Why North Korea resists U.S. threats with military readiness

Pyongyang, North Korea: Students dance during a celebration of the 74th anniversary of the Korean People’s Army, Feb. 8.

Among the statements from numerous countries and left organizations around the world that condemn the U.S. manipulations that cornered Russia into carrying out military action in Ukraine is one from the Foreign Ministry of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) or socialist North Korea. 

The statement referred to the way that the U.S. empire employs every means from manipulation of proxies to direct military assault as it chases profits and leaves a path of destruction from one side of the globe to the other.

“The root cause of the Ukraine crisis totally lies in the hegemonic policy of the U.S. and the West,” North Korea’s news agency KCNA reported. The statement goes on to say, “The Iraqi war, the Afghan War and other ‘color revolutions’ which brought tragedy to the 21st century clearly substantiate the fact that the U.S. and the West would seek their policies of hegemony by fair means or foul.”

Although the hypocritical outcry over Russia’s intervention in Ukraine has disoriented many in the anti-imperialist and left movements, North Korean leaders understand full-well that military readiness is the only guarantee of survival against imperialism. 

Based on their own history, having survived the brutality and experienced the treachery of U.S. imperialism, they know that the blame for the current crisis belongs at the doorstep of the White House.

In the 1950-1953 war that left the Korean peninsula divided in half, North Korea endured one of the most brutal military assaults of the 20th century. Millions of North Korean people lost their lives. Pyongyang and other cities were leveled by U.S. bombers. Civilians were trapped in buildings set ablaze by the U.S. military. 

It was a great military feat that North Korea and its allies not only withstood the assault but drove the imperialists back to the U.S.-imposed division at the 38th parallel.

Since 1953, the U.S. has refused to sign a peace treaty with North Korea, and has maintained bases, tens of thousands of troops and at times nuclear weapons in South Korea. U.S. Navy warships patrol the waters nearby and nuclear-capable B-52 bombers are stationed in Guam. 

Still, the DPRK leadership has refused to give up its policy of prioritizing military preparedness, called “Songun,” which translates to “military first.”

Origins of Songun policy

On Feb. 8, North Korea celebrated Army Day, marking the foundation of the Korean People’s Army in 1948. There is also a second holiday, Military Foundation Day on April 25, that commemorates the day in 1932 when a brilliant Korean anti-Japanese resistance leader named Kim Il Sung founded its predecessor, the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army.

Songun is rooted in that 1910 to 1945 period when Koreans fought Japanese imperialism to gain self-determination. Kim Il Sung’s family were activists in the struggle and had to flee to Manchuria to escape heavy repression when he was a child. 

Kim joined and fought alongside guerrillas associated with Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong. His brilliance came to the attention of the Soviet leadership. Soon he became a major in the Soviet Red Army and led a division consisting entirely of Korean resistance fighters that was simply called “Kim Il Sung’s Division.” Kim’s troops and the Red Army chased Japan down to the 38th parallel.

The U.S. had posed as Korea’s liberator. But it was apparent by the close of World War II that the U.S. was the new imperialist colonizer. Washington held the southern half of the Korean peninsula hostage.

In the five years preceding the Korean War, U.S. imperialism brutalized the people’s movement of the south, murdering hundreds of thousands, arming a brutal new regime and readying itself for the attack on the north. 

After the north’s astonishing victory, the people of the DPRK rebuilt their cities and industry. With strong friendships with the USSR, China, the socialist countries of Eastern Europe and later Cuba and Vietnam, North Korea thrived for decades.

But the horrible economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. began to take their toll, and after the downfall of the USSR, the U.S. ruling class was confident that North Korea would collapse. 

Bill Clinton’s nuclear extortion

Unable to obtain fuel for industry and home heating after the loss of its Soviet trading partner, North Korea turned to improving its nuclear energy capabilities. The U.S. demanded the DPRK stop processing plutonium, claiming that it was stockpiling weapons-grade plutonium from the nuclear energy by-product. 

In response, the north, desperate to end the punishing sanctions, announced it would withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agreement unless the U.S. ended the sanctions and stopped its war threats. The U.S. media banged the war drums louder, much the same way they have whipped up sentiment against Russia today.

The crisis very nearly led to a second war. President Bill Clinton’s cabinet was already gathered in the White House war room with the generals, when another faction of the U.S. ruling class – led by those around former President Jimmy Carter – negotiated a deal that they thought would bring about North Korea’s collapse without a costly war. 

With the cooperation of other imperialist countries, the U.S. offered to construct two lightwater nuclear energy reactors and send shipments of fuel oil to help North Korea get through the harsh winters until the reactors were completed. Washington also offered to incrementally dial back the punishing economic sanctions. 

Fuel for the new reactors would have to be provided by countries that were already nuclear powers. In return, the DPRK would remain part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and stop processing nuclear fuel of its own.

The Clinton administration retreated from its war plans – not because it hoped to resolve the crisis peacefully, but because the deal that Carter’s people negotiated was a ruse. The U.S. and other imperialist countries involved did not intend to live up to the obligations of the agreement. Their intention was to bide their time until the DPRK collapsed. 

The construction of the two reactors went nowhere for years. The heating oil was never delivered on the promised schedule. Sanctions remained intact. 

Finally, after eight years of delay, the “Agreed Framework” collapsed. It was only after this betrayal that North Korea unequivocally developed its nuclear defense program.

The imperialist treachery of today looks familiar to Kim Jong Un and the rest of North Korea’s leadership. The DPRK’s statement on the Russia-Ukraine conflict shows that they recognize the machinations that began with the fascist coup in Ukraine in 2014, and that it was the U.S. that greenlit the new Ukrainian attack on the people of Donbass, forcing Russia to intervene.

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