Category: Foreign Policy (Page 1 of 17)

U.S. doesn’t need anything from North Korea and shouldn’t meet

Kim Jong-un has threatened twice in the past week to cancel the meeting that he himself proposed with U.S. president Donald Trump. He appears to be acting out in his typical manner in order to try to put pressure on the United States and Korea and to win concessions.

The United States isn’t in a dire position, however, and the U.S. doesn’t need anything from Kim Jong-un so badly as to justify making extreme concessions. If Kim doesn’t want to denuclearize for limited concessions, if he is unwilling to negotiate sincerely, then the U.S. shouldn’t meet him.

The first time Kim threatened to pull out was after Trump’s National Security Advisor and former Bush advisor John Bolton called for a “Libya-style” denuclearization. Bolton is a hawk who has long called openly for overthrow of the North Korea regime, a worthy and moral goal (if reasonably possible) to be sure, but talking about or implying it obviously isn’t something that will help get to an agreement for Kim to voluntarily denuclearize.

The next and present reason Kim is using to threaten going forward with the meeting is much less reasonable. He wants the U.S. and Republic of Korea to end joint-self defense exercises. He thinks those exercises–and indeed the presence of U.S. troops in Korea–threaten his regime. Those troops are present because his grandfather invaded the Republic of Korea, his father sunk a Korean ship, and he shelled an island with civilian residents. They kidnapped Koreans and Japanese and tortured people for watching DVDs. Aggressive acts and attacks beyond borders are almost always caused by the totalitarian regime north of the 38th parallel.

The U.S. and Korea have already delayed military exercises, before the Korean Olympics, and now before the proposed meeting. But North Korea’s foreign ministry continues to make demands, saying, as characterized by Reuters, “the future of summit is entirely up to Washington.”

Well, if Kim doesn’t want this summit to happen, then it doesn’t have to happen. Washington doesn’t have to–and shouldn’t–do anything more for it to happen than it already has.

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The real Nobel comparison? Kim Dae-jung and the failed Sunshine Policy

Donald Trump’s supporters and those optimistic about prospects for his apparently upcoming meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un are preemptively calling for Trump to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Remember, Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize at the end of just his first year in office, before he even accomplished anything? And the prize was criticized by conservatives then, and rightly so. I address the argument in my new video, contained at the end of the post. But a better comparison might be Korea’s third democratically-elected president, Kim Dae-jung (president from 1998-2003).

Kim met with Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang in 2000. As with the meeting between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un and the proposed meeting between Trump and Kim, there were high hopes for “peace” and expectations that things would change. Kim Dae-jung began implementation of the “Sunshine Policy”, which offered unconditional aid to the North and opened up the Kaesong Industrial Region. The idea was to promote good will, but North Korea’s regime took much of the aid for itself and its military, and the policy did not prevent North Korea from developing its nuclear program.

The Nobel committee, as they often do, awarded the prize prematurely. The meeting happened, but nothing substantial ultimately came out of the meeting. Later it was revealed that the Kim Dae-jung administration had paid the Kim Jong-il government US$500 million for the meeting.

Kim might have been deserving of the Peace Prize for his non-violent campaigning for democracy in Korea. He nearly lost his life multiple times, once when he was kidnapped by the Park Chung-hee government, while living in exile in Japan in 1973, and nearly murdered, and again when he was sentenced to death after the Chun Doo-hwan government’s 1980 coup and martial law crackdown. The Nobel committee says he was awarded “for his work for democracy and human rights in South Korea and in East Asia in general, and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular.”

See my video on Trump and the Nobel:

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A disaster of a summit

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying could have chosen a better Chinese proverb to describe the meeting between North Korean sadist Kim Jong-un and Korean president Moon Jae-in. “Disasters are never powerful enough to separate real brothers, and a smile is all they need to eliminate the hard feelings,” Hua said.

And VX nerve agent is all it takes for a dictator to murder his actual brother.

The headlines said in 1994 and 2007 that North Korea would end its nuclear program. The headlines say now that they will make a peace deal.

The negotiators on the North Korean side are wily and skilled manipulators. Sitting on the Korean side was a liberal president with sympathies for “peace,” who served in the Roh Moo-hyun administration, which abstained from voting on a UN resolution condemning North Korea’s human rights abuses; and a chief presidential secretary, Im Jong-suk, who served prison time for organizing a propaganda trip to North Korea as a radical student activist in the 1980’s. The chief American negotiator, should a purported meeting go forward, is skilled at getting manipulated, has called Kim “very honorable” for hosting a series of propaganda summits in order to boost his own standing and already appears to trust North Korea enough to give them credit for things it hasn’t agreed to.

These are not things that inspire confidence.

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Before anyone sells you a “short war” with North Korea…

On November 28th, amidst a relative calm, North Korea tested its intercontinental ballistic missile. It was a matter of time, before North Korea managed to develop a system which is capable to reach mainland US. Regardless of whatever Washington might say, North Korea did what it intended to do. They have now successfully demonstrated that their weapons system is capable, and has achieved what we call the minimum credible deterrence, vis a vis an adversary.

There has been a misconception about what North Korea wanted to do. What, for all practical purposes, is the aim of North Korea. The reality has always been, that North Korea wants to survive. The Westphalian state system which ran from the 19th century to 1991, was upended with unipolarity. North Korea internalized the lessons of Saddam, Kosovo, and most importantly Gaddafi. The toppling of these regimes, and the resultant chaos, and the inability of these states to deter any foreign invasion, often at the cost of destruction and personal deaths of the leaders are a stark reminder that there’s no such thing as international order, but simply great power whims. And the recent experience of unipolarity was not uniform.

North Korea’s missile flew around 1000 KM, but went to an altitude of 4500 KM, and stayed up for over 50 mins. The missile trajectory, straight up to the sky instead of angled path shows that it is capable of withstanding enormous atmospheric pressure on reentry. In a normal ballistic missile trajectory, it would cover the continental United States.

The reality has not dawned in Washington, perhaps. Beijing and Moscow understand the fait accompli, but DC is still on with the basest of talking points. That North Korea will never be accepted as a nuclear power (it is), or the fact that North Korean nuclear weapons provide a ready deterrence (it does). The latest salvo comes from Nikki Haley in the United Nations. While she started with long-standing US position of no war with North Korea, she also mentioned that the “North Korean regime would be utterly destroyed” if there were a war between it and the US.

This is not going to happen.

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The Iran protests and American journalistic hackery

Before new years and continuing until the present, Iranians have taken to the streets to demand political and economic reforms. Over 400 protesters have been reportedly arrested and 20 killed. Having cracked down violently on protests in 2009, too, the Iranian government appears to face a crisis of legitimacy.

Much of the commentary from the political right, however, launders the protesters’ real grievances to make partisan political points. Take Fox News opinion columnist Stephen L. Miller (@RedSteeze on Twitter). Yesterday evening (US time), he had published a garden variety “Why aren’t liberal feminists supporting Muslim women in the Middle East?” article.

In this case, the specific language was: “Women are leading in Iran. Where is their voice of support from the left?”

So the question must be asked: Where are the women’s movement supporters in the United States and Europe, which gathered en masse to protest a newly inaugurated American president last year?

The question presumes that a protest in America against Iran’s government would have much influence in toppling Iran’s government. It presumes Americans shouldn’t care about the actions of their own government–or at least shouldn’t care any more about their own government’s actions than they do about those of foreign governments. After all, why should Americans protest bad governance and abuses of power in America if they don’t protest about foreign countries?

The question could be asked about anything. Why hasn’t Stephen L. Miller written anything about North Korea’s human rights abuses lately? Why hasn’t he written about democratic backsliding in Poland and Hungary governments?

Hell, Miller was outraged about the IRS reportedly scrutinizing tax exemption applications from Tea Party groups. Even if a conspiracy against the Tea Party existed (and it didn’t–liberal groups applying for tax exempt status were scrutinized, too, according to an audit conducted years later), would it really be as bad as South African leader Jacob Zuma’s hundreds of crimes of corruption?

One can imagine the story framed in Miller’s terms:
So the question must be asked: Where are the conservatives and Tea Partiers in the United States, which gathered en masse to protest a newly inaugurated American president on Tax Day?

Another cliché gaining being pushed on Iran is the typical: “Why isn’t the media covering this story that I read about in the media?” Stephen Miller wrote on December 30:

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Did the US and Iraq really defeat ISIS? Not so fast.

David French has a piece bemoaning that the Western media hasn’t reported America defeated ISIS in Iraq. Iraqi’s military, with American support, pushed ISIS out of Mosul and most of the area they occupied in Iraq, and now Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory. Iraq’s PM has a clear-self interest to declare victory, but it’s true that ISIS lost ground.

“So why does no one seem to care?” French wrote.

It’s just not that clear of a victory. Iraq remains an unstable, low-quality semi-democracy–the US didn’t accomplish its objectives there–and there’s no reason to believe that Iraq won’t ever be threatened by militants or terrorists again in the near future.

I won’t spend too much time on this, but here are a few relevant sources for why people should not get too excited about what is possibly an incomplete and short-lasting victory:
Iraq’s PM has a clear-self interest to declare victory, but it’s true that ISIS lost ground. – AFP

As Sumantra and I have written for The National Interest,

It is important to remember that the liberation of Mosul is not something to be proud of just yet. Economically, it is a damaged city—in worse condition than Stalingrad or Dresden. Materially, it is a commodity that nobody wishes to touch. Strategically, it is important—but that too is a curse, as it’s almost inevitable that a backlash will transpire, and Sunni civilians will suffer.

Unfortunately, Mosul is only one among many cities on the fault line of what increasingly appears to be an Iranian race to form a land bridge to the Mediterranean against periodic Sunni opposition. People will continue to suffer. Iraq’s central government is not, and will not be, capable of continuing to safeguard the area from falling further into the hands of jihadists. And the flawed counterinsurgency tactics of the West mean that the jihadist threat will merely go dormant until the next opportune moment.

Read our full article: Winning the hearts and minds won’t eliminate ISIS

Trump campaigns for himself in speech to Korean legislature

Donald Trump can’t help but brag and campaign to an American audience in any speech he gives abroad.

The latest victims of Trump’s egotism were Korean legislators who heard him speak to their chamber. After going over the inspiring history of Korea’s development, Trump pivoted to one of his favorite topics:

Like Korea, and since my election exactly one year ago today, I celebrate with you.

The awkward syntax makes it seem like he only has been celebrating Korea’s success since his election. Probably he meant to say “since I read a one-page briefing a few days ago.”

Either way, he went on:

The United States is going through something of a miracle itself. Our stock market is at an all-time high. Unemployment is at a 17-year low. We are defeating ISIS. We are strengthening our judiciary, including a brilliant Supreme Court justice, and one and on and on.

That Trump’s overbearing language has become routine shouldn’t make it anymore acceptable. Miracle? Yahoo Finance’s Myles Udland reports, “The U.S. economy added 261,000 jobs in October… … Economists were looking for job gains of 313,000… … Wage gains in October were disappointing…”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie was attacking the economic conditions in Virginia in a race that he lost by nine, a referendum on Trumpism.

The stock market numbers and unemployment rate have been on long-term trajectories, of course. Unemployment has declined from 9% in 2010 to 7.9% in 2013, 5.7% in 2015, 4.8% at the start of 2017, and 4.1% now, and Trump hasn’t enacted any major economic policies in his ten months as president.

The mention of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch is most insulting of all to Korean lawmakers, who have justices of their own to approve. Gorsuch is a qualified profession, as are the other eight justices on the Supreme Court, and there’s no reason he merits mention whatsoever in Korea.

But it’s a long-standing tendency of his to go off on brazen, self-congratulatory tangents at what are supposed to be speeches about serious international issues.

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Exclusive paper: Is fear of ISIS rational? A statistical analysis

Summary
In the context of ongoing discussion over whether or not publics in the world are rational in their views on terrorism, this analytical commentary uses data about fatalities from terrorist attacks and results of a Pew Research Center global survey on public attitudes to assess whether concern about ISIS tracks with the threat ISIS has posed to countries. This analysis found that concern about ISIS in most regions of the world tracked with both fatalities caused by all terrorism and fatalities caused by ISIS specifically. Globally, concern about ISIS in a country showed the strongest correlation with fatalities caused by ISIS. The publics of particular countries that faced divergent threat levels from ISIS-affiliated terrorists and non-ISIS-affiliated terrorists also showed the ability to distinguish between the different threats. The results indicate that publics are not, in general, extremely irrational.

My commentary on public opinion and ISIS has been published at the Central European Journal of International and Security Studies. Read my CEJISS commentary here.

Introduction
Are public fears about ISIS rational? A detailed global survey released by the Pew Research Center found ISIS is the issue the world’s people are most concerned about in a plurality of countries surveyed. Across 38 countries, 62 percent of the world is concerned about ISIS, narrowly surpassing climate change as the top issue[1].

This has caused some to suggest that the public’s fear of ISIS is irrational. Michael Cruickshank wrote, “Crazy how irrationally afraid people are off ISIS. Shows how effective their propaganda is”[2]. It’s true that everyday risks like car crashes and murders by common criminals are bigger threats for ordinary people[3][4], but the impact of intentional, targeted attacks on civilizational values causes a bigger fear impact in many people’s minds[5]. Whether or not that is “rational” per se is a question for psychologists and philosophers and others to debate some other day. Instead I shall undertake to assess whether, within the confines of human psychology, the relative risk assessments of various countries are in line with the threat posed to those countries by ISIS.

This analysis focuses on concern about ISIS, as registered in the survey; fatalities caused by terrorism within each country, as tracked by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism’s (START, at the University of Maryland) Global Terrorism Database; and fatalities caused by ISIS, also tracked by START’s database. The results were predictable: there were generally positive correlations between a country’s exposure to fatalities caused by terrorism and that country’s concern about ISIS. There were also some notable departures from correlation, which showed many publics are attuned to specific regional dynamics.

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Q+A with Dr Jacqueline L. Hazelton, Asst Prof at the Naval War College

For over a decade, United States and NATO have been involved in counter-insurgency operations across the Islamic world. A new ground breaking paper by Dr. Jacqueline Hazelton, challenges the established COIN dogma, and suggests that the usual operational process of good governance, democracy promotion, nation building, and dependence on human rights, are actually counter-productive.

In simpler words, perhaps more brutality is needed to actually win a war. 

To explain further, Dr Hazelton kindly agreed to answer a few questions for Bombs + Dollars on US COIN operations, grand strategy, and what changes might be needed urgently to re-calibrate a failed Western counter-insurgency strategy.

You can follow her on Twitter @DrJLHazelton.

You can also find other Q+As here.

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Incheon, 1950: Where the freedom of 50 million stood in balance

One of the most daring amphibious military operations in human history took place 57 years ago this month, between 15 and 19 September, with 70,000 UN combatants going into harm’s way that day. Few amphibious operations surpass the Incheon Landing-sure one can point to D-Day on Normandy in Northern France, but that was years in the planning and preparation and at the close of the most costly, bloody, and horrendous war in human history with 160,000 allied troops going to do battle with the Nazis. The Incheon Landing was done on the fly-12 weeks after North Korean forces had pushed South Korean (ROK) forces all the way to the tiny and isolated Pusan Perimeter, encapsulating said city of Pusan (Busan)-we had US boots on the ground giving then leader (ostensibly not yet “eternal”) Kim Il-sung hell served up with all the tenderness, tact and civility that US Marines are world renowned for. 

As a prior service US Marine, I can attest to the importance that the United States Marine Corps places on her history in regards to the Korean Conflict, and the Incheon Landing is definitely a large part of Marine Corps lore. In boot camp, we had these small green binders that a recruit could fit into their cargo pockets (and we DID, mostly out of requirement) called “The Big Green Monster.”  We ran around the recruit depot for three months carrying that thing in our cargo pockets. In it were uniform regulations, advise on how to live in the new culture that we found ourselves in-and Marine Corps history. The Korean Conflict and the Incheon Landing were among those events that made those books thick. 

General Douglass MacArthur was quick thinking in assuming that he could effectively dissect the Korean Peninsula, thereby bringing relief to Pusan Perimeter. One of our most firebrand generals who exhibited his own unique brand of compassion-once calling the Filipinos (Pinoys) his “little brown friends,” he also recommended “strategic nuking” of key cities along the coast of the Peoples’ Republic of China in order to bring about a swift end to the Korean Conflict. Love him or hate him Stateside, it is hard to find a detractor of him on the ROK where people live in freedom thanks to UN actions and MacArthur wit and US optimism. 

There is a huge monument in front of the main gate leading to Suwon AFB about an hour south of Seoul that proudly proclaims, “We defend the freedom of 50 million people!” Had it not been for the Incheon Landing, those 50 million would probably be living under the all-encompassing tyranny of Kim Il-sung’s grandson.

Feature photo of First Lieutenant Baldomero Lopez scaling the seawall. Lopez, who would give his life in the Battle of Incheon, was awarded a Medal of Honor posthumously. Photo by a fellow Marine, public domain.

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