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Monday, October 09, 2006

The Death of Counter-Proliferation (1.1)

News that North Korean detonated a nuclear device late Sunday night, U.S.-time.

This is a geopolitical failure of catastrophic proportions. The Bush Administration has failed to stop the development and now test of nuclear weapons. A last ditch solicitation to conduct bilateral talks put forth by North Korea had been rejected by the US.

The North Korea government claimed that a demonstrated nuclear weapons capability was essential for its own defense. Like the US in its War on Terror, North Korea sees the need to act preemptively in its defense, in this case developing nukes to keep the enemy (us) at bay. For more, see an article by Heather Wokusch here.

North Korea testing a nuclear weapon is a massive foreign policy failure for the Bush Administration. North Korea gaining the bomb denies the central tenets of the Global War on Terror, which specifically identified North Korea as one country in an axis of evil.

Bush has long claimed that if the world community can't stop proliferation, then WMD will inevitably work their way into the hands of terrorists. Much of the justification for unilateral action against Iraq has been based on preventing the spread of WMD to terrorists. Perhaps North Korean was never thought to be a threat on a par with that posed by Iran and al-Qaeda.

To be meaningful our foreign policy dictates must be enforcable and enforced. Links between North Korea and any nuclear weapons-seeking terrorists are less well known but quite possible. Transporting nukes to terorist suitors might be challenging; far harder to monitor are illicit transfers of the nuclear weapons technology now quite clearly under North Korean control.

The djinni is out of the bottle; the cat out of the bag. The mushroom cloud over one of our cities may have not materialized, but as of late Sunday night, one of America's enemies proved they could supply the nuke. We still don't know what delivery capacity the North Koreans have. They may have a cross-continental ballistic missile capability.

The Security Council will certainly take action. They must. Otherwise, it will be seen as completely incapable of enforcing the nuclear test ban treaty. Nuclear counter-proliferation has been one of the UN's most important functions.

Military options may not be precluded; it was a UN force that initially fought the North Koreans in 1950, then later the Chinese themselves. Launching an invasion may be the only possible way to rid North Korea of its bombs or regime.

By repeatedly demanding the UN obey it, the US has no credibility within the UN. The Administration's headstrong position in Iraq has undermined multilateral support for counter-proliferation and military intervention, justified or not.

The US needs to work with the world now to make sure North Korea is punished for testing a nuclear device. It's horrific that the present US Ambassador to the United Nations is unconfirmed, and his nomination has been dyng a slow death behind the scenes. The US needs to assign fully vetted, capable ambassadors to deal with the crisis now.

The North Korean regime is already well isolated. Sanctions may be limited, Still, North Korea had recently established an active export zones open to foreign investment, so the North Koreans were headed toward global economic integration.

Economics are important, but geopolitics trump them.

The US must now face a nuclear-armed North Korea. And the logic underlying preemptive war has been thoroughly trashed, judging by how ineffective the Administration has been in limiting the spread of WMD to the quintessential rogue state: North Korea.

North Korea is a country with which the US has no peace treaty even 53 years after a war costing over 50,000 American lives. Kim Jong-il is clearly a meglomaniac.

North Korea has been developing nuclear weapons under Clinton and Bush, but they only tested one--the ultimate sign of defiance--under Bush's watch.

Cheney's hard-headed doctrine, the Administration's substitute for the tools of non-confrontational counter-proliferation has failed us. Rogue nations with nuclear weapons pose the nasty prospect of doing far more collateral damage to our allies and the global economy in their counterattack than is worth expending in their ouster.

The failure to stop North Korea has now opened up America's allies and bases in East Asia to the risk of direct nuclear attack. Should the US respond militarily, such a counterstrike would be capable. Also, the longer we wait to act, the more likely the North Korean regime is to improve their delivery capability.

North Korean now has the de facto capacity to do as it chooses regardless of US policies. Now that it is nuclear armed, the US must contend with the possibility of nuclear counterattack.

With the military limits of our present day "volunteer" force overstretched by Iraq, the US now lacks the capacity to field an army to confront a rogue state. Such a force could take years to build up. Worse, the US military's supply chain has become dependent on imports, predominantly Chinese, which may not be able to supply needed war materiel (see the Indianapolis Star article .)

So unafraid are the North Koreans of facing retaliation for the test, that they feel completely unburdened by limits on nuclear testing. They did however have the courtesy (or is it respect) to give 20 minutes advance notice of their test to the Chinese, who passed the alert on second-hand to the US.

Failing to prevent a demonstration of North Korean nuclear strength, the US has greenlighted the spread of nuclear weapons. Brazil, Indonesia, who are rumored to have nuke programs, and countless other countries will now see their military future as nuclear.

A Departure from Rhetoric

The urgency to deal with the faulty premise that Iraq was developing WMD sapped the US of its ability to deal with real threats. The roots of this disaster come from the political choice to sacrifice policy effectiveness for scoring points with the public in choosing a harmless "knockover" in Iraq over a real threat in Korea.

Secretary of State Rice envisioned a mushroom cloud over an American city as the first sign that Iraq had nukes. Now North Korea flaunts its possession of WMD just a step of two short (miniaturizing the warheads is a likely one) of delivering a missile to an American city as predicted in Rice's doomsday scenario.

The domestically popular rhetoric of the War on Terror has led to real consequences in the international arena, ostensibly the Republicans' strong spot. Rather than stymie the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, their policies have motivated regimes to develop nuclear retaliatory capacity in order to deter aggression by the US.

Cheney fashioned our policy of deterrence around the premise that the US must intervene under even the flimsiest of excuses, to be 100% safe. In an interview, Ron Suskind, author of The 1% Doctrine, explains Cheney's thinking:

"Even if there's just a 1 percent chance of the unimaginable coming true, act as if it's a certainty. It's not about our analysis, as Cheney said. It's about our response. The doctrine, the 1 percent solution, divided what has largely been indivisible in the conduct of American foreign policy, analysis and action."

See the interview here.

What response now? What reaction could be forthcoming, now that the North Korean test has forced us to stop analyzing and act? The test showed just how inept the Administration has been in stopping the spread of real WMD, despite Bush's "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. The rhetoric so keyed up on defending America by attacking Iraq has now been quite clearly proven hollow.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf over WMD in Iraq led our focus away from the North Koreans, who built their arsenal unmolested. Clinton can't be blamed for this, his nuke-mollifying agreement with the North Koreans had been abandoned by Bush early in his reign.

Bush Administration policies are tough on their rhetoric but completely incapable of detering aggression or the spread of WMD and nuclear technology. Trapped in Cheney's committment to defend America, no matter what it takes, the US is lost and rudderless, blown around by the strong winds and countervailing tides of global realpolitik, harmless and roaring like a paper tiger.

Pariah by Example

By invading Iraq, the US has confused and divided the world community over the legality of military intervention. The failures there cast into doubt the merits of preemptive wars and demonstrated the need for long-term occupation.

Like the Boy Who Cried Wolf, the US has used up its "Iraq has WMD" argument. Now that rationale looks more like a lame excuse for open-ended occupation resulting from an "intelligence failure."

Bush recently announced the US would not be honoring its commitments under international treaties governing the testing of nuclear weapons, ushering in a series of tests for bunker busting bombs. North Korea can simply announce that it is doing what it sees fit, as a sovereign nation, under the premise that it must defend itself.

By placing its rights over those of the world, the US asserted independence at the cost of its rightful place of world leader. It's no wonder other regimes seek to imitate us, and want to become little Americas dominating their neighbors and regions through nuclear supremacy and naked aggression.

To the architects of Iraq, our military was invincible, only now is it clear that US cannot hope to resolve its conflicts through the use of military force. The ability of the US to respond militarily and convincingly has been drastically curtailed by its use of force in Iraq.

With its coalition partners abandoning it, the ongoing US military occupation appears to be increasingly a unilateral effort lacking broad international support. Strategically, this means the US can do little to rally broad international coalitions behind any intervention, justified or not. This may explain the inability to act decisively on Darfur.

The effectiveness of our foreign policy has been crippled because we can't intervene militarily; we simply lack the military and international support for it.

The US and world community are severely limited in our military options. A clear and present danger has been allowed to fester, and the world community's response to it has been abridged by the US' failure to lead a coherent, multilateral counter-proliferation campaign.

No further dialogue appears to be forthcoming; no multilateral solution or alternative the now-very-obvious lack of conventional capacity to challenge the North Koreans. The US has neither carrot nor stick.

Other Issues

In my last post, I brought up a PBS Frontline documentary on Pakistan which supported my suspicions about the regime. The hour-long report did a good job of describing Musharraf's predicament, stuck between placating rising fundamentalism and US demands, backed by the now-infamous threat by Richard Armitage to bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age.

The website on the "Rise of the Taliban" is here.

The grounds for my suspicion were quite frail as I tried to piece the geopolitical puzzle together. So as I dig deeper I find sources of evidence to fit my position, which hardly serves as "news". Many global security and South Asian analysts were undoubtedly wise to the frailty of Musharraf's rule and the duplicity of his stance against terror, showing the US one face and his tribes another.

The interplay--continuing today--between Pakistan's ISI and the Taliban bears further watching. As long as the War on Terror's rhetorical pronouncement that Pakistan is an ally dominates the ideological landscape, the feasibility of US military and foreign policy goals in Afghanistan will be quite limited. The threat from the Taliban will not go away, for the routes into Afghanistan are hard to police, and the bonds too strong between the Taliban and their Pakistani kinsmen.

So whatever the novelty of these intricacies to me, Pakistan has long been a sordid centerpiece in the waging of the War on Terror, and Bush's perception- and rhetoric-driven approach to dealing with Pakistan has made achieving victory militarily impossible.



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