Reports from the Economic Front

by Martin Hart-Landsberg

Archive for May, 2013

Free Trade Agreements And Corporate Power

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Corporate power has steadily grown over the last three decades.  And corporations have aggressively used their growing power to boost profits and the well-being of those at the top of the income pyramid at the expense of majority living and working conditions.

This development has often been presented as a force of nature.  The implied takeaway is that there really isn’t much we can do about it.  In reality, this development is the outcome of carefully devised policy.

A case in point: the two major free trade agreements that our government is currently negotiating, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement (TPPFTA) and the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA).

These agreements are being negotiated largely in secret.  For example,  President Obama has repeatedly rejected requests by members of congress to see drafts of the U.S. position in TPPFTA negotiations.  At the same time, more than 600 transnational corporations know everything about these negotiations because they are involved in shaping our government’s position thanks to their membership on official advisory boards.

Investment Chapters

Free trade agreements have many chapters.  While the specific terms may vary, all free trade agreements include an investment chapter.  One can see the terms of the Korea-U.S. FTA investment chapter here.  And thanks to a leak we can see the general make-up of the likely TPPFTA investment chapter here.

The draft TPPFTA chapter includes, as is typical, “minimum standard of treatment” protections for investors. More specifically:

Each Party shall accord to covered investments treatment in accordance with customary international law, including fair and equitable treatment and full protection and security.

The TPPFTA investment chapter also includes an investor state dispute settlement mechanism (ISDSM) which allows a transnational corporation to sue a host government in an international tribunal if it believes that any of the rights granted to it under the terms of the chapter have been abridged.

Most investment chapters have ISDSMs.  When corporations use them to sue a government, the case is usually heard by a three person panel that is not bound by national law.  Each party chooses an arbitrator and the two select the third.  Most cases are heard by arbitrators registered with the International Center for Settlement of Investor Disputes (ICSID), the World Bank’s body for administrating disputes.  These arbitrators are overwhelmingly corporate lawyers.  In fact, according to a study of the workings of the system by Corporate Europe Observatory and the Transnational Institute:

Just 15 arbitrators, nearly all from Europe, the US or Canada, have decided 55% of all known investment-treaty disputes. This small group of lawyers, referred to by some as an ‘inner mafia’, sit on the same arbitration panels, act as both arbitrators and counsels and even call on each other as witnesses in arbitration cases. This has led to growing concerns, including within the broader legal community, over conflicts of interest.

International trade lawyers make a great deal of money when a corporation sues a government regardless of whether they serve as council to one side or the other or sit in judgement as arbitrators.  Not surprisingly, then, they actively support the inclusion of ISDSMs in agreements and their use by corporations.

A recent study by UNCTAD highlights the rapid growth in cases brought by transnational corporations (see the two charts below):

  • In 2012, 58 new cases were initiated, which constitutes the highest number of known treaty-based disputes ever filed in one year and confirms that foreign investors are increasingly resorting to investor-State arbitration.
  • In 66% of the new cases, respondents are developing or transition economies. While the number of cases initiated by developing country investors has increased, the majority of new cases (64%) still originate from developed countries.
  • Claimants have challenged a broad range of government measures, including those related to revocations of licenses, breaches of investment contracts, irregularities in public tenders, changes to domestic regulatory frameworks, withdrawal of previously granted subsidies, direct expropriations of investments, tax measures and others.
  • At least 42 arbitral decisions were issued in 2012, including decisions on objections to tribunal’s jurisdiction, merits of the dispute, compensation and applications for annulment of an arbitral award. 31 of these decisions are in the public domain.
  • In 70% of the public decisions addressing the merits of the dispute, investors’ claims were accepted, at least in part. Nine public decisions rendered in 2012 awarded damages to the claimant, including the highest award in the history of ISDS (US$ 1.77 billion) in Occidental v. Ecuador, a case arising out of a unilateral termination by the State of an oil contract.

Recent

Trend

As UNCTAD notes, “Since most arbitration forums do not maintain a public registry of claims, the total number of cases is likely to be higher.”

A Problematic System: The Case of Ecuador

The Occidental v. Ecuador case referred to above provides a powerful example of what is wrong with investment chapters and their associated ISDSM.  The tribunal hearing the case decided that Ecuador had violated Occidental’s right to “fair and equitable treatment.”  In addition to the $1.77 billion judgment, the tribunal also ordered Ecuador to pay $589 million in backdated compound interest, plus post-award interest and half of the costs of the hearing for a total of $2.4 billion.

Public Citizen offers the following summary of the events that led Occidental to sue Ecuador using the ISDSM contained in the U.S.-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty, with the paragraphs cited below referring to the tribunal’s ruling:

In May 1999, Oxy signed a 20-year contract with Ecuador and the state oil company to explore for oil in Block 15, a segment of Ecuador’s Amazon, and extract from any discovered reserves (paras. 112, 115).  In exchange for taking on all expenses, Oxy was contractually entitled to 70% of the oil produced, with Ecuador maintaining a right to the rest (para. 117).  The contract also stipulated that while Oxy could sell the oil, it could not sell off any portion of its rights to produce and profit from the oil without government authorization.  The contract stated that transferring the rights to the oil production without authorization “shall terminate” the contract, meaning legal annulment and forfeiture of investments (para. 119).  This provision explicitly enforced Ecuador’s hydrocarbons law, which protected the government’s ability to vet companies seeking to gain control over oil production in its territory, a particular concern in the Chevron-ravaged Amazon region (para. 121).

One year after signing the contract, Oxy sought to sell off a portion of its investment in Block 15 oil production so as to gain capital and reduce expenditure risks.  In October of 2000, it signed with the Alberta Energy Company (AEC, a Canadian firm) a contract in which Oxy kept “nominal legal title” to the oil production contract with the government, but AEC purchased 40% of Oxy’s oil rights and agreed to foot 40% of ongoing costs (paras. 128, 129).   The two companies formed a “Management Committee” comprised of one AEC representative and one Oxy representative with the “power and duty to authorize and supervise Joint Operations” (para 136).  Oxy mentioned the deal to the government, but neither presented the contract nor sought government authorization for AEC’s acquisition of a significant economic and operational stake in the Amazonian oil project (paras. 147-160).

After an audit of Oxy in 2004, Ecuador’s Attorney General determined that the confidential Oxy-AEC contract in 2000 had bypassed necessary government authorization and thus violated Oxy’s contract with the government, prompting him to initiate a process to annul it (para. 177).  In May 2006, after a long delay filled with a presidential ouster and political tumult, the government terminated the contract with Oxy and repossessed the land and oil equipment of Block 15 (paras. 199, 200).

Strikingly, despite finding that Occidental did indeed violate its contract, and that the government’s decision to cancel it was consistent with the terms of the contract, the tribunal ruled that Ecuador did not provide the company “fair and equitable treatment.”  Since, in its opinion, Ecuador did not suffer materially from Occidental’s violation, it concluded that canceling the contract was too great a penalty.

The tribunal then estimated the loss of revenue suffered by Occidental assuming that its 20 year contract had not been prematurely canceled and it did not sell 40% of its oil production rights to AEC.  Finally, the tribunal concluded that Ecuador bore 75% of the responsibility for the loss and the company only 25%, which was the basis for the final monetary award to Occidental.

Public Citizen concluded its discussion of the case as follows:

In the end, the tribunal’s runaway interpretation of FET [fair and equitable treatment], disregard for the rule of law, defiance of basic English, selective weighing of evidence, and arbitrary blame game have not only saddled Ecuador with a cost tantamount to health care for half the country.  They have saddled all Parties to NAFTA-style treaties with a precedent of twisted reason.  Let’s hope it isn’t followed.

Not surprisingly, Ecuador is refusing to pay and its national assembly is considering a bill to terminate its bilateral investment agreement with the United States.  In addition, the country recently hosted a “Ministerial Conference of Latin American States Affected by Transnational Interests” with the aim of sharing information about the workings of investor-state tribunals and developing an alternative investment framework.  Twelve governments attended.

The Corporate Agenda

Investment chapters advance the corporate agenda in many other ways.  For example, all contain, including the draft TPPFTA, restrictions on performance requirements which make it illegal for governments to set export or import requirements or require foreign investors to use local parts or components, hire local labor, or transfer technology to domestic enterprises.  These restrictions effectively undermine any meaningful government attempt at industrial policy.

Perhaps most damaging to the public interest is another provision found in all free trade agreements, one designed to protect corporations from direct and indirect expropriation.  Indirect expropriation refers to a government action that “unfairly” limits the profit-making potential of a foreign investment.

According to the draft chapter of the TPPFTA,

(a) The determination of whether an action or series of actions by a Party, in a specific fact situation, constitutes an indirect expropriation, requires a case-by-case, fact-based inquiry that considers, among other factors:

(i) the economic impact of the government action, although the fact that an action or series of actions by a Party has an adverse effect on the economic value of an investment, standing alone, does not establish that an indirect expropriation has occurred;

(ii) the extent to which the government action interferes with distinct, reasonable investment-backed expectations; and

(iii) the character of the government action.

(b) Except in rare circumstances, non-discriminatory regulatory actions by a Party that are designed and applied to protect the legitimate public welfare objectives, such as public health, safety, and the environment, do not constitute indirect expropriations.

In other words, a transnational corporation can sue a host government in response to any perceived violation of any provision in the investment chapter.  Thus any government action that a foreign corporation believes “interferes with [its] distinct, reasonable investment-backed expectations” could trigger a suit.  As the Ecuador case shows, even corporations that are themselves in violation of their contracts can sue and win large judgments.  Given the track record of tribunal decisions, it should not be surprising that governments have become reluctant to pursue any regulations that might challenge corporate prerogatives.

Bloomberg News recently published an article discussing some of most serious ongoing disputes between transnational corporations and governments.  Among other things, it point out that:

Arbitration clauses were originally included in treaties to deal with the nationalization of a company’s assets. Now arbitrators hear claims for lost business or costs stemming from public-health laws and environmental regulation and financial policies, with billions of dollars at stake.

In some instances, investors are even demanding that national laws or court judgments be overturned.

Once a “shield of last resort,” arbitration has become a “sword of first resort,” according to a paper by Howard Mann, a senior law adviser at the International Institute for Sustainable Development, a Winnipeg-based nonprofit.

Free trade agreements include many other chapters that help transnational corporations to pursue profits at the public expense.   U.S. financial service firms, for example, have become quite aggressive in promoting the use of financial service chapters to avoid domestic regulation of their activities.

As Bloomberg News explains:

U.S. bankers and insurers are trying to use trade deals, which can trump existing legislation, to weaken parts of the Dodd-Frank Act designed to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis.

While the companies say they are seeking agreements that preserve strong regulations and encourage economic growth, their effort is drawing fire from groups who argue that Wall Street wants to make the trade negotiations a new front in its three-year campaign to stop or alter the law.

The Korea-U.S. FTA included a strongly pro-business financial service agreement. We have no idea whether the U.S. government seeks to include a similar chapter in the TPPFTA, although it is likely.

Final Thoughts

Corporate power is buttressed and promoted by many policies, including free trade agreements.  These agreements have one major goal: restricting our ability to use public power to defend majority living and working conditions.  And, as we can see, the U.S. government is hard at work securing U.S. participation in such agreements.  Reversing negative social and environmental trends requires recognizing this reality and building a movement powerful enough to challenge and transform government policy.

 

Written by marty

May 29th, 2013 at 8:09 am

Austerity Is Not The Answer

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The U.S. economy continues to stagnate and our political leaders continue to embrace austerity.  One major reason for this policy stance is that stagnation has done nothing to dent the earnings of our top corporations and their owners.

The challenge for our political leaders is convincing the rest of us to accept this situation.  For sometime now their strategy has been to predict recovery right around the corner.  All we need, they say, is a bit more austerity to reassure financial markets and growth will naturally resume.

Their claims were initially buttressed by a few highly touted economic studies, but those studies have now been discredited.  See here and here.  Practice also makes clear that austerity is not the solution to our economic problems.

This strategy was tried first and most aggressively in Europe.  The chart below, taken from a blog post by the economist Ed Dolan, provides one indicator of the self-reinforcing consequences of austerity.  Half the countries in the euro zone are in recession, and several big ones are heading that way.  For example, Germany’s average annual growth fell from 0.7 percent in 2012 to 0.4 percent in the first quarter of 2013.

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The European experience holds another lesson for people in this country.  It will take sustained popular organizing to get policy makers to change course.

Written by marty

May 23rd, 2013 at 5:00 am

The Need To Work For Peace On The Korean Peninsula

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This long post examines the causes of and offers a response to the dangerous escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula.

While the details of U.S.-North Korean relations are complex, the story is relatively simple.  In brief, the U.S. government continues to reject possibilities for normalizing relations with North Korea and promoting peace on the Korean peninsula in favor of a dangerous policy of regime change.  Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the U.S. media supports this policy choice with a deliberately one sided presentation of events designed to make North Korea appear to be an unwilling and untrustworthy negotiating partner.

As a corrective, in what follows I offer a more complete history of U.S -North Korean relations, focusing on the major events that frame current tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program.  This history makes clear that these tensions are largely the result of repeated and deliberate U.S. provocations and that our best hope for peace on the Korean Peninsula is an educated U.S. population ready and able to challenge and change U.S. foreign policy.

Historical Context

Perhaps the best starting point for understanding the logic of U.S.-North Korean relations is the end of Korean War fighting in 1953.  At U.S. insistence, the fighting ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.  A Geneva conference held the following year failed to secure the peace or the reunification of Korea, and U.S. demands were the main reason for the failure.

The United States rejected North Korean calls for Korea-wide elections, supervised by a commission of neutral nation representatives, to establish a new unified Korean government, a proposal that even many U.S. allies found reasonable.  Instead, the U.S. insisted, along with South Korea, that elections for a new government be held only in the North and under the supervision of the U.S. dominated United Nations.  Needless to say, the conference ended without any final declaration, Korea divided, and the United States and North Korea in a continuing state of war.

Up until the late 1980s/early 1990s, an interrelated, contentious but relatively stable set of relationships—between the United States and the Soviet Union and between North Korea and South Korea—kept North Korean-U.S. hostilities in check.  The end of the Soviet Union and transformation of Russia and other Central European countries into capitalist countries changed everything.

The loss of its major economic partners threw North Korea’s economy into chaos; conditions only worsened the following years as a result of alternating periods of flood and drought.  The North Korean government, now in a relatively weak position, responded by seeking new trade and investment partners, which above all required normalization of relations with the United States.  The U.S. government had a different response to the changed circumstances; seeking to take advantage of the North’s economic problems and political isolation, it rejected negotiations and pursued regime change.

It is the interplay of U.S. and North Korean efforts to achieve their respective aims that is largely responsible for the following oft repeated pattern of interaction: the North tries to force the United States into direct talks by demonstrating its ability to boost its military capacities and threaten U.S. interests while simultaneously offering to negotiate away those capacities in exchange for normalized relations.  The United States, in turn, seizes on such demonstrations to justify ever harsher economic sanctions, which then leads North Korea to up the ante.

There are occasional interruptions to the pattern.  At times, the United States, concerned with North Korean military advances, will enter into negotiations.  Agreements are even signed.  But, the U.S. rarely follows through on its commitments.  Then the pattern resumes.  The critical point here is that it is the North that wants to conclude a peace treaty ending the Korean War and normalize relations with the United States.  It is the U.S. that is the unwilling partner, preferring to risk war in the hopes of toppling the North Korean regime.

The Framework Agreement, 1994-2002

The U.S. government began to raise public concerns about a possible North Korean nuclear threat almost immediately after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  These concerns were driven by many factors, in particular the U.S. need for a new enemy to justify continued high levels of military spending.  Colin Powell, then head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained in testimony to Congress that with the Soviet Union gone, the United States was running out of enemies.  All that was left, he said, was Fidel Castro and Kim Il Sung.

The North had shut down its one operating reactor in 1989 for repairs.  In 1992, the CIA claimed that the North used the shutdown to reprocess plutonium and was now in possession of one or two nuclear weapons, a claim disputed at the time by the State Department.  The North also denied the claim but offered to settle U.S. nuclear concerns if the United States would enter into normalization talks.

The Clinton Administration rejected the invitation and began planning for war.  War was averted only because of Jimmy Carter’s intervention.  He traveled to North Korea and brokered an agreement with Kim Il Sung that Clinton reluctantly accepted.  The resulting 1994 Framework Agreement required the North to freeze its graphite-moderated reactor and halt construction of two bigger reactors.  It also required the North to store the spent fuel from its operating reactor under International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) supervision.

In exchange, the U.S agreed to coordinate the building of two new light water reactors (which are considered less militarily dangerous) that were to be finished by 2003.  Once the reactors were completed, but before they were fully operational, the North would have to allow full IAEA inspections of all its nuclear facilities.  During the period of construction, the U.S. agreed to provide the North with shipments of heavy oil for heating and electricity production.

Perhaps most importantly, the agreement also called for the United States to “move toward full normalization of political and economic relations” with the North and “provide formal assurances to the DPRK against the threat or use of nuclear weapons by the United States.”

Tragically, although rarely mentioned in the U.S. media, the U.S. government did little to meet its commitments.  It was repeatedly late in delivering the promised oil and didn’t begin lifting sanctions until June 2000.  Even more telling, the concrete for the first light water reactor wasn’t poured until August 2002.  Years later, U.S. government documents revealed that the United States made no attempt to complete the reactors because officials were convinced that the North Korean regime would collapse.

The Bush administration had no use for the Framework Agreement and was more than happy to see it terminated, which it unilaterally did in late 2002, after charging the North with violating its terms by pursuing nuclear weapons through a secret uranium enrichment program.  Prior to that, in January 2002, President Bush branded North Korea a member of the “axis of evil.”  In March, the terms of a new military doctrine were leaked, revealing that the United States reserved the right to take preemptive military strikes and covert actions against nations possessing nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons as well as use nuclear weapons as an option in any conflict; North Korea was listed as one of the targeted nations.  In July, President Bush rejected a North Korean request for a meeting of foreign ministers, calling Kim Jong Il a “pygmy” and a “spoiled child at the dinner table”

It is certainly possible that North Korea did begin a uranium enrichment program in the late 1990s, although the Bush Administration never provided proof of the program’s existence.  However, what is clear is that the North did halt its plutonium program, allowing its facilities to deteriorate, with little to show for it.  The failure of the United States to live up to its side of the agreement is highlighted by the fact that North Korea’s current demands are no different from what it was promised in 1994.

The North Korean government responded to the Bush administration’s unilateral termination of the Framework Agreement by ordering IAEA inspectors out of the country, restarting its plutonium program, and pledging to build a nuclear arsenal for its defense.

Six Party Talks, 2003-7

Fearful of a new war on the Korean peninsula, the Chinese government organized talks aimed at deescalating tensions between the United States and North Korea.  The talks began in August 2003 and included six countries—the United States, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia.  Two years of talks failed to produce any progress in resolving U.S.-North Korea differences.  One reason: the U.S. representative was under orders not to speak directly to his North Korean counterpart except to demand that North Korea end its nuclear activities, scrap its missiles, reduce its conventional forces, and end human rights abuses.  The North, for its part, refused to discuss its nuclear program separate from its broader relations with the United States.

Finally, in mid-2005, the Chinese made it known that they were prepared to declare the talks a failure and would blame the United States for the outcome.  Not long after, the United States ended its opposition to an agreement.  In September 2005, the six countries issued a Joint Statement, which was largely a repackaged Framework Agreement.  While all the countries pledged to work towards the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, most of the concrete steps were to be taken by the United States and North Korea “in a phased manner in line with the principle of ‘commitment for commitment, action for action’.”

Unfortunately, the day after the Joint Statement was issued, the United States sabotaged it.  The U.S. Treasury announced that it had “proof” that North Korea was counterfeiting $100 bills, so called super notes, an action it said amounted to war.  It singled out the Macao-based Banco Delta Asia, which was one of North Korea’s main financial connections to the west, for supporting the country’s illegal activities, froze its dollar accounts, and warned other banks not to conduct business with it or service any North Korean dollar transactions.  The aim was to isolate North Korea by denying it access to international credit markets.  The charge of counterfeiting was rejected by the North, most Western currency experts, and even China and Russia who were given a presentation of evidence by the U.S. Treasury.  However, fearful of possible U.S. retaliation, most banks complied with U.S. policy, greatly harming the North Korean economy.

The timing of the counterfeit charge was telling.  The U.S. Treasury had been concerned with counterfeit super notes since 1989 and had originally blamed Iran.  The sum total identified was only $50 million, and none of the notes had ever circulated in the United States.  This was clearly yet another effort to stop normalization and intensify economic pressure on North Korea.

The North announced that its participation in Six Party talks was contingent on the withdrawal of the counterfeit charge and the return of its Banco Delta Asia dollar deposits.  After months of inaction by the United States, the North took action.  On July 4, 2006, it test-fired six missiles over the Sea of Japan, including an intercontinental missile.  The U.S. and Japan condemned the missile firings and further tightened their sanctions against North Korea.  In response, on October 8, 2006, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test.  Finally, the U.S. agreed to reconsider its financial embargo and the North agreed that if its money was returned and it received energy supplies and economic assistance it was willing to once again shutdown its nuclear facilities, readmit international inspectors, and discuss nuclear disarmament in line with steps toward normalization of relations with the United States.

The Six Party talks began again in December 2006 but the process of securing implementation of the Joint Statement was anything but smooth.  The U.S. chief negotiator at the talks announced in February 2007 that all frozen North Korean deposits would be unfrozen and made available to the North within 30 days; the North was given 60 days to shut down its reactor.  However, the Treasury refused to withdraw its charges, and no bank was willing to handle the money for fear of being targeted as complicit with terrorism.  It took the State Department until June 25 to work out a back-door alternative arrangement, thereby finally allowing the Six Party agreement to go into effect.

The Six Party Agreement, 2007-9

As noted above, the Six Party agreement involved a phased process.  Phase 1, although behind schedule because of the U.S. delay in releasing North Korean funds, was completed with no problems.  In July 2007, North Korea shut down and sealed its Yongbyon nuclear complex which housed its reactor, reprocessing facility, and fuel rod fabrication plant.  It also shut down and sealed its two partially constructed nuclear reactors.  It also invited back IAEA inspectors who verified the North Korean actions.  In return, the U.S. provided a shipment of fuel oil.

Phase 2, which began in October, required the North to disable all its nuclear facilities by December 31, 2007 and “provide a complete and correct declaration of all its existing nuclear programs.”  In a separate agreement it also agreed to disclose the status of its uranium enrichment activities.  In exchange, the North was to receive, in stages, “economic, energy, and humanitarian assistance.” Once it fulfilled all Phase 2 requirements it would also be removed from the U.S. Trading with the Enemy Act and the State Sponsors of Terrorism list.

North Korean complaints over the slow delivery of fuel oil delayed the completion of this second phase.  However, in May 2008, North Korea completed the last stage of its required Phase 2 actions when it released extensive documentation of its plutonium program and in June a declaration of its nuclear inventory.  In response, the U.S. removed North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

However, the U.S. government failed to release the remaining promised aid or end the remaining sanctions on North Korea.  It now demanded that North Korea accept a highly intrusive verification protocol, one that would open up all North Korean military installations to U.S. inspection, and made satisfaction of Phase 2 commitments dependent on its acceptance.  The U.S. was well aware that this demand was not part of the original agreement.  As Secretary of State Rice stated, “What we’ve done, in a sense, is move up issues that were to be taken up in phase three, like verification, like access to the reactors, into phase two.”

The North offered a compromise—a Six Party verification mechanism which would include visits to declared nuclear sites and interviews with technical personal.  It also offered to negotiate a further verification protocol in the final dismantlement phase.  The U.S. government rejected the compromise and ended all aid deliveries.

In February 2009, the North Korea began preparation to launch a satellite.  South Korea was preparing to launch a satellite of its own in July.  The North had signed the appropriate international protocols governing satellites and was now providing, as required, notification of its launch plan.  The Obama administration warned the North that doing so would violate sanctions placed on the country after its nuclear test.  In response, the North declared that it had every right to develop its satellite technology and if the U.S. responded with new sanctions it would withdraw from the Six Party talks, eject IAEA monitors, restart its reactors, and strengthen its nuclear deterrent.

The North launched its satellite in April.  In June, the U.S. won UN support for enhanced sanctions, and the North followed through on its threat.  In May the North conducted a second nuclear test, producing yet another round of sanctions.

Recent Events

In April and December 2012 the North again launched earth observation satellites.  Although before each of these launches the U.S. asserted that these were veiled attempts to test ballistic missiles designed to threaten the United States, after each launch almost all observers agreed that the characteristics of the launches—their flight pattern and the second stage low-thrust, long burntime–were what is required to put a satellite in space and not consistent with a missile test.

After the December launch, the only successful one, the U.S. again convinced the Security Council to apply a new round of sanctions.  And in response, the North carried out its third nuclear test in February 2013.  The North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs pointed out that there have been “more than 2,000 nuclear tests and 9,000 satellite launches” in the world, “but the UN Security Council has never passed a resolution prohibiting nuclear tests or satellite launches.”  The Security Council responded to the North’s nuclear test by approving stricter sanctions.

In addition to sanctions, the U.S. has also intensified its military provocations against the North in hopes of destabilizing the new North Korean regime led by Kim Jung Un.  For example, in 2012, U.S.-South Korean military analysts conducted the world’s largest computerized war simulation exercise, practicing the deployment of more than 100,000 South Korean troops into North Korea to “stabilize the country in case of regime collapse.”  As part of their yearly war games, U.S. and South Korean forces also carried out their largest amphibious landing operations in 20 years; 13 naval vessels, 52 amphibious armored vehicles, 40 fighter jets and helicopters, and 9,000 U.S. troops were involved.

As part of its March 2013 war games, the U.S. flew nuclear-capable B-2 Stealth bombers over South Korea; these are also the only planes capable of dropping the 30,000-pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator bomb, which was developed to destroy North Korean underground facilities.  Nuclear-capable B-52 bombers also flew over South Korea, dropping dummy munitions.  The United States also sent the nuclear-powered submarine USS Cheyenne, equipped with Tomahawk missiles, into Korea waters.

The North Korean government responded to these threats in three ways.  First, the content of their declarations changed.  In particular, they began to focus their own threats on the U.S. as well as South Korea.  For example, the government stated, “If the US imperialists brandish nuclear weapons, we — in complete contrast to former times — will by means of diversified, precision nuclear strike in our own style turn not just Seoul, but even Washington, into a sea of fire.”  It also asserted, for the first time, that its nuclear weapons were no longer negotiable.  At least, not “as long as the United States’ nuclear threats and hostile policy exist.”

Second, the government put North Korean forces on full alert, including all artillery, rockets, and missiles.  Kim Jong Un announced that the country would “answer the US imperialists’ nuclear blackmail with a merciless nuclear attack.”  Finally, it announced, in April, that it would restart its uranium enrichment program and its Yongbyon reactor.

What Lies Ahead

The Obama administration has adopted what it has called the doctrine of “strategic patience” in dealing with North Korea.  But as made clear from above, in reality the U.S. has continued to pursue an aggressive policy towards North Korea, motivated by the hope that the regime will collapse and Korean reunification will be achieved by the South’s absorption of the North, much like the German experience.

The consequence of this policy is ever worsening economic conditions in the North; continuing military buildup in the United States, Japan, China, and both North and South Korea; a strengthening of right-wing forces in South Korea and Japan; and the growing threat of a new war on the Korean peninsula.  There are powerful interests in Japan, South Korea, and the United States that are eager to further militarize their respective domestic and foreign policies, even at the risk of war.  Tragically, their pursuit of this goal comes at great cost to majorities in all the countries concerned, even if war is averted.

The North has made clear its willingness to enter direct talks with the United States.  It is only popular pressure in the United States that will cause the U.S. government to change its policy and accept the North Korean offer.  It is time for the U.S. government to sign a peace treaty finally ending the Korean War and take sincere steps towards normalization of relations with North Korea.

 

Written by marty

May 2nd, 2013 at 3:46 pm