by Charles Lemos, Thu Jun 11, 2009 at 07:56:18 PM EDT
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, former UN Ambassador and unrepentant neoconservative John Bolton finds that while Israel's military option against Iran's nuclear program is "unattractive", but failing to act is even worse. In his piece, Ambassador Bolton argues that time is not on Israel's side and that one "major new element in Israel's calculus is the Obama administration's growing distance." Ambassador Bolton seems to believe that Israel should attack Iran and the sooner the better.
He outlines six possible Iranian responses to Israeli attack and dismisses each scenario as unlikely to occur. Ambassador Bolton's fantasies extend to the realm of the absurd. For example he argues that even if Iran close the Straits of Hormuz, that might be offset by prudent hedging to prevent any spike in oil prices. By process of elimination but also because of strategic logic, Bolton concludes Iran's most likely option is retaliating through Hamas and Hezbollah. But here this too can be minimized by "simultaneous, pre-emptive attacks on Hezbollah and Hamas in conjunction with a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities." Why is it that John Bolton's answer to every question more war?
by Charles Lemos, Mon May 25, 2009 at 10:06:23 PM EDT
David Sanger writes in today's New York Times that when it comes to responding to North Korea's nuclear test, the Obama Administration has few options. There are, however, sanctions that have worked in the past that can and should be revisited.
In 2005, for example, the US Treasury Department acted against a small bank based in Macau that held North Korean assets and personal assets of Kim Jong-il. Marcus Noland, who has done extensive economic and political research on North Korea for the East-West Center, found that this one measure "tanked the black-market value of North Korea's currency, disrupted legitimate commerce and reportedly necessitated a scaling back of festivities associated with the Dear Leader's birthday." Bereft of hard currency, Pyongyang opted to return to the negotiating table and soon made concessions including signing agreements shutting down the Yongbyon nuclear facilities and permitting the return of international inspectors. Despite heading a regime of the proletariat, the Kim family has expensive tastes. Freezing the regime's overseas bank assets and hitting the expense accounts of Kim family will get their attention.
by Charles Lemos, Mon May 25, 2009 at 02:30:12 PM EDT
The aim of any regime is to perpetuate itself in power and in this the Juche regime in the DPRK is no different. There is little question that ruling cadre in Pyongyang see itself under threat and while its population may not be acutely aware of the regime's failure, Kim Jong-il's government most certainly does see the failure and the threat of internal collapse. The DPRK has in effect become a dynastic enterprise and Kim Jong-il intends for the regime to survive his passing.
An article published this past week on the Asia Times by Kim Myong Chol, who is often referred to as an "unofficial" spokesman for the regime, suggests that North Korea has shifted tactics from reaching an accommodation with enemies of the regime to a military-first approach.
Plan A called for the DPRK to consider exploring a shortcut to enhanced independence, peace and prosperity through rapprochement with the US. Plan A obliged the Kim Jong-il administration to negotiate away its nuclear weapons program as part of a verified denuclearization of the whole of the Korean Peninsula in return for Washington's strategic decision to co-exist peacefully with Pyongyang.
Plan A assumed the US would decide to leave behind its policy of hostility to the DPRK, conclude a peace treaty with North Korea, and pledge in a verifiable way it would not attack it with nuclear and conventional arms. It also assumed the US would establish full relations with North Korea, show respect for its sovereignty and independence, lift sanctions imposed on it, and provide it with fuel oil and light-water reactors.
Plan A was the engine behind the 1994 Agreed Framework with the Clinton administration and a series of nuclear agreements from six-party talks with the Bush administration, including the September 19, 2005 joint statement, the February 13, 2007 agreement, the October 3, 2007 agreement and the July 12, 2008 agreement.
Despite plan A, the US has remained hostile to North Korea as it is bent on its nuclear disarmament, painting it as a criminal state, and toppling its regime.
The Clinton administration did not want to fulfill the US's obligations under nuclear agreements and procrastinated for years, secretly betting on the collapse of the DPRK. The Bush administration was more overtly antagonistic, branding the DPRK as part of the "axis of evil", singling out it as a prime target for a nuclear pre-emptive strike, and moving to discard the nuclear agreement.
The US has not adopted a "live and let live" policy towards the DPRK, and it has refused to take any specific steps to reduce its nuclear threat to it, while North Korea was close to accepting full normalization of ties and a peace treaty with the US.
The Obama administration, which was launched with much fanfare and vows to reverse the disastrous policies of the Bush administration, has struck the Kim Jong-il administration as unmistakably no different from it in terms of hostility to the DPRK.
by Charles Lemos, Sun May 24, 2009 at 11:41:09 PM EDT
With today's nuclear test, the second in the country's history and by all accounts more successful than its previous fizzle, the regime of Kim Jong-il has chosen to remind the world that it still exists and plans to continue to exist. North Korea is today more a family enterprise than anything else, Kim Jong-il intends to leave his progeny a semblance of a country to govern. The long and short of it is that the DPRK, as the country prefers to be called, has used its military threat to squeeze concessions from global powers to maintain and shore up its power at home.
While today's explosion was a calling card sent to Seoul, Tokyo, Washington and perhaps even Moscow, North Korea was also sending a business card to Damascus and Tehran saying hey there, see what we can do. Do business with us. The threat from North Korea is effectively a proliferation threat. Cash-strapped North Korea has mastered the nuclear fuel cycle and it could sell its nuclear expertise to states aiming to make plutonium for weapons.
North Korea also has a few limitations it must solve before it becomes a threat to its neighbors. For starters, North Korea is thought to have produced enough plutonium for about six to eight weapons and it has already produced one rudimentary nuclear device back in October 2006. So now with this second device, its plutonium store is lessened. North Korea also faces a miniaturization problem. It likely cannot miniaturize a nuclear weapon to mount it on a missile that it can deploy. North Korea might be able to produce more weapons grade plutonium but it remains a long way from miniaturizing a weapon.
Beyond all this, what the North Koreans really want is to chat one-on-one with Washington. We, on the other hand, prefer the six-party talks and using the United Nations to impose sanctions. Sanctions that restrict North Korea's financial capabilities likely remain the most effective but it bears reminding that China is unlikely to back punitive sanctions on Pyongyang.
by Charles Lemos, Sun May 24, 2009 at 07:25:27 PM EDT
Via the Korea Times:
North Korea appears to have conducted its second nuclear test Monday morning, Yonhap News Agency reported.
South Korea has detected an "artificial earthquake" in North Korea, raising the possibility that the communist state went ahead with its threat to conduct a nuclear test, Yonhap said, quoting a source.
"It was felt shortly before 10:00," the source said, declining to be named and adding that the magnitude was estimated at 4.5.
The Korean Central News Agency, the official news organ of the DPRK, has so far not reported the test. North Korea has been threatening to conduct another nuclear device test in reaction to tightened international sanctions after it fired a long-range rocket in April across the Sea of Japan. North Korea conducted its first test in October 2006.
According to Yonhap, the ROK news service, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak called an emergency meeting of his cabinet ministers over the test. No word yet from the Obama Administration.Update [2009-5-24 23:53:14 by Charles Lemos]:
According to the Associated Press
, North Korea has confirmed that it conducted an underground nuclear test early on Monday morning, local time. The AP is quoting the country's official Korean Central News Agency
as saying that Monday's test are "part of measures to bolster its nuclear deterrent for self-defense." But I cannot find any mention of any test on DPRK's news site.
A 4.7-magnitude earthquake was registered in northeastern North Korea at 9:54 a.m. (0054 GMT), the U.S. Geological Survey said.
The quake, measured at a depth of 6 miles (10 kilometers) underground, occurred 40 miles (70 kilometers) northwest of the city of Kimchaek, the USGS said.
The Japan Meteorological Agency also said it detected seismic activity Monday morning. "We are checking whether they were due to a nuclear test," agency official Gen Aoki said in Tokyo.
In Seoul, the Korea Institue of Geoscience and Mineral Resources reported a 4.5-magnitude quake in Kilju in North Hamgyong Province.
North Korea also carried out a nuclear test in October 2006 in Kilju, a test that drew sanctions from the United Nations and prompted five other nations to push negotiations on a nuclear disablement-for-aid pact with North Korea.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Andy Laine said the U.S. government had no confirmation of a new nuclear test.
"At this point we've seen the reports and we're trying to get more information, but we're not able to confirm at this time," Laine said.
The other response to watch for will be Beijing's. The test seems to have taken the world's intelligence agencies by surprise. More from the New York Times