Posted tagged ‘North Korea’

The North Korean Test

April 15, 2017

Is it Deja Vu all over again? The Trump Administration appears to be facing a similar “going nuclear” threat former President George W Bush saw before invading and occupying Iraq. There are some key differences, however. North Korea is already nuclear so there is no need to doctor the intelligence reports. Hmmm.

North Korea appears to be its own worst enemy. North Korea runs a bizarre isolated State where there is the Kim family and a close group of associates and everyone else. Starvation and deprivation are common conditions while the elite eat well and the country spends billions upon armaments and nuclear research. But what separates North Korea from other two bit authoritarian States is its willingness to tell the world of its plans. Irrational maybe but secretive, not.

If one plays along with the North Korean narrative, one should expect to see North Korea soon with tactical nuclear bombs and delivery devices (submarines and intercontinental rockets) capable of reaching any country who threatens North Korea (read US). What then one might ask?

Does anyone think North Korea could survive and exchange of nuclear bombs? Does anyone think the US would sue for peace if attacked by North Korea? Don’t think so.

So, if that is North Korea’s stated strategic intent (nuclear weapons and delivery systems), to what end would this capability be put? Does North Korea still seek to unite the Korean peninsula under their leadership? And would that be the end or would there be further territorial targets, like pay back goals such as attacking Japan or Russia?

Who knows what evil lurks in men’s minds?

One can see even better now what a poor example the Iraq Invasion and Occupation serves. To be sure a nuclear capable Iraq would have been a highly destabilizing factor in the Middle East. But the Iraq War was never really about potential nuclear weapons, there were none. The Iraq War was about enormously misguided neoconservative views about establishing a democracy in the heart of Arab fiefdoms, a shining light so to speak in a dark part of the world. The Iraq War would also show the rest of the world how powerful the US was and consequently make it much easier for the US to exert its will in other trouble spots. Oh, if that had been true?

North Korea is much different, or is it? What might happen if the US (even with China’s tacit approval) launched a pre-emptive attack. What if, as a result of this attack, there was regime change. What might follow? Would there emerge a lawless State bent on disrupting everyday life in South Korea or even China, sort a pirate like Asian Somalia.
Or would the US (and South Korea and Russia) accept Chinese occupation of the North in order to provide law and order. Or if one is really dreaming, would China (and South Korea and Russia) accept US occupation?


This is the mess facing President Trump. Clearly North Korea is a failed State and if magic could rule, North Korea should be transformed into a peaceful nation. But there is no plan or expectation of this positive outcome at this time.

So, does the Trump Administration just watch and hope for the best? Does the Trump team work on China in hopes of forming a combined effort to change North Korea’s behavior? And what role, if any, does Russia play?

Logic would demand that the three great powers work together and resolve the North Korean threat. North Korea’s nuclear weapons could be aimed at anyone. But working together requires trust and tell me how much trust exist betweens Russia, China, and the US at present?

Arguably the North Korea Test is one the Trump Administration is least able to handle. President Trump has a career of “bullying” tactics, followed by a deal, followed by selective reneging. Is that the type of person Russia and China might want to make a deal?

Consequently, the Trump Administration is left with a “wait and hope” that China can/will apply more pressure on North Korea so that North Korea voluntarily muzzles its provocative statements and puts into moth balls its current efforts to weaponize its nuclear capability. The North Korean Test, far more than the Syrian civil war, teaches the basics of, like it or not, the US cannot be an isolationists (America first), and being a globalist is an extremely difficult act.

Finding True North

December 17, 2014

Every once in a while, there comes along a news story which makes absolutely no difference about anything but some how can’t be erased from the public spot light. The alleged North Korean hacking of Sony Pictures is just such an example.

Sony Pictures has produced a movie with a plot involving a CIA planned assassination of North Korean President Kim Jong-Un. Why anyone would write such a script?  And make it a fictional comedy? for

The real life story involves North Korean agents hacking into the Sony Pictures’ computers and up loading movies and emails.  This is theft.  Subsequently, this pirated material was released to private sources who intern up loaded it to publicly available sites.

But it didn’t stop there.

In quick pursuit, all the major print and electronic news agencies published from this treasure trove of gossip as juicy material as they could find. And like all good news persons, these major media outlets contacted the individuals involved seeking quotes. Hmmm.

After a few days when the great revelations had given way to more minor and petty ones, a new set of voices stepped forward. “How can the media print stolen material?” Was this going to be a battle between the 1st and 4th Amendments? Where were the major outlets standards?

The Pentagon Papers were in essence “stolen material”, yet most observers would justify the publishing of them pointing to Government misdeeds. The Sony Pictures’ materials, however, do not rise to that standard of national security… or do they?

In this age of competition between old media and new digital media, the main stream printed or televised media appears afraid of its own shadow.  Old media has to move so much faster than in the past in order not to get scooped.  In this new speed, old media appears to have lowered its thinking standards.

The type of “news” exposed by these pirated up loads has in the past been found in the checkout aisles of grocery stores, not on the front pages of the Washington Post or New York Times.

Ironically, the real news story has yet to be printed.

Who broke into Sony Pictures electronic files? How did they break in and take this data without tipping off Sony? How could the thieves pass this information onto others without leaving a clear trace leading to their door steps? How much broader could these techniques be applied and what other personal or public data could be made public without permission? (Remember Bradley Manning and Wikileaks?)

I would have expected better from the likes of NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox (well maybe not Fox). I wonder whether these media giants still test their news producers about whether they can find “true north”?

What To Do About North Korea?

April 11, 2013

There is a lot of huffing and puffing going on about a two bit country in East Asia.  Of course I am talking about nuclear capable North Korea.  Every evening the nightly news shows breathlessly talk about the latest rhetoric flowing from North Korean sources.  Are we on the brink of nuclear war?

If you planning some fun events for this weekend, my advice would be to not think twice and go about your business.  If you had cancelled any events, I would strongly advise “take two aspirins, turn off the TV, and catch up on a good read”.

So why all this noise?

Probably two reasons.  (1) The media is simply shameless.  For them a world event with the US somehow involved represents dollars from heaven.  (2) For friends of the US defense budget, this is what they live for.  How can Congress cut defense spending with a war at our door steps?

So why are the North Koreans acting so strange?    Most likely it is just an extortion attempt.  South Korea and the US have in the past, on occasions of similar North Korean behavior, rewarded them with something good.  This time South Korea and the US are not likely to step forward with any goodies.  So who is going to be extorted?

My guess is that quietly China will promise some help on fuel or grain or something that the UN sanctions are keeping from North Korea.  In return for this help, China will ask North Korea to tone it down.  So North Korea will get its reward for acting out.

The actual situation is ludicrous.  North Korea might not last one day if armed warfare were to begin.    But… there is always the unexpected…  And were North Korea to use weapons of mass destruction, the US response would put an end to North Korea’s capability.   The question would be, at what cost and unintended consequence?

The US needs to make clear through diplomatic channels to North Korea, China, South Korea, and Japan what the consequences would be if North Korea were to attack any of its neighbors.  This message should be private and all North Korean public statements should be ignored.

Publicly, North Korea does not exists.  Privately, China, you must take care of North Korea, and South Korea and Japan, go on about your ways, China and the US have the situation under control.

With this approach, the big loser would be the media with the military industrial cousins holding fast.


Foreign Entanglements

April 3, 2013

George Washington, in his farewell address, advised the Country “to avoid foreign entanglements”.  He lived in a time when what happened in Europe was the example to learn by.  And Europe’s history of conflict after conflict with no apparent long term winners was his proof.  Today the world is much different but Washington’s advice seems still worthwhile.

President Obama has been criticized for “leading from behind”.  The President would say he was trying to avoid entanglements.  Actually, he should have been complemented since the “rear” has been very crowded with the likes of Germany, France, the UK, Russia, and China.  Despite what any of these countries says publicly, they all appreciate the US taking up the “world’s policeman” role.  Let the US do it.

The US’ decision not to sign a Status of Forces with Iraq is looking wiser everyday.   The Middle East appears incapable of self governing unless it is based upon force and absolute control.  While oil still drives the world’s economy and a Middle East disruption would hurt all economies including the US, oil has seen its peak and alternative energy sources will rule tomorrow.  And with that, so goes the importance of the Middle East.

Afghanistan is next on the list.  It has most all the characteristics of the Middle East.  Modernity lies in the distant future for Afghans due to its immense poverty and its middle ages religious beliefs.  President Obama will prove even wiser if he gets all the troops out of Afghanistan at the end of 2014.

But the world is not a happy and peaceful place either.  Countries such as Iran, North Korea, and potentially Pakistan pose risks to their neighbors which in turn pose risks to destabilizing the world’s balance of power.

Europe, the US, Russia and China have together found methods to live together even though their national interests are not necessarily aligned.  What will happen when North Korea or Iran freely spread nuclear know-how to other countries or asymmetrical non-state groups?

The “John Wayne Cowboy” instinct argues we should take a proactive stance.  Assume the responsibility to free the world of these bad actors.  Unfortunately as we are seeing in Syria, removing a despotic leadership may not appear to Russia, China or Iran as a good idea.  If the US were to pursue such a role, the price of poker would rise suddenly as secret supplies of arms (and insurgents) flowed in.

China has made absolutely ridiculous claims over total control of the South China Sea.  China looks to its history as justification but these claims are more easily understood in the context of the mineral wealth lying at the bottom of the South China Sea.  Countries such as Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines all have borders much close to parts of the South China Sea than China.  (Japan has made similar far fetched claims and of course has drawn strong reaction from China.)

So, how does one think that “leading from the front” would fare in this world of irrational government postures?  Hmmm.

If we would wish for common sense to rule, the big four (US, Europe, Russia, and China) must find a way see these unruly governments as a threat to each of their economic lives.  Islamic radicals are not what Russia is looking for.  If China’s export markets dried up, it is difficult to see how the Chinese government could maintain internal control.  And clearly both the US and Europe do best when the world’s economy is running smoothly.

What to do about Iran, North Korea, and probably Pakistan is not clear.  What is clear is that if any one of the big four thinks they see an advantage by helping one of these bad actors, then everyone will lose.  Leading from the rear should enable the US to more freely collaborate with Europe, Russia, and China when the US is not in a regional conflict.


When Two Anit-Matters Combine

March 10, 2012

The New York Times published an opinion piece Friday written by two individuals known for their extreme views.  The piece produced the blinding confusion just like one might expect when physicists succeed in smashing two particles of anti-matter together.

“Hands Off the Heavens” was written by John R Bolton and John C Yoo.  In this piece, the authors attack President Obama for his decision to follow the European Union plans to prevent an arms race in space.  President Obama’s plans represent an executive decision and not the force of a treaty.  Bolton and Yoo decry Obama’s decision as giving up America’s sovereignty.

The Opinion piece does not say what President Obama should be doing instead.  One is left to speculate that the US should be conducting weapons tests like shooting down other satellites and leaving tons of space junk orbiting recklessly around earth.

I guess Bolton and Yoo did not receive the memo saying the US has a massive deficit problem and many, like Tea Party members, want to cut government spending massively.  Defense spending must be part of any reduction effort.

The more interesting news here is who these authors are.

John Bolton is a well dressed “cold war” bully in the Dick Cheney mold.  He believes there are no limits to America’s power and manifest destiny.  He supported the tough approach towards Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.  Hussein was told to come clean on his nuclear weapons program.  When inspectors could not verify that any existed, Bolton (and others) insisted that unless Hussein stopped his program, greater measures would follow.  The Iraq invasion followed and, of course, no nuclear weapons were found.

Bolton also rode his war horse towards North Korea.  The US should spare no effort to isolate Kim Jung Il and forget about negotiations he advised.  Bolton scolded the President and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton often for being too soft on North Korea.  Another memo that explained that North Korea was actually within the China orbit and unilateral military actions against North Korea was not an option seem to have missed Bolton’s desk.

John Yoo is peculiar buddy to be teamed with Bolton.  Yoo, you may remember, wrote the famous legal advice that said enhanced interrogation methods that did not simulate pain as in an “organ failure” were legally acceptable.  Water boarding straight from the Inquisitions and outlawed by the Geneva Treaty (which the US signed) was ok in Yoo’s book.

There has always been a question in my mind whether Yoo was writing what he thought his superiors wanted or whether he really believed in torture.  It could be both, but his writings since have stressed the implied extraordinary powers the Executive Branch possesses (or should possess).  Maybe Yoo wants to become king.

Both Bolton and Yoo display the same characteristic.  They assume the US is “correct” in its actions to achieve certain goals and that any means to achieve those ends are justifiable.  They also display a seeming lack of anticipation of any adverse reaction towards these US positions.  Simply stated, the US is right, its actions are just, and nothing bad will happen to us as a result.

Their positions are delusional.

To Iran or Not To Iran

December 31, 2011

It is that time of the year.  Specifically, it is not just any year, but an election year.  Politicians proudly stand and say what ever they think their base would like to year.  Talking tough sells very well.  Leaders, I am told, are suppose to act tough.

The GOP Presidential candidates have thrown their dice on the subject of what to do about Iran’s potential nuclear capability.  All but one has come down squarely on the side of tough action, like bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities.  That’s politics.

There is one notable exception.  Ron Paul.   His libertarian message of “imminent” threat is a wise and prudent position for US foreign policy.  It just does not sell on the campaign trail as well these days.

Think back to 2002 when George W Bush told us Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and could pose a threat to America.  He order Iraq to renounce WMD, open their boarders to inspectors, and destroy their current weapons and programs.  This was a difficult order to follow since Iraq did not have either WMD weapons or programs to develop.  Iraq simply saying “no, we have no WMD” was not enough to change the minds of the Chaney-ites.

A trillion dollars and over 4000 US dead later, one might think Ron Paul’s words would receive a fuller review.  They are just not tough enough.  But they are Presidential because the world is not as simple as the other GOP candidates suggest.

After bombing Iran, would the US move onto North Korea and then maybe Pakistan?

Thankfully not on Ron Paul’s watch.

Speak Softly

May 27, 2009

North Korea is either the victim of very more translations of the leaders’ speeches or they are plain dysfunctional. North Korea is a dirt poor country surrounding by relatively rich, and comparatively open societies (China, South Korea, and Japan). What is it about life in general that they do not get?

So this weekend, North Korea chose to detonate another nuclear device only weeks following their test launch of an ICBM. Their citizens starve while their Government squanders millions on “defensive” weapons with no practical purpose. Some experts say that North Korea’s behavior represents the effects of internal political struggles where the successor of Kim Jong Il is being debated. While that may be true, North Korea has in the past been implicated in the export of nuclear technology and materials. For North Korea, the detonation and missile launch are effective advertising and sale of this know-how represents a source of hard currency. Business is business.

Former UN Ambassador John Bolton lives for situations such as this. A bad acting North Korea allows Bolton to mount his high horse and deliver great speeches that threaten North Korea with practically annihilation. Bolton the patriot, Bolton the chicken hawk, ready to send other people’s children to war, always ready and waiting for North Korea.

Fortunately this time around there is a new Administration that does not follow the whistle of the neoconservatives. President Obama may not be fully ready for this flare up but he has his pieces almost in position. South Korea has now signed the International Agreement that provides for boarding vessels in International waters that are suspected of carrying nuclear contraband. China is not at all pleased with North Korea’s behavior and Japan is quite worried that the crazies in North Korea may think it is “pay back time” for Japan.  International cooperation seems possible, so what should President Obama do?

In my opinion, President Obama should do nothing publicly. He should instruct his Secretary of State to plan (behind the public spotlight) with China steps to cut off land supply of materials useful for weapons production and limit food and humanitarian land imports to cash payments. All ships leaving North Korea should be followed and if nuclear contraband is suspect, they should be boarded. The US should give China absolute assurance that it will neither interfere with North Korea’s internal politics nor will it support unilateral military force against North Korea. The US need not waste its time with direct talks with North Korea but rather deal with its behavior through the good offices of North Korea’s neighbors. North Korea is a threat to its neighbors far more than the US.  Taking the US sail out of North Korea’s wind is the right move at this time.