Washington’s “Playbook” for Provoking North Korea

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In an April 3 Wall Street Journal article, “U.S. dials back on Korean show of force,” reporters Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes revealed that the White House approved a detailed plan, called ‘the playbook,’ to ratchet up tension with North Korea during the Pentagon’s war games with South Korea.

The war games, which are still in progress, and involve the deployment of a considerable amount of sophisticated US military hardware to within striking distance of North Korea, are already a source of considerable tension in Pyongyang, and represent what Korean specialist Tim Beal dubs “sub-critical” warfare.

The two-month-long war games, directed at and carried out in proximity to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, force the North Korean military onto high alert, an exhausting and cripplingly expensive state of affairs for a small country whose economy has already been crippled by wide-ranging sanctions. North Korea estimates that sanctions and US military aggression have taken an incalculable toll on its economy. [1]

The playbook was developed by the Pentagon’s Pacific Command, to augment the war games that began in early March, and was discussed at several high-level White House meetings, according to the Wall Street Journal reporters.

The plan called for low-altitude B-52 bomber flights over the Korean peninsula, which happened on March 8. A few weeks later, two nuclear-capable B-2 bombers dropped dummy payloads on a South Korean missile range. The flights were deliberately carried out in broad daylight at low altitude, according to a U.S. defense official, to produce the intended minatory effect. “We could fly it at night, but the point was for them to see it.” [2]

A few days ago, the Pentagon deployed two advanced F-22 warplanes to South Korea, also part of the ‘play-book’ plan to intimidate Pyongyang.

According to Entous and Barnes, the White House knew that the North Koreans would react by threatening to retaliate against the United States and South Korea.

In a March 29 article, Barnes wrote that “Defense officials acknowledged that North Korean military officers are particularly agitated by bomber flights because of memories of the destruction wrought from the air during the Korean War.” [3] During the war, the United States Air Force demolished every target over one story. It also dropped more napalm than it did later in Vietnam. [4]

The reality, then, is exactly opposite of the narrative formulated in the Western mass media. Washington hasn’t responded to North Korean belligerence and provocations with a show of force. On the contrary, Washington deliberately planned a show of force in order to elicit an angry North Korean reaction, which was then labelled “belligerence” and “provocation.” The provocations, coldly and calculating planned, have come from Washington. North Korea’s reactions have been defensive.

Pressed to explain why North Korea, a military pipsqueak in comparison to the United States, would deliberately provoke a military colossus, Western journalists, citing unnamed analysts, have concocted a risible fiction about Pyongyang using military threats as a bargaining chip to wheedle aid from the West, as a prop to its faltering “mismanaged” economy. The role of sanctions and the unceasing threat of US military intervention are swept aside as explanations for North Korea’s economic travails.

However, Entous’s and Barnes’s revelations now make the story harder to stick. The North Koreans haven’t developed a nuclear program, poured money into their military, and made firm their resolve to meet US and South Korean aggression head-on, in order to inveigle aid from Washington. They’ve done so to defend themselves against coldly calculated provocations.

According to the Wall Street Journal staffers, the White House has dialled back its provocations for now, for fear they could lead to a North Korean “miscalculation.” In street language, Washington challenged the DPRK to a game of chicken, and broke it off, when it became clear the game might not unfold as planned.

Notes

1. According to the Korean Central News Agency, March 26, 2013, “The amount of human and material damage done to the DPRK till 2005 totaled at least 64,959 854 million U.S. dollars.”

2. Jay Solomon, Julian E. Barnes and Alastair Gale, “North Korea warned”, The Wall Street Journal, March 29, 2013

3. Julian E. Barnes, “U.S. pledges further show of force in Korea”, The Wall Street journal, March 29, 2013

4. Bruce Cumings. The Korean War: A History. Modern Library. 2010.


Articles by: Stephen Gowans

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