North Korea after Kim Jong Il

Have you given any serious thought to that question? I have not. Evidently neither has the US or South Korea. Read on at Banyan’s notebook:

(…) Even without invading others as Japan did, the North Korean regime will crumble, perhaps soon after the immortal Mr Kim’s number is up or possibly even before: reports of popular protests sparked by a hugely ill-judged currency confiscation may be a harbinger. Thoughts ought to be turning to North Korea after Mr Kim.

Yet as Sung-Yoon Lee points out in Foreign Policy here (the picture desk has a sense of humour), precious little thinking about it has been done by the United States or North Korea’s neighbours. At best, contingency plans exist for dealing with the short-term emergency generated by a collapse of power in Pyongyang. Even Chinese policymakers accept that American special forces might, or even should, move in rapidly to secure nuclear, biological and chemical stockpiles from rogue groups within the military. Chinese troops, in turn, would probably move across North Korea’s northern land borders to enforce the peace there. The Japanese navy would bring in supplies to the coast and pick up refugees in leaky boats. A massive humanitarian effort, led by the South Korean military, would get under way.


Communism is dead! Long live the military!

Banyan’s Asia blog at the Economist:

Kim Jong Il hints he’ll come back to disarmament talks. And so the merry-go-round looks like starting up again.


If Mr Kim tells Mr Wen that he is ready to give up his nuclear capability, I’ll be interested to see with how much enthusiasm the Obama administration reacts. From Mr Kim’s perspective, entirely rational within his own frame of reference, nothing can have changed. The chief guarantee of the regime’s survival is its deterrent power. At the same time, Mr Kim can shake down the international community, for money is running low again. By contrast, giving up nuclear weapons and embracing economic modernisation, Chinese-style: there lies the road to ruin.

[From Communism is dead! Long live the military!]

Charter Cities: North vs. South Korea

Paul Romer on the impact of the institutional differences which have been tested for half a century on the Korean peninsula. NOKO is an excellent refutation of the argument that culture dominates rules “it won’t work to reform their government because their culture is so different”.

(…) There are many statistical measures of the large difference in the quality of life between the North and the South. One gripping visual indication comes from a satellite picture of the Korean peninsula at night. Compared to its neighbors, North Korea (outlined for clarity) seems like a black hole. South Korea, which looked like the North within living memory, is now a sea of lights.

Until the end of World War II, the North and South shared a common set of formal and informal rules, first as an independent nation, then under occupation by the Japanese. When the allies disarmed the occupying Japanese forces, Russia set up one system of government above the 38th parallel. The U.S. set up a different one below this arbitrary line on a map.


In today’s world, charter cities offer the best strategy—perhaps the only feasible strategy—for giving people the option to move to a place with a new system of government. Charter cities can also give the leaders of founding nations the chance to set up new systems of government that can, in the best case, do what better government did for South Korea, unleash the potential of the people who use its rules to connect with each other.

I’m wondering if a charter city on the Chinese border might offer a way forward for the North Korean peasants – if NOKO did not gun them down when attempting to cross over. As it stands China tolerates NOKO criminality in nukes and drugs because they fear a collapse which would lead to millions of starving immigrants.

Unstable trio endangers world

Greg Sheridan, Foreign editor of The Australian, highlights how dangerous the horrible-three have become, based in part on the Australian’s just released defense white paper. Note the absence of Iraq in the discussion.

Sheridan has been Seekerblog’s most reliable source on this topic, so do read the whole thing. He begins as follows:

IT is the perfect strategic storm. The deadly combination of irrational fervour, aggressive nationalism, the unimaginable destructive power of nuclear technology, growing Islamist extremism, continuing terrorist determination, an economically and militarily stretched US and a wide international milieu of festering anti-Americanism, which has not been solved by the election of Barack Obama, means the world is entering the most strategically dangerous period at least since the end of the Cold War, and perhaps for some decades before that.

Pakistan, Iran and North Korea are the three critical states, all likely to come to some sort of crisis in the next year or two.

During the past couple of weeks I have spoken to a great range of strategic analysts, policy-makers and opinion leaders, government and non-government, in Asia, the Middle East, North America and Australia.

There is considerable debate about how acute each looming crisis is.

But there is no serious debate that the trend lines on the key issues are generally negative and that seriously destructive dynamics are gaining momentum.

Taken altogether, the strategic environment is acutely dangerous and getting worse. The toxic mixture of irrational fervour, religious or ideological, and the destructive power of nuclear weapons and material makes the prospect of cataclysmic crisis much more immediate than it has been for a long, long time.

These trends are each disclosed, in relatively straightforward language, in the Rudd Government’s just published defence white paper, but no one has yet put them all together. Nonetheless, when aggregated, they form a remarkable official description of a gravely disturbing global situation.

On Pakistan, the most acute crisis of all just now, the white paper says: “Pakistan will remain a pivotally important state. Its prospects will continue to be of concern, given its possession of nuclear weapons, its centrality to success in Afghanistan and the havens for Islamist terrorist networks located in Pakistan and, however remote at present, the risk of a radical Islamist capture of the state.”

The risks of a radical Islamist capture of the state have risen greatly in recent weeks as the Pakistani Taliban poured into the Swat Valley, not very far from Islamabad.

The sight of the Pakistan Government virtually ceding the Swat Valley to the Taliban, and the Taliban marching ever closer to Islamabad and Pakistan’s arsenal of 75 to 100 nuclear weapons, galvanised the Obama administration into extraordinary urgency, evident in statements from Obama and Hillary Clinton that the situation in Pakistan constituted a mortal threat to US security.

Quite simply, the prospect of the Taliban in possession of nuclear weapons terrifies Washington and ought to terrify everybody else.

In response to Washington’s urging, the Pakistani military has hit back at the Taliban and driven them out of many newly occupied territories. But the Pakistani military has acted with much less sophistication and discrimination than the Americans have ever done. They have shelled and bombed whole villages. Perhaps a million people are displaced within Pakistan. The Pakistani military is designed for only one thing: fighting India. It is one of the most incompetent counter-insurgency forces in the world.

Most Western analysts do not believe Pakistan is in danger of imminent state collapse. But they all recognise that the extremists are getting stronger and the state is getting weaker. Obama, who this week met Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai in Washington, has given the impression that Washington has a plan to secure Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in the event of an emergency. This is almost certainly a bluff. Such an operation would be insanely complex.

Some Indian analysts believe Pakistan is already effectively a failed state. There are really several Pakistans: a civilian government that has lost public confidence and does not control its nation’s institutions or its territory; a military that is autonomous, unaccountable, divided and ineffective, and that continues to co-operate with the Afghan Taliban and terrorist groups attacking India; a civilian merchant class that is frustrated and hemmed in; and an active civil society that is denied any power.

Continue reading…

Bush's 'Axis of Evil,' Six Years Later

It’s hard to disagree with Charles Krauthammer’s assessment:

Just four months after Sept. 11, George Bush identified Iran, Iraq and North Korea as the “axis of evil” and declared that defanging these rogue regimes was America’s most urgent national security task. Bush will be judged on whether he succeeded.

Six years later and with time running out on this administration, the Bush legacy is clear: one for three. Contrary to current public opinion, Bush will have succeeded on Iraq, failed on Iran and fought North Korea to a draw.

<more> And in closing, Krauthammer reminds us of a bit of true history:

It took Bush three years to find his general (as it did Lincoln) and turn a losing war into a winnable one. Baghdad and Washington are currently discussing a long-term basing agreement that could give the United States a permanent military presence in the region and a close cooperative relationship with the most important country in the Middle East heartland — a major strategic achievement.

Nonetheless, the pressure on this administration and the next to get out prematurely will remain. There are those for whom our only objective in Iraq is reducing troop levels rather than securing a potentially critical Arab ally in a region of supreme strategic significance.

The Axis of Evil tests a missile


The members of the House of Representatives who voted to outlaw planning for a military strike against Iran undoubtedly also want to outlaw thinking about the new and entirely uncooked intelligence report that North Korea and Iran have cooperated in the development of a new long-range ballistic missile capable of reaching Guam from North Korea:

Named Musudan, the new missile was first made…

Politicized intelligence? This time it's for real.

I will speculate that this John Bolton piece is the most accurate we’ll see on the NOKO intelligence flap. Yes, Bolton could be spinning, but my take is that if he is willing to talk, he talks straight. Which may not be a Good Thing for a long pants diplomat.

Washington’s most important person–the Anonymous Senior Official (“ASO”)–was busy last week, briefing reporters on North Korea’s uranium enrichment program.

The North’s pursuit of nuclear weapons through uranium enrichment, an alternative to reprocessing plutonium from spent fuel at the Yongbyon reactor, constituted both a material breach of the 1994 Agreed Framework and an enormous challenge to the hope that it could ever be negotiated out of pursuing nuclear weapons. Based, however, on one public comment and much work by Mr./Ms. ASO, the media last week set about deconstructing a critical strategic concern underlying Bush administration Korea policy. According to their breathless reporting, yet another threat to America was disappearing, revealed as simply more intelligence hype from an administration that apparently did little else in its first term.

The reports raise three separate issues. First, what exactly is the intelligence judgment about North Korea’s enrichment activities, and how valid was it in 2002? Second, what are the implications for the administration’s ongoing negotiations with North Korea? And third, is Mr./Ms. ASO speaking for the Bush administration, or for those elements in the permanent bureaucracy that have consistently opposed key elements of the Bush foreign policy, at least as conducted until recently?

On the first question, concerning North Korea’s enrichment activities, there is actually less here than meets the eye. The only attributable public comment is from Joseph DeTrani, mission manager for North Korea for the Director of National Intelligence, who said that he now had a “mid-confidence level” about North Korea’s program, down from “high confidence.” Mr. DeTrani’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee recounted how, in October 2002, the U.S. confronted Pyongyang “with information they were acquiring material sufficient for a production-scale capability of enriching uranium,” and how North Korea “admitted to having such a program.” Mr. DeTrani continued, “we’ve never walked away from that issue.” Indeed, in 2002, intelligence community officials told me that new evidence erased existing, long-standing disagreements within the community about what the North was up to since the mid-1990s, producing a remarkable consensus that has not, to my knowledge, broken down since.

…And that brings us to the third issue: Where exactly is the administration headed? Mr./Ms. ASO’s identity is by definition unknown, but the view is spreading that this backgrounding is more than the bureaucracy’s ruminations. I have my own unnamed senior officials who tell me it’s not so, but the question remains. President Bush himself must speak, and sooner rather than later, to tell us what he thinks of the intelligence, and the direction of his own policy. Recent polls show his approval rating near 30%, with support among Republicans falling precipitously. If the president’s conservative base erodes further, where will his support come from? From liberal editorialists enthusing about his newfound foreign policy “pragmatism”? Based on my personal experience, the president will not have both.


Noko: realities of the nuclear deal

The most useful analysis I’ve seen so far is from Richard Fernandez, who has reviewed the deal with Dr. Robert Ayson of the Australian National University. There are several key issues raised – one is that North Korea’s primary aid lifeline depends upon their nuclear threat:

…there is the circumstance that the nuclear threat is actually Pyongyang’s meal ticket. Giving up its nuclear program is essentially to dismantle its sole means of support. In a really curious type of feedback loop, the more nuclear weapons North Korea has the more of both sanctions and concessions it can hope for. The fewer weapons it has the fewer sanctions and inducements it can expect. North Korea’s past track record suggests it will be loathe to every fully give up its WMD program.

As usual with Richard’s work, RTWT.

NK: Cash for Kim

Another Kofi Annan scandal

Whatever the motive, the Cash for Kim scandal is one more blot on the record of former Secretary General Kofi Annan. It also raises questions about the role played in North Korea by Maurice Strong, the Canadian who was Mr. Annan’s envoy to Pyongyang.

We’d feel a lot better if the U.N. had quickly responded to U.S. queries and tried to get to the bottom of the mess at UNDP. But the exchange of letters between U.S. Ambassador Mark Wallace and UNDP officials described by Ms. Kirkpatrick is certainly reminiscent of the early U.N. stonewalling on Oil for Food.

Mr. Wallace and his colleagues from other nations on the UNDP executive board are right to demand a stop to the program and an independent investigation. The U.N.’s new Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, could make his own early mark by calling for a probe as part of a new era of U.N. transparency. Democrats in Congress could also be constructive by insisting on accountability, especially given how much stock they put in a competent U.N. to promote American security.

One lesson of Oil for Food, and its failure to lead to any serious reform, is that to some foreign policy elites there can be no such thing as a U.N. “scandal.” That’s because for them the U.N. is all about good intentions, and the hopes and dreams for peace, rather than about actual results. But it is precisely that forbearance that has allowed too many dictators to exploit the U.N. for their own purposes, and has brought Turtle Bay to its current low ebb. Getting to the bottom of Cash for Kim is one more chance to make the U.N. shape up, and to stop financing a global menace in the bargain.