A North Korean cargo ship detained by the Indian Coast Guard after breaking down in Indian waters has officials mystified. Why? The vessel, which was headed to Iran, was empty.
The crew has not been able to explain why they were sailing an empty vessel to Iran," a senior coast guard official told Reuters on condition of anonymity on Thursday.
However a senior official at the Directorate General of Shipping said: "They have told us that because it is a new ship they were testing it. But it is strange that they should need to sail as far as Iran."
Indian official have reason to be concerned. In 1999, they caught a North Korean ship carrying missile components to Pakistan.
But rest assured. Surely there is nothing illicit going on between the nascent and aspiring nuclear powers, North Korea and Iran, both of which were suspected members of Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan's nuclear trafficking network. I'm sure it was just a pleasure cruise.
The midterm results were nothing short of a minor earthquake here in Washington, with a new party in power and new leadership at the Pentagon. To decipher just what it all means for the war in Iraq, the race in 2008, and our allies - and enemies - abroad, FP turned to David Gergen, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School and advisor to four presidents, to get an insider's take. Here's a excerpt:
FP: After 9/11, many people said the “Vietnam Syndrome” was dead—that Americans were now willing to accept large numbers of casualties in prolonged interventions overseas. Does this election prove that wrong?
DG: What we are seeing in Iraq is not a replay of the Vietnam Syndrome. Rather, it’s a sense that we are engaged in a conflict without an obvious end in sight and [that] things are getting worse. The Vietnam Syndrome argued that we should not commit force again unless our vital interests are clearly at stake. But in Iraq, we did commit our troops to conflict without a clear national interest at stake. It was a war of discretion and yet, the American people supported it. So, I don’t think the Vietnam Syndrome is what our problem is here. Rather, it is that the war has been so incompetently managed that the people have lost faith in the capacity of those running it.
For those who are interested, the complete (2 hours, 50 minutes and 13 seconds!) event FP co-hosted with the Woodrow Wilson School and the National Press Club is now online via Google Video. The event is divided into two roundtables, and the final speaker is Ambassador Christopher Hill. Enjoy.
South Koreans are taking to the sheets to relieve stress triggered by Kim Jong-Il's nuclear test. Condom sales and motel bookings are way up this month south of the DMZ. South Koreans are also flocking to stock up on butane gas and ramen noodle packs. Turns out a nuclear date is a cheap one.
Hat tip: Guardian Newsblog
A North Korean naval personel throws a stone at a photographer while he is being photographed on a boat along the waterfront of Yalu River in the North Korean town of Sinuiji, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong, 19 October 2006. (Photo credit: LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images)
With its nuclear weapons test confirmed (and another possibly on the way), North Korea can now claim to be the world's ninth nuclear-armed state. That could spur other states in Asia and the Middle East to join the club. Who will be No. 10? Over at ForeignPolicy.com, The List takes a look at some of the frontrunners.
More from from Friday's Event. Radio Free Asia's Betsy Henderson has some fascinating statistics regarding North Korean media. She gathers her data by interviewing North Korean defectors. For instance:
Top news sources in North Korea
In the video: more about North Korean news sources and how to rewire a state-issued radio.
This morning at the National Press Club, Foreign Policy, in partnership with Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School, hosted a series of roundtable discussions on "The Current State of North Korea and the Future of the U.S.-Korea Alliance." U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill was the keynote speaker. One of the final questions Hill took from the audience revealed a key disconnect between the U.S.'s rhetoric regarding North Korea and reality. Watch here:
China and Russia have delayed the vote on a U.N. draft resolution to impose sanctions on North Korea for its supposed nuclear test this week. That means the immediate diplomatic fallout is still in limbo.
But what about the long-term implications? Check out this week's Seven Questions. FP interviewed Marcus Noland of the International Institute of Economics and author of the books Korea After Kim Jong-il and Avoiding the Apocalypse: The Future of the Two Koreas. He discusses North Korea's forward-looking strategy, and how the rest of the region will respond to its threats.
The North Korean position is clear. "If the U.S. keeps pestering us and increases pressure, we will regard it as a declaration of war and will take a series of physical corresponding measures." As Richard Spencer points out, the North Koreans have been unusually straightforward in their statements throughout the crisis. Gone are the long denunciations of Bush as “an idiot, an ignorant, a tyrant and a man-killer.”
But what if this clarity is a result of their increasing confidence? The Bush administration, as William Perry notes, has regularly told the North Koreans that its actions would be unacceptable, then done little as North Korea goes ahead and does what it wants anyway. So the question is, would North Korea feel emboldened enough to follow through on this threat if the United Nations passed a sanctions resolution?
Speculation is growing in some quarters that North Korea's big bang wasn't nuclear after all. If that view gets further support from experts, we may start to hear arguments that a strategic window of opportunity has opened. North Korea, the reasoning might go, has simultaneously demonstrated dangerous political recklessness and military incompetence. In effect, they've called their own nuclear bluff. Some reputable folks were advocating military strikes well before the test, and they may seize on the latest developments to reissue the call.
We should be wary. The fundamental strategic and moral problem with military action against North Korea is not their nuclear arsenal—it's their ability to wreak havoc on the south through conventional weapons. In this sense, the nuclear test—successful or not—has not changed the strategic picture on the peninsula dramatically. What it has done, one hopes, is create the political unanimity required to take the steps we should have already taken: namely, enhancing scrutiny of ships leaving North Korea to prevent any leakage of their fissile material and missile technology and bolstering regional missile defenses.
If today's nuclear test in North Korea is confirmed, it could portend a nightmarish global scenario. The rogue nation could sell its nuclear technology, highly enriched uranium, or even an actual device to a terrorist group. I just asked one of Washington’s foremost North Korea experts, Marcus Noland of the Institute for International Economics, if we could be sure Kim Jong-Il would not do a deal with al Qaeda. His reply: "I wouldn't bet Chicago on it." Another keen observer of the Hermit Kingdom pointed out that permanently cash-strapped North Korea, "sells anything to anyone." A more likely scenario is that North Korea would do a trade with a fellow rogue regime, especially if that country has oil. Noland points out that historically, Iran and Syria have had close trade relations with Kim Jong-Il. In short, the effects of this test are going to be felt far outside the Korean Peninsula. The test will also inject urgency into the Japanese debate about revising its constitution and whether Japan itself should go nuclear. One short term compromise being floated is that Japan might invite the United States to base short-range nuclear missiles in Japan.
Expect Washington to expend a lot of energy reassuring Tokyo that the United States will defend Japan. Apparently, Bolton told the UN Security Council this morning that any attack on Japan or South Korea would be treated as an attack on the United States.
So why have the North Koreans decided to test? One answer, according to Brookings scholar Wonhyuk Lim, is that the North Koreans have learned that provocation gets the United States to stop dragging its feet on talks. Writing after this summer's missile tests Lim noted that:
Contrary to the expectations of many casual observers, this provocative action resulted in the first serious bilateral talks between the U.S. and North Korea under the Bush Administration. In sum, as twisted as the North Koreans' logic may be, it is based on their negotiating experience with the Americans. North Korea's brinkmanship is the evil twin of America's half-hearted engagement."
Predictably, reaction from Washington to the possibility of a test has been blusterous, warning of unspecified serious consequences. But there isn't very much that the U.S. can do if Kim Jong-Il goes ahead with the test. Indeed, if the tests are successful, playing chicken with North Korea becomes even more dangerous.
Does the timing of North Korea's nuclear announcement have anything to do with the apparent selection of South Korean foreign minister Ban-ki Moon as the next U.N. secretary-general? True, rumors of an impending test had been circulating for weeks, but it's a remarkable coincidence that the announcement came the day after Ban-ki Moon was reported to have received the Security Council's endorsement, making his selection all but certain. Whatever the case, it seems likely that the quiet diplomat will be thrust into the middle of the dispute, leaving him little time to find his feet.
So, what happens if Kim Jong-Il crosses this red-line? Probably nothing much. No one is going to attack North Korea thanks to its deterrent. There’s no convenient colonel lurking in the wings. And sanctions bite less on a hermit state than elsewhere.
In recent times, Washington has argued that restraining North Korea is China’s job. But, as The Economist points out, China has tried to rein Kim in with little effect. There are even unconfirmed reports that the vertically challenged dictator is currently in China. The Chinese know that if Kim goes ahead with a test, the odds on Japan revising article 9 of its constitution will shorten dramatically. Consider that after the missile test in July, Koizumi’s likely successor suggested that pre-emption might be permissible, even under article 9, as an act of self-defense.
The whole Wisdom of Crowds kick has made online betting exchanges the new "in" thing. The NYT's John Tierney was so impressed by the fact that one of the exchanges called each of the 50 states correctly in 2004 that he fretted he was inaugurating his column "just as the job is being outsourced." But a great piece on the invaluable PoliticalBetting.com points out one of the dangers of betting on world events: How do you decide what actually happened?
Obviously, if you're gambling on something clear-cut like who will be the next French president, it is fairly simple. But when you start wagering on more subjective matters, things get complicated - and fast. As the article points out, Trade Sports is refusing to pay people who bet that North Korea would test a missile by the end of July 2006 because the betting contract stipulated that the Pentagon would have to verify it. The Pentagon hasn't done so, even though the White House has.
So, those who like a good gamble are probably better off sticking to elections and the like. If you want a tip for the day, I'd say that there's a better than 2.6 percent chance of Barack Obama being the Democratic presidential nominee—Annie Leibovitz doesn't photograph just any senator—so buy that contract. But do so at your own risk. Passport is not responsible for any losses you may incur.
The chief U.S. negotiator for North Korea, Christopher Hill, testified at a Senate hearing this morning that one or more Iranians witnessed the North Korea missile tests.
Despite how tempting it is, now is not the right time for the West to deliver a slap to Vladimir Putin about Russia's backsliding on democracy. Russia's veto at the Security Council means that it must be kept sweet if the Iran and, to a lesser extent, North Korea crises are to be dealt with successfully. (Indeed, all those people who sing paeans of praise to the moral legitimacy of the United Nations might want to consider how it empowers a dictatorship and a so-called "managed democracy.") So, all talk of boycotting the G8 or hosting a separate "democracies meeting" of the G7 beforehand has been quietly shelved. But Russia's behavior in the lead-up to the summit is demonstrating just how far Putin's Russia is from being a proper liberal democracy.
Yesterday, pro-Putin youth groups disrupted a conference on the state of Russian democracy organized by those who take issue with Putin's governing style and attended by foreign diplomats. Today's Daily Telegraph contains a report about how a St. Petersburg opposition leader was threatened with anal rape unless he signed a form promising that his supporters wouldn't protest during the summit. This man is a member of a thoroughly unpleasant party and so his allegations must be treated with suspicion. But perhaps the clearest indication of how far Russia is from being an appropriate host for a meeting of liberal democracies is that one can't dismiss the report out of hand.
If you approached random wonks on Massachusetts Avenue, Washington's think tank row (and home to FP), and asked what concerns them in the world, you'd get a fairly standard response. In some order: Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Darfur, AIDS, and climate change. Before July 4th, North Korea wouldn't have instantly sprung to mind for most people, your correspondent included. But forget for a second Kim's nuclear ambitions and just think about what he does to his own people. Here's a regime so barbaric that people are burned at the stake with their own relatives lighting the fire. If that wasn't enough, it also tests chemical weapons on its own citizens detained in concentration camps.
There is, though, no public - or expert - clamor for intervention. It's true that there are no good options for dealing with North Korea, but as Anne Applebaum pointed out - two years ago - our collective indifference makes a mockery of our outrage at the appeasement of fascism in the '30s and the failure to nip genocide in the bud. It is not like our leaders are unaware of what's going on either. George W. Bush famously lost it discussing North Korea with Bob Woodward, roaring "I loathe Kim Jong Il!…I've got a visceral reaction to this guy, because he is starving his people." Tony Blair has rightly called the failure to protest North Korea the "biggest scandal in progressive politics" today. The best you can say about these statements is that they at least show that Bush and Blair's moral compasses are pointing in the right direction.
Putin may have called Kim Jong Il's missile test disappointing and Iran may be resentful that the Taepodong 2 has replaced centrifuges in above-the-fold notoriety. But Kim's provocation is benefiting Moscow and Tehran in at least one way: record oil prices.
Crude oil prices closed at a new record Wednesday: $75.19 a barrel, largely thanks to tensions over the North Korean missile test and the likelihood of a long summer of strained relations with Iran. And oil analysts today raised their annual average price forecasts, with oil expected to average $67.25 a barrel this year, $9.25 higher than expected back in January. Prices are down slightly today, but otherwise holding steady. Iran and Russia, being two of the world's top oil producers, have been enjoying oil windfalls all year and the recent trouble north of the 38th parallel is simply adding to the coffers.
As Carolyn pointed out this morning, the CW is that China gave North Korea the OK to fire off its missiles. North Korea is totally dependent on China, and so the Bush administration clearly - and reasonably - thinks it's up to the Chinese to put Kim back in his box. Earlier today, Christopher Hill, the State Department's North Korea point man, commented: "We need China to be very, very firm with their neighbors and frankly with their long-term allies, the North Koreans, on what is acceptable behavior and what is not acceptable behavior."
Whenever the Chinese are being difficult, you can bet your bottom dollar that the idea of getting Japan to go nuclear will be floated. Indeed, David Frum, of axis of evil fame, goes even further today, suggesting that we should also remind the Chinese that Taiwan could be a nuclear power too. Now, if the mere sight of Koizumi serenading Bush with a little Elvis was enough to make the Chinese give the North Koreans the nod, one can only imagine how they would react to the prospect of Japan - let alone Taiwan - going nuclear.
Will he or won't he? Reports are out today that the North Korean missile causing heartburn in Tokyo and Washington may not actually be fueled for launch, and even Cheney thinks Kim Jong Il is bluffing. To get a handle on this little chess game, FP spoke recently with Don Oberdorfer, veteran journalist and author of The Two Koreas, about the timing of the missile threat, the prospects for diplomacy, and whether Kim Jong Il is crazy like a fox - or just plain crazy.
Dick Cheney, December 2003:
I have been charged by the President with making sure that none of the tyrannies in the world are negotiated with. We don't negotiate with evil; we defeat it.
A Bush administration "official," in a May 2006 story entitled U.S. Said to Weigh a New Approach on North Korea:
I think it is fair to say that many in the administration have come to the conclusion that dealing head-on with the nuclear problem is simply too difficult.
That's a must-read, by the way.
If you heard that a group of scientists from North Korea secretly met with researchers and scientists from the south to discuss covert plans for a technological breakthrough, you might first suspect nukes. Or clones. Or just good, old-fashioned weapons systems. But corn hybrids?
According to an article by Richard Stone in the current issue of Science (subscription required), about 200 researchers from South and North Korea -- as well as China and the United States -- quietly gathered in Pyongyang in early April to share private scientific information about everything from higher crop yields to dust storms. Officials have said they'd like to collaborate on nanotech, IT, the environment, and biotech, for just a few examples.
The meetings make sense, however dangerous they may be to attend. As Kyungbuk University's Soon-Kwon Kim says in the article, "Science may be the best option to open North Korea, change North Korea, and help North Korea."
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