Trading with the Enemy

How Donald Rumsfeld Helped Kim Jong IL

Get His Nukes -- For a Fee

by Ron Reed

Dissident Voice
February 23, 2003



[Author's note: The following article is a revision and update of an article written last October, when the "North Korean threat" was first being brandished in the news media, featuring an apparently fabricated "admission" by the government of that country that it had nuclear weapons. At the time, it was circulated to several online media and a couple of well-known left journals, but remained unpublished. The recent Common Dreams link to a mainstream Swiss site containing a gloss on Rumsfeld's connection to ABB ("Rumsfeld was on ABB Board During Nuclear Deal with North Korea," by Jacob Greber, published on Friday, February 21, 2003 by SwissInfo - Swiss Radio International;, along with the requisite denials and stonewalling, seemed to me to give the story "legs," and to call for a little more in-depth reporting.]


Many years ago, I read a "quotation" attributed to Lenin in a spread on Soviet Communism that made the cover of Life Magazine on the fiftieth anniversary of the October revolution. The article referred to him as "Nikolai" Lenin instead of V.I. or Vladimir, and included the famous fabricated quote about needing to break eggs to make omelets, so I have no idea whether the reference is authentic.


The quote, which at any rate sounded like the sort of cynical quip Lenin was noted for, was words to the effect that when it came time to hang the capitalists, they'd sell the rope to do the job. The recent news about North Korea's nuclear program has brought it vividly back into focus.


In all the mainstream news hooks and fatuous columns about the perfidy of the North Korean regime, and the Russian, Chinese and even Pakistani involvement in giving them the Bomb--the last played down as much as possible--little or nothing has been written about U.S. and corporate involvement, aside from the obligatory excoriations of Clinton for his "naiveté," or "policy blunders," in allowing the Koreans to have a peaceful nuclear program at all, rather than just bombing the place off the map. But the technology didn't just grow out of the barren soil of the Stalinist camp, despite the official policy of "juche" or self-reliance that Kim Jong Il inherited from his father; rather, it was supplied by corporations eager to make a buck off the enterprise.


One of these was the giant Swedish-Swiss engineering firm Asea Brown Boveri, based in Norwalk, Conn., which was issued a permit around May 1996 under DOE Regulation 10 CFR Part 810. ABB's wholly owned subsidiary ABB Combustion Engineering Nuclear Systems, or C-E, was "authorized to provide a broad range of technology, equipment, and services for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of the two [light water] reactors to be built in North Korea," according to DOE release R-96-070, dated May 16, 1996. (The release can be found at According to the release, "[t]he North Korean reactors will be based largely on C-E technology," which powers the reactors in South Korea used by the prime contractor.


Nor was the investment of ABB a one-time deal; as late as December 2000, according to the Korea WebWeekly, as quoted in the Asia Times column "Pyongyang Watch," by Aidan Foster-Carter, "[i]n the first unambiguous sign that North Korea really does plan to rejoin the planet, a major global corporation is taking the plunge and going in. Asea Brown Boveri, the Swedish-Swiss engineering multinational, is to undertake nothing less than the modernization of North Korea's entire national electricity grid. The short-term difficulties for ABB will be considerable but the long-term rewards could be immense."


Foster-Carter adds that "neither party was generous with the details," so "the scale and value of the contract is not revealed. But this is clearly a very big deal, covering nothing less than the modernization of North Korea's entire national electricity grid." The grid will need to be upgraded in order to handle the light water reactors, according to Foster-Carter, which raises "doubts whether nuclear power is viable or appropriate" to North Korea's needs. ( [Note: According to the Swiss article, ABB had "in early 2000" sold its nuclear division to the British firm BNFL group.]


Of course, the contracts between ABB and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea were perfectly legal, despite the risk of diversion of the fissile materials into a secret weapons program. And while ABB has recently been characterized as the "Enron of Europe," with vast pension funds voted by its board to its last two CEOs even as the stock fell precipitously (on news of previously unacknowledged asbestos liabilities and creative bookkeeping), and as 12,000 workers were being laid off, it wasn't always thus.


Just like Enron, at one time the company was widely regarded as the model of the new multinational, and held a reputation as one of the more environmentally responsible companies in Europe, winning awards from mainstream environmentalist organizations during the early Nineties--this despite its record as a chief polluter in Poland and as one of the prime constructors of the environmentally devastating Three Gorges Dam in China, among other horrors. (It was also the prime contractor for the Bakun Dam in Malaysia, indefinitely postponed following protests by non-governmental organizations there as well as over 200 international environmental and human rights groups, and for the Ilisu hydropower project on the Tigris river in Turkey, which critics claim violates core provisions of the 1997 UN Convention on the Non-Navigational Uses of Transboundary Watercourses.)



So, you say, another greedy and amoral company involved in making a quick buck by selling strategically useful technology to a rogue state -- what else is new? Well, welcomed to the ABB board of directors on Feb. 28, 1996--before the contract with North Korea was signed--was none other than "former U.S. Ambassador to NATO" and "former President and CEO of G.D. Searle & Co., Chicago, USA, and former US Secretary of Defense," one Donald H. Rumsfeld.


In 1998, Mr. Rumsfeld chaired a blue ribbon commission that made headlines with its findings that, in the words of a report in the Nation by William Hartung, "given enough foreign help, a rogue state like North Korea could acquire a missile capable of reaching the United States within five years of making a decision to do so--one-third to one-half the warning time projected in the CIA's official estimates."


The report, denounced by many news organizations for unwarranted alarmism, was fulsomely praised and adopted by the war party and the missile defense crowd in the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, and elicited hysterical cries from then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich that it was the "most important warning about our national security system since the end of the cold war." In the usual manner by which right-wing disinformation and outright mendacity becomes the "received wisdom" of the mainstream press, it was then duly endorsed by Washington's "newspaper of record," the Post, as "useful and plausible," thus contributing to the life support system of the Anti-Ballistic Missile at a time when it was on its last legs--resuscitating it just long enough to last until the incoming Bush-Rumsfeld administration could feed it the treaty that had up till then prevented its full development and deployment.


Thus at the same time as Consigliere Cheney, then chair of Haliburton, was making nice with Saddam Hussein in the interest of feeding at the trough of oil field repair (the necessity of which stemmed from Cheney's Defense Department's illegal bombings during the previous Gulf slaughter), "Rummy," the chief promoter of demonization of foreign regimes that don't toe the American line (even longtime allies like Germany), and the Secretary of Defense who last year stoutly defended President Bush's characterization of North Korea as part of an "axis of evil," either tacitly or openly approved the sale by a foreign-owned transnational corporation of the very technology that helped them develop whatever nuclear weapons capacity they now have, even as he was, for public consumption, denouncing "foreign help" in that development.


Of course, the Swiss article demurs that because, according to a spokesman for ABB, board protocols are never released to the public, there's no way to know whether this 'relatively minor' $200 million contract ("so to speak, a smaller one") even came up while Rummy helped oversee the company. And Rumsfeld himself, following the advice of his mentor Richard Nixon, discussing how to get away with perjury ("You can always say you don't recall, you don't remember..."), has said through a spokesperson that he "does not recall it being brought before the board at any time."


Still, Rumsfeld served as a board member of ABB throughout the entire period of the contracts, attending virtually all its quarterly meetings, until he was tapped by Bush XLIII Illegitimus for Defense Secretary in Feb. 2001. Moreover, he also served during that time on the board of its parent holding company ABB AB, indicating, as does the fulsome praise accompanying the initial announcement of his election to the board, that he was considered a major asset rather than a mere time server.


This term of service includes the date that Aidan-Foster's article appeared, with its hyperbolic prose about a major new era in the DPRK's relations with "the planet" ("nothing less than," "could be immense," "very big deal"). Since Rumsfeld was publicly on the record denouncing the regime with which his company was then negotiating to modernize the entire North Korean grid, and the article was prominently displayed in one of the most important business journals in Asia, it strains credulity far past the breaking point to claim that no one thought to bring it to his attention.


Just as with Iraq, where "Rummy" was dispatched to Baghdad in 1983 by Ronald Reagan to give "another Hitler," as he now characterizes the then-"Iraqi strongman" Saddam Hussein, a pair of golden spurs along with his personal assurances that the U.S. supported the Iraqi regime in whatever measures it felt obliged to take in order to defeat Iran (such support including the providing of targeting assistance to ensure that Saddam's gas attacks wreaked maximum carnage), so with Korea: The demon du jour is the business or strategic partner of another, or even the same, day. Rumsfeld, whom Kissinger called the most ruthless man he had ever met, is an authentic American version of the Nazi minister and businessman Hermann Goering, lacking only the latter's charisma. Unfortunately, the prospects of his facing a Nuremburg-style tribunal, especially with the U.S. sabotage of the International Criminal Court, appear slim to nonexistent.


Ron Reed is an unrepentant Sixties activist and avid student of history, presently living in Dillingham, Alaska, and working on getting his secondary teaching

certificate. Email:



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