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Blame Western ‘demonists’ for Pyongyang’s belligerence

by Gregory Clark

Ten years after the U.S. attack on Iraq the question remains: Were U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair cunning liars with their claims of weapons of mass destruction? Or were they just stupid?

A Moscow experience I endured many years earlier over a very different war — Vietnam — suggests that belligerence more than makes up for any lack of intelligence suffered by our leaders. I relate that experience belatedly since it is very relevant to what is happening today over North Korea. It could also throw some light on a hitherto secret corner of big power confrontation history.

In November 1964 an urgent message arrived at the Australian Moscow Embassy where I was stationed saying that Australian Foreign Minister Paul Hasluck wanted an immediate meeting with the top Soviet leadership. He had an important message to pass on over Vietnam. Normally Moscow would not want to give ear to a little-known foreign minister from a distant country. But there were also hints that the United States was behind his message. A few days later I found myself sitting beside Hasluck at the standard Kremlin green baize table facing Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin and Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko.

In urgent tones the Australian minister set out to warn the Soviet leaders about the threat of Chinese global aggression. Even we in Australia knew how the Chinese were threatening Moscow’s control over Sinkiang and its Siberian Far East district. Now they were using Hanoi to invade South Vietnam and push further into Asia, creating a direct threat to Australia. The Soviet Union, he said, should join us and the United States in Vietnam to use its power (translated as sila, which also means force) to put an end to China’s aggressive ambitions.

Our meeting soon ended, in a welter of misunderstanding. Kosygin had interrupted to say Sinkiang had long been Chinese territory, and that the Chinese had never made any claim to Russia’s Far East territory. He went on to say in a pointed reference to Vietnam that Moscow rejected the use of “force” to solve international problems. As for supporting us in Vietnam, he would like to state clearly that the Soviet Union would always stand by the side of the brave Vietnamese people resisting U.S. imperialist aggression, and he only wished the Chinese would do a lot more to help.

But Hasluck was unfazed. Back in Australia he said he had visited Moscow to be the first Western leader to congratulate the new Soviet leadership after the October 1964 ouster of Nikita Khruschev. He continued to accuse China of aggression in Vietnam, “using in the first instance its puppets in Hanoi.”

Even after it was obvious that Beijing and Hanoi did not like each other, and China was blocking some Soviet transit materials to Hanoi, Canberra continued to beat the “China aggression” drum.

In an in-depth BBC interview over Iraq war origins, Blair also blamed group-think. And that too is a factor. Once our leaders identify some unfortunate nation as an imagined enemy, influence-seeking bureaucrats, politicians, think tanks, and media pundits plus military-industrial types keen to get larger budgets and test out new weapons on live targets quickly climb on the bandwagon to help demonize that enemy. At the time of our Moscow meeting China was being heavily demonized, even though it was then controlled by moderates such as Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping trying simply to deter U.S. attacks and repair the damage from Mao’s foolish Great Leap Forward. Accusations it wanted to take over the world were part of the demonic scenario.

Currently we see the same demonization process in action over North Korea. And while that regime deserves no sympathy for the way it has impoverished and oppressed its people, most who have met its leaders agree that they talk and act rationally.

In 1994 under the threat of imminent U.S. air attack they agreed to end their nascent nuclear program in exchange for a form of U.S. recognition. But the U.S. soon went back on that promise, arguing that the North Korean regime was about to collapse. So North Korea went back to its nuclear preparations, only to be targeted by the U.S. as part of the “axis of evil” with which the civilized world could have no truck.

Since then, Pyongyang has often pointed to Iraq as an example of what happens to an “axis of evil” nation without the weapons to defend itself. And it will tell anyone who cares to listen that it is still willing to halt nuclear development if it can gain that once-promised U.S. recognition.

It is almost certain that the belligerent noises and bluster we see and hear today are designed to ward off a pre-emptive attack similar to that threatened in 1994. But for our demonists the noises are proof North Korea really is crazy, belligerent, addicted to “provocations” and deserving to be attacked or at least strongly restrained. They say nothing about the belligerence and provocation that started it all: the U.S. threat to attack the North in 1994. Pyongyang’s calls for talks with the U.S. are simply a plot to make us drop our guard, they tell us. And so on.

The similarities with China’s situation in the early ’60s continue. Beijing had been threatened with U.S. nuclear attack three times in the ’50s — once in Korea and twice over its efforts to capture offshore islands held by the rival Taiwan regime. With a promise of Soviet help it had set out to develop its own nuclear deterrent, which it achieved in October 1964 just before our Moscow meeting.

And fearing a pre-emptive U.S. attack it too had begun to make belligerent noises, including the claim that it could lose hundreds of millions in nuclear war and still survive. Those noises were then used by the demonists to prove that China really was a crazy, dangerous nation deserving to be attacked.

This in turn was to create the bizarre chain of events leading to our futile Kremlin meeting. Fearing confrontation with the U.S. over the Taiwan problem, Moscow in 1959 had withdrawn its nuclear aid promise to Beijing. The Chinese retaliated with a torrent of anti-Moscow abuse, accusing the Soviets of selling out the communist cause to the U.S. enemy.

This in turn had been seized on by the anti-Chinese demonists in Washington and Canberra to prove that the Chinese were indeed bad communists, bent on global aggression, and restrained only by the good communists in Moscow. Hence the rushed Hasluck visit to Moscow in a bid to persuade the Soviets to join us in Vietnam.

Absurd? Of course. But demonists never sleep. The same fantasies are being concocted almost daily over a North Korea that almost certainly only wants to protect itself from yet another threat of U.S. attack as it goes about the business of restoring its wrecked economy.

Gregory Clark left the Australian diplomatic service in 1965 and has since lived and worked mostly in Japan. His book “In Fear of China” was published in 1968. A Japanese translation of this article will be placed on www.gregoryclark.net.

  • phu

    Ha. Just ha. After I got over being ashamed of being a citizen of the USA, I figured most of the problems people have with us are because of the ridiculous World Police role we’d found/put ourselves in.

    But apparently I was simply missing the real reason: Every bad thing that’s happened in the last six and a half decades is actually our fault. And not because we messed something up (which is historically common and believable), but because aside from being totally politically inept, our leaders — generations of them — have been plotting and manipulating the media into terrorizing and demonizing specific countries that are doing nothing but being moderate and trying to avoid our apocalyptic nuclear attacks.

    This is just sad, and Occam’s razor has something to say about it. I will be the first to say the US is not only imperfect, but often backwards and irresponsibly dangerous. But to suggest that what’s going on with North Korea is largely or entirely due to US political and media efforts at scapegoating and nuclear oppression? Ridiculous.

    I’m sure we’ll see some argument from authority mistakes here… and normally I give more weight than usual to ex-diplomats’ opinions on world affairs. But while this opinion piece (yes, that’s what it is) likely has a kernel of truth, it’s buried in a solid pound of excrement.

    • Rick

      Just read “Killing Hope” by William Blum. Each chapter is “This is why hates the United States”.
      Why would you let someone make you feel ashamed of something you didn’t choose to be? That’s dumb.

  • Ken5745

    Mr Gregory Clark is one of the most prescient political commentators from Australia, if not from the West. He tells it like it is- the truth.

    The United States has a ‘war’ economy and it is run by the military-industrial-complex, that Ike warned the American people against. Today the US has a $670 billion defense budget which is more than the next 15 major nation’s defense budget, never mind if 55 million Americans are living on food stamps.

    The real reason for the US to remain in Asia is to contain China, (not Nth Korea, which the US can flatten into a vacant lot in a matter of hours), lest the ‘Dragon is awake’ and grows to an extent that it can challenge the US’s primacy in the Pacific.

    Nth Korea is used only as a bogeyman so that the US can justify its continued presence in the peninsular and to have nuclear bombs in Guam.

    The US will see that there will never be a reunification in the Korean peninsular because that would destroy its raison d’etre to keep forces there and Japan with a view to contain China.

    To stay in the Korean peninsular the US needs to provoke the Nth Koreans every year with a military exercise that simulates the sea, air and land invasion of North Korea.

    This angers the Nth Koreans and the sabre rattling starts in a predictable way. So long as both sides don’t make any miscalculations this charade can go on for a long time, forcing the Nth Koreans to divert a big chunk of its puny GPD to the military, at the expense of feeding the people.

    In this way the demonic Americans achieve three aims:

    1 Keep the Nth Korean people on a starvation diet to show that ‘democracy’ is a better choice, never mind that Greece, its birthplace is now a bankrupt nation.

    2. Use Nth Korea as a bogeyman and to provoke it to rattle its sabres on cue to justify US’s continued presence.

    3 To contain China.

    To have peace in the Korean peninsular, it is necessary that the US leave the two Koreas to sort it out in a Peace Conference in Geneva but that would foil the demonists’ real agenda-the containment of China.

    Oh,the world would be a better place but for the lack of intelligence and honesty of some of our world leaders.

    • Starviking

      If North Korea is a bogeyman, it is a very accomodating one – bombarding civilian populations, shooting tourists, sinking ships, kidnapping foreign citizens.
      Perhaps you should remove your blinkers.
      As for the old canard about the US defense budget, if you look at it as a percentage of GDP then Saudi Arabia is the number 1, with the US and Russia in the number two spot. Some Military-Industial Complex that!

  • 乃亜 印場

    Tin Foil Hat Material at its best – and a lot of opinion backed up with very few verifiable facts. If everything was about the US vs. North Korea, it might even be believable, but it’s *everyone* vs. North Korea. Even China is recently starting to get cold feet about supporting their friend in the north. If North Korea stopped with the crazy press releases and stopped making threats, and of course stopped their nuclear weapon development plan – I don’t think anyone would invade them – much less the US. What the UN is doing with North Korea is not much different than how parents scold a misbehaving child – Sanctions are the political equivalent of grounding. I suspect that if the leaders grew up a bit and decided to make North Korea into a good global citizen, they would be welcomed with open arms.

    • Ken5745

      The verifiable facts that the US has a war economy include the US spending an inordinate amount for military budget, US$670 billion which is more than the combined military budgets of the next 15 major nations.

      Why spend this enormous amount and have over 1000 military and supply bases all over the world if it does not have a war economy, especially when 55 million Americans are desperate and surviving on food stamps?

      Why surround China with military and supply bases from Japan to South Korea, Guam to Singapore and Afghanistan if the motive is not to contain China?

      Why invade Iraq based on lies of WMD and violate the Nuremberg Principle if not to justify its enormous military budget and to control Iraq’s oil?

      Why invade Afghanistan when it is clear that 911 was an inside job. Ask retired US General Stubblebine (sp) who is not convinced that a B757 crashed into the Pentagon and anyone who is not blind can see that the WTC7 crashing into a heap in less than 9 seconds was a controlled demolition.

      What other verifiable facts do you want?

      The taste of the pudding is the eating. Nth Korea has asked the US to leave the peninsular before it would start negotiation for a peace process. Will the US comply with this request?

      I doubt it as the US clearly does not want the unification of the two Koreas since it has no more reason to remain in Sth Korea if they do unite. And that means a ‘hole’ in its quest to contain China.

      • Starviking

        As to 911 being an inside job, it is notable that the civil engineering world has said nary a word on that point.

        As for US bases! The US, being a Pacific power, does have an interest in what happens in the region, and has been long before China’s recent rise in power.

  • Stephen Verry

    A complex issue here, to be sure. Clearly America is not as starkly in the wrong as the writer suggests. America’s military presence in Northeast Asia has in fact been a force for peace and stability for over half a century now. But of course their approach is not without serious flaws. Perhaps the most fundamental miscalculation on America’s part is that with collapse of the NK regime (always) just around the corner, why cut a viable and lasting deal with them? It amazes me then how analysts have consistently misinterpreted the source of that regime’s power. Yes, one the one hand, it is brutal and repressive. It goes without saying than human rights abuses are rampant. Yet on the other hand, there is a very real and intense relationship between the majority of North Koreans and their leaders.

    A real life example: While living in Pusan some years ago, this story made the news. During a north/south soccer tournament, someone left Kim Jong-il’s picture out in the rain. Upon seeing this, with tears in their eyes the North Koreans asked their hosts how they could possibly do such a terrible thing. In other words, the Kims are larger than life to the average North Korean, semi-divine, in fact, replete with stories of triple rainbows appearing over Pek-tu Sun, a site sacred to all Koreans, when “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung was born. This bond is also intensely intimate and personal. Because of this, North Koreans have endured various deprivations over the years without rising up in rebellion, as would likely have occurred in a more convention nation.

    How to neutralize such a regime? Former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung had the right approach. which was incremental rapprochement with the north. Yet for too many American strategists, the peaceful rapprochement scenario is considered a fantasy. The real fantasy, however, is that a rapid regime change will fix the problem once and for all.

    To conclude, once the United States government discards the collapse-from-within scenario, real progress can be made towards lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula. And, as the north is more and more exposed, in a gradual way, to a diversity of ideas, the Kim family personality cult will, without undue friction and conflict, wilt away – this at least is the ideal scenario.

  • Roan Suda

    Gregory Clark and Debito Arudou no doubt loathe each other, but whatever their quasi-ideological differences, they have much in common as self-promoting egomaniacs who, goodness knows why, are regularly given space in the Japan Times to spout their off-the-wall views. Clark bashes America (or rather the America of his fevered imagination), while Arudou does the same to various “racist, rightwing” Japanese monsters. Clark is the better writer, but as the older and better educated of the two, he has less excuse for his self-indulgent rants. This column is a particularly egregious example of his twisted thinking.