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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Tiger Who Couldn't Roar; US Foreign Policy Failures Emerge

North Korean's test and development of nuclear weapons is being toned down in the mainstream media. The response from the US has been slow in coming, perhaps not unlike the 9-11 reaction of the President to the news that "we are under attack". Calm and steady ahead appear to be his favored reaction to crisis as he read on to an audience of children in a Florida school for upwards of 7 minutes.

The North Korea crisis may be contrived. Blame has been tossed from Bush to Clinton; the fact remains that it was under Bush's watch that North Korea broke the seals on the fuel rods given to it in the Clinton Framework and reprocessed them. Bush has also failed to deter North Korea from testing a weapon. The US appears incapable of punishing North Korea for its test through the UN sanctions of questionable enforceability.

While our aggressive foreign policy may have motivated Pyong-yang to acquire weapons, someone else supplied the components and technology. They may have been supplied to North Korea from Pakistan. The Administration's counterproliferation effort backpedaled with Pakistan, in order to garner its support in the War on Terror in 2001.

In a section below, I reveal some alarming news about the connection between North Korea and Pakistan. In keeping with previous posts, I will try to defend earlier conclusions, in this case concerning Pakistan's suitability as an ally in the War on Terror.

The Administration's neo-con-dominated foreign policy has come at the expense of foreign policy pragmatism. Direct confrontation is purposefully not avoided, diplomatic methods scorned, largely for the benefit of a domestic audience on the Republican Right. Their opinions are crafted by hate mongers in Talk Radio, and libel the exercise of caution as weakness and the cause of dissent as betrayal. The President echoes their crass oversimplifications, linking the idea of a structured settlement or phased withdrawal "cut'n'run."

At this point admitting failure is more politically damaging than pretending we can win. Contorted into twisted sound bites, the Administration's foreign policy may appease the base, but the Global War On Terror is hardly functional. Iraqi casualties soar as (mostly) Republican corruption surfaces just short of the election.

On this blog, I've previously identified limitation imposed in the realms of military limits, geopolitics, image, and realpolitik.

This post focuses more on the gaping failure of US foreign policy to prevent the development and test of nuclear weapons by North Korea. Failing to lead the world in counterproliferation, the Administration has destabilized the Korean Peninsula and put Japan at risk.

North Korea is a threat, of this there is no doubt. What is less well understood, or publicized, is the issue of whether US foreign policy is to blame for the crisis.

Failure in Korea

There are three countries who show why the US' approach to North Korean is bound to fail: Israel, Iraq and Iran.

The first is Israel. Israel has been the subject of over 100 UN resolutions. As it is, the West Bank is being devoured by Jewish settlements indefiance of UN mandates. The failure of any UN resolution to restrain Israeli expansion or domination over its neighbors bodes poorly for the effectiveness of sanctions on North Korea.

I've read that Bush may have included North Korea in the Axis of Evil simply to make it look like we weren't find the enemies of Israel. The US probably hasn't launched an elective war exclusively on Israel's behalf, yet architects of the war are firmly connected to the State of Israel. For more, look at David Wurmser's A Clean Break, and Project for a New American Century.

Both strategic assessments focused on removing Saddam in Iraq and destabilizing the Mideast, a path that would benefit Israel's efforts to establish itself as the premier hegemon in the region. The former Number 2 in the Pentagon, David Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle have both worked on behalf of Israeli interests, with the influential Perle at one time employed by the Israeli government.

The extent to which pro-Israeli forces (and more specifically Zionist elements of the Israeli far right) have shaped US foreign policy is debated. The anti-Muslim zeal which the Administration embraces resembles perhaps not coincidentally with that of the Israeli Right. Iran is Israel's arch-enemy and its defeat or destabilization is a primary goal.

The US can't invade Iran, so any military option will be inadequate and would strengthen anti-American resolve. The consequences in Iraq would be dire, considering Iran's influence over the Shia there. Still, if peace in Iraq there benefits Iran, ongoing civil war could justify the occupation, although it would become increasingly costly in terms of lives and political fallout. If de-stabilization is the end-goal, a US attack may be successful in achieving policy goals, but bring far bigger problems in the theatre and beyond.

So Iraq provides a second example of why the US approach to North Korea won't work: militarily the US can't dominate. It can roar at Iran, and attack it from the air, but as we saw with Israel and Lebanon, air attacks alone can't produce a favorable outcome.
Substantive changes like regime swapping can only come from the effort of adequate numbers soldiers on the ground.

As we see in Iraq, inadequate troop force precludes the possibility of securing peace; the country isn't as homogeneous as Germany or Japan post-WWII. The threat we face is not in a fascist government; once trounced, a secular government is far easier to replace if the war-ravaged people there are receptive to a more democratic government. To function, a democratically elected government must re-establish security, i.e. with adequate troops, unlike what we've done in Iraq.

Geneva and International Law

The application of international law and treaty is a key qualification for success in Iraq.

As I've said, denying Geneva has led to two major policy flaws. The first is procedural: the Geneva Convention stipulates that the invader must return the invaded to a state of security equivalent to that which existed before invading.ignoring international law makes it hard for the Occupier to systematically manage the conquered country and transfer authority back to the Occupied. The Occupation is thus more likely to be prolonged and fiercely resisted.

The other main consequence of circumventing Geneva is the loss of international credibility. A just cause is not enough to legitimatize the Occupation of Iraq, or any occupation for that matter, in the eyes of the world community. This is the most fundamental miscalculation the Bush Administration made. While the domestic audience was susceptible to Rove's cunning strategies pandering to militarist and nationalist impulses, the international community was not.

We see the impact of go-it-alone and extralegal behaviour by US Occupying forces playing themselves out in the court of international public opinion. Iraq's legacy as a victim of US unilateralism and rampant military force feeds our enemies by weakening support for foreign policy goals in other parts of the world.

Multilateral efforts like those required for successful counter-proliferation have suffered. North Korea is an example of what can happen when the world community is incapable of preventing proliferation because its leader--the US--is off fighting a war of choice in Iraq, a war falsely justified on the same counter-proliferation argument.

Without broad international support, the effort to isolate North Korea will fail. The Administration has cried wolf, and expended whatever international credibility it had when its reasons for invading Iraq proved false.

Geopolitical Realities

In speaking on October 16th before her trip to Asia, Rice alluded to a "New Security Environment" in Northeast Asia. I find it ironic that the changes to the security atmosphere have been perpetuated by the North Koreans, and that the US is reacting, quite uncharacteristically from our behavior in the Middle East theatre.

The threat from North Korea is very real. They have managed to launch rockets over the Japanese Islands, and even tested a ballistic missile called the Taepodong-2, with a range of up to 9,300 miles, during the summer. It is more than possible that North Korea could put Tokyo under the threat of direct nuclear missile attack. Already Seoul is under the guns of the monolithic, militarized (Stalinist) state.

The Japanese have every right to be concerned. I was in the Tokyo area in 2002 when news of North Korean kidnappings of Japanese emerged. [They were later used to teach North Korean spies Japanese.] In numerous conversations with Japanese students, I came to learn that North Korea was considered far more threatening than Iraq. Fear among the Japanese wasn't confined to the egregious act of kidnapping, a North Korean missile was fired over the Japanese main island in 1998.

Yet the fear factor has been in large part ignored by Washington. This contrasts with its readiness to drum of fear for its War on Terror, which, in light of the weak response to North Korea, would make the War on Terror look to be more about Muslims than WMD.

The rhetoric about attacking Iraq "so they don't attack us here" neglects our commitments to our allies "over there," who happen to include the Japanese. The War on Terror's iidea of fighting them over there fails our allies miserably, perhaps like Secretary of State Acheson's failed to include South Korea in the US' arc of strategic defense encompassing Eastern Asia just prior to the North Koreans' attack in 1950.

International law is far less lenient in determining our reaction should North Korea strike. Our treaty obligations force our military to consider a North Korea missile strike--nuclear on not--on a Japanese city just like a strike on one of our cities. Yet there's no talk of the threat in these terms despite its magnitude or the apparent inability of our armed forces to take the threat off the table or respond conventionally.

Media Image and Policy Contradictions

On North Korean the US is passive, whereas the action on Iraqwas characterized as proactive or preemptive, as it is now on Iran. The Rovian spin machine seems lethargic vis-a-vis North Korean compared to the frothy war rhetoric churned out in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. The President listlessly acknowledged that the US has no change in policy in light of the "alleged" test.

In her press conference October 16th, Rice seemed in control, her face pleasantly absent of the contortions of rage we saw in the heated brinksmanship of mushroom clouds, devious Iraqi malfeasance, and UN non-compliance over inspections. Gone is the raging storm of outrage over the threat posed by WMD in Iraq, replaced by a very calm, rational diplomatic approach.

The desire to spin--in this case deny that the nuclear test happened--may have in fact damaged our capacity to react. We saw the same foot-dragging out of Bush and ice in reacting to Israel's attack on Lebanon. The White House spin machine succeeded in casting sufficient doubt over the tests to delay any meaningful action on the matter. In the intervening week, the North Koreans has seized on the delay to announce additional nuclear tests. Initiative is now completely on the side of the North Koreans and their despotic Dear Leader.

The irony of a rogue state developing WMD and flagrantly testing them really does make an superordinate anti-Muslim perrogative within the War on Terror likely. As I said in my last post, to be effective foreign policy must be consistently enforced and enforcable. I surmise one reason for neglecting North Korea (or at least tolerating its development of nukes) is that its regime wasn't likely to have well developed ties to terror groups on par with Iran or--more speculatively--Iraq, had they dealt in WMD.

The problem with the North Korean possession of nukes may not be possession of nukes, but rather a demonstrated--after the test--possession of nuclear weapons technology. I'm not a nuclear weapons expert, but I suspect the technology on how to build weapons is already out there and so the largest challenge is in acquiring components and processed nuclear matter. If this is the case, North Korea may pose a far more difficult challenge to counter-proliferation efforts through its provisioning of peripheral nuclear weapons components, some perhaps small and nearly impossible to track, than it could as a one-stop shop for pre-assembled nukes.

North Korea's test may forebode a similiar achievement by Iran. I've heard estimates for the development of an Iranian nuke as far as 5-10 years away. If you subtract the expected duration of hostilities pursuant to Bush's commitment to occupy Iraq "as long as it takes," US forces will be facing off against a nuclear power in Iran. This is hardly an enviable scenario for the sake of peace and stability, nor hardly a position of strength.

Perhaps the North Korean test is a preview of what will happen in Iran. In this sense, proliferation plays to the neo-con's ambitions by magnifying the threat and justifying their rhetoric. Even if Iran gets nukes it will be too late--or so is the neo-con's message now so clearly brought to light in Korea.

Facing a nuclear powered foe drastically alters the geopolitical dynamic, as North Korea and Iran must know. If our foreign policy plays a dangerous game, it's achieving little. The concept of preemption through military force has been decimated by Iraq. The limits to which our military force can be now deployed have been made clear to any belligerent.

By linking Iran and North Korea under the Axis, Bush perhaps unwittingly encouraged arms-sharing and mutual defense pacts between the two nations. Geopolitically, this is like applying the opposite of a divide-and-conquer strategy; it unifes enemies and congeals opposition to US foreign policy objectives. Why wouldn't North Korea share nuclear weapons technology with Iran?

The occupation of two of Iran's neighbors by the US military has made the Iran's pursuit and eventual acquisition of nuclear weapons a fait accompli. We've been told by the Pentagon that our presence in Iraq will last at least into 2010. (In failing to question the Pentagon's dictate, it seems the Mainstream Media has concluded that Congress or the President--who will presumably not be Bush but could be a Bush--doesn't decide how long our troops stay.)

The threat to Iran that the US poses militarily invites the country to develop a nuclear deterrent capability. Again, the spread of nukes arise as if were the intended consequence of our foreign policy. In a perfect loop, the urgent need for interdiction before development and testing justifies the aggressive stance espoused by the neo-cons who shaped our confrontational policies, which directly contribute to proliferation.

Bush's disengagement from diplomatic recourses with North Korea appears to be replicating itself in Iran, although there's no possibility of a digression from any kind of Agreed Framework with Iran as we have no diplomatic presence at all. Bush's approach to dealing with members of his Axis of Evil repudiates any direct communication; out of domestic political considerations, contemptuous it wants to seem for the practice of diplomacy, for fear of appearing weak against the threat (Goering.)

Avoiding attempts to resolve crisis through dialogue and the neo-conservative's contempt for diplomacy have made nuclear weapons development by Iran a fait accompli. This is perhaps the best justification for a continuation of the neo-cons' Wild and Unpredictable Adventure into the Mideast, where shooting first is thought to be the best approach to dealing with any difference of opinion, and where the use of military force thought to be the best solution, however judicious peaceful alternatives might be.

The greatest challenge with the use of military force is that it can be depleted. The soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are forced to go on multiple tours, so the US military has lost its all-volunteer composition. As we saw in Katrina and now the hawaii earthquake, National Guard units have been so depleted of their men and materiel as to fail in their most important purpose: guarding the Homeland.

Rice and Bush may say no military options are off the table, but there is no way we can intimidate. We can huff and puff, but we are helpless militarily except through nuclear weapons, which will blow back onto the faces of our friends the Japanese and Koreans. Our posture is hapless because our military is harmless and incapable of dominating a determined rag tag insurgency, much less a fanatical North Korean force.

China Wants, China Gets

Sanctions will prove unenforceable since we have no way of monitoring cross-border trade between Russia and China with whom North Korea shares borders.

While China did sign the UN's sanction, its ambassador began backing off the principle of sanctions almost immediately. While the Chinese have paid some lip service to the idea of inspecting cross-border shipments, there's no way to contain the flow of trade across the border.

To meet the trade sanctions, the Chinese need to be capable and willing to stop trade with North Korea, and the US appears incapable of telling China what to do. The US might be able to apply pressure on China through developing a global consensus, but America has no credibility to expend in the effort, having spent it on convincing the world that Iraq was a immediate threat.

Under the Shanghai Cooperative Organization, China and Russia have not been idle in developing an alternative to the unrestricted domination of the world's leadership paradigm by the US. The needless attack upon poor, indefensible Iraq by "the world's only superpower" has popularized the non-US-centric model offered by the SCO [see more below]. This phenomena is like that seen during the Cold War, when poorer 3rd World nations sought Soviet aid and weapons in exchange for sympathetic UN votes.

The Chinese have been busy making energy deals in East Africa and with Iran. Energy-hungry, they're hardly picky in choosing trading partners; human rights issues don't get in the way so any number of 3rd World countries will likely rally to the SCO banner. Already some nations in the Western Hemisphere like Venezuela have aligned themselves with the Chinese.

While most Americans might cast Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's anti-yankee rumblings aside, there is undeniably a highly credible anti-American movement occuring in South America. Like the Roman Empire, citizens on Pax Americana may not realize their vulnerability until the hordes are clamoring on our Southern border, like the Visigoths on the River Po. Already Mexico writhes in internal convulsions after a contested election, up and down Latin America impoverished masses call out for an alternative to the predatory capitalism and repressive militarization embraced by the American Right.

Limited Military Options, Grim Economic Realities

The most obvious use of the military is in the form of some kind of naval blockade. Unfortunately, that puts the Navy in close proximity to the North and South Korea fleets, who've shot at each other as recently as the summer of 2002. Add to this volatility merchantships of all flags running into and out of China and you have a seething caldron of acts of war just one angry captain away from happening.

Should we launch any form of military action in Korea, the Chinese would have to be on board. The US and UN clearly want to avoid a recurrence of 1950, where Chinese hordes joined the war against the UN as the North Koreans stood poised on the brink of elimination.

The Chinese likely want a buffer state. A unified Korea could threaten them if the North agrees to ally itself strategically with its brethren in the far more successful South, like we saw in Eastern Europe after the fallof the Soviet Union. This could push US military bases far too close to their border.

China subsidizes a large part of our $2 billion/day trade deficit, and produces a large percentage of our vital war materiel. Should China be displeased with the intervention they could pull funding or trade and cripple us economically. It remains to be seen if China would be willing to accept risks to the flow trade in order to protect the North Korea regime.

It's likely the Chinese see the Koreans as a economic rival. A unified Korea could begin exporting directly to Europe with a land route through Russia. Currently trade must go by ship.

Keeping North Korean politically stunted and economically backward is likely seen by the Chinese as a cheap and effective method for maintaining a divided Korean Peninsula.

Additional Sources and Commentary

The Russians and Chinese may be the real victors emerging out of the War on Terror, as foreign policy blunders and realpolitik oversights by the US open a door of unprecedented opportunity for our rivals.

More on the Shanghai Cooperative Organization from a somewhat alarmist perspective at frontpagemag.com here.

This on Iran's entry into the SCO here.

The Asia Times article by Bhadrakumar linked above quotes a Russian General:
"...The US's long term goals in Iran are obvious: to engineer the downfall of the current regime; to establish control over Iran's oil and gas; and to use its territory as the shortest route for the transportation of hydrocarbons under US control from the regions of Central Asia and the Caspian Sea bypassing Russia and China."

Even if the US public harbors the notion that the US is the worlds preeminent economic, military, and political power, the truth is that outside forces are competing constantly to challenge our position.

The balance of trade and worsening US fiscal situation supports the premise that the US cannot sustain its economic advantage indefinitely. At its current growth rate China will become the largest economy in or around the year 2025 [1] or 2041 [2] at the latest.

[1] "No Longer the 'Lone' Superpower: Coming to Terms with China" by Chalmers Johnson [Link]
"...Shahid Javed Burki, former vice president of the World Bank's China Department and a former finance minister of Pakistan, predicts that by 2025 China will probably have a GDP of $25 trillion in terms of purchasing power parity...followed by the United States at $20 trillion..."
[2] National Intelligence Council's 2020 Project, citing Goldman Sachs, Global Economics Paper No. 99 , October 2003.

Other Resources

See an excellent, prescient article on Japan and East Asia from the author of Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, Chalmers Johnson, here.

Pakistan's Role

I am discovering new information on the Pakistani link to the development of North Korean nukes

Paul Krugman has written on Bush's failure to castigate Pakistan for its failure to stop infamous nuke black market profiteer Dr. A.Q. Khan. In "Weak on Terror" for the NYT (3/16/04) Krugman writes:

...the administration is still covering up for Pakistan, whose government recently made the absurd claim that large-scale shipments of nuclear technology and material to rogue states — including North Korea, according to a new C.I.A. report — were the work of one man, who was promptly pardoned by President Pervez Musharraf. Mr. Bush has allowed this farce to go unquestioned.

I found the following information from Indian activist Praful Bidwai posted on antiwar.com dated but significant:

"Robert Einhorn, Bill Clinton's assistant secretary of state for non-proliferation, told The Washington Post that North Korea and Pakistan have been known to engage in sensitive trade, including Pakistans purchase of Nodong missiles from North Korea...[C]oncerns were raised whether there was a quid pro quo in the form of enrichment technology...

"The New York Times too quotes intelligence officials as saying: What you have here is a perfect meeting of interests the North had what the Pakistanis needed and the Pakistanis had a way for Kim-Jong Il to restart a nuclear programme we had stopped.

"A number of Indian intelligence sources too have confirmed the North Korea-Pakistan trade-off, partly based on the documents they found on board a North Korean ship which they intercepted in 1999 at an Indian port en route to Karachi from Pyongyang, carrying 170 tonnes of material suspected to be metal casings and missile components.

"...Joseph Cirincione, director of the non-proliferation project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, told India's Outlook magazine that it would be perfectly rational to assume that Pakistan provided the nuclear technology in exchange for missiles: It's a logical deal, and at the time it must have made perfect sense from the Pakistani point of view.

"According to Cirincione, the North Koreans established links directly with Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, head of the eponymous weapons laboratories, which developed the enrichment technology at Kahuta, based on pilfered designs. Cirincione said: Khan made 12 separate trips to Pyongyang in four years, underscoring his intimate and personal relationship with North Korea.

"Another Indian magazine has reported that Benazir Bhutto, then Prime Minister, too visited Pyongyang clandestinely in the mid-1990s to finalise agreements for missile purchase and nuclear technology transfer.

"The forced retirement of AQ Khan the Father of the Bomb, and a national hero and of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission chairman Ishfaq Khan in March 2001 sparked off speculation that the action was taken under US pressure for reasons connected with North Korea's suspected uranium enrichment programme.

"Islamabad has forcefully and repeatedly refuted all allegations of a nuclear-missile deal with North Korea...

"One does not have to be an alarmist or a non-proliferation fundamentalist to cast doubts on the assurances that General Pervez Musharraf offered to Colin Powell that Islamabad never supplied nuclear expertise to North Korea.

"When asked whether Musharraf was telling the truth, Powell said: I'm talking about now and I m talking about what might be happening in the future. I don't want to go back into the past because it would involve some sources and methods that I'd not discuss.

"Today, Musharraf seems to be using his very special leverage with the US in its battle against Al-Qaeda to seek America's indulgence for having made a high-risk nuclear-missile trade-off in the 1990s. There is a good chance he will get away {with it}..."

The article is here.

The Bidwai piece is supported by this article in the International Herald Tribune, which focuses on a Musharraf interview in August 2005 in which he reveals that A.Q. Khan "'...sent "centrifuges - parts and complete' to North Korea."

This article from CBS cast some light on Pakistan's role as well and discusses the North Koreans' missile capability relative to plutonium- or uranium-based nukes.

Bottom line is that Pakistan was in a position to provide nuclear weapons or technology to North Korea.

I've brought Pakistan up in preceding posts on the matter.Pakistan's committment to the War on Terror has been seriously questioned. Apparently a deal was signed between Pakistan and tribes sympathetic to the Taliban in September. Musharraf also pardoned A.Q. Khan, perhaps to placate pan-Islamic nationalists who threaten his rule. Stuck between domestic consituencies, Musharraf is hardly reliable.

As dictator of nuclear weaponed Pakistan, Musharraf is in a postion to stop proliferation is Musharraf. He may be the best the US can hope for, despite his absence of democratic credentials--coming to power in a coup as he did--and troublesome ouble-dealing--some would say appeasement--of pro-Taliban groups.

Understanding the Pakistani role is clearly crucial in managing the spread of nuclear weapons and the War on Terror, if stopping the spread of WMD is indeed its goal.



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