Commentary Magazine


Topic: Pyongyang

Students Launch Public Relations Campaign for North Korea

Concerned that North Korea is getting a bad rap, some Brown University alumni have actually started a travel program to give students an eyewitness experience inside the totalitarian state. The project apparently started as a short trip for students, but it has now been expanded into a semester-long study abroad program:

The Pyongyang Project was the brainchild of Matthew Reichel and Nick Young, who were inspired to counteract what they describe as the “one-sided” coverage of North Korea in the international media.

“The US and North Korea don’t have established relations, and talks are indirect at best. And what we believe is that there is a need for a grassroots level of engagement that we haven’t seen yet between citizens,” says Mr Reichel, a 23-year-old Brown University graduate. “We feel that education is the best ice-breaker.”

The pair scheduled meetings with North Korean government officials at consulates in the US and China – and got the go ahead to run a scheme which takes university students and professors from the US, UK, Canada and other nations inside North Korea in a bid to reach out to the nation behind the headlines.

This program has the potential to be a useful educational tool if it actually exposes students to the deplorable conditions that most North Koreans live under. But like most “tourists” of North Korea, the participants of this trip visited only areas of the country handpicked by government propagandists.

The naivety of these students — enrolled at one of the top American universities — is simply astounding. One participant was amazed that he was allowed to wonder freely around a beach and interact with North Koreans — apparently unaware that the visit was probably about as orchestrated as a Hollywood movie set:

“They took us to the beach, we got our swimming trunks on and they basically said, ‘Go have a good time, you can talk to people’,” said Dave Fields, 27, a participant from the US state of Wisconsin.

Another participant gushed over a gymnastics competition she watched, but added that she noticed some “red flags” during her visit. “It definitely felt like there were props around the university. You get the feeling that it is sort of like a time capsule society — hair styles even that are kind of stuck in the 1960s,” she told the BBC.

I’m not sure if the founders of the Pyongyang Project planned to make this a pure propaganda campaign for the North Korean government, or if they’re simply clueless. But there’s no doubt that Pyongyang officials are probably thrilled by the results, judging from the comically fawning “participant reflections” posted on the project’s website. Read More

Concerned that North Korea is getting a bad rap, some Brown University alumni have actually started a travel program to give students an eyewitness experience inside the totalitarian state. The project apparently started as a short trip for students, but it has now been expanded into a semester-long study abroad program:

The Pyongyang Project was the brainchild of Matthew Reichel and Nick Young, who were inspired to counteract what they describe as the “one-sided” coverage of North Korea in the international media.

“The US and North Korea don’t have established relations, and talks are indirect at best. And what we believe is that there is a need for a grassroots level of engagement that we haven’t seen yet between citizens,” says Mr Reichel, a 23-year-old Brown University graduate. “We feel that education is the best ice-breaker.”

The pair scheduled meetings with North Korean government officials at consulates in the US and China – and got the go ahead to run a scheme which takes university students and professors from the US, UK, Canada and other nations inside North Korea in a bid to reach out to the nation behind the headlines.

This program has the potential to be a useful educational tool if it actually exposes students to the deplorable conditions that most North Koreans live under. But like most “tourists” of North Korea, the participants of this trip visited only areas of the country handpicked by government propagandists.

The naivety of these students — enrolled at one of the top American universities — is simply astounding. One participant was amazed that he was allowed to wonder freely around a beach and interact with North Koreans — apparently unaware that the visit was probably about as orchestrated as a Hollywood movie set:

“They took us to the beach, we got our swimming trunks on and they basically said, ‘Go have a good time, you can talk to people’,” said Dave Fields, 27, a participant from the US state of Wisconsin.

Another participant gushed over a gymnastics competition she watched, but added that she noticed some “red flags” during her visit. “It definitely felt like there were props around the university. You get the feeling that it is sort of like a time capsule society — hair styles even that are kind of stuck in the 1960s,” she told the BBC.

I’m not sure if the founders of the Pyongyang Project planned to make this a pure propaganda campaign for the North Korean government, or if they’re simply clueless. But there’s no doubt that Pyongyang officials are probably thrilled by the results, judging from the comically fawning “participant reflections” posted on the project’s website.

“The DMZ was my favorite. Mass Games, local restaurants were wonderful, Mt Myohyang was beautiful, USS Pueblo, Korean War Museum, Metro. All of it was fantastic. I commend the two of you for putting together such an action-packed, well-rounded program,” wrote Amy C., a 2009 Fulbright scholar.

Another participant was apparently honored to have been given a museum tour by the same woman who guided President Kim Il-Sung. “[W]e went to an agricultural museum where both leaders had been to several times, and were guided by the same lady that guided President Kim II Sung; on the very same night when we were back to our hotel, we turned on the TV and the TV was showing President Kim II Sung visiting the exact same museum guided by the lady we just saw in in afternoon. What de ja vu!” wrote Ji G.

And in a ringing endorsement, Neil E., a Bowling Green State University professor, wrote that the “highlights” of his trip were “the kids playing in the street in front of the Children’s Palace, followed by the glitzy, absolutely perfect performance inside, the crowd streaming out of the Kaesong rally interrupted by a fight, the audiences clapping in unison. I would definitely recommend the experience to others — in fact, I already have.”

Well, I suppose we can at least we can be thankful that the unpleasant sight of emaciated North Koreans didn’t get in the way of their thrilling vacation.

Read Less

Morning Commentary

North Korea largely ignored the South Korean artillery drills this morning, despite fears that the military demonstrations would provoke a violent reaction from Pyongyang: “Defying North Korean threats of violent retaliation and ‘brutal consequences beyond imagination,’ South Korea on Monday staged live-fire artillery drills on an island shelled last month by the North. … The immediate response from Pyongyang was surprisingly muted, however. A statement from the North’s official news agency Monday night said it was ‘not worth reacting’ to the exercise.”

Democrats face an uphill battle on New START this week after two key Senate Republicans announced they will not support the treaty’s ratification: “‘I’ve decided that I cannot support the treaty,’ Mr. McConnell said Sunday on CNN. ‘I think the verification provisions are inadequate, and I do worry about the missile defense implications of it.’”

The second installment in the Washington Post investigation “Top Secret America” sheds light on the Obama administration’s domestic-surveillance counterterrorism policies: “The system, by far the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the nation’s history, collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.”

CNN and the Tea Party Express are teaming up to host a debate for the 2012 GOP presidential candidates, but the move has prompted criticism from both the left and the right: “But news of the alliance elicited a critical reaction from media observers and rival networks, as well as from the presumed target demographic for the debate: tea partiers and conservatives more generally. ‘This is nothing more than a press stunt for CNN that cries out “Pay attention to us!”’ said Everett Wilkinson, an organizer with the South Florida Tea Party, who said there’s been talk in tea party circles about protesting the debate, or even infiltrating it.”

As the FCC takes steps to expand Internet regulation, Robert M. McDowell warns this will lead to decreased innovation and increased consumer prices: “The FCC’s threat to Internet freedom: Analysts and broadband companies of all sizes have told the FCC that new rules are likely to have the perverse effect of inhibiting capital investment, deterring innovation, raising operating costs, and ultimately increasing consumer prices. Others maintain that the new rules will kill jobs. By moving forward with Internet rules anyway, the FCC is not living up to its promise of being ‘data driven’ in its pursuit of mandates—i.e., listening to the needs of the market.”

Universities aren’t teaching today’s young progressives about the dangerous errors made by yesterday’s Communists, writes Barry Rubin: “Are people learning about apologists for foreign states and movements, the concealing of crimes, the foolishness of the intellectuals, the belief that the more government control the better, the failure to understand that the far left was as much an enemy of liberalism as the far right, and the other mistakes involved in that experience?”

North Korea largely ignored the South Korean artillery drills this morning, despite fears that the military demonstrations would provoke a violent reaction from Pyongyang: “Defying North Korean threats of violent retaliation and ‘brutal consequences beyond imagination,’ South Korea on Monday staged live-fire artillery drills on an island shelled last month by the North. … The immediate response from Pyongyang was surprisingly muted, however. A statement from the North’s official news agency Monday night said it was ‘not worth reacting’ to the exercise.”

Democrats face an uphill battle on New START this week after two key Senate Republicans announced they will not support the treaty’s ratification: “‘I’ve decided that I cannot support the treaty,’ Mr. McConnell said Sunday on CNN. ‘I think the verification provisions are inadequate, and I do worry about the missile defense implications of it.’”

The second installment in the Washington Post investigation “Top Secret America” sheds light on the Obama administration’s domestic-surveillance counterterrorism policies: “The system, by far the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the nation’s history, collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.”

CNN and the Tea Party Express are teaming up to host a debate for the 2012 GOP presidential candidates, but the move has prompted criticism from both the left and the right: “But news of the alliance elicited a critical reaction from media observers and rival networks, as well as from the presumed target demographic for the debate: tea partiers and conservatives more generally. ‘This is nothing more than a press stunt for CNN that cries out “Pay attention to us!”’ said Everett Wilkinson, an organizer with the South Florida Tea Party, who said there’s been talk in tea party circles about protesting the debate, or even infiltrating it.”

As the FCC takes steps to expand Internet regulation, Robert M. McDowell warns this will lead to decreased innovation and increased consumer prices: “The FCC’s threat to Internet freedom: Analysts and broadband companies of all sizes have told the FCC that new rules are likely to have the perverse effect of inhibiting capital investment, deterring innovation, raising operating costs, and ultimately increasing consumer prices. Others maintain that the new rules will kill jobs. By moving forward with Internet rules anyway, the FCC is not living up to its promise of being ‘data driven’ in its pursuit of mandates—i.e., listening to the needs of the market.”

Universities aren’t teaching today’s young progressives about the dangerous errors made by yesterday’s Communists, writes Barry Rubin: “Are people learning about apologists for foreign states and movements, the concealing of crimes, the foolishness of the intellectuals, the belief that the more government control the better, the failure to understand that the far left was as much an enemy of liberalism as the far right, and the other mistakes involved in that experience?”

Read Less

WEB EXCLUSIVE: North Korea Points to the Way on Iran

“The U.S. has no good options.” How many times have we heard that refrain in the days since North Korea attacked the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong?

In fact, even calling our options “options” is optimistic. We have obligations. Foremost among these is our obligation to “act to meet the common danger” now manifest in North Korea, as stipulated by a mutual defense treaty signed in 1953. Even if the president wanted to stay clear of the action in the Koreas, he couldn’t do so without breaking America’s promise to a long-standing democratic ally.

After obligations, we have hopes. We hope China will rein in the aggressive regime in Pyongyang. We hope that that regime is being tactically provocative and not irrevocably bellicose. We hope Kim Jong-il wants aid or summitry or a smooth transition of leadership for his son, not the destruction of his neighbor to the South. But we can’t know. Decades of bad bipartisan policy have left us guessing at the deathbed motives of a nuclear-armed paranoiac.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

“The U.S. has no good options.” How many times have we heard that refrain in the days since North Korea attacked the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong?

In fact, even calling our options “options” is optimistic. We have obligations. Foremost among these is our obligation to “act to meet the common danger” now manifest in North Korea, as stipulated by a mutual defense treaty signed in 1953. Even if the president wanted to stay clear of the action in the Koreas, he couldn’t do so without breaking America’s promise to a long-standing democratic ally.

After obligations, we have hopes. We hope China will rein in the aggressive regime in Pyongyang. We hope that that regime is being tactically provocative and not irrevocably bellicose. We hope Kim Jong-il wants aid or summitry or a smooth transition of leadership for his son, not the destruction of his neighbor to the South. But we can’t know. Decades of bad bipartisan policy have left us guessing at the deathbed motives of a nuclear-armed paranoiac.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

This isn’t going to win over the critics who say she lacks political judgment. “Sarah Palin dismissed Barbara Bush’s recent criticism as a matter of class privilege. … ‘I don’t want to concede that we have to get used to this kind of thing, because i don’t think the majority of Americans want to put up with the blue-bloods — and i want to say it with all due respect because I love the Bushes — the blue bloods who want to pick and chose their winners instead of allowing competition’ … Palin also suggested that the Bushes upper-class status had contributed to ‘the economic policies that were in place that got us into these economic woeful times.’” Whatever you think of Bush 41, this isn’t what a presidential candidate should sound like.

This is going to give “strategic patience” (otherwise known as paralysis) a bad name. “North Korea’s latest round of saber rattling leaves a politically weakened President Obama with several unpalatable options for dealing with the unstable nuclear power. The North Korean shelling of a South Korean island follows the revelation of a new centrifuge plant that could eventually allow the North to add to its nuclear stockpile. Both developments suggest the Obama administration’s policy of’ ‘strategic patience’ with North Korea is having little impact on the regime, which is focused on the transition of power from Kim Jong-il to his son, Kim Jong-un.”

This isn’t going to help the White House scare the Senate into a ratification vote: Jamie Fly writes: “New START is a rather meaningless arms-control agreement notable more for what it fails to do than what it achieves. … There remains serious criticism of New START’s merits on the right, and it is troubling that the administration is attempting to argue that Republicans such as Sen. Jon Kyl are interested only in killing the treaty. Kyl and a majority of his colleagues are just asking for more time to explore their concerns about the treaty and continue discussions with administration officials about funding levels for modernization of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. From the rhetoric of the administration and its surrogates, one would believe that if New START is not ratified by the end of the year, nuclear weapons will suddenly fall into the hands of terrorists.”

This is a sign that no one is going to bat for Joe Miller. “Former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman had some unsolicited advice for fellow Republican Joe Miller: It’s time to quit.”

This verdict isn’t going to provoke much sympathy from conservatives. Tom DeLay is the type of pol the Tea Party despises, and his politics is the sort Republican lawmakers need to repudiate.

This wasn’t going to happen with Obama’s “smart diplomacy”: “When North Korea tested a nuclear device last year, China issued bland criticism and urged Pyongyang to resume diplomacy. After a South Korean navy ship was sunk, most likely by a North Korean torpedo, Beijing sent its sympathies but called the evidence inconclusive. Now that North Korea has unleashed an artillery barrage on a South Korean island that killed four people — including two civilians — and raised tensions in the heavily armed region, Beijing again appears unwilling to rein in its neighbor.”

This lame duck session isn’t going to be what the Dems had hoped. “Not so long ago, the great fear was that the Democratic Party would return from its midterm drubbing to jam all manner of odious legislation through a lame duck session of Congress. We may need to put that in the ‘wasted worry’ category.”

This isn’t going to win over the critics who say she lacks political judgment. “Sarah Palin dismissed Barbara Bush’s recent criticism as a matter of class privilege. … ‘I don’t want to concede that we have to get used to this kind of thing, because i don’t think the majority of Americans want to put up with the blue-bloods — and i want to say it with all due respect because I love the Bushes — the blue bloods who want to pick and chose their winners instead of allowing competition’ … Palin also suggested that the Bushes upper-class status had contributed to ‘the economic policies that were in place that got us into these economic woeful times.’” Whatever you think of Bush 41, this isn’t what a presidential candidate should sound like.

This is going to give “strategic patience” (otherwise known as paralysis) a bad name. “North Korea’s latest round of saber rattling leaves a politically weakened President Obama with several unpalatable options for dealing with the unstable nuclear power. The North Korean shelling of a South Korean island follows the revelation of a new centrifuge plant that could eventually allow the North to add to its nuclear stockpile. Both developments suggest the Obama administration’s policy of’ ‘strategic patience’ with North Korea is having little impact on the regime, which is focused on the transition of power from Kim Jong-il to his son, Kim Jong-un.”

This isn’t going to help the White House scare the Senate into a ratification vote: Jamie Fly writes: “New START is a rather meaningless arms-control agreement notable more for what it fails to do than what it achieves. … There remains serious criticism of New START’s merits on the right, and it is troubling that the administration is attempting to argue that Republicans such as Sen. Jon Kyl are interested only in killing the treaty. Kyl and a majority of his colleagues are just asking for more time to explore their concerns about the treaty and continue discussions with administration officials about funding levels for modernization of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. From the rhetoric of the administration and its surrogates, one would believe that if New START is not ratified by the end of the year, nuclear weapons will suddenly fall into the hands of terrorists.”

This is a sign that no one is going to bat for Joe Miller. “Former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman had some unsolicited advice for fellow Republican Joe Miller: It’s time to quit.”

This verdict isn’t going to provoke much sympathy from conservatives. Tom DeLay is the type of pol the Tea Party despises, and his politics is the sort Republican lawmakers need to repudiate.

This wasn’t going to happen with Obama’s “smart diplomacy”: “When North Korea tested a nuclear device last year, China issued bland criticism and urged Pyongyang to resume diplomacy. After a South Korean navy ship was sunk, most likely by a North Korean torpedo, Beijing sent its sympathies but called the evidence inconclusive. Now that North Korea has unleashed an artillery barrage on a South Korean island that killed four people — including two civilians — and raised tensions in the heavily armed region, Beijing again appears unwilling to rein in its neighbor.”

This lame duck session isn’t going to be what the Dems had hoped. “Not so long ago, the great fear was that the Democratic Party would return from its midterm drubbing to jam all manner of odious legislation through a lame duck session of Congress. We may need to put that in the ‘wasted worry’ category.”

Read Less

North Korea Playing the U.S. — Still

Try as he might, Obama can’t escape being a wartime president and foreign-policy-crisis manager. That’s the world in which we live, and it keeps intruding into his desired agenda:

North Korea’s deadly attack on a populated South Korean island dramatically escalated the conflict between the two countries, leaving Seoul and its allies hunting for a response that would stave off more attacks but stop short of sparking war.

Artillery fire from the North came out of clear skies Tuesday afternoon and pounded an island near a disputed maritime border for more than an hour. Yeonpyeong Island’s 1,200 civilians scattered as shells exploded and homes and buildings caught fire, witnesses said, with many residents hunkering down in bomb shelters or fleeing on boats.

This act of provocation was met with tough talk, but produced more questions than answers:

The United Nations, European Union, Japan and others condemned the attack, with Russia and China calling for a cooling of tensions on the peninsula. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Tuesday’s exchange “one of the gravest incidents since the end of the Korean War.”

President Barack Obama strongly affirmed the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea. Mr. Obama called Mr. Lee to say the U.S. stands “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the ally and would work with the international community to condemn the “outrageous” attack, the Associated Press reported.

But what do the flurry of words mean, and what is the value of a shoulder-to-shoulder commitment while South Korea’s ships are at risk and its territory is violated? One senses quite clearly that Obama is being tested. After all, what did he do when Syria violated the UN resolution? What has he done about the Russian occupation of Georgia? The proliferation of non-actions has emboldened the North Koreans, as it has all the rogue states. And now Obama has his hands full.

Before word of the attack, former ambassador and potential 2012 presidential candidate John R. Bolton wrote in reference to the newly discovered nuclear facility in Yongbyon that we’ve been “played” by North Korea ever since the Clinton administration. He does not spare the Bush administration either:

Worse, in President George W. Bush’s second term, an assertive group of deniers in the State Department and the intelligence community claimed or implied that North Korea did not have a substantial or ongoing uranium-enrichment program. They denied that the North Koreans had conceded as much in 2002 and that there was sufficient evidence of a continuing program. The intelligence community downgraded its confidence level in its earlier conclusion, not because of contradictory information but because it had not subsequently acquired significant new data. State Department negotiators scorned the idea that the North had a serious enrichment capability. …

The last thing Washington should do now is resurrect the failed six-party talks or start bilateral negotiations with the North. Instead, serious efforts need to be made with China on reunifying the Korean peninsula, a goal made ever more urgent by the clear transition of power now underway in Pyongyang as Kim Jong Il faces the actuarial tables. North Korea’s threat will only end when it does, and that day cannot come soon enough.

What is clear is that the North Koreans perceive no downside to acts of aggression against their neighbor. So long as Obama has only words in response, the barrages are not likely to end. And meanwhile, Iran and our other foes look on.

Try as he might, Obama can’t escape being a wartime president and foreign-policy-crisis manager. That’s the world in which we live, and it keeps intruding into his desired agenda:

North Korea’s deadly attack on a populated South Korean island dramatically escalated the conflict between the two countries, leaving Seoul and its allies hunting for a response that would stave off more attacks but stop short of sparking war.

Artillery fire from the North came out of clear skies Tuesday afternoon and pounded an island near a disputed maritime border for more than an hour. Yeonpyeong Island’s 1,200 civilians scattered as shells exploded and homes and buildings caught fire, witnesses said, with many residents hunkering down in bomb shelters or fleeing on boats.

This act of provocation was met with tough talk, but produced more questions than answers:

The United Nations, European Union, Japan and others condemned the attack, with Russia and China calling for a cooling of tensions on the peninsula. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Tuesday’s exchange “one of the gravest incidents since the end of the Korean War.”

President Barack Obama strongly affirmed the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea. Mr. Obama called Mr. Lee to say the U.S. stands “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the ally and would work with the international community to condemn the “outrageous” attack, the Associated Press reported.

But what do the flurry of words mean, and what is the value of a shoulder-to-shoulder commitment while South Korea’s ships are at risk and its territory is violated? One senses quite clearly that Obama is being tested. After all, what did he do when Syria violated the UN resolution? What has he done about the Russian occupation of Georgia? The proliferation of non-actions has emboldened the North Koreans, as it has all the rogue states. And now Obama has his hands full.

Before word of the attack, former ambassador and potential 2012 presidential candidate John R. Bolton wrote in reference to the newly discovered nuclear facility in Yongbyon that we’ve been “played” by North Korea ever since the Clinton administration. He does not spare the Bush administration either:

Worse, in President George W. Bush’s second term, an assertive group of deniers in the State Department and the intelligence community claimed or implied that North Korea did not have a substantial or ongoing uranium-enrichment program. They denied that the North Koreans had conceded as much in 2002 and that there was sufficient evidence of a continuing program. The intelligence community downgraded its confidence level in its earlier conclusion, not because of contradictory information but because it had not subsequently acquired significant new data. State Department negotiators scorned the idea that the North had a serious enrichment capability. …

The last thing Washington should do now is resurrect the failed six-party talks or start bilateral negotiations with the North. Instead, serious efforts need to be made with China on reunifying the Korean peninsula, a goal made ever more urgent by the clear transition of power now underway in Pyongyang as Kim Jong Il faces the actuarial tables. North Korea’s threat will only end when it does, and that day cannot come soon enough.

What is clear is that the North Koreans perceive no downside to acts of aggression against their neighbor. So long as Obama has only words in response, the barrages are not likely to end. And meanwhile, Iran and our other foes look on.

Read Less

North Korea & Iran: Containment vs. Regime Change

North Korea doesn’t have a whole lot going for it beyond a large army and a nuclear arsenal. So it should be no surprise that the regime resorts to saber-rattling to remind the world that it needs to be propitiated. Earlier this year, in March, a North Korean submarine torpedoed a South Korean naval vessel, the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors. Today the North shelled a South Korean island, killing two more soldiers. This comes only days after a Stanford professor reported finding a vast new uranium-enrichment plant in North Korea, suggesting that the North is gearing up to produce a lot more atomic weapons.

North Korea watchers think that this provocative behavior is meant to ease the leadership transition to a third-generation of Marxist dictators. Kim Jong-il, the current ruler, has just elevated his son Kim Jung-un to four-star rank — widely seen as a perquisite for taking over from his old man. But whatever the explanation, attacks on another country are clearly unacceptable. Problem is, it is devilishly difficult to respond to because North Korea is, after all, a nuclear power.

After the Cheonan’s sinking, the U.S. pushed for a UN resolution condemning the attack, but it was so watered down by the time it passed that it did not even mention North Korea’s culpability. It would be nice if this time the UN were to show some fortitude in upbraiding a nation other than Israel. But no matter what resolution the UN passes, its significance will be purely symbolic.

South Korea has already cut most economic times with the North, so there is not much more that can be done on that front either.

The ultimate solution is plain: regime change. But how to achieve it is another matter. China is North Korea’s major remaining lifeline, but unfortunately it is hard to see how to persuade the Chinese to cut off their client state. They may not like Pyongyang’s powerplays, but they are even less wild about the notion of a unified Korea allied with the United States.

So we are where we have essentially been since the end of the Korean War: practicing containment and hoping for the day when North Korea will finally implode. For those who advocate containment as the solution to the Iranian nuclear threat, it is worth noting how destabilizing a nuclear-armed rogue state can be and how hard it is to contain. Even now, North Korea could be planning to export nuclear know-how or uranium to Iran. If so, what are we going to do about it? My guess: not much. That is an argument for stopping Iran by any means necessary before it crosses the nuclear threshold and becomes as dangerous as North Korea.

North Korea doesn’t have a whole lot going for it beyond a large army and a nuclear arsenal. So it should be no surprise that the regime resorts to saber-rattling to remind the world that it needs to be propitiated. Earlier this year, in March, a North Korean submarine torpedoed a South Korean naval vessel, the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors. Today the North shelled a South Korean island, killing two more soldiers. This comes only days after a Stanford professor reported finding a vast new uranium-enrichment plant in North Korea, suggesting that the North is gearing up to produce a lot more atomic weapons.

North Korea watchers think that this provocative behavior is meant to ease the leadership transition to a third-generation of Marxist dictators. Kim Jong-il, the current ruler, has just elevated his son Kim Jung-un to four-star rank — widely seen as a perquisite for taking over from his old man. But whatever the explanation, attacks on another country are clearly unacceptable. Problem is, it is devilishly difficult to respond to because North Korea is, after all, a nuclear power.

After the Cheonan’s sinking, the U.S. pushed for a UN resolution condemning the attack, but it was so watered down by the time it passed that it did not even mention North Korea’s culpability. It would be nice if this time the UN were to show some fortitude in upbraiding a nation other than Israel. But no matter what resolution the UN passes, its significance will be purely symbolic.

South Korea has already cut most economic times with the North, so there is not much more that can be done on that front either.

The ultimate solution is plain: regime change. But how to achieve it is another matter. China is North Korea’s major remaining lifeline, but unfortunately it is hard to see how to persuade the Chinese to cut off their client state. They may not like Pyongyang’s powerplays, but they are even less wild about the notion of a unified Korea allied with the United States.

So we are where we have essentially been since the end of the Korean War: practicing containment and hoping for the day when North Korea will finally implode. For those who advocate containment as the solution to the Iranian nuclear threat, it is worth noting how destabilizing a nuclear-armed rogue state can be and how hard it is to contain. Even now, North Korea could be planning to export nuclear know-how or uranium to Iran. If so, what are we going to do about it? My guess: not much. That is an argument for stopping Iran by any means necessary before it crosses the nuclear threshold and becomes as dangerous as North Korea.

Read Less

Bureaucracy 101

A college course could be built around the new UN report on North Korea’s continuing proliferation activities. The report, released on Friday, was ready for publication in May 2010 but was delayed for six months by China’s Security Council veto. That veto having been lifted, the report is now available to the public.

The news stories surrounding the report are focused on North Korea’s attempts to ship weapons and their components to Iran and Syria, in the months after the “tough” sanctions adopted by the UN in mid-2009. (Pyongyang’s underground nuclear test in May 2009 prompted the newest sanctions.) The UN report cites four instances of cargo being interdicted by other nations, including episodes in Thailand and the UAE that were widely reported in the Western media.

But the real story in this report is its dryly precise account of the implementation of sanctions. Read More

A college course could be built around the new UN report on North Korea’s continuing proliferation activities. The report, released on Friday, was ready for publication in May 2010 but was delayed for six months by China’s Security Council veto. That veto having been lifted, the report is now available to the public.

The news stories surrounding the report are focused on North Korea’s attempts to ship weapons and their components to Iran and Syria, in the months after the “tough” sanctions adopted by the UN in mid-2009. (Pyongyang’s underground nuclear test in May 2009 prompted the newest sanctions.) The UN report cites four instances of cargo being interdicted by other nations, including episodes in Thailand and the UAE that were widely reported in the Western media.

But the real story in this report is its dryly precise account of the implementation of sanctions. As of April 30, 2010, for example, the panel compiling the report found that only 48 UN member nations had submitted their “national implementation reports” for the provisions of the 2009 round of sanctions. The national reports, according to the panel, “vary considerably in content, detail, and format.” The panel acknowledges that this is at least partly because the original UN resolutions didn’t specify that certain significant measures be reported (e.g., withholding pier services from North Korean ships or refusing training to North Korean specialists).

The UN panel observes – without editorializing – that North Korea basically remains free to operate shell companies in a number of other nations. As outside investment in North Korea declines, however, Pyongyang’s economic reliance on China is growing. It’s evident from the incidents recounted in the report that the typical maritime shipment of prohibited cargo from North Korea makes its first stop in China – but the report doesn’t explicitly make that point.

It does, on the other hand, convey the good news that vigilant officials in Japan and Italy have been able to prevent the delivery of two yachts, four Mercedes-Benzes, and 37 pianos to North Korea. Unfortunately, these are rare instances; the UN panel states, on a regretful note, that the interdiction of luxury goods “continues to lag.” In general, successful interdiction of goods both into and out of North Korea is hampered, in the panel’s view, by a lack of uniformity in shipping documentation and the lack of a single, all-encompassing list of prohibited items. Apparently, member states have to consult multiple lists to determine what is prohibited.

The wonder here is that any cargo interdiction happens at all. The bottom line is something we knew already: G-8 governments are acting with some level of vigilance, but there are big, unplugged holes in the sanctions; China is an unacknowledged vulnerability; and there are large swaths of territory in Asia and Africa where no attempt at enforcement is being made. This is our approach, as a collective of nations, to preventing the proliferation of WMD.

Read Less

Reading (and Misreading) Kim

Now and then a media theme comes along that can only be called fatuous. Next week, North Korea will hold its first ruling-party conference in 30 years. In advance of the conference, the Kim government has promoted to higher office three senior officials with career connections to the nuclear program. The three men in question were prominent in previous iterations of the multilateral negotiations over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

Therefore, Western media are depicting these personnel moves as a sign that “the country’s leaders are seeking to stabilize foreign relations and encourage diplomacy.” Very few of the mainstream media outlets report, however, that Kang Sok Ju, who has been made the new vice premier, was the chief designer of the North Korean nuclear program. He was chosen in 1994 to negotiate the Agreed Framework with the Clinton administration because he was the North’s nuclear chief. From the perspective of the Kim regime — which intended all along to retain its program and achieve a weapons capability — the most senior proponent of the program was the appropriate emissary to the proceedings.

There are a number of indications that Kim Jong-Il is planning to introduce his youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, as his political successor next week. The current Kim was named successor at the last such conference in 1980. Close followers of Pyongyang’s ineffable party media note that in the last six months, Kim Jong-Il has been referred to as “Great Leader,” a title once reserved for his father Kim Il-Sung.  The post of “Dear Leader” is now unoccupied, just in time for the rare party conference. The three men in the new government positions are Kim Jong-Il loyalists: from any standpoint — tensions with the South, the terrible toll of typhoons and flooding this summer, the need to secure a succession — it makes sense for the current Kim to ensure loyalty in his senior ranks.

The logical interpretation of the personnel moves is that they are intended to secure the optimum conditions for Kim’s internal political plans. The men in question are trusted, long-time aides of the regime: that’s why they were associated with the nuclear program to begin with, it’s why they were dispatched for nuclear negotiations in the past, and it’s why they are being shuffled upward now.

It bears reiterating that their record in foreign negotiations was all to Pyongyang’s advantage. They never negotiated in good faith and North Korea never kept the commitments it made. At no time were they or their regime negotiating in order to cultivate good foreign relations — or, in fact, to seek any common objective with the other parties to the talks.

It hasn’t been that long since the Soviet Union collapsed. But today’s mainstream media seem to retain no corporate memory of the dynamics of secretive Communist regimes. Regime succession is a recurring national-security emergency for such governments. Many Western media outlets have picked up on the warning from a Russian diplomat this week that the Koreas are on the brink of conflict. But if the Russians are observing a bustling in North Korea’s national-defense apparatus, that would be perfectly in character for a Communist thugocracy before a landmark party conference. “The wicked flee when none pursueth,” say the Proverbs; it’s much more likely that the Kim regime is maneuvering, in the Communist manner, against anticipated threats to itself rather than taking a vow of “good diplomacy” to improve relations with the U.S.

Now and then a media theme comes along that can only be called fatuous. Next week, North Korea will hold its first ruling-party conference in 30 years. In advance of the conference, the Kim government has promoted to higher office three senior officials with career connections to the nuclear program. The three men in question were prominent in previous iterations of the multilateral negotiations over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

Therefore, Western media are depicting these personnel moves as a sign that “the country’s leaders are seeking to stabilize foreign relations and encourage diplomacy.” Very few of the mainstream media outlets report, however, that Kang Sok Ju, who has been made the new vice premier, was the chief designer of the North Korean nuclear program. He was chosen in 1994 to negotiate the Agreed Framework with the Clinton administration because he was the North’s nuclear chief. From the perspective of the Kim regime — which intended all along to retain its program and achieve a weapons capability — the most senior proponent of the program was the appropriate emissary to the proceedings.

There are a number of indications that Kim Jong-Il is planning to introduce his youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, as his political successor next week. The current Kim was named successor at the last such conference in 1980. Close followers of Pyongyang’s ineffable party media note that in the last six months, Kim Jong-Il has been referred to as “Great Leader,” a title once reserved for his father Kim Il-Sung.  The post of “Dear Leader” is now unoccupied, just in time for the rare party conference. The three men in the new government positions are Kim Jong-Il loyalists: from any standpoint — tensions with the South, the terrible toll of typhoons and flooding this summer, the need to secure a succession — it makes sense for the current Kim to ensure loyalty in his senior ranks.

The logical interpretation of the personnel moves is that they are intended to secure the optimum conditions for Kim’s internal political plans. The men in question are trusted, long-time aides of the regime: that’s why they were associated with the nuclear program to begin with, it’s why they were dispatched for nuclear negotiations in the past, and it’s why they are being shuffled upward now.

It bears reiterating that their record in foreign negotiations was all to Pyongyang’s advantage. They never negotiated in good faith and North Korea never kept the commitments it made. At no time were they or their regime negotiating in order to cultivate good foreign relations — or, in fact, to seek any common objective with the other parties to the talks.

It hasn’t been that long since the Soviet Union collapsed. But today’s mainstream media seem to retain no corporate memory of the dynamics of secretive Communist regimes. Regime succession is a recurring national-security emergency for such governments. Many Western media outlets have picked up on the warning from a Russian diplomat this week that the Koreas are on the brink of conflict. But if the Russians are observing a bustling in North Korea’s national-defense apparatus, that would be perfectly in character for a Communist thugocracy before a landmark party conference. “The wicked flee when none pursueth,” say the Proverbs; it’s much more likely that the Kim regime is maneuvering, in the Communist manner, against anticipated threats to itself rather than taking a vow of “good diplomacy” to improve relations with the U.S.

Read Less

Hissing in North Korea

North Korea is escalating tensions in response to South Korean military exercises. Especially as the United States seeks Seoul’s help in punishing not only North Korea but also Iran, it’s important that the Obama administration show its commitment to our allies.

Yesterday, North Korea seized a fishing boat with seven sailors aboard, four South Koreans and three Chinese. (It will be interesting to see how the weary patron state, China, responds to its unruly ward.) And today, North Korea shot artillery rounds near the sea border it shares with the South. These acts have been accompanied by the usual North Korean statements of sensationalist vitriol.

All this, of course, underscores a bigger point: neither North Korea nor Iran plans to go gentle into that good night. But by taking a strong line against one aggressor, we send the right message to others. Pyongyang’s aggression follows the robust military drills that South Korea held in response to North Korea’s sinking of the Southern Navy boat the Cheonan. These military drills include one completed recently alongside the United States in the East Sea, one being conducted right now in the Yellow Sea despite Chinese protestations, and more likely to follow.

South Korea’s leadership deserves hefty American support for its tough stance against North Korea, especially as Pyongyang continues troublemaking. The joint military exercise was a good first step, but it should be followed by further displays of American solidarity.

North Korea is escalating tensions in response to South Korean military exercises. Especially as the United States seeks Seoul’s help in punishing not only North Korea but also Iran, it’s important that the Obama administration show its commitment to our allies.

Yesterday, North Korea seized a fishing boat with seven sailors aboard, four South Koreans and three Chinese. (It will be interesting to see how the weary patron state, China, responds to its unruly ward.) And today, North Korea shot artillery rounds near the sea border it shares with the South. These acts have been accompanied by the usual North Korean statements of sensationalist vitriol.

All this, of course, underscores a bigger point: neither North Korea nor Iran plans to go gentle into that good night. But by taking a strong line against one aggressor, we send the right message to others. Pyongyang’s aggression follows the robust military drills that South Korea held in response to North Korea’s sinking of the Southern Navy boat the Cheonan. These military drills include one completed recently alongside the United States in the East Sea, one being conducted right now in the Yellow Sea despite Chinese protestations, and more likely to follow.

South Korea’s leadership deserves hefty American support for its tough stance against North Korea, especially as Pyongyang continues troublemaking. The joint military exercise was a good first step, but it should be followed by further displays of American solidarity.

Read Less

A Times Bouquet for Those Lovable North Koreans

This summer marks the 60th anniversary of one of America’s least-known conflicts: the Korean War. The remarkable thing about Korea is that even at the height of the Cold War, when leftist apologists for the Soviet Union and other Communist aggressors were at their high watermark, in the West there were few if any among them who spent much time criticizing America’s decision to save South Korea after it was invaded in June of 1950. Even in those decades when defenders of the Soviets, Castro, and even Mao were never in short supply, it was hard to find anyone to say a good word about the lunatic regime in Pyongyang, a government so oppressive that it gave dedicated Stalinists the willies. There was little room for debate about how the Korean conflict started or what the consequences for the Korean people would have been had the Communists been allowed to complete their takeover of the entire country. But with the passage of time, memory of these basic facts fade, and for the squishy left there is no topic, no matter how cut and dried, that is not ripe for a revisionist retelling as long as America can be portrayed as the villain. That’s the only way to explain a new book about Korea by Bruce Cumings, the chairman of the history department at the University of Chicago, and the rapturous review it received in today’s New York Times. Turning history and logic on its head, Cumings believes that not only was American intervention in Korea wrong but the North Koreans were the good guys.

To be fair, Cumings clearly knows a lot more about modern Korean history than most of those Americans who have written about the war. He has a point when he notes that a record of collaboration with the brutal Japanese occupation of the country compromised the South Korean leadership during the first half of the 20th century. But however nasty some of the South Korean leaders were, it is impossible to compare them unfavorably with their Stalinist opponents in the North. Cumings also spends much of his book attempting to paint the American-led United Nations force that defended the South against Communist aggression as genocidal murderers. The strategic bombing of the North exacted a high toll of casualties, but the same could be said of Allied bombings of Germany and Japan during World War Two. But Cumings’s argument isn’t so much with American tactics but rather with its goal of defeating the Communists.

One of the interesting sidelights of the book, touched on with approval in Dwight Garner’s fawning review, is the way the Chicago historian torches the late David Halberstam’s book about Korea. Halberstam, a liberal icon, played a key role in demolishing support for America’s war in Vietnam, but he rightly understood that there could be no ambivalence about his country’s role in saving South Korea. But for a blinkered leftist like Cumings, there are no enemies, no matter how despicable, on the left and no good American wars.

It is Cumings who can’t face the basic truth about Korea. Without American military intervention, the whole of the peninsula would today be under the rule of a maniacal Communist dictatorship that prides itself on starving and oppressing its own people and threatening its neighbors. After a rocky start to life in the midst of the destruction wrought by the North Korean invasion, South Korea has become a democracy with a vibrant economy. The reality of the contrasting fates of the two halves of the Korean peninsula is a testament to the courage of President Truman and the Americans and other UN troops that fought there. It is a sad commentary on the state of contemporary liberal intellectual life — demonstrated by Cumings’s book and the Times review — that the impulse to trash America’s past is so strong that it takes precedence over a respect for history’s verdict about Communist aggression in Korea.

This summer marks the 60th anniversary of one of America’s least-known conflicts: the Korean War. The remarkable thing about Korea is that even at the height of the Cold War, when leftist apologists for the Soviet Union and other Communist aggressors were at their high watermark, in the West there were few if any among them who spent much time criticizing America’s decision to save South Korea after it was invaded in June of 1950. Even in those decades when defenders of the Soviets, Castro, and even Mao were never in short supply, it was hard to find anyone to say a good word about the lunatic regime in Pyongyang, a government so oppressive that it gave dedicated Stalinists the willies. There was little room for debate about how the Korean conflict started or what the consequences for the Korean people would have been had the Communists been allowed to complete their takeover of the entire country. But with the passage of time, memory of these basic facts fade, and for the squishy left there is no topic, no matter how cut and dried, that is not ripe for a revisionist retelling as long as America can be portrayed as the villain. That’s the only way to explain a new book about Korea by Bruce Cumings, the chairman of the history department at the University of Chicago, and the rapturous review it received in today’s New York Times. Turning history and logic on its head, Cumings believes that not only was American intervention in Korea wrong but the North Koreans were the good guys.

To be fair, Cumings clearly knows a lot more about modern Korean history than most of those Americans who have written about the war. He has a point when he notes that a record of collaboration with the brutal Japanese occupation of the country compromised the South Korean leadership during the first half of the 20th century. But however nasty some of the South Korean leaders were, it is impossible to compare them unfavorably with their Stalinist opponents in the North. Cumings also spends much of his book attempting to paint the American-led United Nations force that defended the South against Communist aggression as genocidal murderers. The strategic bombing of the North exacted a high toll of casualties, but the same could be said of Allied bombings of Germany and Japan during World War Two. But Cumings’s argument isn’t so much with American tactics but rather with its goal of defeating the Communists.

One of the interesting sidelights of the book, touched on with approval in Dwight Garner’s fawning review, is the way the Chicago historian torches the late David Halberstam’s book about Korea. Halberstam, a liberal icon, played a key role in demolishing support for America’s war in Vietnam, but he rightly understood that there could be no ambivalence about his country’s role in saving South Korea. But for a blinkered leftist like Cumings, there are no enemies, no matter how despicable, on the left and no good American wars.

It is Cumings who can’t face the basic truth about Korea. Without American military intervention, the whole of the peninsula would today be under the rule of a maniacal Communist dictatorship that prides itself on starving and oppressing its own people and threatening its neighbors. After a rocky start to life in the midst of the destruction wrought by the North Korean invasion, South Korea has become a democracy with a vibrant economy. The reality of the contrasting fates of the two halves of the Korean peninsula is a testament to the courage of President Truman and the Americans and other UN troops that fought there. It is a sad commentary on the state of contemporary liberal intellectual life — demonstrated by Cumings’s book and the Times review — that the impulse to trash America’s past is so strong that it takes precedence over a respect for history’s verdict about Communist aggression in Korea.

Read Less

Storms Brewing in the Asian Seas

In response to North Korea’s sinking of a South Korean ship last March, the United States and South Korea will hold a series of joint military exercises beginning next week. But the joint exercises have become as much about geopolitics and China as they are about North Korea.

Although the exercises may be adroitly executed from a military-strategic standpoint, their success in sending a political and symbolic message is less certain. As the exercises have been considered throughout recent months, the Chinese protested aggressively and created a situation that tempts U.S. overreaction — which would be especially destructive now, as Sino-U.S. relations are already strained. The Obama administration has avoided that temptation, and the handling of the joint exercises has been both reasonable and measured. But the risk remains that Washington’s tact will be misinterpreted as a major concession to Beijing. This would be a pity. In a rare act of real smart diplomacy, the Obama administration is standing by our ally, South Korea, while also taking a moderate approach to China.

After Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates met with counterparts in Seoul this week, the Department of Defense announced a series of exercises to be held in both the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan. In the Sea of Japan, a large-scale air and naval exercise will begin Sunday. But notably, the details of the Yellow Sea exercises, to be held at some point in the future, were not announced, leaving more questions than answers. (The locations of both seas are crucial to understanding the issue.)

The locations of both seas are crucial to understanding the issue.

Given Beijing’s strong objections to military escapades in the Yellow Sea, which it considers its territorial backyard, the U.S.-South Korean exercises take on new significance. The fear is that unless the United States stridently defies Chinese concerns, it will be seen as conceding to Beijing and setting a precedent about what constitutes Chinese territory. This perception would be overblown given the facts, but it is all the more worrisome in the context of growing Chinese naval assertiveness.

Some have speculated that the Chinese are seeking to establish their own Monroe Doctrine and see this as a chance to reinforce it. Contrary to the UN Law of the Sea, China has objected to any unapproved non-surveillance navy activity in its exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 miles from shore. Beijing has repeated strongly worded protests against exercises in the Yellow Sea, especially those involving a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington.

If the United States proceeds with a major military exercise in the Yellow Sea, a military response from the Chinese would not be unprecedented; during the 1994 North Korea nuclear crisis, the U.S. sent a similar carrier, the Kitty Hawk, into the Yellow Sea. Although China was then a lesser military power, a Chinese submarine trailed the Kitty Hawk, and the Chinese air force dispatched fighters.

But the biggest risk is not military but political: China is trying to assert sea control; Sino-U.S. relations are already rocky, especially given Obama’s adherence to an arms deal with Taiwan; under a new prime minister, Japan is questioning whether to tilt its national-security strategy toward Beijing or toward Washington; South Korea is determining how steadfastly the United States intends to defend it from its hostile Northern neighbor; and North Korea wants to know what it can get away with.

Upon examining the facts, it’s clear that the plan announced yesterday serves the United States’s primary objectives: the Sea of Japan exercise is sufficient warning to North Korea, and it is also an impressive display of solidarity with South Korea. The scale of the exercises is huge: about 8,000 American and South Korean military personnel will participate. And the United States will employ some flashy assets. The exercise will include the George Washington, which is the core of U.S. naval power, and F-22s, the best of the best among tactical aircraft. The few disadvantages of a Sea of Japan–based exercise is that the South Korean ship, the Cheonan, was sunk in the Yellow Sea, and Pyongyang lies closer to the West. Hillary Clinton announced today, however, that the Obama administration would be imposing further economic sanctions against North Korea, strengthening the U.S. stance even more. The message to Pyonyang and to our allies is loud and clear.

This approach also enables the U.S. to avoid needlessly provoking China without conceding U.S. military rights, while taking into consideration the unavoidably necessary collaboration with China regarding the Korean Peninsula. The Chinese have suffered some of their most embarrassing historic defeats in the Yellow Sea, so they’re understandably sensitive. At the same time, joint Yellow Sea exercises will follow eventually, and the Pentagon’s press secretary, Geoff Morrell, stated clearly that the United Statesobviously [has] the right to navigate all international waters, conduct operations in all international waters at the time and place of our choosing.” Furthermore, China will also be a major player in the future of North Korea and in any reunification of the Korean Peninsula; therefore, our allies in Seoul could suffer more harm than benefit from outright defiance of Beijing’s concerns.

The Obama administration’s challenge now will be to convey the wisdom of this approach to China and to America’s allies. The Nobel-winning president has made this harder on himself because of his history of pacifying aggressors and distancing allies.  But in international relations, perception is reality. Had Obama been more fearsome before, he’d be more credible now.

In response to North Korea’s sinking of a South Korean ship last March, the United States and South Korea will hold a series of joint military exercises beginning next week. But the joint exercises have become as much about geopolitics and China as they are about North Korea.

Although the exercises may be adroitly executed from a military-strategic standpoint, their success in sending a political and symbolic message is less certain. As the exercises have been considered throughout recent months, the Chinese protested aggressively and created a situation that tempts U.S. overreaction — which would be especially destructive now, as Sino-U.S. relations are already strained. The Obama administration has avoided that temptation, and the handling of the joint exercises has been both reasonable and measured. But the risk remains that Washington’s tact will be misinterpreted as a major concession to Beijing. This would be a pity. In a rare act of real smart diplomacy, the Obama administration is standing by our ally, South Korea, while also taking a moderate approach to China.

After Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates met with counterparts in Seoul this week, the Department of Defense announced a series of exercises to be held in both the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan. In the Sea of Japan, a large-scale air and naval exercise will begin Sunday. But notably, the details of the Yellow Sea exercises, to be held at some point in the future, were not announced, leaving more questions than answers. (The locations of both seas are crucial to understanding the issue.)

The locations of both seas are crucial to understanding the issue.

Given Beijing’s strong objections to military escapades in the Yellow Sea, which it considers its territorial backyard, the U.S.-South Korean exercises take on new significance. The fear is that unless the United States stridently defies Chinese concerns, it will be seen as conceding to Beijing and setting a precedent about what constitutes Chinese territory. This perception would be overblown given the facts, but it is all the more worrisome in the context of growing Chinese naval assertiveness.

Some have speculated that the Chinese are seeking to establish their own Monroe Doctrine and see this as a chance to reinforce it. Contrary to the UN Law of the Sea, China has objected to any unapproved non-surveillance navy activity in its exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 miles from shore. Beijing has repeated strongly worded protests against exercises in the Yellow Sea, especially those involving a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington.

If the United States proceeds with a major military exercise in the Yellow Sea, a military response from the Chinese would not be unprecedented; during the 1994 North Korea nuclear crisis, the U.S. sent a similar carrier, the Kitty Hawk, into the Yellow Sea. Although China was then a lesser military power, a Chinese submarine trailed the Kitty Hawk, and the Chinese air force dispatched fighters.

But the biggest risk is not military but political: China is trying to assert sea control; Sino-U.S. relations are already rocky, especially given Obama’s adherence to an arms deal with Taiwan; under a new prime minister, Japan is questioning whether to tilt its national-security strategy toward Beijing or toward Washington; South Korea is determining how steadfastly the United States intends to defend it from its hostile Northern neighbor; and North Korea wants to know what it can get away with.

Upon examining the facts, it’s clear that the plan announced yesterday serves the United States’s primary objectives: the Sea of Japan exercise is sufficient warning to North Korea, and it is also an impressive display of solidarity with South Korea. The scale of the exercises is huge: about 8,000 American and South Korean military personnel will participate. And the United States will employ some flashy assets. The exercise will include the George Washington, which is the core of U.S. naval power, and F-22s, the best of the best among tactical aircraft. The few disadvantages of a Sea of Japan–based exercise is that the South Korean ship, the Cheonan, was sunk in the Yellow Sea, and Pyongyang lies closer to the West. Hillary Clinton announced today, however, that the Obama administration would be imposing further economic sanctions against North Korea, strengthening the U.S. stance even more. The message to Pyonyang and to our allies is loud and clear.

This approach also enables the U.S. to avoid needlessly provoking China without conceding U.S. military rights, while taking into consideration the unavoidably necessary collaboration with China regarding the Korean Peninsula. The Chinese have suffered some of their most embarrassing historic defeats in the Yellow Sea, so they’re understandably sensitive. At the same time, joint Yellow Sea exercises will follow eventually, and the Pentagon’s press secretary, Geoff Morrell, stated clearly that the United Statesobviously [has] the right to navigate all international waters, conduct operations in all international waters at the time and place of our choosing.” Furthermore, China will also be a major player in the future of North Korea and in any reunification of the Korean Peninsula; therefore, our allies in Seoul could suffer more harm than benefit from outright defiance of Beijing’s concerns.

The Obama administration’s challenge now will be to convey the wisdom of this approach to China and to America’s allies. The Nobel-winning president has made this harder on himself because of his history of pacifying aggressors and distancing allies.  But in international relations, perception is reality. Had Obama been more fearsome before, he’d be more credible now.

Read Less

Time to Focus on What Matters

John Bolton has his eye on the ball and some practical advice for those who perceive that Obama’s nonproliferation strategy is a failure:

As Tehran and Pyongyang can plainly see, President Obama’s nonproliferation strategy is intellectually and politically exhausted. But U.S. exhaustion will not lead to stasis. North Korea and Iran will continue their nuclear and ballistic missile programs in the face of our feeble policy.

What can be done? Bolton suggests that lawmakers and opinion makers “must demand increased intelligence collection on the North Korea-Iran connection. Where possible without compromising sources and methods, this information should be disseminated to increase public awareness.” Perhaps even more important, Bolton recommends:

Slowly, but now with increasing certainty, analysts have come to understand that Iran is going to become a nuclear-weapons state sooner rather than later. Arab states have understood this for some time and have hoped for a pre-emptive U.S. strike. But that will not happen under Mr. Obama absent a Damascene conversion in the Oval Office.

What outsiders can do is create broad support for Israel’s inherent right to self-defense against a nuclear Holocaust and defend the specific tactic of pre-emptive attacks against Iran’s Esfahan uranium-conversion plant, its Natanz enrichment facility, and other targets. Congress can make it clear, for example, that it would support immediate resupply and rearming to make up for Israeli losses in the event of such an attack. Having visible congressional support in place at the outset will reassure the Israeli government, which is legitimately concerned about Mr. Obama’s likely negative reaction to such an attack.

What is remarkable is that virtually no lawmaker or Jewish organization to date has done this — not remotely. They have, by and large, marched in lockstep with the administration, holding out hope in the face of abundant contrary evidence that engagement and then sanctions were serious attempts to dismantle the nuclear program, and if push came to shove that “all options would be on the table.” But engagement was a failure, Obama missed an opportunity to back the Green movement, sanctions are too little, too late, and Obama shows no interest in the use of military force.

It would be tragic if Obama abdicated his role as leader of the Free World to thwart Iran’s nuclear plans. The blow to American stature and credibility after the “unacceptable” was allowed to happen on his watch would be immense. But it would be catastrophic if Obama hindered Israel in the event the Jewish state acted in its own defense. Israel’s friends should begin now, not a month or a year from now, to make clear to the White House that Obama will find no support in Congress, among American Jewry, and in the entire country (which remains pro-Israel) for anything less than unqualified and unconditional support for Israel should force be required.

The Jewish community has gotten distracted by the “peace process.” It’s not only futile — it’s a dangerous sideshow that has allowed the administration to escape criticism for an entirely ineffective Iran policy. What matters now — and should be fully debated in the election — is what America will do to defuse the looming threat of a nuclear-armed Islamic revolutionary state. Yes, it is an emergency.

John Bolton has his eye on the ball and some practical advice for those who perceive that Obama’s nonproliferation strategy is a failure:

As Tehran and Pyongyang can plainly see, President Obama’s nonproliferation strategy is intellectually and politically exhausted. But U.S. exhaustion will not lead to stasis. North Korea and Iran will continue their nuclear and ballistic missile programs in the face of our feeble policy.

What can be done? Bolton suggests that lawmakers and opinion makers “must demand increased intelligence collection on the North Korea-Iran connection. Where possible without compromising sources and methods, this information should be disseminated to increase public awareness.” Perhaps even more important, Bolton recommends:

Slowly, but now with increasing certainty, analysts have come to understand that Iran is going to become a nuclear-weapons state sooner rather than later. Arab states have understood this for some time and have hoped for a pre-emptive U.S. strike. But that will not happen under Mr. Obama absent a Damascene conversion in the Oval Office.

What outsiders can do is create broad support for Israel’s inherent right to self-defense against a nuclear Holocaust and defend the specific tactic of pre-emptive attacks against Iran’s Esfahan uranium-conversion plant, its Natanz enrichment facility, and other targets. Congress can make it clear, for example, that it would support immediate resupply and rearming to make up for Israeli losses in the event of such an attack. Having visible congressional support in place at the outset will reassure the Israeli government, which is legitimately concerned about Mr. Obama’s likely negative reaction to such an attack.

What is remarkable is that virtually no lawmaker or Jewish organization to date has done this — not remotely. They have, by and large, marched in lockstep with the administration, holding out hope in the face of abundant contrary evidence that engagement and then sanctions were serious attempts to dismantle the nuclear program, and if push came to shove that “all options would be on the table.” But engagement was a failure, Obama missed an opportunity to back the Green movement, sanctions are too little, too late, and Obama shows no interest in the use of military force.

It would be tragic if Obama abdicated his role as leader of the Free World to thwart Iran’s nuclear plans. The blow to American stature and credibility after the “unacceptable” was allowed to happen on his watch would be immense. But it would be catastrophic if Obama hindered Israel in the event the Jewish state acted in its own defense. Israel’s friends should begin now, not a month or a year from now, to make clear to the White House that Obama will find no support in Congress, among American Jewry, and in the entire country (which remains pro-Israel) for anything less than unqualified and unconditional support for Israel should force be required.

The Jewish community has gotten distracted by the “peace process.” It’s not only futile — it’s a dangerous sideshow that has allowed the administration to escape criticism for an entirely ineffective Iran policy. What matters now — and should be fully debated in the election — is what America will do to defuse the looming threat of a nuclear-armed Islamic revolutionary state. Yes, it is an emergency.

Read Less

A Tale of Two Ships

It is instructive to see how differently the UN and the Obama team reacted to two naval incidents: the terrorist flotilla and the sinking of a South Korean ship. Israel was and remains the target of the unending ire of the “international community,” which thrills at the prospect of another excuse to lambaste the Jewish state and to launch another attack on its legitimacy. But it’s quite a different story when there is an act of unprovoked aggression by a totalitarian state.

The Wall Street Journal editors write:

It’s as if the attack was a Sherlock Holmes mystery about a murder without a body. Never mind that everyone in the world knows that the Cheonan was sunk by a North Korean torpedo, killing 46 sailors in one of the worst acts of aggression since the Korean War ended nearly 60 years ago. A May report by a panel of global experts convened by South Korea to investigate the sinking left no doubt that the North perpetrated the act, despite Pyongyang’s denials.

Seoul went to the Security Council to seek the global rebuke of the North, but China objected to a resolution that specifically blamed its clients in Pyongyang. Thus the Security Council retreated to writing a resolution that condemned the act of aggression but named no aggressor. Apparently the rogue underwater missile targeted and then launched itself against the South Korean vessel. I, Torpedo.

This episode is a microcosm of the feckless Obama policy. First, there is the disingenuousness, which is needed to disguise the ineptness:

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tried to make the best of this embarrassment by saying the message to the North was “crystal clear” and that “The Security Council condemns and deplores this attack. It warns against any further attacks. And insists on full adherence to the Korean Armistice Agreement.”

Then there is the appeasement mentality: “Follow the logic: Since the North wasn’t condemned for doing what everyone knows it did it, the North’s leaders might now be appeased enough to return to the nuclear talks they walked out of last year.”

Most tragically, however, it is the reliance on morally decrepit international institutions in lieu of American power and, yes, smart diplomacy. The Obami insist on using institutions that don’t — despite all his speechifying — share our values and interests. The result, whether on North Korea or Iran, is thin gruel sanctions and watered-down statements, which encourages rather than retard aggression by rogue states.

It is these same institutions that revel in the opportunity to call out Israel and condemn the Jewish State for daring to defend itself against those wishing its annihilation. Like the equally bankrupt “peace process,” Obama’s fixation on multilateralism is making the world more dangerous, America weaker, and despots breathe easier — and, of course, Israel more embattled, as the Israel-haters enjoy newfound respectability and attention from the U.S. and, therefore, the West more generally. A “smart” diplomatic approach would downplay and minimize the role of these bodies and instead emphasize the full panoply of weapons (diplomatic, economic, and military) in the U.S. arsenal. That Obama has done the opposite goes a long way toward explaining why his foreign policy is in such disarray.

It is instructive to see how differently the UN and the Obama team reacted to two naval incidents: the terrorist flotilla and the sinking of a South Korean ship. Israel was and remains the target of the unending ire of the “international community,” which thrills at the prospect of another excuse to lambaste the Jewish state and to launch another attack on its legitimacy. But it’s quite a different story when there is an act of unprovoked aggression by a totalitarian state.

The Wall Street Journal editors write:

It’s as if the attack was a Sherlock Holmes mystery about a murder without a body. Never mind that everyone in the world knows that the Cheonan was sunk by a North Korean torpedo, killing 46 sailors in one of the worst acts of aggression since the Korean War ended nearly 60 years ago. A May report by a panel of global experts convened by South Korea to investigate the sinking left no doubt that the North perpetrated the act, despite Pyongyang’s denials.

Seoul went to the Security Council to seek the global rebuke of the North, but China objected to a resolution that specifically blamed its clients in Pyongyang. Thus the Security Council retreated to writing a resolution that condemned the act of aggression but named no aggressor. Apparently the rogue underwater missile targeted and then launched itself against the South Korean vessel. I, Torpedo.

This episode is a microcosm of the feckless Obama policy. First, there is the disingenuousness, which is needed to disguise the ineptness:

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tried to make the best of this embarrassment by saying the message to the North was “crystal clear” and that “The Security Council condemns and deplores this attack. It warns against any further attacks. And insists on full adherence to the Korean Armistice Agreement.”

Then there is the appeasement mentality: “Follow the logic: Since the North wasn’t condemned for doing what everyone knows it did it, the North’s leaders might now be appeased enough to return to the nuclear talks they walked out of last year.”

Most tragically, however, it is the reliance on morally decrepit international institutions in lieu of American power and, yes, smart diplomacy. The Obami insist on using institutions that don’t — despite all his speechifying — share our values and interests. The result, whether on North Korea or Iran, is thin gruel sanctions and watered-down statements, which encourages rather than retard aggression by rogue states.

It is these same institutions that revel in the opportunity to call out Israel and condemn the Jewish State for daring to defend itself against those wishing its annihilation. Like the equally bankrupt “peace process,” Obama’s fixation on multilateralism is making the world more dangerous, America weaker, and despots breathe easier — and, of course, Israel more embattled, as the Israel-haters enjoy newfound respectability and attention from the U.S. and, therefore, the West more generally. A “smart” diplomatic approach would downplay and minimize the role of these bodies and instead emphasize the full panoply of weapons (diplomatic, economic, and military) in the U.S. arsenal. That Obama has done the opposite goes a long way toward explaining why his foreign policy is in such disarray.

Read Less

America in Decline, Language Butchered

“Orwellian” is a much overused term, but there is no adjective that quite captures the linguistic gymnastics Obama and his team employ to avoid letting on that they see America not as a superpower but as merely one member of the “international community” (and one that does not recognize the enemy we face).

First, from the ever-ludicrous (engage moderate Hezbollah members?) John Brennan:

Brennan said that “our enemy is not terrorism, because terrorism is but a tactic. Our enemy is not terror, because terror is a state of mind and, as Americans, we refuse to live in fear.”

“Nor do we describe our enemy as jihadists or Islamists,” Brennan said, because use of these religious terms would “play into the false perception” that al-Qaeda and its affiliates are “religious leaders and defending a holy cause, when in fact, they are nothing more than murderers.”

The motivating force behind these terrorists, the imams that inspire them, and the ideology they seek to instill in other Muslims is not important to Brennan. Or perhaps it is just inconvenient at a time when Obama is breathlessly engaging the “Muslim World.”

Then there is this:

Obama administration officials have dubbed their policy toward North Korea “strategic patience” — a resolve that Pyongyang has to make the first move to reengage and that it won’t be granted any concessions. Now that patience is going to be tested. Since President Obama took office, North Korea has launched missiles, conducted a second nuclear test, seized a pair of U.S. journalists and sunk a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors.

Translation: the North Koreans are increasingly belligerent as the Obama administration has failed to respond to multiple provocations.

When language is misused or contorted, it usually means something is being concealed. In this case, what’s being concealed is a counter-factual foreign policy that ignores threats, refuses to recognize the identity of our foes, and declines to assert American power in defense of our values and interests.

“Orwellian” is a much overused term, but there is no adjective that quite captures the linguistic gymnastics Obama and his team employ to avoid letting on that they see America not as a superpower but as merely one member of the “international community” (and one that does not recognize the enemy we face).

First, from the ever-ludicrous (engage moderate Hezbollah members?) John Brennan:

Brennan said that “our enemy is not terrorism, because terrorism is but a tactic. Our enemy is not terror, because terror is a state of mind and, as Americans, we refuse to live in fear.”

“Nor do we describe our enemy as jihadists or Islamists,” Brennan said, because use of these religious terms would “play into the false perception” that al-Qaeda and its affiliates are “religious leaders and defending a holy cause, when in fact, they are nothing more than murderers.”

The motivating force behind these terrorists, the imams that inspire them, and the ideology they seek to instill in other Muslims is not important to Brennan. Or perhaps it is just inconvenient at a time when Obama is breathlessly engaging the “Muslim World.”

Then there is this:

Obama administration officials have dubbed their policy toward North Korea “strategic patience” — a resolve that Pyongyang has to make the first move to reengage and that it won’t be granted any concessions. Now that patience is going to be tested. Since President Obama took office, North Korea has launched missiles, conducted a second nuclear test, seized a pair of U.S. journalists and sunk a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors.

Translation: the North Koreans are increasingly belligerent as the Obama administration has failed to respond to multiple provocations.

When language is misused or contorted, it usually means something is being concealed. In this case, what’s being concealed is a counter-factual foreign policy that ignores threats, refuses to recognize the identity of our foes, and declines to assert American power in defense of our values and interests.

Read Less

Obama Needs a Korea Strategy Focused on Liberation, Not Engagement

It’s fascinating to see the ideological blinders slipping a bit in the Obama administration. First the president had to acknowledge that his efforts to reach out to Iran were going nowhere; now a similar outreach effort to North Korea mounted over many years by South Korea has been officially declared DOA. South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak, is suspending a large measure of the South’s trade with the North, barring Northern ships from entering Southern waters, ramping up propaganda aimed at the North, and taking other steps to signal displeasure with the North’s sinking of a Southern frigate, which resulted in the loss of 46 sailors. The Obama administration, to its credit, is offering “unequivocal” support for the South’s get-tough policy, including agreeing to hold joint military maneuvers.

Such measures are necessary but insufficient. No one imagines they will seriously change the behavior of Kim Jong-il’s rogue regime. That kind of change is probably beyond our power to impose; only China has the leverage needed to really punish the North, and it won’t exercise that leverage for fear of accelerating the North’s collapse. Nevertheless, it would make sense to set a long-term goal for U.S. and South Korea policy — to bring about the peaceful collapse of North Korea.

That is something that South Korea has long been ambivalent about; the South Koreans are keenly aware of how much German unification cost, and they know that North Korea will be even tougher to integrate than East Germany was. But the Cheonan‘s sinking shows that the status quo has significant costs too.

Likewise, when it comes to Iran, the Obama administration needs to stop pretending that a fourth watered-down UN sanctions resolution is going to achieve anything. Here, too, the administration needs to set peaceful regime change as the goal for American policy. In neither case is regime change a panacea; the rulers in both Tehran and Pyongyang are firmly entrenched in power and will not easily be dislodged despite their lack of popular support. It will be a long, difficult process to help the peoples of North Korea and Iran to liberate themselves. All the more reason, then, to make this a priority for American policy now rather than succumbing to more wishful thinking about the possibilities of “engagement” with these criminal regimes.

It’s fascinating to see the ideological blinders slipping a bit in the Obama administration. First the president had to acknowledge that his efforts to reach out to Iran were going nowhere; now a similar outreach effort to North Korea mounted over many years by South Korea has been officially declared DOA. South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak, is suspending a large measure of the South’s trade with the North, barring Northern ships from entering Southern waters, ramping up propaganda aimed at the North, and taking other steps to signal displeasure with the North’s sinking of a Southern frigate, which resulted in the loss of 46 sailors. The Obama administration, to its credit, is offering “unequivocal” support for the South’s get-tough policy, including agreeing to hold joint military maneuvers.

Such measures are necessary but insufficient. No one imagines they will seriously change the behavior of Kim Jong-il’s rogue regime. That kind of change is probably beyond our power to impose; only China has the leverage needed to really punish the North, and it won’t exercise that leverage for fear of accelerating the North’s collapse. Nevertheless, it would make sense to set a long-term goal for U.S. and South Korea policy — to bring about the peaceful collapse of North Korea.

That is something that South Korea has long been ambivalent about; the South Koreans are keenly aware of how much German unification cost, and they know that North Korea will be even tougher to integrate than East Germany was. But the Cheonan‘s sinking shows that the status quo has significant costs too.

Likewise, when it comes to Iran, the Obama administration needs to stop pretending that a fourth watered-down UN sanctions resolution is going to achieve anything. Here, too, the administration needs to set peaceful regime change as the goal for American policy. In neither case is regime change a panacea; the rulers in both Tehran and Pyongyang are firmly entrenched in power and will not easily be dislodged despite their lack of popular support. It will be a long, difficult process to help the peoples of North Korea and Iran to liberate themselves. All the more reason, then, to make this a priority for American policy now rather than succumbing to more wishful thinking about the possibilities of “engagement” with these criminal regimes.

Read Less

The Koreas: Sanctions Effectiveness Watch

The most informative development in the Korean ship-sinking case this week is the silence of China on the matter, something South Korea’s press has addressed in pointed fashion. The Chinese announced on the 19th, moreover, that their ambassador would send a deputy to Thursday’s high-level diplomatic briefing from the South Korean government rather than attending it himself. Editorial staffs in Seoul interpret this as de facto support for North Korea’s position in the confrontation. They have reason to.

In the month before the sinking of South Korean navy corvette Cheonan (on March 26), North Korea extended to 2028 China’s lease on the eastern port of Rajin, which sits on the Sea of Japan. China is modernizing the port extensively for commercial use; Japan and South Korea have the obvious concern that China might begin sending warships there as well. In the month after Cheonans sinking, North Korea switched partners in its flagship tourism venture from South Korea to China. China’s tourists lost no time in taking advantage of that opportunity: the first tourist train from China entered North Korea on April 24. Tourism is a latecomer to the burgeoning trade between China and North Korea, which reportedly hit an all-time high in the first two months of 2010.

China’s proprietary relations with North Korea face an aggressive rival in Russia, which obtained a new 50-year lease on the Rajin port in March and plans to connect the port to its eastern railway system. Maintaining China’s position as Pyongyang’s principal patron is high on Beijing’s priority list, which explains why the Chinese welcomed a rare visit from Kim Jong-Il in early May and allowed North Korea to capitalize on that trip with its first-ever national display at the World Expo in Shanghai. (The chirpy cluelessness of MSNBC’s coverage here is priceless.) Neither the Cheonan incident nor reports in April that Pyongyang is planning a third nuclear test threw a damper on the fraternal amity blossoming in Northeast Asia.

The sense among China’s leaders that they have the latitude to display their true intentions in Korea has grown markedly in the last year. It was never accurate to perceive China as a like-minded ally of the U.S. in the Six-Party talks but, as late as April 2009, Beijing was still making a show of acting from common interests. That it no longer does can be attributed largely to the passivity and incoherence of the Obama administration. The administration’s only serious diplomatic response during the tense period after Cheonan’s sinking was to offer food aid to North Korea if it would rejoin the Six-Party talks.

But China has other examples to draw from as well, such as Obama’s unrealistic handling of Iran. The parallels between the Iran and Korea situations include, of course, multiple rounds of toothless international sanctions and U.S. bluster unsupported by any effective action. In the case of the Cheonan sinking, they also include a very specific analogue: the North Korean naval weapons involved. The analytical team’s finding is that North Korea used a Yono-class “midget” submarine to launch a former-Soviet-style 21-inch torpedo — the world’s most common type — at the South Korean corvette. Iran has produced seven Yono-design hulls as its Ghadir class since 2007, has fitted them to launch 21-inch torpedoes, and began adding them to the fleet in 2009. Iran, like North Korea, has been under UN sanctions throughout that period.

The most informative development in the Korean ship-sinking case this week is the silence of China on the matter, something South Korea’s press has addressed in pointed fashion. The Chinese announced on the 19th, moreover, that their ambassador would send a deputy to Thursday’s high-level diplomatic briefing from the South Korean government rather than attending it himself. Editorial staffs in Seoul interpret this as de facto support for North Korea’s position in the confrontation. They have reason to.

In the month before the sinking of South Korean navy corvette Cheonan (on March 26), North Korea extended to 2028 China’s lease on the eastern port of Rajin, which sits on the Sea of Japan. China is modernizing the port extensively for commercial use; Japan and South Korea have the obvious concern that China might begin sending warships there as well. In the month after Cheonans sinking, North Korea switched partners in its flagship tourism venture from South Korea to China. China’s tourists lost no time in taking advantage of that opportunity: the first tourist train from China entered North Korea on April 24. Tourism is a latecomer to the burgeoning trade between China and North Korea, which reportedly hit an all-time high in the first two months of 2010.

China’s proprietary relations with North Korea face an aggressive rival in Russia, which obtained a new 50-year lease on the Rajin port in March and plans to connect the port to its eastern railway system. Maintaining China’s position as Pyongyang’s principal patron is high on Beijing’s priority list, which explains why the Chinese welcomed a rare visit from Kim Jong-Il in early May and allowed North Korea to capitalize on that trip with its first-ever national display at the World Expo in Shanghai. (The chirpy cluelessness of MSNBC’s coverage here is priceless.) Neither the Cheonan incident nor reports in April that Pyongyang is planning a third nuclear test threw a damper on the fraternal amity blossoming in Northeast Asia.

The sense among China’s leaders that they have the latitude to display their true intentions in Korea has grown markedly in the last year. It was never accurate to perceive China as a like-minded ally of the U.S. in the Six-Party talks but, as late as April 2009, Beijing was still making a show of acting from common interests. That it no longer does can be attributed largely to the passivity and incoherence of the Obama administration. The administration’s only serious diplomatic response during the tense period after Cheonan’s sinking was to offer food aid to North Korea if it would rejoin the Six-Party talks.

But China has other examples to draw from as well, such as Obama’s unrealistic handling of Iran. The parallels between the Iran and Korea situations include, of course, multiple rounds of toothless international sanctions and U.S. bluster unsupported by any effective action. In the case of the Cheonan sinking, they also include a very specific analogue: the North Korean naval weapons involved. The analytical team’s finding is that North Korea used a Yono-class “midget” submarine to launch a former-Soviet-style 21-inch torpedo — the world’s most common type — at the South Korean corvette. Iran has produced seven Yono-design hulls as its Ghadir class since 2007, has fitted them to launch 21-inch torpedoes, and began adding them to the fleet in 2009. Iran, like North Korea, has been under UN sanctions throughout that period.

Read Less

Justice, Prudence, and North Korea

Lee Myung-bak, South Korea’s tough-as-nails president, is in an uncomfortable position as it looks more and more like North Korea is to blame for the sinking of one of its ships, and Barack Obama’s softie stance toward tyrannical regimes isn’t helping.

Christian Whiton writes in today’s Wall Street Journal:

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s reluctance to blame North Korea for sinking the corvette ROKS Cheonan on March 26 reflects his political quandary. The center-right government finds itself potentially warred upon by its belligerent neighbor to the north, with little backup from an indifferent population and its American ally. The greater danger is not an immediate war, but an even stronger signal to Pyongyang and the region’s other belligerents that force can be applied without consequence.

The likelihood that North Korea is to blame for the attack increased dramatically in recent days. On Sunday, South Korea’s defense minister blamed the ship’s demise on a torpedo. While he stopped short of fingering North Korea directly, this seemed to rule out hope that the deaths of at least 40 sailors was something other than an intentional act of war. This is far more serious than the usual affrays North Korea is known to instigate.

Mr. Lee has a history of taking a hard line with North Korea, but in this instance, his options are limited.

In just-war theory, there are two criteria that must be considered by any head of state who contemplates how to counter an aggressor. First, he must decide whether military action is justified. If, in fact, Kim Jong-il’s army did deliberately sink the South Korean ship, then that would constitute an attack — a valid justification for South Korean retaliation.

Mr. Lee’s hesitation, then, has more to do with the second criterion: whether retaliation is prudent, regardless of whether or not it is justified. In this, Mr. Lee is at a disadvantage. As noted earlier, because North Korea was allowed to attain nuclear status, Seoul and its allies must tread with caution.

But Mr. Lee’s tough stance is further undermined by Obama’s consistently soft foreign policy and by his trend of pandering to enemies instead of our allies. South Korea can hardly be confident of Washington’s support, regardless of how justified its cause may be. So Mr. Lee can’t be blamed for wondering whether singlehandedly staring down a nuclear-armed, irrational aggressor is really the prudent course for South Korea to take.

However, as Mr. Whiton suggests, the biggest risk isn’t an all-out war with North Korea. At stake is Mr. Lee’s plausibility — but also the plausibility of any nation that claims it will not tolerate an unprovoked attack on a peaceful country. North Korea will almost certainly take the absence of the threat of deterrence as further encouragement to behave badly.

So what to do? Whiton writes:

The alternative need not necessarily be a military strike against North Korea in retaliation, but a realigned security strategy that reacts to the threats posed by Pyongyang. A start could be a naval and aviation show of force that goes right up to North Korea’s territory and reasserts freedom of navigation throughout the region.

But Obama has issued only vague “support and condolences” and an offer for the U.S. Navy’s “assistance to South Korea’s ongoing search and recovery effort.”

It has been said often that Obama’s foreign policy emboldens international troublemakers. But to go a step further, one of the gravest consequences of Obama’s appeasement strategy has been to make it strategically imprudent for a country to justly act in defense of its citizens.

Lee Myung-bak, South Korea’s tough-as-nails president, is in an uncomfortable position as it looks more and more like North Korea is to blame for the sinking of one of its ships, and Barack Obama’s softie stance toward tyrannical regimes isn’t helping.

Christian Whiton writes in today’s Wall Street Journal:

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s reluctance to blame North Korea for sinking the corvette ROKS Cheonan on March 26 reflects his political quandary. The center-right government finds itself potentially warred upon by its belligerent neighbor to the north, with little backup from an indifferent population and its American ally. The greater danger is not an immediate war, but an even stronger signal to Pyongyang and the region’s other belligerents that force can be applied without consequence.

The likelihood that North Korea is to blame for the attack increased dramatically in recent days. On Sunday, South Korea’s defense minister blamed the ship’s demise on a torpedo. While he stopped short of fingering North Korea directly, this seemed to rule out hope that the deaths of at least 40 sailors was something other than an intentional act of war. This is far more serious than the usual affrays North Korea is known to instigate.

Mr. Lee has a history of taking a hard line with North Korea, but in this instance, his options are limited.

In just-war theory, there are two criteria that must be considered by any head of state who contemplates how to counter an aggressor. First, he must decide whether military action is justified. If, in fact, Kim Jong-il’s army did deliberately sink the South Korean ship, then that would constitute an attack — a valid justification for South Korean retaliation.

Mr. Lee’s hesitation, then, has more to do with the second criterion: whether retaliation is prudent, regardless of whether or not it is justified. In this, Mr. Lee is at a disadvantage. As noted earlier, because North Korea was allowed to attain nuclear status, Seoul and its allies must tread with caution.

But Mr. Lee’s tough stance is further undermined by Obama’s consistently soft foreign policy and by his trend of pandering to enemies instead of our allies. South Korea can hardly be confident of Washington’s support, regardless of how justified its cause may be. So Mr. Lee can’t be blamed for wondering whether singlehandedly staring down a nuclear-armed, irrational aggressor is really the prudent course for South Korea to take.

However, as Mr. Whiton suggests, the biggest risk isn’t an all-out war with North Korea. At stake is Mr. Lee’s plausibility — but also the plausibility of any nation that claims it will not tolerate an unprovoked attack on a peaceful country. North Korea will almost certainly take the absence of the threat of deterrence as further encouragement to behave badly.

So what to do? Whiton writes:

The alternative need not necessarily be a military strike against North Korea in retaliation, but a realigned security strategy that reacts to the threats posed by Pyongyang. A start could be a naval and aviation show of force that goes right up to North Korea’s territory and reasserts freedom of navigation throughout the region.

But Obama has issued only vague “support and condolences” and an offer for the U.S. Navy’s “assistance to South Korea’s ongoing search and recovery effort.”

It has been said often that Obama’s foreign policy emboldens international troublemakers. But to go a step further, one of the gravest consequences of Obama’s appeasement strategy has been to make it strategically imprudent for a country to justly act in defense of its citizens.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

You don’t say: “The trademark suit sported by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il is now in fashion worldwide thanks to his greatness, Pyongyang’s official website said Wednesday. Uriminzokkiri, quoting an article in communist party newspaper Rodong Sinmun, said the modest-looking suits have gripped people’s imagination and become a global vogue. … Kim and his deceased father Kim Il-Sung are at the heart of a personality cult that borders on religion, with near-magical powers ascribed to the younger Kim. Rainbows supposedly appeared over sacred Mount Paekdu where Kim Jong-Il was allegedly born, and he is said once to have scored 11 holes-in-one in a single round of golf.”

ObamaCare seems not to have helped: “A record-low percentage of U.S. voters — 28% — say most members of Congress deserve to be re-elected. The previous low was 29% in October 1992.”

It might be more satisfying for Republicans to beat him at the polls, but forced retirement would be a fitting end: “Amidst growing speculation he might retire, Rep. Bart Stupak’s (D-Mich.) office declined to rule it out on Wednesday.”

It might have something to do with the 14.1 percent unemployment rate: “A new poll of Michigan voters’ preferences in the governor’s race has troubling results for Democrats. The two leading Democratic candidates would lose to any of the three top Republican challengers if the election were held today. … That indicates a more energized Republican voter base, just two years after Democrat Barack Obama’s historic election as president had increased the number of voters identifying with the Democratic Party. In 2008, the number of self-described Democrats in Michigan was as much as eight percentage points above the Republican number.”

Jobs do appear to be a popular campaign theme for Republicans: “Delaware businesswoman Michele Rollins announced Wednesday she will run for the at-large House seat currently held by Republican Rep. Mike Castle, landing the GOP a credible recruit in a tough open-seat race. In an e-mail soliciting contributions from supporters, Rollins blasted Democrats for putting job creation on ‘the back burner’ and acknowledged the campaign would be ‘difficult and challenging.’”

You knew this was coming: “White House adviser Paul Volcker said the United States may need to consider raising taxes to control deficits. He also said a European-style value-added tax could gain support. The former chairman of the Federal Reserve who is an outside adviser to President Barack Obama, said the value-added tax ‘was not as toxic an idea’ as it has been in the past, according to a Reuters report.”

Marco Rubio’s star keeps rising: “Ex-FL House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) has seen a fundraising surge over the last 3 months, pulling in $3.6M in what was once an insurgent bid against an insurmountable foe. Rubio’s jaw-dropping figure likely puts him atop, or near the top, of the list of most successful candidates over the first quarter.”

The Orthodox Union writes to Bibi, praising his defense of a unified Jerusalem: “Mr. Prime Minister, we cannot state strongly enough our belief that the Government and people of the State of Israel hold Yerushalayim in trust for the Jewish People no matter where they may live, for we all have a share in the holy city. We applaud your faithfulness to this trust, which realizes the ancient Jewish dream of ascending the foothills of Jerusalem, and keeps alive the hopes of millions of Jews who, for centuries, could not set foot in Jerusalem, yet raised their voices at the end of innumerable Pesach sedarim gone by to say, as we all did last week, with full conviction and deep longing la-shana ha-ba’a bi-Yerushalayim.”

You don’t say: “The trademark suit sported by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il is now in fashion worldwide thanks to his greatness, Pyongyang’s official website said Wednesday. Uriminzokkiri, quoting an article in communist party newspaper Rodong Sinmun, said the modest-looking suits have gripped people’s imagination and become a global vogue. … Kim and his deceased father Kim Il-Sung are at the heart of a personality cult that borders on religion, with near-magical powers ascribed to the younger Kim. Rainbows supposedly appeared over sacred Mount Paekdu where Kim Jong-Il was allegedly born, and he is said once to have scored 11 holes-in-one in a single round of golf.”

ObamaCare seems not to have helped: “A record-low percentage of U.S. voters — 28% — say most members of Congress deserve to be re-elected. The previous low was 29% in October 1992.”

It might be more satisfying for Republicans to beat him at the polls, but forced retirement would be a fitting end: “Amidst growing speculation he might retire, Rep. Bart Stupak’s (D-Mich.) office declined to rule it out on Wednesday.”

It might have something to do with the 14.1 percent unemployment rate: “A new poll of Michigan voters’ preferences in the governor’s race has troubling results for Democrats. The two leading Democratic candidates would lose to any of the three top Republican challengers if the election were held today. … That indicates a more energized Republican voter base, just two years after Democrat Barack Obama’s historic election as president had increased the number of voters identifying with the Democratic Party. In 2008, the number of self-described Democrats in Michigan was as much as eight percentage points above the Republican number.”

Jobs do appear to be a popular campaign theme for Republicans: “Delaware businesswoman Michele Rollins announced Wednesday she will run for the at-large House seat currently held by Republican Rep. Mike Castle, landing the GOP a credible recruit in a tough open-seat race. In an e-mail soliciting contributions from supporters, Rollins blasted Democrats for putting job creation on ‘the back burner’ and acknowledged the campaign would be ‘difficult and challenging.’”

You knew this was coming: “White House adviser Paul Volcker said the United States may need to consider raising taxes to control deficits. He also said a European-style value-added tax could gain support. The former chairman of the Federal Reserve who is an outside adviser to President Barack Obama, said the value-added tax ‘was not as toxic an idea’ as it has been in the past, according to a Reuters report.”

Marco Rubio’s star keeps rising: “Ex-FL House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) has seen a fundraising surge over the last 3 months, pulling in $3.6M in what was once an insurgent bid against an insurmountable foe. Rubio’s jaw-dropping figure likely puts him atop, or near the top, of the list of most successful candidates over the first quarter.”

The Orthodox Union writes to Bibi, praising his defense of a unified Jerusalem: “Mr. Prime Minister, we cannot state strongly enough our belief that the Government and people of the State of Israel hold Yerushalayim in trust for the Jewish People no matter where they may live, for we all have a share in the holy city. We applaud your faithfulness to this trust, which realizes the ancient Jewish dream of ascending the foothills of Jerusalem, and keeps alive the hopes of millions of Jews who, for centuries, could not set foot in Jerusalem, yet raised their voices at the end of innumerable Pesach sedarim gone by to say, as we all did last week, with full conviction and deep longing la-shana ha-ba’a bi-Yerushalayim.”

Read Less

RE: The Futile Engagement-Pressure-Containment-Engagement Loop

Rick, you make a keen comparison between North Korea and Iran.

Events of last week offered a chilling hypothetical. Last Friday, news broke that a South Korean naval ship sank near the border uneasily shared with North Korea. Immediately, speculation arose that Pyongyang had intentionally attacked the vessel.

This would be less than surprising, considering that within the last year, among other acts of intransigence and aggression, North Korea has conducted nuclear tests, repeatedly threatened attacks against South Korea and the U.S., and captured South Korean fishermen who had crossed into disputed waters. Yet South Korea has since determined that North Korean involvement in the vessel’s sinking is unlikely.

But suppose for a moment that Pyongyang really had attacked. As a former editor of mine pointed out in a conversation over the weekend, the reaction of the international community would have been limited. Precisely because North Korea possesses nuclear arms, South Korea and the world would have been forced to tread cautiously.

It’s also worth noting that six-party talks — a.k.a. engagement — did not prevent Pyongyang from acquiring nuclear weapons.

In July 2006, just as North Korea was testing its rocket-delivery system, I was traveling in South Korea and Japan, two member-countries of the six-party talks. I remember the uneasiness and frustration expressed by several journalists there as the rocket launched. It was odd and frightening to think that, beyond my sight, a rocket was whizzing past, and with it, the international balance was shifting. By October 2006, just three months later, it was too late for the world to do much. North Korea had become the world’s eighth atomic power.

Since then, North Korea has been a constant problem. It has been hard enough to get Pyongyang to merely participate in six-party talks — much less make substantive concessions. In May 2009, the DPRK went so far as to call talks with the United States “meaningless.” Nuclear-weapon status has only emboldened Kim Jong-il and his followers. They are an armed agent of instability in Asia.

The Obama administration should consider the North Korean precedent as it determines how to deal with Iran. One thing is certain: the United States’s problem-solving flexibility will only decrease as Iran approaches nuclear-power status.

Rick, you make a keen comparison between North Korea and Iran.

Events of last week offered a chilling hypothetical. Last Friday, news broke that a South Korean naval ship sank near the border uneasily shared with North Korea. Immediately, speculation arose that Pyongyang had intentionally attacked the vessel.

This would be less than surprising, considering that within the last year, among other acts of intransigence and aggression, North Korea has conducted nuclear tests, repeatedly threatened attacks against South Korea and the U.S., and captured South Korean fishermen who had crossed into disputed waters. Yet South Korea has since determined that North Korean involvement in the vessel’s sinking is unlikely.

But suppose for a moment that Pyongyang really had attacked. As a former editor of mine pointed out in a conversation over the weekend, the reaction of the international community would have been limited. Precisely because North Korea possesses nuclear arms, South Korea and the world would have been forced to tread cautiously.

It’s also worth noting that six-party talks — a.k.a. engagement — did not prevent Pyongyang from acquiring nuclear weapons.

In July 2006, just as North Korea was testing its rocket-delivery system, I was traveling in South Korea and Japan, two member-countries of the six-party talks. I remember the uneasiness and frustration expressed by several journalists there as the rocket launched. It was odd and frightening to think that, beyond my sight, a rocket was whizzing past, and with it, the international balance was shifting. By October 2006, just three months later, it was too late for the world to do much. North Korea had become the world’s eighth atomic power.

Since then, North Korea has been a constant problem. It has been hard enough to get Pyongyang to merely participate in six-party talks — much less make substantive concessions. In May 2009, the DPRK went so far as to call talks with the United States “meaningless.” Nuclear-weapon status has only emboldened Kim Jong-il and his followers. They are an armed agent of instability in Asia.

The Obama administration should consider the North Korean precedent as it determines how to deal with Iran. One thing is certain: the United States’s problem-solving flexibility will only decrease as Iran approaches nuclear-power status.

Read Less

The Futile Engagement-Pressure-Containment-Engagement Loop

At yesterday’s State Department news conference, Acting Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner was asked about President Obama’s statement that UN sanctions on Iran could occur “within weeks.” Toner confirmed there is not yet a draft resolution and cautioned that Obama had “noted that we don’t have international consensus yet.” But as we enter the fourth month after Iran ignored the last of the president’s deadlines, a conference call to pursue lowest-common-denominator sanctions “shows how serious we are.” Toner continued:

What we do have is broad support among the P-5+1 for a dual-track approach. The President was quite clear yesterday in saying that we’ve tried the engagement track and we’re now moving towards the pressure track. The engagement part of it is not off the table, but we’re moving with deliberation on the pressure track now. And we’re consulting, and the P-5+1 call within that context just shows how serious we are.

Haaretz describes the conference call Toner referenced, in which the U.S., Russia, Britain, Germany, France, and China reportedly agreed to begin drafting a UN resolution. “While the agreement seems to be an achievement for the Obama administration, China will agree only to relatively weak sanctions, [Reuters] quoted diplomats as saying.”

The sanctions – which the administration was supposedly working on all last year to prepare for the possibility that engagement might not succeed — will not be crippling; they will “bite” only around Iran’s ankles; and it is unclear, in Sarah Palin’s phrase, whether they will even “nibble.” But after they fail, we will move to containment, and then we will be in the same situation we currently face with North Korea — which Toner also described yesterday:

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton said yesterday at the joint press briefing with G-8 foreign ministers that North Korea already has nuclear weapons. So isn’t [the] new U.S. Government position to acknowledge North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons?

MR. TONER: On North Korea, I would just say that we remain steadfastly committed to getting the Six-Party Talks going again. North Korea knows what it has to do and we’re trying to get them back to the negotiating table.

QUESTION: Yeah, but how about the fact that they already have nuclear weapons? That’s what she mentioned yesterday.

MR. TONER: We’re still – our goal remains the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That’s what we’re trying to achieve through the Six-Party process. So we just urge North Korea to get back to the negotiating table.

Watching U.S. diplomacy with North Korea, Iran can feel some confidence about what will happen if it completes its nuclear-weapons program: undoubtedly, we will still be steadfastly committed to getting talks with Iran going again; we will state that Iran knows what it has to do (let us process their nuclear fuel for them while we talk); we will repeat that our goal remains the denuclearization of the Middle East; and we will urge Iran to return to the negotiating table.

The engagement strategy is a unique contribution to American diplomacy: it is used only on adversaries (allies get less courteous treatment); it is never off the table; it remains there while other options are pursued; it will still be there when they fail; and it will continue even after it is overtaken by events. The Haaretz report ends with a small vignette indicating engagement may be somewhat harder later on:

When a senior representative from Pyongyang was asked in Moscow last month at an international conference on nuclear proliferation what assurances his country needed for its security, he said: “We do not have to talk. We have nuclear weapons.”

At yesterday’s State Department news conference, Acting Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner was asked about President Obama’s statement that UN sanctions on Iran could occur “within weeks.” Toner confirmed there is not yet a draft resolution and cautioned that Obama had “noted that we don’t have international consensus yet.” But as we enter the fourth month after Iran ignored the last of the president’s deadlines, a conference call to pursue lowest-common-denominator sanctions “shows how serious we are.” Toner continued:

What we do have is broad support among the P-5+1 for a dual-track approach. The President was quite clear yesterday in saying that we’ve tried the engagement track and we’re now moving towards the pressure track. The engagement part of it is not off the table, but we’re moving with deliberation on the pressure track now. And we’re consulting, and the P-5+1 call within that context just shows how serious we are.

Haaretz describes the conference call Toner referenced, in which the U.S., Russia, Britain, Germany, France, and China reportedly agreed to begin drafting a UN resolution. “While the agreement seems to be an achievement for the Obama administration, China will agree only to relatively weak sanctions, [Reuters] quoted diplomats as saying.”

The sanctions – which the administration was supposedly working on all last year to prepare for the possibility that engagement might not succeed — will not be crippling; they will “bite” only around Iran’s ankles; and it is unclear, in Sarah Palin’s phrase, whether they will even “nibble.” But after they fail, we will move to containment, and then we will be in the same situation we currently face with North Korea — which Toner also described yesterday:

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton said yesterday at the joint press briefing with G-8 foreign ministers that North Korea already has nuclear weapons. So isn’t [the] new U.S. Government position to acknowledge North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons?

MR. TONER: On North Korea, I would just say that we remain steadfastly committed to getting the Six-Party Talks going again. North Korea knows what it has to do and we’re trying to get them back to the negotiating table.

QUESTION: Yeah, but how about the fact that they already have nuclear weapons? That’s what she mentioned yesterday.

MR. TONER: We’re still – our goal remains the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That’s what we’re trying to achieve through the Six-Party process. So we just urge North Korea to get back to the negotiating table.

Watching U.S. diplomacy with North Korea, Iran can feel some confidence about what will happen if it completes its nuclear-weapons program: undoubtedly, we will still be steadfastly committed to getting talks with Iran going again; we will state that Iran knows what it has to do (let us process their nuclear fuel for them while we talk); we will repeat that our goal remains the denuclearization of the Middle East; and we will urge Iran to return to the negotiating table.

The engagement strategy is a unique contribution to American diplomacy: it is used only on adversaries (allies get less courteous treatment); it is never off the table; it remains there while other options are pursued; it will still be there when they fail; and it will continue even after it is overtaken by events. The Haaretz report ends with a small vignette indicating engagement may be somewhat harder later on:

When a senior representative from Pyongyang was asked in Moscow last month at an international conference on nuclear proliferation what assurances his country needed for its security, he said: “We do not have to talk. We have nuclear weapons.”

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.