Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Posts Tagged ‘North Korea’

UNICEF needs Tony Lake now!

Posted by sanityinjection on February 18, 2010

The Obama Administration is supporting Tony Lake to be the new Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund – better known as UNICEF. I cannot state strongly enough that I am 120% in support of this nomination!

For those not familiar with Mr. Lake, he is a long-time leftwinger who served as the National Security Advisor under President Clinton fron 1993 to 1997. Yes, Mr. Lake was the single American primarily tasked with safeguarding the security of the United States of America during the years when Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, Iran, and North Korea were allowed to increase their weapons capabilities unchecked by American action. In fact, it was Lake who was primarily responsible for the failure to adequately follow up on the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. To the extent that there is one individual who bears the most responsibility for failing to prevent the 9/11 attacks, it is Tony Lake.

That’s why I am proud to support Mr. Lake’s candidacy for the important position of Executive Director of UNICEF. I have full confidence that Mr. Lake will do a much better job look after the welfare of children around the world than he did looking after the security of the people of the United States. Furthermore, I expect that his duties as head of UNICEF will take up enough time and energy that he will be unable to offer any of his wisdom on national security issues to anybody from now on.

UNICEF needs Tony Lake….but possibly not as much as the rest of us need UNICEF to need him.

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US – North Korea negotiations: What is really going on?

Posted by sanityinjection on November 12, 2009

Or perhaps better to ask, What is really *not* going on? Korea expert Andrei Lankov, writing in the Asia Times, argues that for once, the Obama Administration’s foot-dragging and dithering in the foreign policy arena is actually a good strategy when it comes to North Korea:

Lankov’s essential point is that North Korea has been “playing” the US for many years, and the Administration, led by Secretaries Clinton and Gates, has decided to turn the tables on them. In the past, North Korea had an edge because the US wanted something from them – denuclearization – and needed at least the appearance of an agreement badly enough to make concessions without insisting on verification of the NK side of the agreement, which was never fulfilled.

Instead, the US is now giving lip service to negotiations but not actually pursuing them. This sends a message to North Korea: If you are not serious about reaching an agreement, we won’t take you seriously.

Of course, there is the possibility that North Korea may try to raise the stakes by committing further provocations. The recent naval skirmish between North and South Korea may be the first sign of this. The Administration will have to steel itself not to give ground no matter how many missile tests or belligerent announcements come from Pyongyang. If NK leader Kim Jong-Il becomes convinced that there is an iron fist inside the US’ velvet glove, he may decide that it’s better to shake hands than play ratslap.

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What is North Korea thinking?

Posted by sanityinjection on June 19, 2009

Sometimes you have to wonder what is going through the minds of the North Korean leadership. Especially with the latest report from Japanese intelligence that North Korea plans to launch a missile at Hawaii on July 4, America’s Independence Day.

Part of it may be testing the new American President to see if he can be pushed around. Part of it may be a pattern of aggressive blustering to draw attention away from internal instability surrounding a possible transfer of power from Kim Jong Il to his son. But the missile launch still seems like a loony idea. With an effective range of about 4,000 miles, the North Korean Taepodong-2 would almost certainly fall harmlessly into the sea if not intercepted by the US first (which might be necessary if it carries a nuclear or chemical payload.) In any case it is unlikely to present a significant threat to America.

And even if the missile did hit Hawaii – what better way to galvanize US public opinion behind a strong military response to North Korea – which doesn’t exist now and is the very thing North Korea presumably doesn’t want – than an attack on US soil? Remember the unity in this country for a few months after 9-11?

I cannot help but be reminded of a 20th century novella – later made into a movie – called “The Mouse That Roared”. In that book, a tiny European principality, faced with an insurmountable budget crisis, takes the extreme step of declaring war on the United States. Their expectation is that they will quickly be defeated and then the US will spend billions to rebuild their country.

Is that what North Korea is thinking? That the best way to feed their starving people and fix their dysfunctional society would be to let the US defeat them in war and then be obligated to rebuild their country? I doubt it. No country having seen the devastation in Iraq would be likely to volunteer for that role. But it certainly would make for an intriguing conspiracy novel.

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North Korea takes dangerous step toward war

Posted by sanityinjection on May 27, 2009

In the wake of its recent nuclear bomb and ballistic missile tests, North Korea has now taken an even more disturbing step in threatening war against neighboring South Korea and its US ally. North Korea has announced that it no longer intends to abide by the Armistice Agreement of 1953 which ended the Korean War.

In order to understand why this is so significant, we must recall that no peace treaty was ever signed at the end of the Korean War. Instead there was an armistice agreement – in simple terms, a cease-fire in place and a truce. While remaining technically at war, both sides agreed not to fire first and created a demilitarized zone (DMZ) along their border to reduce the chance of an accident. Over the years, apart from low-level sniping, that border has remained inviolate. North Korea has frequently threatened South Korea and has instigated provocative actions at sea (where the armistice does not apply.) But by abrogating the Armistice, North Korea is serving notice that it is prepared to launch ground and missile attacks against South Korea.

In 1954 the US and South Korea signed a mutual defense treaty. So if North Korea attacks South Korea, the US is obligated to come to South Korea’s defense. (Indeed, US troops currently in South Korea would be very much in harm’s way.) The problem is that even the US cannot prevent North Korea from raining destruction on the South. All we could do would be to counterattack.

The reason North Korea is taking this step at this time is that they finally believe they have sufficient force at their disposal to bully the South. They are now a nuclear nation with missiles that can hit US territory (Guam, Hawaii, Alaska.) The North’s leaders must know that they could not hope to win a lengthy conflict with the South and the US. But they may well believe that the South and the US have more incentive to avoid such a conflict if they can do so by giving in to North Korea’s demands, whatever they may be (most likely food aid and money.)

The wild cards in this equation are China and Russia. They have historically been supporters of North Korea, but they also have the most to lose from a nuclear strike on the Korean peninsula – fallout from which could drift over their own territory. Already, Russia is displaying a new seriousness toward the Korean situation. We can expect these two countries to become more engaged in negotiations. However, their preference will likely be to have South Korea give North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il whatever he wants in order to keep the peace. In essence, they will blame the victim.

I don’t have a very good solution to offer. I will simply say that I believe it is imperative that our government make clear to the North Koreans that the US is fully committed to defend South Korea under its treaty obligations. The only thing that will hold North Korea back is if they believe the US has not only the physical capability but the political will to stand up to them.

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What to do about North Korea

Posted by sanityinjection on April 8, 2009

This is one of the best foreign policy columns I have seen in a while. Probably because it comes not from a journalist, political pundit, or diplomat, but from a private citizen with intimate knowledge of the nation in question, North Korea.

In this hard-hitting piece, Joshua Stanton assails the failure of the US and the UN to stick with meaningful sanctions against North Korea. He lists 10 non-military actions the US can take to put real pressure on North Korea, and argues convincingly that if they had been followed consistently, Kim Jong-Il’s regime would be far weaker than it is today.

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National security primer: The 4 nations that threaten the US

Posted by sanityinjection on October 6, 2008

Back in 2000, George Bush famously coined the phrase “Axis of Evil” in reference to three nations he felt were a malevolent presence on the world stage: Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. While the phrase itself was criticized as simplistic and naive, Bush was doing publicly something that every President should at least do privately: Identifying the major threats to the security of the United States of America.

I thought it might be helpful to do a brief review of what those threats are today in 2008, and will continue to be in 2009 for the next President. I am defining “threat” as a danger to American lives, so I am setting aside for now factors such as industrial espionage and other attacks on our economy – these may well be extremely dangerous to the long-term prospertiy of our country, but are unlikely to cost lives in the near future.

Based on current and expected conditions, I see four major threats to the United States currently in the international arena. In order from greatest to least, they are:

1. AL QAEDA – Nothing is of greater concern than those here in America (mostly on the Left, it must be said) who dismiss Al Qaeda as no longer being able to pose a serious danger to the US. The fact that we have been able to avoid additional attacks on the American homeland since 9/11 has more to do with a lot of hard work by the intelligence community and the military than by lack of capacity or effort on the part of Al Qaeda. There is no reason to believe that the organization is not capable of launching another attack of the same scale as 9/11, although hopefully our ability to deter it is now greater.

More importantly, Al Qaeda is number one on the list because of all international actors, it is the only one actively seeking to kill and harm Americans as we speak. To the extent that the US has a Great Enemy in the world, Al Qaeda is it, and it has nothing to do with our policy on the Israeli-Palestinian question as the isolationists would have us believe. It’s based on the simple fact that Al Qaeda recgonizes America as the chief obstacle to its goal of a worldwide Islamic state. If they can find the means to harm us, they will do so without hesitation. Therefore, it stands to reason that eliminating Al Qaeda as an entity should be our number one foreign policy objective – and that is going to necessitate much greater political and military involvement in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other Muslim countries such as Somalia and Indonesia.

2. NORTH KOREA – This may come as a surprise to some, but North Korea was made a member of the “Axis of Evil” for good reason. North Korea’s military, by itself, has only a limited ability to attack America. It has a huge army but is unable to project that power beyond the Korean peninsula, and its missile technology, while advancing, is no match for North American defense systems.

Rather, the biggest danger of North Korea is their ability and willingness to share nuclear technology with Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. North Korea is a country on the verge of collapse, and that makes them dangerous and unpredictable. Handing over technology to terrorists is unlikely to be a policy of the North Korean government, which would stand to gain little for such an arrangement. What North Korea needs most is food, and Al Qaeda cannot give them that. However, should the leadership of the country go into flux, or should there be a loss of central control over military and scientific apparatus, it is easy to imagine some unscrupulous individual selling nuclear technology for personal enrichment.

I think the Bush Administration has taken the right tack with North Korea so far. A military approach would, if anything, increase the danger – even a huge victory for the US might create the kind of chaos and instability that is to be feared. Unfortunately, the North Koreans have weaseled out of living up to every agreement they have signed, when it comes down to verification. The Bush Administration’s strategy has been to try to work with China to put pressure on the North Koreans. Hopefully, Kim Jong Il will be succeeded by a capable leader with a more pragmatic stance toward working with the West.

3. PAKISTAN – This one may also come as a surprise to some. Pakistan has never been formally hostile to the US, and its government is a nominal US ally. However, the US is not viewed so positively by a large swath of the Pakistani people. Pakistan is currently harboring the leadership of Al Qaeda, and the tribespeople of the northwest provinces as well as significant segments of the Pakistani security apparatus are supporting them. Further, Pakistan has never had what I would call a stable government. It has had a long series of military coups, and the federal government’s control over the various regions is not nearly what it should be. Pakistan is a confirmed nuclear power, and there is a very real danger of nuclear technology falling into the wrong hands – we have seen this already to a degree with Abdul Qadeer Khan. Finally, Pakistan’s continual tensions with nuclear neighbor India raise the spectre of a possible nuclear conflict the like of which has never been seen.

The current government of Pakistan has every reason to want to work cooperatively with the United States. However, the pro-Taliban, pro-Al Qaeda elements of the ISI security organization must be eliminated in order for such cooperation to succeed. The US should also step up non-military assistance of all kinds to Pakistan. The more schools and hospitals that are built with American money, the more incentive the Pakistani people themselves will have to side with us against the terrorists.

4. IRAN – There are three reasons Iran is lower on the list than the other three. The first is that despite their rhetoric to the contrary, the US is not Iran’s primary enemy – Israel is. Iran’s pursuit of nuclear technology is dangerous, but it is primarily aimed at Israel, as is its support of terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas. The Iranian people, by and large, do not hate Americans. The second reason is that Iran actually has a very stable government with civilian control of the military and a functional if warped  democracy. Although they are always testing us to see what they can get away with, they are unlikely to do anything rash. The third reason is that Iran has no more interest in seeing a Sunni Islamist caliphate of the type envisioned by Al Qaeda than we do.

Militarily, Iran is not in a position to threaten the domestic US. Nevertheless, the prospect of Iran as a conduit for nuclear technology to terrorist groups is very real. The collapse of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq has left a power vacuum in the Gulf that Iran is eager to fill. And any significant conflagration in the Middle East involving Israel would be disastrous for the US. Unfortunately, nuclear negotiations with Iran have been fruitless, as Iran is happy to stall for time and evade sanctions with the help of Russia and China. We should continue a carrot-and-stick approach, but we need to find better carrots and more effective sticks. Nor should we rule out direct US-Iran diplomacy if an opportunity presents itself. We must insist that Iran abandon the pursuit of nuclear weapons and the support of terrorism in exchange for normalization of relations with the US, free trade and assistance with civilian nuclear technology, with safeguards. A prolonged war with Iran is not to be desired, although surgical strikes by the US and/or Israel against Iranian nuclear facilities cannot be ruled out.

Notably absent from the top four are Russia and China. Although these great nuclear powers have the ability to harm America, they have little incentive to do so. Russia does not have an economy capable of sustaining a war with the US, especially as the oil bubble is now bursting. Their geopolitical interests lie mainly around their own borders and have a lot to do with ensuring access to markets for their oil and natural gas. I would probably put them 5th on the list simply due to their nuclear arsenal, but Russia’s leadership is not insane enough to provoke a nuclear conflict with the US – nor are they interested in spreading nuclear technology and thus further diluting their own military advantages. Russia has its own problem with Islamic nationalism and has no sympathy whatsoever for Al Qaeda. As for China, there is no evidence that China has expansionist aims beyond reunification with Taiwan. There is no question that they are trying to increase their share of the world’s economic power, but that will have to come before any military adventurism. Although they do not always see eye to eye with the US on international issues such as Iran, they have shown no interest in proliferating nuclear technology. Like Russia, China has a Muslim minority problem in its western provinces and is not interested in supporting Islamic nationalism. China would be 6th on the list, only because of the possibility of being drawn into military conflict with the US if there is an escalation in Taiwan, which at the moment seems unlikely.

Whether Obama or McCain is elected President, the new Commander-In-Chief will have to focus primarily on these entities in constructing his foreign policy. Of course, there are other important areas too – relations with Canada and Mexico, free trade agreements with allies such as Colombia, and the eternal quest for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. But the primary goal of our foreign policy should always be to protect the lives and liberty of Americans here at home, and that can’t be done without a realistic assessment of the threats we face.

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