October 24, 2006
A Simple Plan
The New Media Journal carries a fictional bit of prognostication by one Raymond S. Kraft. It is the story of a surprise nuclear attack on the United States, performed with aplomb by Iran and North Korea [via Rocket's Brain Trust].
At 0723 Hawaii time on the 67th Anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack three old fishing trawlers, about 100 miles apart, and each about 300 miles off the east coast, launched six small cruise missiles from launch tubes that could be dismantled and stored in the holds under ice, or fish, and set up in less than an hour. The missiles were launched at precisely one minute intervals. As soon as each boat had launched its pair, the skeleton crew began to abandon ship into a fast rubber inflatable. The captain was last off, and just before going overboard started the timer on the scuttling charges. Fifteen minutes later and ten miles away, each crew was going up the nets into a small freighter or tanker of Moroccan or Liberian registry, where each man was issued new identification as ship's crew. The rubber inflatables were shot and sunk, and just about then charges in the bilges of each of the three trawlers blew the hulls out, and they sank with no one on board and no distress signals in less than two minutes.Commentary
The missiles had been built in a joint operation by North Korea and Iran, and tested in Iran, so they would not have to overfly any other country. The small nuclear warheads had only been tested deep underground. The GPS guidance and detonating systems had worked perfectly, after a few corrections. They flew fifty feet above sea level, and 500 feet above ground level on the last leg of the trip, using computers and terrain data modified from open market technology and flight directors, autopilots, adapted from commercial aviation units. They would adjust speed to arrive on target at specific times and altitudes, and detonate upon reaching the programmed GPS coordinates. They were not as adaptable and intelligent as American cruise missiles, but they did not need to be. Not for this mission.
I'm unfamiliar with Mr. Kraft's work, but here he succeeds in rapidly painting a scenario that is entirely plausible. The more interesting questions are those it merely implies.
October 17, 2006
Collapses and Coups
The world should not be surprised by a Chinese-sponsored coup in North Korea.
Consider two assumptions: first, that of all the countries surrounding North Korea, China by far possesses the most levers of influence. It shares a long border with North Korea; provides food aid and other types of logistics support to North Korea; has a treaty with North Korea, calling it a "friend"; has a shared ideological background; has cooperated on some military matters; and so forth. Not only that, but because of all of these relationships, the Chinese are in a much better position than the other neighbors to have a clear read on exactly what is going on inside the North; what the status of the military is; who in the leadership might be tired of Kim; and so forth.
The second assumption is that there are many possible futures for the crisis. These beg the question: which will be more beneficial to China, and therefore, which might China attempt to foster?
October 11, 2006
A Nuclear Leviathan in the Pacific
Westhawk argues that the biggest loser of North Korea's nuclear test is China.
China remains by far the biggest loser from North Korea’s actions. America’s security alliances with Japan and South Korea will become more important and these bonds will be strengthened. Japan, now led by the unapologetic nationalist Shinzo Abe, will scrap any remaining restraints on its military doctrine and will invest in an offensive military strike capability. Japan could also very quickly become a nuclear weapons state itself, something that could occur after further provocations.Joe Katzman argues at WindsofChange that the focus should not be on North Korea, but on China:
The truth is that North Korea is an irrelevant bit player in this whole drama. The real player here is China. They have helped North Korea at every step, and North Korea's regime cannot survive at all without their ongoing food and fuel aid. Kim Jong-Il's nuclear plans may be slightly inconvenient to the Chinese - just not not inconvenient enough to derail a strategy that still promises net plusses to those pursuing it within China's dictatorship.Both of them think that the best way to influence China, and thereby to influence North Korea, is to make it clear that Japan, South Korea, and possibly even Taiwan, will be encouraged or given tacit approval by the US to strengthen their militaries.
The U.S. and its allies in the region will be forced to bypass an ineffectual China when formulating their security arrangements in the Asia-Pacific theater. And this will result in a strengthening American-led, anti-Chinese alliance in the region. This is exactly opposite the outcome China wished to see occur.And Katzman:
In other words, China won't move unless its current strategy is seen to cost them, big-time.David Frum, former Bush speechwriter, takes a similar tack, in an article in the New York Times (here via AEI):
The biggest cost, and the only one that will be real to them in any sense, is to have Kim Jong-Il's nuclear detonation result in parallel nuclear proliferation among the nearby states China wishes to dominate/ bully. That would be a foreign policy disaster for the Chinese, and would cause the current architects of China's North Korea policy to be buried along with their policy. Which, as we noted earlier, is the only kind of policy education that works in a system like theirs.
A new approach is needed. America has three key strategic goals in the wake of the North Korean nuclear test. The first is to enhance the security of those American allies most directly threatened by North Korean nuclear weapons: Japan and South Korea.Frum offers a four part plan for dealing with the crisis and accomplishing his three steps [emphasis added]:
The second is to exact a price from North Korea for its nuclear program severe enough to frighten Iran and any other rogue regimes considering following the North Korean path.
The last is to punish China. North Korea could not have completed its bomb if China, which provides the country an immense amount of food and energy aid, had strongly opposed it. Apparently, Beijing sees some potential gain in the uncertainty that North Korea's status brings. If China can engage in such conduct cost-free, what will deter Russia from aiding the Iranian nuclear program, or Pakistan someday aiding a Saudi or Egyptian one?
Step up the development and deployment of existing missile defense systems.Commentary
[ . . . ]
End humanitarian aid to North Korea and pressure South Korea to do the same.
[ . . . ]
Invite Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore to join NATO--and even invite Taiwan to send observers to NATO meetings.
[ . . . ]
Encourage Japan to renounce the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and create its own nuclear deterrent.
What Frum proposes would most certainly punish China, but how much punishment is too much? Consider the panoply of security architectures that have comprised the US alliance system in the Pacific. The US has a security treaty with Japan. It has similar agreements with South Korea. It has guarantees, explicit and otherwise, with Taiwan. The US used to have an alliance with Australia and New Zealand called ANZUS; but New Zealand protested the stationing of nuclear weapons or nuclear ships in its ports in the 1980s, forcing the US to come to refer to New Zealand as a "friend, not an ally." The alliance with Australia on the other hand, is one of the strongest that the US maintains.
At the same time, each of these countries has dramatically differing relations with each other. Australia maintains an alliance with New Zealand. Japan has no security relationship with South Korea, though it has offered to help defend Taiwan from China. A diagram of the existing security relationships might look like the following. I've included all alliances as arrows, whereas other lesser defense partnerships are lines without arrows. All of the US relationships are included; not all of those between the other countries are:
October 9, 2006
In 2004, an article appeared in the Korea Times, quoting National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. Hadley stated that the US policy toward North Korea is one of "regime transformation."
In an apparent policy turnaround, the United States will seek transformation of the North Korean regime without attempting to change or overthrow it, a top U.S. security policymaker said Tuesday.If regime transformation is the policy of the US government, it seems a strategy of "collapse brinksmanship" is the method being employed to reach it.
``If the U.S. policy is put into words, it would be `regime transformation,’’’ National Security Advisor-designate Stephen Hadley was quoted as telling South Korean parliamentary delegates visiting the U.S.
Hadley also reiterated the U.S. is firmly committed to the six-party talks aimed at resolving the nuclear standoff and has no intention of attacking North Korea, according to the lawmakers.
Rep. Park Jin, a key member of the delegation, said Hadley’s statement can be understood as a U.S. policy that would induce North Korea toward transformation through gradual economic reform without trying to collapse the current regime.
In Cold War nuclear strategy, brinkmanship was first defined by John Foster Dulles as "the ability to get to the verge without getting into the war." Wikpedia notes, "Brinkmanship is ostensibly the escalation of threats to achieve one's aims. Eventually, the threats involved might become so huge as to be unmanageable at which point both sides are likely to back down. This was the case during the Cold War, as the escalation of threats of nuclear war is mutually suicidal."
But the brinksmanship being practiced now by the US is one of collapse, not nuclear attack. The US is attempting to create conditions whereby it becomes more and more likely that North Korea will collapse. The intended audiences for this interplay are China and South Korea, who have the most to fear of a North Korean collapse. Also, whereas in nuclear brinkmanship, as Wikipedia notes, both sides usually back down to avoid suicide, the US will not suffer suicide if North Korea collapses. Sure, it might be ugly, but the US has the least to lose from such an event.
In short, the US strategy is meant to show South Korea and China just how dangerous North Korea is, to get them all to on the same page, so that the North can then be induced to negotiate away its nuclear capability. Then, as Hadley detailed, the regime can be transformed, via "gradual economic reform."
It's a bold strategy, and it might not work. But the alternatives are equally hairy. Live with a nuclear North? Begin a military confrontation? Or other combinations of either of these? None are very palatable. Collapse brinkmanship may well be the least of many evils.
Was the nuke test a hoax?
This site does not profess conspiracy theories.
But from time to time, I do attempt to perform what I've called "agressive pattern-spotting."
1. About two years ago, there were rumors of an impending North Korean nuclear test. Later, there was an enormous explosion. The explosion was later determined to have been a massive amount of conventional munitions. The North Koreans, living in such a mountainous country, are quite good at mining, tunnelling, and excavation, and large quantities of TNT and other explosives are part and parcel of those competencies. Read about this incident here, via the BBC.
2. President Bush, in his statement today about the test, said this (emphasis added):
Last night the government of North Korea proclaimed to the world that it had conducted a nuclear test. We're working to confirm North Korea's claim. Nonetheless, such a claim itself constitutes a threat to international peace and security.3. Via Drudge, Japan's Kyodo News Agency is reporting that a number of jets have been dispatched from the Japanese Air Self Defense Force to:
[ . . . ]
Threats will not lead to a brighter future for the North Korean people, nor weaken the resolve of the United States and our allies to achieve the de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Today's claim by North Korea serves only to raise tensions, while depriving the North Korean people of the increased prosperity and better relations with the world offered by the implementation of the joint statement of the six-party talks.
check levels of radioactivity over the Sea of Japan and other areas following North Korea's announcement about its nuclear test.4. The scale of the explosion was small for a nuclear test. This article quotes the Korea Earthquake Research Center thus:
The agency's move to collect samples at an altitude of 10 kilometers is part of the Japanese government's efforts to step up its monitoring of the impact of the reported nuclear test.
The activity measured 3.6 on the Richter Scale, which could be caused by the explosion of the equivalent of 800 tonnes of dynamite, he said.
Based on these four things, there is a significant chance that it is still unclear whether North Korea has actually conducted a test; that our own and allied governments are working to independently confirm such; and that it is within the realm of possibility that the seismic event detected was in fact a massive conventional explosion.
I think we should await independent confirmation.
Feel free to discuss.
UPDATE: Only the Russians are claiming that the blast was larger:
Russia's defense minister said Monday that North Korea's nuclear blast was equivalent to 5,000 to 15,000 tons of TNT.
That would be far greater than the force given by South Korea's geological institute, which estimated it at just 550 tons of TNT.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's a much more detailed description of the large explosion in 2004. It seems no one is really sure just what happened then.
ONE MORE UPDATE: Gratuitous Machiavellian thought of the day: if we tell them we don't believe their test was real, and they test again, how many tests before they run out of weapons? I'll turn my internal monologue back on now.
STILL ANOTHER UPDATE: Suitcase nukes are supposed to be difficult to produce because, among other reasons, they only require very small amounts of radioactive material, and that material decays very rapidly. If there are any nuclear scientists reading this, by all means chime in.
MORE: Welcome Instapundit readers! He had the same Machiavellian thought. Feel free to look around. I hope you'll visit again sometime.
MORE AGAIN: There is speculation that the test was a dud. This raises an interesting totalitarian leadership question: if one has only a handful of nuclear scientists, and they are expensive to create and maintain, when a nuclear scientist fails you, how do you punish him? Moreover, if one is such a nuclear scientist, and one knows that a nuclear capability is still beyond your means, but the Dear Leader schedules a test without your foreknowledge, how do you tell him that his capabilities aren't quite what he thinks they are? Or do you just go ahead with it and hope that afterward his ire won't fall completely upon you?
LATEBREAKING UPDATE: The Washington Times' Bill Gertz is reporting that "U.S. intelligence agencies say, based on preliminary indications, that North Korea did not produce its first nuclear blast yesterday."
Still not conclusive. Gertz frequently reports things that aren't seen anywhere else. Either he has incredible access or his sources are sometimes wrong. Or both. We'll see what happens in this case.
July 11, 2006
Kimi Ga Yo 2
I contacted a good friend, a Brit who lives in Japan, and has lived there for years, to see if he could do a bit of on-the-ground pulse-taking about national sentiment toward the North Koreans. Here's his response:
I asked my class (9 people 7 women 2 guys, aged 28-40He always has an interesting take on things. "Basically the rise of China is scaring the s*** out of the old boys club because they know what their fathers did and they know the Chinese haven't forgotten." That might be the key line right there.
all training to be serious translators so the upper
edge of the "internationalized/educated" community)
the following questions:
Do you think North Korea is a serious threat? 9 said
Do you think Japan should apply economic sanctions? 7
yes 2 no
Will NK's image decline further in Japan because of
this? 9 yes.
The fact that none of them could conjure a coherent
opinion tells you how deeply this has registered on
the Japanese conciousness.
There's no getting round it nationalism is on the rise
in Japan among the only sector that counts, the very
small no of men who run the country. Current foreign
minister Aso is a good example of these (not so) new
nationalists but their main cheerleader is the Gov of
Tokyo, Ishihara. Virulent nationalism is muted but the
old tradition of passive-aggressive nationalism is very
much alive. Basically the rise of China is scaring the
s*** out of the old boys club because they know what
their fathers did and they know the Chinese haven't
Recent NK events
In Japan the tests come on the coat tails of the
reunion (in NK, completely controlled by the NK govt)
of a kidnapped south Korean who was married to
Japanese kidnap victim Yokota Megumi with his family.
During the reunion a number of incongruent statements
by the man and the daughter he had with Megumi further
illustrated that the NKs still aren't telling the
truth about her. NK has been caught in a number of
balatant lies (including sending burnt remains back to Japan
claiming that they were her ("She committed suicide"), when
DNA tests proved otherwise.) Your average Japanese
person rightly feels aggrevied by the NK kidnappings,
their continued stonewalling and, less mentioned in
the press, the Japanese govt's unwillingness to get
involved in an issue it denied until the NKs admitted
it and forced them to. NK's stock couldn't really be
any lower in Japan.
The tests: Media and Security
The media reaction was predictable and although not
muted not nearly as bad as when the NKs shot that
missile over the country in 1998. There's a sense of
resignation and "there they go again". The main reason
people aren't worried is that although the Japanese
moan endlessly about the US troops in Japan they know
they are protected in any extreme situation by the US,
it's a media event not a security crisis. There's no
chance in hell any young Japanese will have to fight
or die at any point in the near future and they know
it. People are quite open about recognizing the US
One thing to mention in your blog is that the Japanese never renounced war,
MacArthur did and imposed it on them and it's stayed in
the constitution largely because it has suited Japan's
interests to have it there, not because it is popular.
One short sharp international incident (Japan's 911)
and in a fit of victimhood the nationalist
opportunists will throw it out the window before you
can say "Sushi".
What interests me is Japanese attempts to "impose
international sanctions" on NK in the UN. Strikes me
as pointless window dressing for Japanese domestic
consumption, typical meaningless ritualism of the kind
Japanese politicians love. What Japan unilaterally can
do is restrict trade/remittances to NK from Japan. T
hat would be the real test of their resolve. I'll be very
surprised if they do it.
July 7, 2006
Kimi Ga Yo
Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.-Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution
In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.
The North Koreans are causing Japan to rethink their pacifism. Not only that, but the cemented US-Japan security relationship, well-described recently in the Weekly Standard, gives a sort of legitimacy to the respect for militarism that has long been an undercurrent in Japan. Japan, after all, has a long, long tradition of respect for military virtue. How one perceives it is in the eye of the beholder. Much of Japanese militarism in the past could be characterized as a sort of stoic nihilism. Yet at the same time, Bushido, the code of the samurai, inspired George Lucas to create the Jedi Knights in Star Wars, which went on to become a mythopoetic icon in its own right in the US.
It's possible that most peoples in the world who are proud of their own histories search for something meaningful to find in the martial portions of those stories. The Japanese have long found their own meaning in serving as a kind of poster-child for anti-nuclear activism, using their war history as a sort of lesson to the world. Regardless that it saved millions of lives on both sides by ending the war sooner, the use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki gave Japan the opportunity to retool its military history into that of a shamed victim (as opposed to a righteous victim, which we often see in a variety of contexts in the West). When I was 16, and about to take a bullet train from Osaka to Hiroshima to visit the memorial there, my host-father told me, "You'll see exactly what your country really intended to do to us."
But as Churchill said, great battles "change the entire course of events, create new standards of values, new moods, in armies and in nations." The threat to Japan of nuclear-tipped missiles from North Korea is doing just that. Consider this video on YouTube, entitled Aegis [hat-tip to Belmont Club]:
If the Japanese are making fanflicks of the Japanese Navy, it seems the tables are turning on Article 9, and some of Churchill's "new moods" are being created.
Or maybe they're not that new after all:
Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleepSaviour of Nippon when the guns begin to shoot . . .
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.
You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!
June 20, 2006
The Rocket's Red Glare
The North Koreans are declaring their sovereign right to ballistic missile tests:
TOKYO - North Korea declared Tuesday it has a right to carry out long-range missile tests, despite international calls for the communist state to refrain from launching a rocket believed capable of reaching the United States.There are rumors meanwhile that the US may shoot down any such missile launched:
The Pentagon activated its new U.S. ground-based interceptor missile defense system, and officials announced yesterday that any long-range missile launch by North Korea would be considered a "provocative act. . . .There are several very good reasons to go ahead and down any missiles launched by North Korea: it would provide a real test of our incipient missile defense systems; such a shootdown would reinforce the doctrine of nuclear assurance as it applies to Japan, one of our staunchest allies; and tactically, denyng the North Korean military the advantage gained by telemetry and other such data gathered from the flight could play no small role in retarding the advancement of their military capabilities. But the most compelling reason to shoot down any test missiles is simple and scarier: how does one really know it is a test? This is no soubt what the Japanese are wondering. I was there in the 90s when the North tested their last missile, and it was . . . not well received.
Two Navy Aegis warships are patrolling near North Korea as part of the global missile defense and would be among the first sensors that would trigger the use of interceptors, the officials said yesterday.
The U.S. missile defense system includes 11 long-range interceptor missiles, including nine deployed at Fort Greeley, Alaska, and two at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The system was switched from test to operational mode within the past two weeks, the officials said.
One senior Bush administration official told The Washington Times that an option being considered would be to shoot down the Taepodong missile with responding interceptors.
For a detailed look at the US missile defense system, readers are encouraged to see Alan Dowd's piece in today's TCSDaily.
For a more in-depth look into ballistic missiles in general, missilethreat.com [h-t to Dowd] is a cornucopia of info on ballistic missiles and the threat they create. The scenario page there features high-quality animation of possible conflict scenarios involving ballistic missiles.
While it is tempting to view international terrorism and ballistic missiles as inhabiting two separate ends of the conflict spectrum, the one being non-state organizations employing low-tech and creative means, the other being a weapons system most likely produced and fielded by a state military, it might be better instead to view them both as features of our system of globalization: while murderous ideologies propagate through the globe like viruses, high-tech missile know-how does the same. As Dowd notes in his article, 30 years ago, only 8 nations possessed ballistic missiles, whereas now, by his count, there are 25 with ballistic missile arsenals.
When we envision Robert Kaplan's "coming anarchy", or Thomas Barnett's Gap, our mental images usually involve low-intensity warfare, pestilence, famine, resource scarcity, and crushing poverty, along with intractable conflicts. But these are images that, while scary, and needing to be contained if not rolled back, don't threaten the US imminently.
Adding to that picture the continued propagation of complex weapons systems like ballistic missiles adds a new urgency to our concept of the Gap, or the anarcy of the developing world and its failed states. Imagine another war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, but with ballistic missiles; or a Rwandhan genocide with airstrikes. While it's true that roving bands of thugs probably don't have the training to maintain and operate exceptionally complex military hardware, it's not a safe bet that the threats of the Third World will always remain as roving bands of thugs.
January 15, 2006
Diplomatic History is Taking Place Even As We Speak
In addition to the much-publicized diplomatic shuffling between the US and the EU, there are other meetings taking place which happen much less frequently, or at all, and which seem to indicate that momentous events behind the scenes, the contents of which we might only speculate upon, are at hand.
Syria's Assad made a surprise visit to Saudi Arabia last week.
The answer to all three might be Iran, or it might not. What is scary is that the answer could be Iran. In short, while Iraq was largely diplomatically, economically, militarily and otherwise isolated from the rest of the world before 2003, Iran is only slightly so today. While Iraq's contacts with the west were abundant via the Oil-for-Food scandal, those contacts were still scandalous. Iran is linked to the economies of Russia & China, has relationships with North Korea, Pakistan, even France, Germany, and the UK.
The relationships which Iran possess do not sum up to a coalition. But they are there nonetheless, making the Iran nut even harder to crack, and the price for miscalculation ever higher.
A History of the Modern World, by R. R. Palmer and Joel Colton:
The Austrian government was determined to make an end to the South Slav separatism that was gnawing its empire to pieces. It decided to crush the independence of Serbia, the nucleus of South Slav agitation, though not to annex it, since there were now thought to be too many Slavs within the emprie already. The Austrian government consulted the German, to see how far it might go with the support of its ally. The Germans, issuing their famous "blank check," encouraged the Austrians to be firm. The Austrians, thus reassured, dispatched a drastic ultimatum to Serbia, demanding among other things that Austrian officials be permitted to collaborate in investigating and punishing the perpetrators of the assassination. The Serbs counted on Russian support, even to the point of war, judging that Russia could not again yield in a Balkan crisis, for the third time in six years, without losing its influence in the Balkans altogether. The Russians in turn counted on France; and France, terrified at the possibility of being some day caught alone in a war with Germany, and determined to keep Russia as an ally at any cost, in effect gave a blank check to Russia. The Serbs rejected the critical item in the Austrian ultimatum as an infringement on Serbian sovereignty, and Austria thereupon declared war upon Serbia. Russia prepared to defend Serbia and hence to fight Austria. Expecting that Austria would be joined by Germany, Russia rashly mobilized its army ono the German as well as the Austrian frontier. Since the power which first mobilized had all the advantages of a rapid offensive, the German government demanded an end to the Russian mobilization on its border and, receiving no answer, declared war on Russia on August 1, 1914. Convinced that France would in any case enter the war on the side of Russia, Germany also declared war on France on August 3rd.
The German decisions were posited on a reckless hope that Great Britain might not enter the war at all . . . The German plan to crush France quickly was such that it could succeed only by crossing Belgium. When the Belgians protested, the Germans invaded anyway, violating the treaty of 1839 which had guaranteed Belgian neutrality. England declared war on Germany on August 4th . . .
As for Russia and Austria, they were both tottering empires. Especially after 1900, the tsarist regime suffered from endemic revolutionism, and the Hapsburg empire from chronic nationalistic agitation. Authorities in both empires became desperate. Like the Serbs, they had little to lose and were therefore reckless. It was Russia that drew France and hence England into war in 1914, and Austria that drew in Germany. Seen in this light, the tragedy of 1914 is that the most backward or politically bankrupt parts of Europe, through the alliance system, dragged the more advanced parts automatically into ruin.
It is not useful to draw analogies among the power relationships, the rising or falling states, or the alliances of 1914 to those that exist today. We live in a new world. But it is useful to consider the enormous complexity of the world then and now, and to realize that complexity offers both opportunities for the art of the deal to thrive, and for miscalculation to lead to utter ruin.
We are blessed to live in the "interesting times" of the old Chinese proverb . . .
October 16, 2005
60 Years of Socialist Paradise
The San Francisco Chronicle carries an article entitled, North Korea at 60 -- squinting to see in from the outside:
On Monday, isolated and impoverished North Korea celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Workers Party of Korea, whose leaders Kim Il Sung, and his son, North Korea's current strongman Kim Jong Il, have ruled the country since the end of World War II in 1945.Actually, it's not hard to see why ordinary North Koreans would feel like celebrating. Theirs is the most isolated country in the world, where the state has a control on information that is nearly incomprehensible to those of us outside.
The weekend cruise along the Yalu was just one of a string of festivities the isolated state has been putting on for its impoverished citizens for two months. The grand finale is the Mass Games, an exuberant gymnastics display to be held in Pyongyang this weekend.
Gazing across at Sinuiju from China, it is hard to see why ordinary North Koreans would feel like celebrating. While the Chinese side of the Yalu glitters with the glass and steel of numerous high-rise apartments and giant hoardings, the North Korean side looks drab and derelict.
The riverside is cluttered with debris from broken and beached ships, and the rows of concrete factories with soaring chimneys that dot the area are empty, their broken windows swaying gently in the wind. A giant, unmoving Ferris wheel in the middle of this industrial decay adds to the stillness of the landscape.
The only gleaming things along the stretch of harbor visible from Dandong are the AK-47 rifles slung over the shoulders of North Korean soldiers in khaki, roughly inspecting the catch a few small fishing boats have brought in.
A small glimpse of life in North Korea is offered by the book Pyongyang. The author, Guy Delisle, is a French-Canadian animator -- yes, a cartoonist -- who traveled to North Korea in 2001 while employed with a French animation firm. He lived there for several weeks and Pyongyang is a graphic novel about the experience.
I stumbled upon this book yesterday in Borders and plowed through it in one sitting today. It is excellent. Artistically, Delisle's work is superb and he has a talent for excellent character portrayals, fantastic points of view, creating mood via shading and the like, and explaining background details though careful flashback or overview techniques. Moreover, he pulls no punches in his depiction of the regime. When traveling there, he realizes at customs that he has two items of contraband: a small AM/FM radio, and a copy of 1984. During the first part of his trip, he reads from 1984 from time to time and contrasts it with what he's seen (this is all in cartoons, mind you, and brilliantly done). At one point, his translator asks him about an obscure book and Delisle offers him 1984 to read instead, calling it a "sci-fi" novel. Two weeks pass, then Delisle brings it up:
"So, how'd you like the book?"On another occasion, his translator watches his work and the following exchange ensues:
"Uh, umm . . . not so much . . . uh . . . I don't really like science fiction . . . I can give it back to you right away . . . here . . . thanks."
"We've got some great animators at this studio. The best one was Kim Sun-Yok . . ."Such is the nature of his attempts to engage his minders in conversation about the regime: they stick to the party line and Delisle is continually frustrated. He wonders, as he stares at his guide and translator on a long ride one day,
"Who is he? Is he on one of our teams?"
"What production is he working on?"
"He isn't here any more."
"Huh? Are there any other studios in North Korea?"
"Oh, I see. He went abroad."
"Not at all."
"So where is this super animator? He didn't just disappear, did he?"
Delisle, to himself, "'Vaporized' is what Orwell calls those who are gone and best forgotten."
There's a question that has to be burning on the lips of all foreigners here . . . a question you refrain from speaking aloud . . . but one can't help asking yourself: Do they really believe the bullshit that's being forced down their throats?I highly recommend this book. Delisle captures all of the little things that are different about traveling to any different country, and all of the insane things that are strange about North Korea -- as best as he could with his limited access to the countryside and being largely restricted to Pyongyang.
For those isolated in the countryside, where a simple trip between two villages requires a visa, the propaganda must be convincing. But for my companions it's different . . . Because they are among the privileged few who are able to leave the country. Every animation contract is an opportunity for some of them to get themselves invited abroad to "start the project." In fact, those who visit Paris or Rome are not necessarily the ones who wind up working on the production.
And only married men with children are authorized to travel. If they're not fooled, they never let on. In fact, they live in a state of constant paradox, where truth is anything but constant. It's like their permanent fear of landing in one of the re-education camps. Officially they don't exist. But everyone knows they're there. And a Sword of Damocles hangs over every head, waiting for one false move, striking both the "guilty" and their entire families.
At a certain level of oppression, truth hardly matters, because the greater the lie, the greater the show of power. And the greater the terror for all. A mute, hidden terror.
Only critique: At first I thought $25 was a little much for a 176-page graphic novel, even if it's hardbound. But I see that Amazon is selling it at a significant discount, so use the link above if you are so inclined. I suppose carping about the price isn't fair really, since just as much work must go into drawing things as writing them. In any case, this was well worth it.
Here's hoping that the next 60 years of North Korean history will be better than the last . . .
June 21, 2005
Discussion Topic: Diplomacy and North Korea
President Reagan made some interesting moves which cut across his rhetoric about the Evil Empire. On the one hand he condemned it, but at the same time, he was willing to have summits and other meetings with its leadership.
Should President Bush make similar moves with respect to Iran and North Korea? What would be the advantages and disadvantages? Was Reagan successful because of his personality, or would similar tactics work for Bush as well?
What do you think?