Korea: B2 bombers offering a path to peace?

Who is provoking whom? A look behind the rhetorical war games between Washington and Pyongyang.

Missile defence is on the up - soon there will be 44 interceptors along the Pacific Coast, instead of the current 30 [AP]

Based on the ear-splitting levels of hysteria deployed by American networks, mighty superpower Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is about to bomb the poor, undefended United States of America into the Stone Age.  

Oops, sorry, that was the mighty superpower itself shocking and awing Baghdad 10 years ago. 

And still, with the DPRK holding eight nuclear warheads against Iran’s zero, I repeat, zero; and with the DPRK even threatening to nuke the US (which they can’t) as opposed to no such threats from Iran, the usual Washington armchair warriors have their chattering ballistic missiles all pointed towards… Iran. 

Those poor defensive bombers 

Let’s try to inject a little bit of sanity into such voluminous nonsense. 

Essentially we just need this Wall Street Journal piece (paywall), where the proverbial, unnamed White House “officials” leaked to a Rupert Murdoch-owned operation that this whole thing was about provoking Pyongyang.

Anybody with minimal reading skills and an IQ not relevant to sub-zoology had already figured that out at least two weeks ago. 

Just take a look at this abridged timeline. This is South Korea already telegraphing its own provocations, way back on March 6.

This, on March 19, is South Korea and the US in their joint naval drills, parading a nuclear attack submarine right at the DPRK’s door – your typical “mine is bigger than yours”.  

This, on March 20, is the Pacific Command flying B-52 bombers out of Guam to show off its “continuous bomber presence”. 

This, on March 26, is a leak about the Unified Quest war game at the Army War College; it was all based on a collapsing North Korea where the leadership “lost control over their nukes”. This is as appalling as a script as Hollywood’s ghastly Olympus Has Fallen

And this, on March 28, is the clincher: two “Batman” nuclear-capable stealth B-2 bombers were flown from Missouri to show off in the skies very close to the DPRK, simulating bombing raids on North Korean targets as part of a “defensive” mission – prompting worldwide chatter about a new “Bombers for Peace” programme. 

Each B-2 costs a whopping $3bn. Flying them costs at least $135,000 an hour. They must be worthier than paying a decent salary for legions of American teachers. By the way, any teacher worth his/her salary would laugh the notion of the US using B-2 bombers as “deterrence” in Asia out of the classroom. 

Oh they do love the smell of napalm 

The so-called Obama administration “playbook” to deal with North Korea leaked to the Wall Street Journal did work to perfection; the DPRK’s leadership predictably went ballistic. 

When I was in North Korea three years ago the consensus was overwhelming; the scars of vicious American bombing of their cities during the Korean War have never healed. US B-29 bombers dropped more napalm in Korean cities than in Vietnam; the North was virtually flattened. The Korean War: A History, by Bruce Cumings (Modern Library, 2010), has all the tragic, gruesome details. 

Without understanding this, it is impossible for the rest of the world to contextualise the North’s paranoia. When the DPRK’s leadership sees nuclear B-2 bombers – capable of dropping 30,000 pound, bunker-busting MOABs (Mother of All Bombs) – simulating raids right at their doorstep, they do take it very seriously; they do fear it could happen all over again. 

 US: Wouldn’t be surprised if North
launches missile

And then Pentagon head Chuck Hagel has the gall to urge the DPRK to “tone down its rhetoric”, offering a “path to peace” – via the “Bombers for Peace” programme, for sure. Just in case, Hagel also called the South Koreans to reassure them “all options remain on the table”, as in nuclear umbrella, conventional strike capabilities and missile defence.

Now the “playbook” narrative has been slightly tweaked; the White House is taking a time out – to see what the North Koreans come up with. Hagel is of course behind the playbook. Same for Secretary of State John Kerry. If this is Washington’s idea of “diplomacy”, one wonders what those Pentagon geniuses will come up with when they devise another “playbook” for Iran. 

So here is how it worked. The “playbook” was a massively orchestrated US provocation. The DPRK, predictably, reacted with anger. But then only the response was branded as a provocation.

Washington may have cornered the PR war – because the solipsistic DPRK, lost in translation and virtually isolated, cannot possibly win. But what is the Pentagon really up to? Invasion? Getting into a real war? Accumulating at least 250,000 American body bags? Nuke the whole North? Test the “pivoting” to Asia and provoke China?

Round up the usual weaponisers

Cui bono? Once again, weapons manufacturers for the industrial-military complex, who else? Missile defence is on the up and up; soon there will be 44 interceptors along the Pacific Coast, instead of the current 30. 

The young Kim Jong-un, 30, is matchless in the boys with toys department; he can play with loads of missiles, the fourth largest army in the world at 1.1 million (75 percent of them stationed within 100km of the DMZ) and, to top it off, a whole country. 

But as much as the real military powers behind the throne, he is not suicidal. The DPRK did not just watch the “playbook” unfold. It did move some of its Musudan ballistic missiles (mobile, range of 4,000km, largely based on Soviet submarine-launched ballistic missile technology), as well as Hwasong-13 intercontinental ballistic missiles (also mobile, in three stages, with a range of 10,000km). It is assumed in the West that neither missile system has been tested.

By now, they are positioned at the DPRK’s eastern coast. Some sort of test could happen as early as April 15; that would celebrate the birthday of the founder of North Korea, Kim Il Sung. If successful, Washington better not mess with the young Kim, “playbook” or not; the DPRK will prove it can launch mobile long-range missiles.

Once again, good news for the US missile defence lobby. The Lords of War always win – especially in the context of Obama’s pivoting to Asia; and despite all Armageddon predictions, it is plain obvious the DPRK is not going to attack anyone.

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times. His latest book is named Obama Does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).