The Korean Crisis

by Brian Cahill
Socialist Voice February 2003

US IMPERIALISM'S own estimates state that a war against North Korea which involved the use of nuclear weapons would result in one million dead including up to 100,000 Americans, at an immediate cost to the US of $100 billion, while the cost of destruction and economic dislocation would be over $1 trillion.

The nuclear standoff between North Korea and the US has intensified. North Korea has stated that it will treat a US threat to impose sanctions as a declaration of war.

The conflict was triggered in October 2002 when the United States revealed publicly that North Korea had restarted its nuclear weapons programme, violating the terms of an agreement made in 1994. Oil supplies to North Korea from South Korea and Japan, due under the same agreement, have now been cut off under American pressure.

The Bush regime seems to have calculated that these moves would see the isolated and economically crippled state back down swiftly. North Korea has remained defiant, insisting that it will continue with its weapons programme and promising retaliation for any attack.

North Korea has a huge conventional army and may already possess nuclear weapons. A war would have devastating human and economic consequences. The prospect of trying to fight two wars at once was distinctly unwelcome, despite Donald Rumsfeld's bluster to the contrary.

Now the war of words has escalated again, with the United States threatening the imposition of sanctions through the United Nations. This would represent an economic hammer blow to Kim Jong-il's government and the Stalinist State has responded with fury.

Capitalism has been abolished in North Korea. But instead of a working class democracy, a parasitic bureaucracy rules the country with an iron fist. Stalinism anywhere is a grotesque parody of socialism, but in North Korea it appears in a particularly fossilised and bizarre form. The "Democratic Peoplesā Republic of Korea" is effectively a hereditary dictatorship, with Kim Jong-il succeeding his father, Kim il-Sung in presiding over a vast bureaucratic apparatus. The regime has developed an enormous cult of personality around its leaders and propagates the ideology of "Juche" (self-sufficiency), linked to a xenophobic attitude to all foreigners.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, along with most of the other Stalinist states, North Korea lost political allies. Even more importantly it lost a source of cheap oil, fertilisers and machinery along with markets for its exports. This hit the already struggling economy very hard. The situation was made even worse by severe flooding in 1996, which led to widespread starvation.

The apparent belligerence of the North Korean government is not a result of expansionist ambitions or a newly found confidence. Instead it is a result of weakness and a fear of collapse.

The turn towards conflict on the part of US imperialism has resulted in unease in South Korea and Japan. America's local allies wished for a continuation of the so-called "Sunshine" policy towards the North Koreans. This approach meant trying to ease the Stalinist state back into the world capitalist system over a 20 - 30 year period, allowing US and local capital to pick over its remains. The priority was to avoid any sudden disintegration of the northern regime that could create chaos on the peninsula and create millions of refugees. One estimate (Financial Times 8 November 2002) puts the cost of rapid reunification of Korea at $3,200 billion!

The White House, however, has taken a much more aggressive line, in keeping with its increasingly forceful approach to enforcing US dominance around the world. This shift has not gone unopposed. South Korea has seen huge demonstrations against the American garrison stationed there.

North Korea's use of its nuclear deterrent (actual or potential) to force the US to retreat will almost certainly lead to further nuclear proliferation, with Japan and other states drawing the conclusion that they can wield influence internationally only if they possess nuclear weapons. A new and more dangerous period of world relations has opened.

For other articles on Korea visit the sitemap.
To see what the Socialist Party stands for visit our main site