US Criticism of N. Korea Lacks Credibility

President Obama’s administration is pressing for diplomatic retaliation, perhaps in the form of more sanctions against North Korea, after Pyongyang launched a rocket into space. There are conflicting reports about the success of the launch. North Korea says the rocket carried a satellite, which is now orbiting the earth. That’s according to state-run media in North Korea, which reportedly broadcast patriotic songs and images of Kim Jong Il, praising him for the launch. The U.S., meanwhile, said the launch failed to reach orbit, landing in the Pacific Ocean. According to the New York Times, "Officials and analysts in Seoul said the North’s rocket, identified by American officials as a Taepodong-2, flew at least 2,000 miles, doubling the range of an earlier rocket it tested in 1998 and boosting its potential to fire a long-range missile." There is disagreement at the Security Council over whether North Korea violated any UN resolutions, with the U.S. on one side and Russia, backed by China, on the other. The Obama administration has called the launch a "provocative act." "We think that what was launched is not the issue; the fact that there was a launch using ballistic-missile technology is itself a clear violation," said UN ambassador Susan Rice, who is pressing for more sanctions against North Korea at the Security Council. Chinese officials said North Korea, like other nations, had a right to launch satellites. "Every state has the right to the peaceful use of outer space," said Russia’s deputy UN envoy, Igor N. Shcherbak.

Obama used the launch in his major address in Prague, which has been characterized as an anti-nuclear speech. "Rules must be binding," he said of North Korea’s launch. "Violations must be punished. Words must mean something."

Many countries around the world certainly see hypocrisy in the Obama administration’s position on North Korea. Israel has repeatedly been condemned by the UN for its occupation of Palestinian lands. Moreover, it has hundreds of nuclear weapons, with estimates ranging from 200-400 warheads. What’s more, Israel and the U.S. are in league with North Korea in the small club of nations that have refused to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Other such nations include China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, and Pakistan. In his Prague speech, Obama said his administration "will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification," saying, "After more than five decades of talks, it is time for the testing of nuclear weapons to finally be banned."

All of this must be kept in context as the "crisis" with North Korea continues to unfold. U.S. hypocrisy on the nuclear issue takes away credibility the U.S. has in its condemnations of North Korea, or Iran, for that matter. "Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran’s neighbors and our allies," Obama said in Prague. Obama used Iran to justify a controversial central European missile system, saying, "As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward… with a missile-defense system that is cost-effective and proven." Obama did not mention Israel once in his speech and has never acknowledged its nuclear weapons system. Perhaps Obama should ask Arab and Muslim nations in the region which country they see as the biggest nuclear threat.

"Rules are only rules if they apply to everyone," said Ali Abunimah, founder of "Obama’s silence in the face of Israel’s violation of international law, and UN calls for war crimes investigations in its on attacks on Gaza, contrast to his strident calls for Security Council action regarding North Korea. Israel has violated dozens of UN Security Council resolutions. Obama has even refused to acknowledge the existence of Israel’s nuclear arsenal, though former President Jimmy Carter has confirmed that the country has 150 nuclear weapons."

And this historical fact, which to Obama’s credit he acknowledged, should never be forgotten: One nation in the world has used nuclear weapons – the United States.

In a statement, Peace Action cautiously welcomed some of Obama’s positions outlined in Prague, but said, "President Obama’s statement that [a nuclear weapons-free] world might not be achieved in his lifetime is very disappointing. Obama can and should announce the initiation of negotiations on the global elimination of nuclear weapons. Similarly, his promotion of nuclear power, missile-defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, and his escalation of troops in Afghanistan are all moves in the wrong direction."

Author: Jeremy Scahill

Independent journalist Jeremy Scahill is author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is a frequent contributor to The Nation magazine and a correspondent for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now! He is currently a Puffin Foundation writing fellow at The Nation Institute.