The Internationalist  
July 2010  

U.S./South Korean Maneuvers A Threat to China As Well

Defend North Korea
Against U.S. War Threats and Sanctions

JULY 21 – On July 20, the United States and South Korea announced they would hold provocative military maneuvers next week in the Sea of Japan, to the east of North Korea. The exercises will include ten American warships, led by the USS George Washington, one of  the largest nuclear aircraft carriers in the world. This will be followed up by maneuvers in the Yellow Sea, to the west of the Korean peninsula and close to China. On July 21, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and War Secretary Robert Gates in Seoul, South Korea announced new sanctions against the North Korea and traveled to the Demilitarized Zone on the armistice line in the Korean War for some nuclear saber-rattling against the North.

South Korean navy detonates depth charges in anti-submarine warfare maneuvers off North Korea earlier this year. (Pool photo)

These “war games” and sanctions are a blatant attempt by U.S. imperialism to blackmail the isolated Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK), and also pose a threat to the People’s Republic of China. North Korea and China are bureaucratically deformed workers states, which the Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International defend against imperialism at the same time as we call for proletarian political revolution to oust the bureaucrats who endanger the remaining revolutionary gains.1 We defend North Korea’s right to have nuclear weapons as a deterrent to the aggressive U.S. and Japanese imperialists, who have never abandoned their drive to “roll back Communism” to the Yalu River (North Korea’s border with China) and beyond.

Although a truce was negotiated in 1953, the Korean War has never ended. The  U.S. still has tens of thousands of troops in South Korea (28,000 at last count). Moreover, as part of the current offensive of military threats against the North, late last month at a press conference at the G-20 summit in Toronto together with South Korean premier Lee Myung-bak, Barack Obama announced an agreement for the U.S. to keep command of Republic of Korea (ROK) military forces in case of war. Obama also renewed U.S. calls for a free-trade agreement with South Korea, which is strongly opposed by both Korean and U.S. labor unions. And he declared Washington’s support for the demands of the rightist-militarist Lee regime in Seoul seeking “accountability for the Cheonan incident.”

The current wave of North Korea-bashing was triggered by the sinking of the South Korean corvette on March 26 and the deaths of 46 sailors on board. South Korean military and intelligence officials almost immediately pointed the finger of blame at the North. In late May, the Lee government formally accused the DPRK of launching a torpedo attack against the Cheonan, claiming this was the finding of an “international investigation” of the sinking.  It then cut off all trade with the North and declared it would classify the DPRK as South Korea’s “main enemy.” The North Korean regime of Kim Jong Il countered by cutting off all ties with the South. North Korea categorically denies sinking the Cheonan, and has requested that North Korean military specialists be allowed to join the investigation.

What actually happened in the March 26 incident is unclear. The main “proof” is a fragment of a propeller bearing the inscription “№ 1,” matching a North Korean torpedo found in the Yellow Sea some years ago. However, this supposed evidence was not found in the intensive naval search of the sea floor in the area, but showed up almost two months later in a fisherman’s net. The area where the ship went down is only 10 miles from North Korea, next to a South Korean island which is the site of a U.S.-South Korean base for anti-submarine warfare (ASW). It is almost inconceivable that a North Korean mini-sub could have approached the area quietly enough to avoid detection, particularly since the incident occurred shortly after a joint U.S.-South Korean ASW exercise.

U.S. military get out of Korea and Puerto Rico. At NYC demo demanding end of U.S. Navy use of Vieques island, Puerto Rico, for bombing practice, June 2000. (Internationalist photo)

Both Russia and China have expressed skepticism about the South Korean-U.S. charges. An official DPRK statement called the “forged investigation” and accusations a “sheer fabrication.” It suggested the sinking could have been the result of an accident when the warship ran against rocks. Another possibility is that a U.S. “rising mine” laid during the March 11-18 Foal Eagle exercise could have struck the Cheonan. It also pointed out that the North’s focus on building up its economy was undercut by the incident, which has brought the two countries “to the brink of war.” On the other hand, it was convenient for Lee Myung-bak, who was elected on a program of ending any attempt at cooperation on the Korean peninsula. Lee’s party also tried to exploit the Cheonan sinking with patriotic appeals for electoral benefit, but this backfired when South Korean voters backed opposition candidates.2

The Democrats in Washington have likewise been pushing a hard line against North Korea. An article in the New York Times (30 May) on “Five Possible Ways to War” in the Koreas, quotes a “senior administration official” saying, “We’re out of the inducements game... That’s over.” Nor is this something new. During the U.S. presidential election campaign, Obama argued that the Bush regime was pushing a “dumb war” in Iraq instead of the “real war” in Afghanistan, while ignoring other “threats” like Iran and North Korea. In an article in Foreign Affairs (July-August 2007), candidate Obama wrote that “we must develop a strong international coalition to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.... In confronting these threats, I will not take the military option off the table,” but the first response should be “aggressive diplomacy -- the kind that the Bush administration has been unable and unwilling to use.

The Chinese government has strenuously complained about the upcoming U.S.-South Korean military maneuvers. Chinese specialists have called the exercises “needlessly provocative,” pointing out that nuclear-armed U.S. warships in the Yellow Sea, near major Chinese naval installations and within striking distance of Beijing, is a lot closer than Russian nuclear missiles in Cuba, “90 miles from Florida.” (More like holding military exercises off Norfolk, Virginia.) An editorial in China’s Global Times (12 July) warns that “One false move, one wrong interpretation, is all it would take for the best-planned exercises to go awry,” adding that Chinese fighter plans and war ships would likely “go all the way out to closely watch the war game maneuvers.”

There is a long history of imperialist governments staging provocations or seizing on unrelated events to justify launching a war. Recall how “Remember the Maine!” became the battle cry for the U.S. occupation of Cuba in 1898, after an explosion sank the American battleship in the Havana harbor. The jingoist press quickly blamed Spanish saboteurs for planting a mine. After the Spanish were driven out, they blamed Cuban freedom fighters. Cuban historians have argued that the United States probably blew up its own ship to provide a casus belli (justification for war). Or it could have sunk as the result of an explosion of the boiler or in the coal bunker. In any case, if the provocative U.S.-South Korean military maneuvers escalate into war against North Korea, the war cry will no doubt be “Remember the Cheonan!”

Internationalist Group at protest outside United Nations during earlier spate of imperialist war threats against North Korea. (Internationalist photo)

Could South Korean and the U.S. be responsible for the sinking of the Cheonan? Certainly they would not shrink from sacrificing the lives of South Korean sailors. In the 1980s, U.S. intelligence agencies working together with the KCIA sent a South Korean civilian airliner (KAL flight 007) on a spy mission over Soviet military installations on Sakhalin Island, and then screamed bloody murder when the Soviets shot down the intruder. In the 1950-53 Korean War, in which it slaughtered millions of Koreans, the U.S. Army was guilty of numerous massacres of refugees fleeing the fighting. A South Korean “truth commission” investigating wartime atrocities counted 138 U.S. massacres (for which it is being shut down by the Lee regime) while the ROK military and police executed as many as 200,000 “suspected leftists.” Trotskyists defended North Korea in the war.

There have been a number of warnings recently – including from Cuba’s Fidel Castro – of imminent U.S. war moves  against North Korea and Iran that could escalate into an imperialist world war. Whether the Obama regime, already stretched thin by its losing war in Afghanistan and continuing occupation of Iraq, has the military capability of launching such an adventure is another matter. Bolstered by recent U.N. Security Council sanctions it may opt for steps like boarding Iranian and North Korean freighters, with potentially dramatic consequences. In any case, while giving no political support to the Islamist capitalist rulers in Tehran or the Stalinist regime in Pyongyang, the duty of all opponents of imperialism is to defend Iran and North Korea against the warmongers in Washington and Seoul.

1 For a Trotskyist analysis of North Korea, see articles in The Internationalist No. 15, January-February 2003.

2 Since this article was published, the Los Angeles Times (24 July) has come out with an article headlined “Doubts surface on North Korea's role in ship sinking,” reporting on South Korean experts debunking the official story of a supposed North Korean torpedo attack. (See http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-korea-torpedo-20100724,0,1827085.story.)

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com