Explore Harvard's Nieman network Nieman Fellowships Nieman Lab Nieman Reports Nieman Storyboard

A little bluster comes with North Korea's nuclear test

COMMENTARY | October 17, 2006

The overseas press: Voices from the two Koreas, Russia, Iran and China regarding last week’s nuclear test and what to do about it.

By John Burke

“Shock” certainly isn’t the word to describe international reaction to last week’s North Korean nuclear test. Pyongyang’s ambitions have been suspected for many years.

“Disappointment,” more specifically “disappointment in Washington’s non-proliferation policy,” comes closer to capturing global sentiment.

It is widely believed that the Bush administration fabricated evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as an excuse to start a war. At the same time, Iran continues to defy international pressures to scrap its own nuclear ambitions while George Bush personally blessed the expansion of India’s nuclear program to international outcries of a double standard.

All the while, numerous critics around the world pointed at Pyongyang as the most immediate nuclear threat and begged for alternative diplomacy since the standard sanctions and six-party talks didn’t seem to be working.

With the “Dear Leader’s” underground nuclear explosion, many foreign editorialists finalized their suspicions, explicitly blaming the United States for failed policies.

Some of the most interesting opinion came from the DPRK—North Korea—itsself. The virulent and paranoid anti-American rhetoric from Kim Jong-Il and Co. not only opens a door on how the isolated Communist state views the world’s most powerful nation, but on just how easy it has become for international outcasts to use the United States for propaganda purposes:

In Asia Times Online, the DPRK’s “Unofficial” spokesman, Kim Myong Chol, foreshadows the test with propaganda for the “Great Leader” and describes an imminent war with the U.S. including violent details:

“…Kim Jong-il is the greatest of the peerless national heroes Korea has ever produced. Kim is unique in that he is the first to equip Korea with sufficient military capability to take the war all the way to the continental U.S. Under his leadership the DPRK has become a nuclear-weapons state with intercontinental means of delivery. Kim is certainly in the process of achieving the long-elusive goal of neutralizing the American intervention in Korean affairs and bringing together North and South Korea under the umbrella of a confederated state.

“Unlike all the previous wars Korea fought, a next war will be better called the American War or the DPRK-U.S. War because the main theater will be the continental U.S., with major cities transformed into towering infernos…

“The DPRK has all types of nuclear bombs and warheads, atomic, hydrogen and neutron, and the means of delivery, short-range, medium-range and long-range, putting the whole of the continental US within effective range…

“It is little short of a miracle that the leader has outmaneuvered and outpowered the Bush administration against heavy odds…

“The Kim administration seeks to commit nuclear weapons to actual use against the U.S. in case of war, never to use them as a tool of negotiations…

“(Nuclear proliferation among Asian powers) will signal that the U.S. is no longer a reliable cop. At long last de-Americanization of the US allies and neutralization of the U.S. in the rest of the world will be set into motion. This is one of the reasons why the Kim administration has every reason to secretly welcome the nuclear arming of junior U.S. allies.

“The main enemy to North Korea is the U.S., the sole surviving superpower in the world…

“Had the Americans been steadfast in upholding the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty by reducing their nuclear weapons and respecting the sovereignty and independence of the non-nuclear states, North Korea would not have felt any need to defend itself with nuclear weapons…

“A nuclear test by North Korea will go a long way toward emboldening anti-American states around the world to acquire nuclear weapons. There is a long line of candidate states.”

A glance at the official word from the Korean Central News Agency of DPRK in the run-up to the bomb test demonstrates the isolated nation’s conviction that the U.S. is preparing for an attack on its soil. If the releases are paranoia or propaganda remains unclear. But more than likely, they are justification for the impending bomb test (note: the “S” in South Korea seems to have been deliberately kept in lower case letter by the DPRK throughout):

October 2: U.S. Double Standards and Moves for Fresh Arms Race Assailed
“The U.S. asserts the DPRK’s missile launch is intolerable, while conniving at and supporting south Korea’s missile development. This is a brigandish double-dealing logic and a revelation of its design to invade the DPRK.

“The U.S. is contemplating deploying south Korean troops on the forefront when invading the DPRK in case of “emergency” on the Korean Peninsula…  

“What matters here is the U.S. application of double standards.   

“Several countries are either developing missiles or launching them. The U.S. does not care at all whether they are in breach of international convention or not. Yet, it is taking issue with the DPRK only over its missile-launching exercise for self-defence.   

“The U.S. imperialists are watching for a chance to attack the DPRK after amassing war means including all types of missiles in and around south Korea. It is quite natural for the DPRK to take counter-measures to cope with this situation.   

“What merits a more serious attention is that the U.S. moves spark off a fresh arms race.   

“The U.S. has become evermore undisguised in its moves to establish the missile defense system in the new century since it scrapped the ABM Treaty, a cornerstone of strategic stability.”           

October 3: Liquidation of S. Korea-U.S. "Alliance" Relations Demanded
“The main purpose of the "(U.S./South Korea) alliance" much touted by the Bush administration is to turn the U.S. forces stationed in south Korea into armed forces for a preemptive attack on the north, "task force" in the Asia-Pacific region and embroil the south Korean army in such an unjust war as the Iraqi war of aggression.

“The south Korea-U.S. "alliance" relations aiming at invasion of the north should be liquidated without fail.   

“All the unequal treaties and agreements including the south Korea-U.S. "Mutual Defense Treaty" and the "Status of Forces Agreement", which have forced south Korea to submit to the U.S. in political, military, economic and all other fields, should be abolished.”

October 4: All Koreans Called upon to Struggle for Withdrawal of U.S. Forces from S. Korea“The U.S. forces present in south Korea are a stumbling block lying in the way of implementing the June 15 North-South Joint Declaration which calls for solving the issue of the country's reunification independently by the concerted efforts of the Koreans because they are responsible for it… It is an urgent requirement of the national history and the ardent desire of the 70 million Koreans to drive the U.S. forces out of south Korea and achieve the country's reunification…

“The U.S. imperialist aggressor forces in south Korea are the main hurdle lying in the way of achieving the country's reunification as they were chiefly to blame for bisecting the territory of Korea into the north and the south.   

“The U.S. imperialists have persistently hampered the reunification of Korea, pursuant to their policy of national split, since their illegal occupation of south Korea.” 

October 6: World People Urged to Heighten Vigilance against U.S. "War on Terrorism"
“The U.S. "war on terrorism" is a major stumbling block lying in the way of the peaceful progress in the new century. The U.S. imperialists' aggressive escalation of "war on terrorism" prompts the formation of new structure of forces, fierce competition of strength among big powers and many countries are embroiled in it directly or indirectly.   

“Anyone can fall victim to the U.S. "war on terrorism" unless one heightens vigilance against it…”

After the test, all official statements blamed looming U.S. aggression for its necessity while maintaining that Pyongyang strictly supports the elimination of all nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula. Among the abundant and blatant diatribe, Kim Jong-Il, who purportedly let 3 million of his own people die from famine, even had the gall to attack the U.S.’ human rights record:

October 11: DPRK Foreign Ministry Spokesman on U.S. Moves Concerning Its Nuclear Test
“…The DPRK's nuclear test was entirely attributable to the U.S. nuclear threat, sanctions and pressure.   

“The DPRK has exerted every possible effort to settle the nuclear issue through dialogue and negotiations, prompted by its sincere desire to realize the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.   

“The Bush administration, however, responded to our patient and sincere efforts and magnanimity with the policy of sanctions and blockade.   

“The DPRK was compelled to substantially prove its possession of nukes to protect its sovereignty and right to existence from the daily increasing danger of war from the U.S.   

“Although the DPRK conducted the nuclear test due to the U.S., it still remains unchanged in its will to denuclearize the peninsula through dialogue and negotiations…“The DPRK clarified more than once that it would feel no need to possess even a single nuke when it is no longer exposed to the U.S. threat after it has dropped its hostile policy toward the DPRK and confidence has been built between the two countries.   

“No sooner had the DPRK, which had already pulled out of the NPT and, accordingly, is no longer bound to international law, declared that it conducted a nuclear test than the U.S. manipulated the UN Security Council to issue a resolution pressurizing Pyongyang, an indication of the disturbing moves to impose collective sanctions upon it.   

“The DPRK is ready for both dialogue and confrontation.   

“If the U.S. increases pressure upon the DPRK, persistently doing harm to it, it will continue to take physical countermeasures, considering it as a declaration of a war.”

October 12: Dangerous U.S. Moves to Force "Preemptive Strike Strategy" Debunked
“The U.S. war-thirsty forces are these days stooping to a plan to establish what they call Korean Peninsula air battle command which would perform a U.S. air force strike mission under the U.S. Pacific Command when they provoke a Korean war.

“Synchronizing with this, the U.S. Defense Department announced that the U.S. would sell a "patriot" missile system worth 1.5 billion U.S. dollars to south Korea… 

“This is a highly dangerous scheme on the part of the United States to gain "upper hand in strength" and force its "preemptive strike strategy" at whatever cost. This testifies that they have made the provocation of the second Korean war a fait accompli…   

“The projected establishment of the command is intended to boost the preemptive strike capacity of the U.S. air forces in preparation for a war of aggression against the DPRK.   

“The establishment of the afore-said command is, immediately that of an air commanding body for a "preemptive attack" on the DPRK. This scheme is a patent proof that the Korean war scenario of the U.S. imperialists has entered a practical stage.”

October 12: U.S. Decision to Finance Anti-DPRK Broadcasting Services Assailed
“The U.S. State Department was reported to have decided to make a financial allocation in the fiscal 2007 to start on Oct. 1 for three anti-DPRK broadcasting services including one operated by a group of defectors.

“The U.S. does not conceal its intention to continue such financial assistance in the next fiscal year, too.   

“The decision is one more intolerable provocation against the DPRK and a vicious act of inciting confrontation between Koreans in breach of the June 15 joint declaration and the north-south agreement on stopping each other's smear propaganda…   

“The U.S. is sadly mistaken if it calculates that such mean smear campaign will help bring down Korean-style socialism whereby all the servicepersons and people are single-mindedly united.   

“The U.S. had better stop such clumsy farce and the south Korean authorities should not permit the operation of such anti-national and anti-reunification broadcasting services in breach of the spirit of the June 15 joint declaration.”

October 12: U.S. Act on "Suspects in Terrorism" Blasted
“The adoption of the act (on dealing with ‘suspects in terrorism’) revealed before the international community the true colors of the U.S. as a rogue state made up of hooligans who do not bother to commit the whole gamut of crimes to serve their own interests in defiance of international law.   

“If the U.S. high-handed and arbitrary practices are allowed in the field of human rights, it will adversely affect the sound progress of the international community.   

“This proves that the U.S. is not only abusing human rights but taking the lead in inciting these crimes in the international community.   

“The reality clearly indicates that the U.S. is the world's biggest human rights abuser.   

“Such being a stark fact, the U.S. is finding fault with other countries over human rights abuses. Nothing is more hypocritical than this practice...

“The U.S. had better bear this in mind and behave itself.”

South Korea’s Joongang Daily thinks that “The United States is the Only Answer” to protecting South Korea:

“…the administration must be on its guard. Keeping the Korean Peninsula nuclear weapons-free has now proved impossible. South Korea must undertake a diplomatic initiative to get the United States to state explicitly that it will provide South Korea with a nuclear umbrella. We hope that the United States announces this intention soon…

“…how can we preserve our national security? Throughout our history and right up to the present, the United States has been the only answer. Having fallen apart, the government should focus on restoring Korea-U.S. relations. Diplomatic cooperation with the U.S., Japan, China and Russia has become vitally important.”

Joongang also slams its own government for failed policies with the North saying, “Don’t Blame the Americans:”

“Former (South Korean) President Kim Dae-jung and the ruling party blame the United States for the North's nuclear test. In short, this simply isn't the case, and making such an irresponsible argument does nothing to resolve the current crisis.

“Over the past decade, it was North Korea who broke the consensus regarding Pyongyang's nuclear development program…

“(Kim Dae-jung’s supporters) claim that the United States has pursued an exclusively hard-line policy toward North Korea. But is this really the case? Together with South Korea, China and Japan, the United States promised that it would provide a huge amount of economic assistance as well as security guarantees for the regime if North Korea gave up its nuclear ambitions. But North Korea, obsessed with possessing nuclear arms, ignored this offer and has crossed the line by conducting a nuclear test. Those who blame Washington fail to acknowledge that this is the core of the crisis with the North.

“North Korea conducted its nuclear test while under financial sanctions by the United States. If this were the central reason for the North's test, than perhaps Washington should lift those sanctions. But to do so would conflict with the personality of the Bush Administration. Is it fair to blame only the United States, which has no choice but to take such measures to protect its financial system, without reprimanding the party that is committing international crime against it? If North Korea had produced and circulated counterfeit Korean bills, would (South Korea) have sat idly by?

“There is absolutely no chance that the United States will say, ‘We will lift the measures against North Korea because it is our fault that the North carried out a nuclear test.’

“Given this situation, if we in the South blame Washington, we will be painted with the same brush as North Korea, and will certainly find ourselves isolated by international society. The only reason Mr. Kim (Dae-jung) and other politicians are trying to blame Washington is that they want to avoid criticism that their Sunshine Policy is a failure.”

Russia’s Kommersant chides the Bush administration for focusing too much on Iran while ignoring Kim Jong-Il’s intentions:

“The Korean demarche is the newest and most acute blow to American plans. It's no secret that the U.S. has no designs on North Korea. Washington was completely unprepared to deal with the problem right now…

“The issue of North Korea had been filed away, and all that was required of Kim Jong-il was that he didn't stick his head up and mess with Washington's preparations for its Iranian operation. But suddenly and inexplicably, he decided to bring a firestorm down upon himself. How can Washington hold Teheran to account for its infractions, now that it is confronted with a real violator? How can Iran be charged on the basis of nothing but circumstantial evidence, when the North Korean regime has so openly provided proof of its guilt and is so obviously inviting punishment?”

Iran News Daily (link not available), one of the voices of the allegedly nuke-seeking regime, blames the U.S. for North Korea’s test, deeming that it’s not in Washington’s hands to fix the problem, but in those of its increasingly influential Sino-competitors:

“At a time that America’s irresponsible policies have already made the world quite unstable, independent analysts are of the view that Pyongyang’s audacious act has indeed damaged global security.

“Beijing points to the U.S. administration’s refusal to hold one-on-one negotiations with North Korea as one of a primary cause of Pyongyang nuclear test. It is notable that the Islamic republic’s view on this is similar to China. While expressing its desire to live in a world free of nuclear weapons, Tehran also places responsibility for the current crisis at Washington’s doorstep…

“The bottom line truth of the matter is that Pyongyang and Washington cannot solve the current impasse on their own, even if joined by Russia, Japan and South Korea. It is up to Beijing.”

China’s official The People’s Daily condemns Pyongyang’s nuclear test but makes sure to distance itself enough from the United States while asking it to act more compassionately towards Kim Jong-Il:

“The crux of the matter… is the bilateral relations between the DPRK and United States. With the deepening of mistrust between the two key players, new disputes kept cropping up, which eventually stranded the (6-Party) negotiations on the rocks…

“The DPRK's nuclear test goes far beyond reason and China shows clearly where it stands - definitely opposing the test…

“China shares identical positions on the DPRK's nuclear test with other countries, including the United States. Some people, therefore, said that China "sides with Washington." This statement is wrong; rather, it should be said that the members of the international community stand together against nuclear proliferation.

“The United States' hostility towards the DPRK is no secret to all. China, however, has ever kept good-neighbour and mutual-benefit relations with DPRK…

“In view of all this, China should try its best to see that the six-party negotiations be resumed and push the United States to adopt a positive attitude towards the DPRK's legitimate rights and interests.”

The NiemanWatchdog.org website is no longer being updated. Watchdog stories have a new home in Nieman Reports.