 1990s.

In response, North Korea has made tentative moves to open up relations with other countries, most notably with capitalist South Korea. But each move along this road has faced constant blocks from Washington, which has opposed all attempts to bring a comprehensive settlement to the disputed issues that were unresolved from the 1953 armistice. The Pyongyang regime has responded to Washington’s hostility with reliance on strengthening its military forces and bluster about its ability to inflict a military defeat upon the US and South Korea. The North’s nuclear weapons program, for instance, is aimed at pressuring Washington to agree to direct negotiations for a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War.

While the capitalist media often portrays China as an ally of North Korea, it is clear that the Chinese leadership has a largely opportunist approach to the ongoing conflict. Its limited support for North Korea is largely a reflection of a preference for the status quo rather than a commitment to allowing North Korea to normalise its relationships with the rest of the world.

The US’s intransigence and the South’s collaboration with this have a long history. Since the stalemated outcome of the 1950-53 war, Washington has maintained an ongoing campaign to politically and economically isolate the North. This has been assisted by the totalitarian character of the Pyongyang regime, and its grotesque Kim family leader cult.

Many of the features of the North Korean regime were the outcome of massive destruction caused by the US war machine in 1950-53. The US military flattened whole cities, many containing vital industrial infrastructure. In the closing weeks of the war, US bombers destroyed massive irrigation dams that provided water for 75% of the North’s food production. The North was never the recipient of the massive aid or access to Western markets that was granted to the capitalist South.

Washington needs to continually stir up crises in northeast Asia in order to legitimise its large military presence in this strategically vital area of the world. Through this military presence it ensures that Japan, with the second strongest imperialist economy, remains militarily subordinate to Washington, and it retains military and political leverage over its South Korean neocolony. These interests are served by repeated provocations against and the continual demonisation of North Korea, which is why all opponents of imperialism should oppose them.