Current US-China Relations

Henry C.K. Liu

Part I: A Lame Duck-Greenhorn Dance
Part II: US Unilateralism

Part III: Geopolitical Dynamics of the Korea
Proliferation Crisis

This article appeared in AToL on August 17, 2006

The Korea nuclear proliferation issue is connected directly with the Taiwan proliferation issue, and in a less direct but more significant way, with nuclear proliferation with regard to Japan. The issue is a subset of the global proliferation issue which is framed by post-Cold War geopolitical dynamics.

Nonproliferation is a special branch of arms control while arms control is a rival of disarmament. Nuclear nonproliferation then is a retardant if not a foe of nuclear disarmament. It is sometimes forgotten that the purpose of nonproliferation is to prevent nuclear war, not just the spread of nuclear weapons.  To engage in war to impose nonproliferation amounts to tearing down the house to clean the fireplace. Going to war to prevent war is self deception. The world has seen too many wars that promised but failed to end all future wars.

Even as the world’s sole remaining superpower that enjoys structural economic advantage derived from the globalization of market fundamentalism based on dollar hegemony, the US still does not command the necessary resources for unilateral management of the security problems of the entire world without full mobilization for total war.  Even as a formidable hegemon, it must set priorities in a global security challenge that does not allow room for prioritization.  This is because nuclear proliferation, like inflation, crosses national borders like a river with its own logic.  Therefore it is impossible to contain proliferation within any national borders as long as global markets exist for dual-use technology. Restrict dual-use technology trade, which increasingly permeates all sectors in the world economy, global markets will stall, causing more damage to economic security than proliferation to military security to the very superpower that benefits most from a trade regime based on dollar hegemony.

Dollar hegemony depends on the dollar being fully fungible, i.e., able to buy anything in the market without conditionality. And the nature of dollar hegemony is that while the US and only the US can print dollars at will, much of the dollars in circulation are no longer held only by US citizens but also by others, including would-be terrorists and their supporters. US economic sanctions against other trading nations are counterproductive because sanctions are acts of economic warfare that undermine the global free trade regime promoted by the US.

Furthermore, much trade assets in foreign nations are owned and operated by US transnational corporations and any deterioration of the value of such off-shore assets impacts negatively on the US economy. The global economy has become too efficient to withstand even the slightest slowing down in any one sector without serious consequences to the whole economy. Such is the dilemma facing US security strategists on imposing nonproliferation through economic sanctions.

Regime change as a strategy to prevent proliferation is self-defeating because defense against threats to state security is a legitimate rationale for seeking to possess unclear weapons. There is weight in the argument that current US strategy to influence all nations to be friendly “stakeholders” in an equitable world order is contradicted by the selective application of the nonproliferation doctrine. An equitable world order of “stakeholder” nations means either all nations are permitted to possess nuclear weapons, or no nations are permitted to have them. Rules of nonproliferation made by nuclear-weapon nations cannot be expected to be obeyed by non-nuclear-weapon nations. It would be like the obese making dietary rules that apply to only the under-nourished.

Nuclear proliferation by nation states is a different problem than nuclear proliferation by entities that promote ideological or religious causes. The former is a problem of diplomacy that can be solved by a balance of power in a world order of nation states while the latter is a problem of global moral justice that can only be solved by a just world order that the US, as the world’s sole superpower having the most to lose, holds the most stakes in constructing. Lasting peace is never the result of victory in war; it is the result of victory over war.

Nuclear proliferation, given the difficulties of its prevention, cannot be stopped by limited war. It can nevertheless be made into a vehicle for effective nuclear deterrent if rational responsibility is a condition for membership in the nuclear club, the way accession to WTO membership presupposes acceptable economic behavior.  For example, nuclear-weapon nations can pledge to a fixed schedule of total nuclear disarmament to replace nuclear arms control. Nuclear-weapon nations can adopt a no-first-use commitment until global full disarmament becomes the order of the day; in exchange for a transitional world order of no further proliferation among non-nuclear-weapon nation states. Nonproliferation can only work as a roll-back process towards total nuclear disarmament and not as a preservation of the status quo of unequal nuclear capability.

Self-defense is either an acknowledged sovereign right of all nations or those who are forced to surrender such rights must be compensated with iron-clad guarantees against attacks by other nations. To deny other states of this legitimate sovereign right to upgrade self defense in order to preserve the offensive advantage for the hegemon is not rationally justifiable and can be expected to meet with defiance through asymmetrical warfare which includes terrorism.

Preemptive strikes to enforce nonproliferation defeats the deterrent function of nuclear weapons. To justify on the grounds of moral imperialism the denial to nations deemed by the US as evil their legitimate sovereign rights to develop nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems when the US itself, deemed equally evil by her opponents, is actively deploying missile defense systems is to add insult to injury. To oppose with diplomatic theatrics North Korea’s missile tests while the US is actively soliciting the participation of Taiwan and Japan in a theater missile defense (TMD) system is to operate with geopolitical double standards. In theory, anti-ballistic missile defense neutralizes missile threats. According to deterrence logic, anti-balistic missile defense renders first strikes safe from counter strikes which would be neutralized by such defense.

Furthermore, propaganda notwithstanding, state-sponsored terrorism has not been the prime threat to the US compared to meta-state insurgent terrorism which cannot be fought with a policy of preemptive regime change by foreign force. Such policies only exacerbate the need of non-nuclear-weapon nations to accelerate the acquisition of nuclear weapon capability for self defense against preemptive strikes. Furthermore, the US itself has been actively engaged in state-sponsored terrorism all through the Cold War in all parts of the world, up until the 9:11 attacks in 2001 and beyond in the name of a war against terrorism.

Special Relationships between Allies

The two Koreas, just as the two Germanys and the two Vietnams, were created by contradictions in the unnatural alliance between capitalism and communism in World War II which manifested itself in the Cold War after state fascism had been contained even if societal fascism have not been totally defeated or even targeted. The Korean War transformed the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), colloquially known as North Korea, into a blood ally of the People’s Republic of China in ways similar to the blood ties the United Kingdom developed with the United States in two world wars. This blood tie is euphemistically called a “special relationship”.

China paid a huge price of 420,000 killed, 500,000 wounded, plus a further 25,000 victims of war-related accidents and illness, and 29,000 missing in action defending the survival of the DPRK in the Korean War. Mao Zedong’s own son, Mao Anying, was killed in that war on Korean soil. North Korea suffered 215,000 killed, 310,000 wounded and 110,000 missing. Without Chinese help, DPRK would not exist today.

China suffered more casualties (upward of a million) in the Korean War than the US did in WWII (600,000) with 300,000 US war dead and 300,000 wounded. The heaviest casualty in WWII was suffered by the USSR with 9 million in war dead and 18 million wounded. China was next with 10 million military dead and wounded; Germany was third with 3.5 million dead and 4.6 million wounded; Japan 1.7 million; the UK 700,000 and the US was sixth in the number of war dead and wounded. But Germany and Japan started and lost the war and thus lost all claims from the bloody conflict. Civilian dead for the USSR was 19 million; China 15 million; Germany 3 million; Poland 2.5 million and Yugoslavia 1.3 million. US civilian death was zero.

Substantial Soviet war casualties were incurred on East European soil, giving the USSR a strong blood claim to Eastern Europe. The USSR had no blood claim on East Asia in WWII as Soviet entrance in the war against Japan did not involve any casualties before Japanese surrender. Operation August Storm by Soviet forces began on August 8, the same day the USSR declared war on Japan, two days after the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, after which the mechanics of Japanese surrender began in full swing with cessation of hostilities.

There was no blood tie between the US and the USSR in WWII because the armies of the two unnatural allies fought separately on unconnected eastern and western fronts to link up at the Elbe River on May 9, 1945, but never side by side. In fact, the Soviet Union was unhappy with the long delay by her Western allies in opening a second front in the west so that German strength would be drained from the east. On August 19, 1942, the Allies staged a small assault on Dieppe, France by mostly Canadian troops, with token UK participation and a small US contingent. The raid was a disaster with casualties of over 66%. The Canadians lost 3,350 men out of 5,000 in six hours. Thereafter, all talks of invasion were shelved.

Only when the war in the east turned in favor of Soviet forces and greatly reduced German strength at the expense of heavy Soviet casualties did the Allies start planning for landings in Normandy for June 1944, exactly three years after German invasion of the USSR. The USSR firmly believed that had her Western allies opened a Western front earlier, Soviet casualties might have been freatly reduced. So if anything a negative blood tie developed between the USSR and her Western allies.

Between 1941 and 1945, despite the loss of territory, the USSR out-produced Germany in tanks and aircrafts every year, a fact not well known in the West. The US did help the Soviets with $11 billion of lend-lease matériel from 1941 to 1945 with 70% of it flowing through Iran and the rest through Vladivostok and across the North Atlantic to Murmansk. This aid was not given selflessly. The Eastern Front contributed significantly to the reduction of US casualty in Western Europe in the last year of the war.

The Lesson of German Overexpansion

In the winter of 1942-43, the Soviets conclusively won the Battle of Stalingrad, a key turning point in WWII, the bloodiest battle in human history to date, marked by savage battlefield brutality and tragic disregard for military and civilian lives and the total destruction of the city. Soviet counter-offensive on German-occupied Stalingrad destroyed the starving 300,000-man German Sixth Army trapped inside the Soviet city and also other Axis forces of 600,000 Romanians, Italians and Hungarians around it. With only 90,000 survivors and daily food ration down to a bowl of thin soup and 100 grams of bread per man per day, General Friedrich Paulus surrendered with the remnants of the once-proud Six Army on January 31, 1943. Supply by air had been unsuccessful due to insufficient transport capacity of the Luftwaffer and relief by land was bogged down by the inability of the German relief force led by Field Marshal Eric von Manstein to breach the strong encircling Soviet forces.

The term Rattenkrieg – Rats War – came into the German lexicon of war in this battle to describe the inhuman conditions faced by the soldiers. With the Germans controlling 90% of the city, the counterattacking Soviets troops sought to minimize German advantage of in-place firepower by sending in small units for close range combat at every opportunity, thus neutralizing Luftwaffer air cover or Wehrmacht defensive artillery barrages, rendering useless Blitzkrieg tactics which had enabled German forces to conquer much of Europe.  The battle for the city was reduced to hundreds of small-unit actions fighting from building to building within a water-tight Soviet siege. Total casualties for both sides ran over two million, with some 1.2 million on the Soviet side. The Soviets suffered more casualties in this one battle than the US did in the entire war.

The Soviet siege effectively cut off German supply to its Sixth Army causing the German troops to run out of food, medical supplies and ammunition. Yet the Germans fought on beyond human endurance. The Axis powers lost large numbers of troops and equipment in a defeat from which they never fully recovered. The Soviet victory at Stalingrad, despite suffering heavy losses, marked the start of the recovery of the Soviet territory. Stalingrad was the battle that set the stage for final victory in the Second World War in 1945 for the Allies. The Red Army added over one million new men to its ranks in the first half of 1943, making it larger than in 1942, even after huge losses at Stalingrad only a few months earlier.

While Stalingrad turned the tide, Kursk ended German offensives. The Battle of Kursk (also known as Operation Zitadelle or Citadel) began on July 4, 1943. It was the final German offensive push on the Eastern Front, the largest tank engagement of all time, including the most costly single-day aerial combat in history. Armor and troop concentrations were built up by both sides with the Soviets amassing 1,300,000 men, 3,600 tanks, 20,000 artillery pieces and 2,400 aircrafts to face 900,000 men 2,700 tanks 2,000 aircrafts on the German side, plus three elite Waffen SS divisions.

After Stalingrad, to fall back on the effective strategy of the Hindenburg line of 1917 to solidify defensive strength against anticipated Soviet counteroffensives, Germany started construction of the Panther-Wotan line late in 1943 with the aim of retreating behind it to bleed the Soviets military with heavy attrition while German forces recuperated.  Wontan is the tragic god of Valhalla in German folklore immortalized in Richard Wagner’s opera, Der Ring des Nibelungen. Over Hitler’s reluctance, the German high command wanted to score a final major offensive victory at Kursk to redeem the dishonor of the Stalingrad defeat before implementing the new defensive strategy to hold back Soviet advance.

The situation at Kursk was set up by the Third Battle of Kharkov, the last major strategic German victory in the war. Led by the able von Manstein, the Germans retook Kharkov a second time from the Red Army in bitter street fighting. The II SS Panzer Corps, equipped with heavy Tiger Tanks, under the heroic command of Paul Hausser who had checked Soviet advance despite numerical odds of 1:6, was reattached to von Manstein’s counter-thrust, which destroyed the Soviet spearheads and saved the German Army Group South. The Third Battle of Kharkov was the last successful German offensive on Soviet soil.

Kharkov had originally been captured on October 25, 1941, but had been retaken by the Soviets in February 1943 following the German defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad. The Third Battle of Kharkov in March 1943 left the city only temporarily in victorious German hands. On August 22, 1943, in the aftermath of the failed Battle of Kursk, the Germans were driven out of Kharkov one last time. After the German disaster at Stalingrad, von Manstein’s achievement in stabilizing the German front ranked as one of the great military achievements of WWII. He had executed a successful withdrawal, then launched a briliant counter-attack that caused the Soviets immense losses in men and matèriel. Most importantly, he had re-established the German front from Taganrog to Belgorod as a virtually straight defensive line and had retaken the fourth largest city in the Soviet Union at minimum cost. All this while his opponents possessed considerable numerical advantage.

In March 1943 the Third Battle of Kharkov left the Eastern Front running roughly from Leningrad in the north to Rostov in the south. In the middle lay Kursk, a large 200-km wide and 150-km deep Soviet-held salien, a military term for a bulge in the lines surrounded on three sides by German forward positions near Orel in the north, and von Manstein’s recently captured Kharkov in the south. Operation Citadel aimed to trap a large Soviet force into a pocket by a pincer action on the salien and annihilate it. This would restore German pride damaged by the defeat at Stalingrad.

Anticipating imminent attack on the Kursk salien, the Red Army with the help of mobilized civilians laid about one million landmines and dug about 5,000 kilometers of trenches, with positions as far back as 175 km from the front line. In addition they massed a huge army of 1,300,000 men, 3,600 tanks, 20,000 artillery pieces and 2,400 aircrafts. The Red Army could build up forces faster than the Germans; each month pulling further ahead in men and matériel. The Soviet air force outnumbered the Luftwaffe and was gaining rapidly in technology and tactics as well as new ground-attack aircrafts capable of decimating German armor.

Allied invasion of Sicily on July 10, 1943, known as Operation Husky which started the successful Italian campaign, began six days after the start of the Battle of Kursk.  It took advantage of heavy troop demands by the German counteroffensive on the Eastern Front to expunge the humiliation of the Stalingrad disaster. By the summer of 1943, two-thirds of the German Army was fighting in Russia. Only one German division, Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, departed for Italy to boost resistance of the US/UK invasion, leaving all its equipment behind for its sister units in the east. The defeat at Kursk left Italy vulnerable. It caused Hitler to distrust the judgment of the German high command for the remainder of the war.

Even with maximum German effort, the Soviets won the Battle of Kursk decisively. For the first time in the war, a major German offensive had been stopped prior to achieving a blitzkrieg breakthrough. The Germans, despite superior armor, simply could not break through the enormously deep defenses of the Red Army which benefited from German forfeiture of the element of surprise in selecting an obvious target and repeated German delays waiting for new tanks and supplies to ensure victory, which allowed the Soviet time to further beef up its defense.

The battle changed the pattern of war on the Eastern Front. The Red Army, while successful in preventing the Germans from achieving the battle goals of Citadel, lost substantially more men and matériel than the Wehrmacht did, but it cost the Wehrmacht more than it could afford to lose. In terms of actual dead, on the Central Front, Red Army fatalities outnumbered German by 4 to 1. On the Voronezh front in the south, the fatalities ratio was 7:1 against the Red Army. The high Soviet casualty from the savage fighting partly explained the reported atrocities by Soviet troops on German soil. The other reason was the high proportion of new recruits who did not have time to be trained in discipline and military ethics.

The defeat Germany suffered at the Battle of Kursk ended all further German offensive initiative on the Eastern Front. The ill-fated German counteroffensive at Kursk was motivated by German military pride to erase the shame of Stalingrad. Kursk was strategically unimportant in terms of implementing the defensive Panther-Wonton line and the cost of heavy losses at Kursk was strategically fatal to the German war effort. The war would have gone better for Germany if the Wehrmacht had consolidated the Panther-Wotan defensive line as planned to hold down Soviet advances by heavy attrition and shifted precious and limited German military assets toward the Western Front where Anglo/US forces could not sustain the same high casualty ratio that the Soviets could. Germany, by holding a preference for losing to the West to losing to the Soviets, preordained itself to losing the war.

From this point on, the initiative on the Eastern Front firmly passed to the Soviets, with the Germans spending the rest of the war on the defensive. Germany never regained the initiative after Kursk and never again launched a major offensive in the east, but was prevented from devoting full military resources to stop Allies advances in the west. Had Germany been able to inflict the same level of casualties on US forces on the Western Front as it did on Soviet forces in the East, WWII might have turned out differently. For one thing, it might have given German more time to make its atomic bomb operational before the fall of Berlin.

According to historian Stephen Ambrose, at the start of 1944 Germany’s fundamental problem was that she had conquered more land than she could defend. Germany was fighting for real-estate rather than a modern war that required flexible mobile warfare to win. Because the moral pretext for German expansion was Lebensraum (space for life), Hitler insisted on defending every inch of his newly conquered territory, particular in the east, against the advice of Frederick the Great who cautioned: “He who defends everything, defends nothing.” The Lebensraum doctrine which manifested itself in the Generalplan Ost was a major factor in Hitler's launching of Operation Barbarossa against the USSR in June 1941, not Nazi disdain for communism. After Germany lost the Battle of Britain due to the RAF’s advantage of radar, it should have switched to a strategy of defending the European continent instead of starting an ill-fated offensive against the USSR. Like Napoleon, by stretching initial success beyond manageable limits without allowing himself time for consolidation, Hitler lost all. It is a warning the US would do well to heed in its global reach through the war on terrorism.

After the Cold War, the fundamental problem of the US has been that she aims to spread democracy over a globe too big and too resistant for her to prevail. The US has been acting to promote an over-ambitious cause rather than to merely defend the legitimate interests of a nation state. The Bush administration’s linking Iraq, North Korea and Iran with evil attributes on the proliferation issue that invokes the possibility of preemptive strikes may well be covering more territory than the US even as a superpower can effectively control.  The danger of these US-instigated hot spots spiraling out of control to release unintended consequences of geopolitical opportunism on the part of other powers big and small is a bigger threat to US security than insurgent terrorism.

It was the human and matériel cost on the Eastern Front that forced Hitler to overrule Frederick’s warning and to adopt a policy on the Western Front of fixed fortifications to overcome shortage of troops and supplies and to choose between Calais and Normandy as likely points of Allies invasion. Allies landing in Normandy initially involved 156,000 troops, amounting to a superior troop ratio of 3:1 over the thin German defense forces at Normandy. Without the Eastern Front tying down 3 million German troops, troop ratio at Normany would reverse to the negative for the invaders and their success highly questionable.  The Battle of Normandy cost the Allies and Germany each around 200,000 casualties. If Germany could pull a million more troops from the Eastern Front and assign them to dug-in positions along the northern coast of France without having to choose between troops for Normandy or Calais, Allies advance would have easily been halted even with Allies control of the air.  Even then, the numerically inferior German forces at Normandy managed to hold the Allies invasion back at its slowly-expanding beachheads for six long weeks after the Longest Day in the war.

The US has a lesson to learn about consequences of the over-stretched army of the German Third Reich. The New York Times in an October 5, 2003 editorial titled “An overstretched army in Iraq” began with the sentence: “Now that it is clear the United States faces a lengthy military occupation of Iraq, requiring perhaps 100,000 troops for the foreseeable future, it is possible to begin calculating how the war may damage the American armed forces.” It went on to warn that “the burden of occupation will start to strain severely the army's capacity to deploy trained and rested combat forces worldwide in a matter of months.”

For the long term, not only will the lives of thousands of US military families be disrupted, the army reserve system behind the US move to a smaller, volunteer army three decades ago will be put at severe test and “the global reach of American foreign policy will almost inevitably be diminished,” said the Times. Nearly half of the army’s 33 combat brigades are now in continuous harm’s way in the Persian Gulf region. Replacing all of them with fresh units would leave the army hard-pressed to meet its obligations elsewhere, including Afghanistan and the Korean Peninsula, not to mention Iran. (See: The war that could destroy both armies

Korean War Expanded US Defense Parameter to Include Taiwan and South Korea

Apart from the controversial legality and legitimacy of the US role in the Korean War, the US through its substantial war dead understandably feels it has earned a blood claim on Korea, as it has in Europe, Japan and Southeast Asia. Between June 25, 1950 when the US began intervening in Korea and January 31, 1955 when the armistice was signed, 33,651 US military personnel died on Korean soil from “hostile” causes; 23,835 killed in action, 2,535 died of wounds, 4,845 presumed dead while missing. It added up to about 10% of US WWII casualties. Unlike the Vietnam War in which the US suffered 58,000 casualties including 38,500 war dead, and had to withdraw completely from the scene, the US has stayed open-ended in South Korea, now going into the seventh decade.

This is ironic because US secretary of state Dean Acheson, to clarify limits of the 1947 Truman Doctrine in which the US declared its moralistic duty to combat communism worldwide to fill the vacuum created by Britain relinquishing its prewar imperialist role in Greece and Turkey, had delivered a speech at the National Press Club in January 1950, broadcast to the whole world, saying that South Korea and Taiwan were not part of the US “defensive perimeter”, which seemed to serve notice that the United States would keep out of any local Korean civil conflict or the liberation of Taiwan by force in a final campaign of the Chinese civil war.

“American assistance can be effective when it is the missing component in a situation which might otherwise be solved. The US cannot furnish determination, the will, the loyalty of a people to its government,” Acheson said. The speech said nothing about restraining either South Korea under autocratic Syngman Rhee from eliminating the communists in the North militarily or the Chinese Nationalists under equally autocratic Chiang Kai-shek on Taiwan from recovering the communist controlled mainland by force. In fact, it sounded to Seoul and Taiwan that US assistance was conditional on aggressive anticommunist offensive initiative, not defense of the status quo. However, unlike in Korea, the US has to date not lost any lives over Taiwan and cannot claim any interest in the status quo of Taiwan on the basis of blood tie.

The November 1946 mid-term congressional elections had been a disaster for the Democrats, with the Republicans taking control of both houses of Congress. Truman, facing his first election as a presidential candidate in 1948, while viewed by most merely as a caretaker president after Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s death in office on April 12, 1945, desperately needed a campaign issue and an anti-communist Cold War appeared tailor-made for the purpose. It worked and Truman was elected in 1948.  Thereafter, no candidate could be elected in the US without engaging in moralistic Cold War rhetoric of defending freedom and democracy, albeit that the proactive spread of democracy around the world is only a recent neo-con fixation. In 1949, both anti-communist governments in Seoul and Taipei repeatedly claimed the recovery of the whole of their respective nations by force to be pressing immediate goals in order to secure more US aid.

In February 1950, Republican senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin accused the US State Department under almost two decades of Democrat watch of being run by communists and the Democrats of having “lost” China to communism, as if China were America’s to lose, going so far as to accuse retired General of the Army and former secretary of state George C. Marshall of having been a communist agent since the beginning of World War II. Truman, still insecure and paranoid even after his 1948 victory, was on the defensive to prove to a hysterical US public that he was a decisive leader not soft on communism, which played a central role in his knee-jerk decision to intervene in Korea in June of 1950 not just to defend the 38th Parallel but to permit General MacArthur to advance toward the Chinese border even with repeated Chinese warning.

Truman also sent the US seventh Fleet to the Taiwan Straits to protect Taiwan and to prevent the end of the Chinese civil war, reversing his public announcement only six months earlier that “the United States will not involve in the dispute of Taiwan Strait”, which meant America would not intervene if the Chinese communists were to attack Taiwan where the defeated Koumintang forces had retreated. Truman declared the US intervention as “neutralization" of the Straits of Formosa on June 27, a Brave New World abuse of language. The switch from the Chinese name "Taiwan" to to the Portugese name of "Formosa" was significant, signaling a rejection of Chinese sovereignty over the island which had been returned to China from Japanese occupation by the Cairo Declaration. The Seventh Fleet was sent into the Straits under orders to prevent any attack on the island from the Mainland, and also prevent the Kuomintang forces on Taiwan to attack China, as suggested by General Douglas MacArthur. From that point on, Taiwan has been placed under non-stop US military protection.

With Chinese intervention, Korea turned out to be the first war the US did not win against an Asian opponent whom the US national psyche had traditionally considered as inferior. The general feeling in the US was that since China and Korea were pushovers from Japanese aggression since 1930 and the US defeated Japan, it follows that the US with its superior might fresh from victory in WWII should have no trouble putting these backward outfits in their places. What the US did not realize was that both China and North Korea in 1950 were led by a new kind of leaders with the caliber of George Washington, quite a different breed than the incompetent puppets propped up by the US in 1946.

In the 1952 presidential campaign in the midst of a disastrous Korea War, Republican candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower, running against liberal Senator Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, deleted a prepared passage defending Marshall, his former mentor and boss during WWII, from his campaign speech delivered standing next to witch-hunting Senator McCarthy in Wisconsin. Truman at first had stayed out of Stevenson’s campaign, but plunged in after Eisenhower’s failure to defend Marshall. Truman resented Republican attacks on his Cold War record, particularly his decision to intervene in Korea, and he thought that Stevenson’s erudite egg-head speeches were going over the heads of US voters.

Truman again tried his “give’em hell” campaign style, telling voters that Eisenhower was a “stooge for Wall Street” and the puppet of “Republican reactionaries.” But Eisenhower won the election by promising, “If elected, I shall go to Korea” to end an unpopular and un-winnable war, one that General Omar Bradley, the GI General, called the wrong war in the wrong place against the wrong enemy. The voters believed the hero soldier rather than the accidental politician that a land war in Korea or anywhere else in Asia could not be won by the US without invoking the nuclear option. Eight years later the hero soldier went on to warn the country about an emerging military-industrial complex in his last speech as president.  To the peril of US national interests, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson made the same strategic error as Truman in figuring that a limited land war in Vietnam could be won by conventional means.

Shortly after his inauguration on February 2, 1953 President Eisenhower lifted the US Navy blockade of Taiwan which had prevented Koumintang force, newly regrouped and re-supplied by the US, from counter-attacking mainland China. During August 1954 Chiang Kai-shek moved 58,000 troops to Quemoy & 15,000 to Matsu. Premier Zhou En-lai declared on August 11, 1954 that Taiwan must be liberated. On August 17, 1954 the US warned China against attacking Taiwan, but on September 3, 1954 the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) began an artillery bombardment of Quemoy, and in November, PLA planes bombed the Tachen Islands. On September 12, 1954 the US Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) recommended the possibility of using nuclear weapons against China. And on November 23 1954 China sentenced 13 US airmen shot down over China in the Korean War to long jail terms, prompting further consideration of nuclear strikes against China. At the urging of Senator William Knowland, the US signed the Mutual Defense Treaty with the Nationalist government on Taiwan on December 2, 1954, joining one side of the Chinese civil war by treaty. On March 10, 1995 US Secretary of State John Forster Dulles openly threatened the use of atomic weapons against China during the Taiwan crisis. Sovet response was ambiguous.

With Soviet nuclear umbrella reserved exclusively for the defense of only Soviet national interests, the first Taiwan crisis solidified Chinese resolve to develop its own nuclear weapons. China tested its first atomic bomb successfully a decade later in October 1964, fifteen years after the founding of the People’s Republic.

Kim Il Sung – Nationalist turned Communist

The late leader of the DPRK, Kim Il Sung, was a nationalist before he became a convert to communism. As with many freedom fighters in countries under imperialist occupation, Kim came to realize that the path of anti-imperialism runs through communism since, as Lenin observed, imperialism is an advanced stage of capitalism. Korean nationalism was directed against Japanese imperialism which in turn grew out of the Westernization of Japan after the Meiji Reformation. By the early part of the 20th century, a capitalist and militarized Japan began aping 19th-century British imperialism in an attempt to build a Japanese empire in Asia. Korea was the first step in Japan’s determined long drive towards empire. Similar to the rise of Germany in Europe, Japanese expansion conflicted directly with in-place British/US imperialist interests in Asia.

Anglo-US promotion of democracy during and since WWII was a thinly veiled pretext to legitimize inter-imperialist competitive conflicts between established and rising imperialism and to con colonial subjects, victims of imperialism, to support a world war of imperialist conflicts. It is an insult to the intelligence of the victims of imperialism to expect them to believe that Western imperialism suddenly experienced an epiphany of conscience on the evils of racist imperialism after a century of frenzy looting in the name of Manifest Destiny and Whiteman’s Burden.

Democracy is a fine institution, but the way the imperialistic powers distorted democracy to mold the former colonies into ready victims for post-war neo-imperialist exploitation was and still is similar to the way the British tried to present their illicit introduction of opium to China in the 19th century as trade dispute over a salutary tranquilizer that could enhance literary imagination. Democracy became a de facto conceptual victim of WWII geopolitics that spilled over to the ensuing Cold War and the globalization aftermath.US propaganda to demonize Third World national heroes such as Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Gamal Nasser, Fidel Castro, Kim Il Sung and others is effective only to Westerners. Recent democratically elected leaders, such a Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, are also demonized by the US for their populist nationalism.

In Oral History Interview with Dean Acheson June 30, 1971, by Theodore A Wilson and Richard D McKenzie, Acheson said: “You see, you all start with the premise that democracy is some [thing] good. I don't think it's worth a damn ... People say, ‘If the Congress were more representative of the people it would be better.’ I say the Congress is too damn representative. It's just as stupid as the people are; just as uneducated, just as dumb, just as selfish ... In the old days when liberalism didn't persist and senators were elected by the legislatures, you got some pretty good senators, because they were not representative.” This from the man who urged Truman to launch the Cold War in defense of democracy - and tragically his view is quite representative of the private attitude of the US elite today even when the spread of democracy is an official aim of US foreign policy.

US Grand Strategy of Transformation

With the end of the Cold War, triumphantism has infected US foreign policy. Containment of communist expansion gave way to a foreign policy of enlarging democracy around the world by force. Regime change is considered a legitimate undertaking on moral grounds, overturning the 4-century old Westphalian world order of nation states. Moral imperialism has produced a foreign policy of transformation. Brent Scrowcroft, the national security advisor for Ford and Bush the elder, considers himself a “traditionalist” who wants an omin-powerful US to rule the world of non-threatening diversity through a stable of front agent nation states – her subservient allies and a malleable United Nations, not a united nation. Condoleezza Rice, Scowcroft’s erstwhile disciple has morphed into a transformationist, along with the neo-con true believers in the George W. Bush administration who think it is time for the US to rule the world unilaterally. After 9:11, Islamic extremism is selected as the mortal enemy of democratic extremism.

In an article entitled: A Grand Strategy of Transformation in the December 2002 issue of Foreign Policy, Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis wrote:

“Despite his comment that this is “a guy that tried to kill my dad,” George W. Bush is no Hamlet, agonizing over how to meet a tormented parental ghost's demands for revenge. Shakespeare might still help, though, if you shift the analogy to Henry V. That monarch understood the psychological value of victory—of defeating an adversary sufficiently thoroughly that you shatter the confidence of others, so that they'll roll over themselves before you have to roll over them.

“For Henry, the demonstration was Agincourt, the famous victory over the French in 1415. The Bush administration got a taste of Agincourt with its victory over the Taliban at the end of 2001, to which the Afghans responded by gleefully shaving their beards, shedding their burkas, and cheering the infidels—even to the point of lending them horses from which they laser-marked bomb targets. Suddenly, it seemed, American values were transportable, even to the remotest and most alien parts of the earth. The vision that opened up was not one of the clash among civilizations we’d been led to expect, but rather, as the NSS [National Security Strategy of the United States of America – September 17, 2002] puts it, a clash ‘inside a civilization, a battle for the future of the Muslim world.’

“How, though, to maintain the momentum, given that the Taliban is no more and that al Qaeda isn't likely to present itself as a conspicuous target? This, I think, is where Saddam Hussein comes in: Iraq is the most feasible place where we can strike the next blow. If we can topple this tyrant, if we can repeat the Afghan Agincourt on the banks of the Euphrates, then we can accomplish a great deal. We can complete the task the Gulf War left unfinished. We can destroy whatever weapons of mass destruction Saddam Hussein may have accumulated since. We can end whatever support he's providing for terrorists elsewhere, notably those who act against Israel. We can liberate the Iraqi people. We can ensure an ample supply of inexpensive oil. We can set in motion a process that could undermine and ultimately remove reactionary regimes elsewhere in the Middle East, thereby eliminating the principal breeding ground for terrorism. And, as President Bush did say publicly in a powerful speech to the United Nations on September 12, 2002, we can save that organization from the irrelevance into which it will otherwise descend if its resolutions continue to be contemptuously disregarded. If I'm right about this, then it's a truly grand strategy.”

Korea and Iran are milestones in the “momentum” in triumphant addiction that come with this grand strategy.  Unfortunately, history has rendered history professor Gaddis wrong about the efficacy of a grand strategy of benign hegemony through preemptive war with overwhelming power to effectuate regime change in evil nations that seek weapons of destruction, that provide support for terrorism, in order to protect Israel, to liberate allegedly oppressed natives and to secure inexpensive oil. The Bush speech to the UN General Assembly was received with embarrassing silence even from traditional allies.

The problem of using regime change to remove anti-US hostility is that the hostility comes from not from the governments of the nation states but from popular reaction to the unhappy realities of the Pax Americana. To change regimes without changing the underlying realities only adds to the intensity of the hostility caused by worsening the realities.  Worse still, “catastrophic success” in regime change has made victorious peace more elusive for this Grand Strategy. Saddam’s government has been toppled and what the US has reaped three years hence is continuous violence in Iraq and a great deal of mayhem in the entire Middle East.

Regime Change Geopolitics

Regime change is a strategy of extreme prejudice that guarantees resistance to the death. The strategy is particularly adventurous if no alternative regime appears readily available. Belated nation-building is a poor answer for impetuous regime change. Regime change produces geopolitical impacts beyond national boundaries. To lump the Taliban government of Afghanistan with the Iraq under Saddam Hussein betrays an analytical deficit on the part of US security experts, as the Taliban state was a fundamentalist theocracy while Saddam’s Iraq was a Sunni secular state aiming at pan-Arabism. A regime change in Sunni Iraq unwittingly strengthened Shiite Iran and led to the current crisis flare up between the Lebanese Hezbollah and Israel who have had on-going squabbles for years that had until now stayed relatively dormant. Israeli overreaction on the Hezbollah kidnap of one lone Israeli soldier revived this dormant hostility into new bloody violence fed by diverse hidden geopolitical agenda.

Hezbollah: Slayer of the US Grand Strategy Dragon

For Israel, the Hezbollah crisis has gone drastically wrong.  By overreacting disproportionately, Israel has disrupted her ability to deploy full effective strength in the Gaza Strip to fatally hammer the Hamas (Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya, meaning Islamic Resistance Movement), a Palestinian Sunni Islamic organization that currently forms the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) miscalculated the vulnerability of the Hezbollah as easy conquest while in fact it has become a well trained and disciplined guerrilla force that is hard to target without heavy collateral damage to civilians.

The initial Israeli strategy of obliterating the Hezbollah only with air power is now inoperative and ground forces are now required to achieve Israeli objectives. The horrfying images of dead and wounded innocent civilians, many of them children, have generated outrage on Isreali policies and sympathy for the Hezbollah. Yet the Hezbollah is showing no sign of being liquidated.  Top Israeli Cabinet ministers after two weeks of heavy bombardment annonced  they decided not to expand the Lebanon offensive to ground troop operations while calling up three additional divisions of reserve soldiers. Yet a few days later, the Associated Press reported that Israel launched its deepest ground strike into Lebanon on August 2, claiming it killed 10 Hezbollah guerrillas and captured five in the northeastern city of Baalbek, while nearby air raids killed at least 15 civilians. Israeli warplanes also attacked a Lebanese army base in the southern part of the country, killing three soldiers, a security official said.

Hezbollah guerrillas hit back, firing some 210 rockets at towns across northern Israel, killing one person and wounding at least 17, Israeli police said.  Israel’s original objective to eliminate Hezbollah war-making capability seems far from achievable as evidenced by stubborn Hezbollah staying power. This is because Isreal fails to understand the nature of the Hezbollah.

Terrorism expert Professor Robert Pape of the University of Chicago, in a study of 462 suicide bombings around the globe concludes that terrorist acts have little to do with religious extremism and that the West must engage terrorists politically to halt relentless slaughter. Evidence of the broad nature of Hezbollah's resistance to Israeli occupation can be seen in the identity of its suicide attackers. Hezbollah conducted a broad campaign of suicide bombings against US, French and Israeli targets from 1982 to 1986. Altogether, these attacks, which included the high-profile bombing of the marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, involved 41 suicide terrorists. Of these, Pape and his colleagues reviewed the names, birth places and other personal data for 38 and were shocked to find that only eight were Islamic fundamentalists; 27 were from leftist political groups such as the Lebanese Communist Party and the Arab Socialist Union; three were Christians, including a female secondary school teacher with a college degree. All were born in Lebanon. “What these suicide attackers - and their heirs today - shared was not a religious or political ideology but simply a commitment to resisting foreign occupation. Nearly two decades of Israeli military presence in Lebabon did not root out Hezbollah. The only thing that has proven to end suicide attacks, in Lebanon and elsewhere, is withdrawal by the occupying force,” writes Pape in the Guardian.  The initial political aim of al-Qaeda was to remove US troops from Saudi Arabia.

Pape points out that flawed data has led many in the US to assume that Islamic fundamentalism is the underlying main cause of terrorism. This, in turn, has fuelled a belief that anti-US terrorism can be stopped only by wholesale transformation of Muslim societies by regime change, which helped create public support of the invasion of Iraq. Research on suicide terrorism shows that the presumed connection to Islamic fundamentalism to be misleading. There is no clear connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist campaigns have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel democracies to withdraw military forces from occupaying territory that terrorists consider their homeland. Religion is rarely the root cause of political terrorism, although it is often used as a moral venue by terrorist organizations in recruiting and in other efforts in service of the broader strategic objective. Most often, terrorism is a desperate last-resort response to unyielding foreign occupation. The new Israeli land offensive in Lebanon may occupy territory and destroy weapons, but it has little chance of destroying the Hezbollah. In fact, in the wake of the slaughter of civilians by indiscriminate bombing, the incursion will no doubt aid Hezbollah recruiting.

While it is impossible to predict the final outcome of the Lebanon crisis which, as King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia ominously warned, can degenerate into a “full-scale Middle East war”, a geopolitical victory has already been won by the Hezbollah. Israel now recognizes the difficulty if not impossibility of annihilating the Hezbollah militarily and aims only to destroy as much Hezbollah forces as possible with a particular aim to kill its principle leaders before a cease fire is finally allowed to be imposed on both sides by the international community without US opposition.

The US, viewing the Hezbollah as an evil terrorist organization, ostentatiously delayed intervention for two weeks to allow Israel time to carry out its sanctified task of destroying evil.  With no clear victory in sight after two weeks of relentless bombardment and with mounting casualty on both sides, particularly in civilian lives, Israel broadened its scale of operation to strike against Lebanese infrastructure with the purpose of compelling the Lebanese government to agree to deploy its troops to curb belligerent Hezbollah operations near the Israel border.

Israeli strategy of terror from the sky to incite opposition within Lebanon against the Hezbollah for bringing about the wrath of Israel in the form of random destruction only heightened popular support for Hezbollah among all Lebanese, including Christians, transforming the Shiite group’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, into a popular national hero who in the eyes of all Arabs dares to stand up to the US and her lackey Israel. Not since President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt has any leader so effectively focused the yearning for Arab unity, forcing all Arab governments, including those moderate ones which before the crisis had criticized the Hezbollah for counterproductive adventurism, to fall in line to support the Hezbollah, lest they should lose the support of their own people.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s brief visit to Lebanon and Israel sparked widespread criticism of her calculating demeanor and her unfortunate choice of words, particularly in repeating a stale statement much used by Israel during the failed 1993 Oslo Accords negotiations that the bloodshed represented the birth pangs of a “new Middle East.” Many in the Arab world are seeing the crisis as a ringing call to arms for radical pan-Arabism and a disastrous death knell for the moderate Arab states.

Israel also hopes to score geopolitical points with the US by delivering debilitating blows at the Hezbollah, a US blacklisted “international terrorist organization” on par with al-Qaeda. 
A 15-nation high-level Mid-East conference in Rome on July 15 on the crisis ended in disagreement, with most European leaders urging an immediate cease-fire, but the US willing to give Israel more time to destroy the guerrilla group.

Israeli Justice Minister, Haim Ramon, boasted to the press that Israel had been given “international authorization” by the Rome conference to continue its attacks “until Hezbollah is no longer present in southern Lebanon.” German foreign minister Dr Frank-Walter Steinmeier immediately characterized the statement as a gross distortion of the failed Rome conference.

Secretary Rice won a diplomatic victory in blocking an international call for “immediate” cease fire by paying a huge price of recasting the US as again pursuing one more foreign policy issue unilaterally.
President Bush told the press a day after the failed Rome conference that the Israeli campaign has his support for as long as it takes to eliminate Hezbollah’s influence in Lebanon and its ability to attack neighbor Israel. “Now is the time to address the root cause of the problem and the root cause of the problem is terrorist groups trying to stop the advance of democracy,” he said. “Our objective is to make sure that those who use terrorist tactics are not rewarded.”  By now it is clear that the Hezbollah has been richly rewarded by massive popular support in all Arab nations as well as the entire Islam world, making US policy the “root cause of the problem” instead.

In its war against the Hezbollah, Israel aims to take on a new key role as an indispensable frontline component of the US “war on terrorism”, just as it played the role as a democratic bulwark against the spread of communism in the Middle East in the Cold War to justify US support. With US concurrence, Israel cites Iran and Syria as sponsors/supporters of the Hezbollah.

In launching retaliatory rocket strikes against Israeli bombardment, the Hezbollah also aims to achieve the geopolitical objective of maintaining its strategic solidarity with the Palestinian Hamas by distracting Israel from its on-going siege of Operation Summer Rain and to force Israel to face a two-front war. The crisis plays into a new wave of anti-US/Israel sentiment in the Middle East to launch a new jihad targeted at pro-US moderate Arabic secular regimes to redraw the political map of the region into one dominated by Islamic theocracy.

While the Hezbollah currently already occupies nine seats in the Lebanon Parliament and one ministerial post through democratic processes, it hoists high the banner of “resistance to invasion” to lay a blood claim for control of the future government of Lebanon. Finally, through the crisis, the Hezbollah aims to coordinate with Iranian and Syrian regional strategies by distracting the focus of the US and its allies on these two “rogue states” and turning Iran and Syria into key legitimate players the cooperation of which must by sought to resolve the crisis. The Hezbollah-Israel conflict highlights prominently the important regional role of Iran and Syria and creates a new moral-political climate for the US and its allies to recast the Iraq-Iran-Syria problem.

Parallels between Korea and Middle East

Parallel geopolitical undercurrents flow through the Korea missile crisis as they do in the Middle East attempting to forge new international climates to restructure existing regional security patterns. In East Asia, the undercurrent relates to the rearmament of Japan as a counterweight to a rising China.  The danger of such Machiavellian schemes is that it has ominous downsides that can easily spin out of control to lead to unintended regional conflicts that no one wants or expects but that no one can stop that possibly can turn into a global conflict. That is why talks of World War III having already started are now floating around US television talk-shows by the likes of Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich.

The two principles of stability that had kept the peace in the Cold War were containment and nuclear deterrence, both of which have since been undermined by the US Grand Strategy of triumphant addiction in preemptive war.  The problem of preemption is not only its controversial legality but its evident ineffectiveness. Also, containment is not an effective policy against invasive terrorism which does not recognize national borders; and nonproliferation works against the nuclear deterrence doctrine of mutual assured destruction, a doctrine that requires both or all opponents to have nuclear weapons of equal capability to work and conditional on both or all having too much to lose by using the nuclear weapons at their disposal.

During the Cold War the extensive nuclear umbrellas of the two super powers worked to sustain nonproliferation except in the case of Britain, France, China and India. Proliferation cannot be stopped by causing a feeble economy. Both China and India developed their nuclear weapons at a time when their economies were at its weakest, and the same is true for North Korea. The end of the Cold War ushered in a new era in which nonproliferation became a license for the sole remaining super power to attack and invade non-nuclear-weapon nations not to its liking with immunity. The new Grand Strategy justifies US military hegemony with the alleged universality of its national values, an assumption not supported by reality or history or world opinion.

The US itself has not practiced or upheld such universal values to a fault. The US under President Theodore Roosevelt made a secret agreement with Japan whereby Japanese control over Korea and Manchuria was a quid pro quo for US control over the Philippines and Hawaii in the name of Manifest Destiny.  On July 29, 1904, Count Katsura of Japan met with US Secretary of War (later President) William Howard Taft to resolve mounting tension between the two countries. Japan agreed to accept the US presence in Hawaii and the Philippines in exchange for US agreement to give Japan a free hand in Korea.

Learning from British geopolitical achievements through sea power supremacy successively against Spain, France and later Germany, US strategic aim before WWII was to direct Japanese expansion towards the Asian land mass away from the south Pacific where US interests were located and protected by an invincible yet untested Pacific Fleet. Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1940 testified to the failure yet the validity of this strategy half a century after Teddy Roosevelt.

August 7, 2006

Next: More Geopolitical Dynamics of the Korea Proliferation Crisis