Friday, October 27, 2006

Blog Changes

Well, as you can see, I finally got around to changing some things on the blog. I'm not sure if I'm totally satisfied with the new look (that whole lighthouse shining light metaphor thing is a bit too much for me), but I think it's definitely better than what I had. The blue on blue on blue was tiresome to the eyes.

I also deleted the glossary of characters. Obviously, it's not necessary anymore since I don't ever see any of those people and pretty much never write about them (aside from my wife occassionally and Real World, who apparently was admitted to Law School in the UK!).

I'm not sure if I really like the text on the lefthand side and I may make some more changes (moving the archives lower or something like that). Of course, my real problem is that I'm not particularly inclined to delve into the larger blogger world to find a template that I like or to pursue modifications that would require anything above centipide level intelligence, but this reality isn't likely to change anytime soon.

At any rate, if you got comments about the new look, feel free to inform me (either via email or the comments) and I'll at least promise to give a thought to any suggestions (this goes out to all 7 readers at the same time - Live from Bogota!).

Oh, and not too shocking but Uribe's response to my call for an independent investigation was...waiting...still waiting...oh, right - absolutely nothing because I'm little more than a speck in the Internets Universe. Maybe the Cowboy President can use The Google to find my arguments and then convey them for me. (And yes, definitely click the Cowboy Presidency link.)

Well, that's about all from here. We're going to see a movie called El Colombian Dream tonight. It's all in Spanish, but I'm hopefull that I can understand it as it looks hilarious.

But before I go, for all those Virginia voters out there, here's yet another article endorsing Jim Webb for Senate over the Southern California turned Virginia Redneck, George Allen. And here's an article explaining why the United States government thinks it's ok to torture prisoners-of-war, with the words leaping out of Mr. Vice-President Darth Cheney's mouth himself. Gotta wonder what John McCain is thinking right now (he of absolutely zero integrity, as he voted to make torture legal).

Ok, that's it from the homestretch. I'm off to collect my wife from work and then get the night going. And, since the Redskins have the weekend off, I'm sure Ill have a good one.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Update: Colombian Terror - A Call for Independent Investigation

Well, Uribe has come out and clearly dictated that last week's bombing was done by the FARC. I don't know what evidence he has to demostrate that as the government is refusing to release the primary evidence that they say demonstrates the FARC link (a taped telephone conversation), but I'm not sure the latest declarations really mean anything either.

Being from the United States, a country that was intentionally misled into a conflict with Iraq (re: lied to), you'll just have to forgive me if I don't just go along with an "official" explanation for, oh, say the rest of my life. Sorry, I need the evidence, I need unbiased, non-partisan, and independent investigations. So, in general, I'm going to be skeptical about the claim.

But even beyond a general sense of skepticism, there's ample evidence to discount "official" explanations from the Colombian government as well. They have a long history of blaming any and all violent events on FARC, even if those events were perpetrated by paramilitaries or corrupt military officials (see the September slaying of 7 soldiers in an apparent dispute over money - initially blamed on guerrillas, later proved to be the work of an Army Colonel).

Not only that, however, there is the obvious problem that the bomber was able to get through 2 high security checkpoints with over 130 POUNDS of explosives in the back of his SUV. Now, as anyone who has visited or lived in Colombia knows, NO ONE goes through a security checkpoint without a visual and dog inspection of your vehicle. I find it extremely hard to believe that "the most secure military installation in the country" would have less security measures than say, Centro Comercial Andino.

What this means is that there was CLEARLY a military role in this event - even if it was only that of bribery. This represents a huge security problem for the Colombian government and something that doesn't have a clear solution. When the average soldier is raking in about $200 a month, well, you don't have to work too hard to bribe him into doing what you want. Don't believe me, just watch "Sonar no cuesta nada" (the mostly true story of what happens when a group of soldiers finds $40 million in the jungle).

There is another angle, however. I mentioned previously that there is a serious corruption problem in the military. Well, Uribe acknowledged that problem this week when stated that he would look into the military and would make whatever changes he deemed necessary (in personel) to ensure that this type of situation doesn't occur again. Under the cover of a "security lapse", it's quite possible that Uribe is going to significantly alter the shape of the Colombian military to eliminate those who work closely with the FARC, paramilitaries, or narcotraffickers. I don't know - I'm only speculating. But it does get a lot easier for Uribe with some legitimate cover because he doesn't have to announce the depth of corruption or linkages between the military and outside parties.

At any rate, all of this occurs to me as a distinct possibility mostly because of this post that I read last week. For those of you not interested (or lacking the time) to read the whole thing, I'll give you the basic point:

It was against FARC's interests to bomb a government facility at this point in time because Uribe was considering a prisoner exchange that the FARC desperately want. The bombing shut down the talks permanently.

(Additional problematic factors include that the bomb was comprised of a form of explosive that the FARC had never previously used, is military grade, and the difficulty of use is higher than is believed that FARC could master.)

While thinking about the motivations of a terrorist organization is always dodgy at best, it just doesn't make sense for FARC to have planted this bomb in the current political climate. This realization ultimately leads to one of two conclusions.


A) The FARC is not a monolithic organization - It has different factions, much like Al Queda, and they don't always work together.


B) A faction of the military was so strongly opposed to Uribe's negotiation proposal (including a De-Militarized Zone), that they did the bombing as a means of shutting down the talks.

It certainly could be possible that explanation A is true. No matter how much The Cowboy President wishes Al Queda was an tightly organized company of terror (like ExxonMobile), the facts belie the point. Still, it's easier to sell a "war on terror" if you can pinpoint an enemy. So maybe that's what the Colombian government does with FARC.

It's also certainly possible that B is true. It makes sense that the military's opposition would be so strong that they would take desperate measures to stave off another DMZ. In the 1990's, when the previous President somehow unconditionally agreed to a DMZ, it was an utter disaster (the zone was as big as Rhode Island). FARC was able to rearm, establish a presence, terrorize the population, etc., while the government just stood by. It was a huge mistake and there are certainly people in the military that are still angry about it.

In the end, all we have are theories and speculation. And this is the reason why Colombia needs to do a transparent and independent investigation into who did the bombing and how. Absent publicly digestible facts, there seems little doubt that this event will be just another added to the Colombian lexicon of folklore and conspiracy theory.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Every which way I go...

...I see the same terrorism.

We had a very significant terrorist event here in Bogota today. It occurred at a Military University on the 100 with the 9th avenue. For those reading this that came to my wedding, that's about 5 minutes closer to the mountain from the hotel you stayed at. This picture from El Tiempo says it all.

Now, when I say "major event" I don't mean "major" as in "a lot of people killed." In fact, depending on who you believe, there were either 2 people killed or none at all (23 injured). However, it was major in the sense that this University is one of the most "secure" in Colombia. It also houses not just a University, but also a major command post.

The governmental response to this was a quick, "FARC did it," which, I suppose, wasn't a surprising statement. Did FARC actually do it? I don't know, but I would be surprised if they were behind it. I'm starting to wonder just how much of a boogeyman FARC really is. Clearly, the organization exists. They still do kidnappings and they still have hostages. But can anyone name the last "major" event that was actually proven to be the responsibility of FARC? I think we're going back 4+ years here.

What's my point? Well, it's this: Colombia is a nation with a 50 year war. The population has become so accustomed to violence that when major events happen, the blame always falls on FARC. Perhaps they deserve it, but at this point, there are significant indications that FARC is clearly not as strong as they were previously. Do they still have the capability to infiltrate a highly secure military installation and blow up a huge car bomb? I have my doubts.

My doubts about the strength of FARC are coupled with the clear evidence that the Colombian military is a corrupt organization often in bed with narcotraffickers, which could mean, FARC as well (the distinction between FARC and narcotrafficking has clearly been severely blurred). Witness the September killings of 7 or so military personel. At the time, FARC was blamed for the attack. However, now the evidence clearly indicates that a corrupt military officer killed those 7 people over a dispute about money (and a lot of it). There was also a bombing before the election that targeted the military as well. Same blame on FARC, same evidence later that it was an internal military dispute.

Now, I'm not that great at predictions, but the trends seem to indicate that the Colombian military has become the greater problem. I don't have statistics readily available, but in the last year there have been a number of incidents, including the execution of an elite police counternarcotics unit, that have been conducted by the military. On top of that, a report in the US released recently gives creedence to the theory that military corruption is a problem (the US helped Colombia institute an anti-corruption program for the police in the early 1990's, but have never pushed for a similar program with the military).

Consider the facts:

  • Numbers of executions orquestrated by the military are increasing
  • The role of the military in fighting FARC is decreasing
  • Military pay for the lowest level is $480,000 CP/month (roughly $200)
  • The military was in bed with the paramilitaries prior to their "disbandment"
  • The public believes that any and all violence is the fault of FARC
  • "Terrorists" managed to get a huge car bomb through TWO high secure military checkpoints
  • The bomb was targeted at the top Commander of the Army
  • Much of the recent violence has been directed at military targets, whereas FARC has generally been indiscriminate with violence

If you add it up, it looks like a serious problem. The Colombian military has certainly become more professional and skilled over the years. But they've also committed a number of atrocities that are just inexplicable. It looks to me that we're having an internal military struggle and I think that bodes ill for Colombia. As long as corruption reigns in the military and the public believes that all violence is attributable to FARC, I think things will get worse.

I'm worried about the direction of this country.

Friday, October 13, 2006

No, tear gas isn't really good for you

Aside from this story about Kwame Brown, there wasn't a funnier story this week than this one (courtesy of Armscontrolwonk) that explains:

"Nuclear volleyball

Intelligence photographs of North Korea’s nuclear test site showed technicians playing volleyball this week near the tunnel where a nuclear device was unsuccessfully set off on Sunday.

The facility where the test took place was identified by U.S. officials as a North Korean science and technology research center near the town of Kilchu and the northeastern coast.

Very high-resolution satellite images obtained by the Defense Intelligence Agency showed the volleyball game being played near dormitories at the facility.

The Japanese intelligence agency also had access to the photographs, and according to U.S. defense officials, they reported that a sports activity so close to a nuclear site was inconsistent with post-nuclear testing precautions, since the underground tunnel where the test took place was located several hundred yards away. "

This news, combined with the findings that the "nuclear explosion" was much too small to have been what the Koreans want everyone to believe and that there is absolutely no radiation anywhere to suggest there was a "nuclear" even, give creedence to the theory that they faked it.
Or, maybe it was lost in translation. Maybe when the Koreans said, "We detonated a nuclear device" they really meant to say, "We packed 500 pounds of conventional explosives around some nuclear material and blew it up, just to see what would happen."

At any rate, the intel work will play itself out, but what's really interesting from my perspective is this: If they faked it, what happens to the new UN Sanctions? Seriously. The world is acting pretty damn fast to condemn and punish a rogue nation with a long history of being, shall we say, less than honest. Do we actually have any proof that North Korea tested a nuclear bomb aside from their word?

I think the answer to that is a pretty clear no. So, before we start throwing out UN resolutions and ratcheting up our defenses and putting more pressure on, let's get down to brass tacks: Did the North Koreans actually test a nuclear bomb or not. Until the answer to that questions is definitively yes, I think we ought to pause on the punishment. Even serial killers get the benefit of the doubt.

Tea leaves and Cuba

There really doesn't seem to be a lot of concern in the US that there could be a regime change underway in Cuba (or already completed), but it is an issue being talked about down here.

(As an aside I saw a fantastic ad for a newspaper on Transmilenio this morning that read like this:

Quire ver o entender?

Took me a sec to figure it out, but how clever.)

At any rate, I watched an interview on Caracol (the news station for Colombia) where an American was being interviewed by one of the oldest and most famous of television reporters in Colombia. It was a fascinating interview (in Spanish, as well) and while much of it doesn't stand out in my collective consciousness, two bits do.

First, Castro has cancer. There seems to be little doubt of that. A variety of US sources are now reporting this as the official intelligence opinion of the CIA. For examples, look
here, here, or here (for an official Cuban denial).

While there is some reasonable doubt about the cancer claim, old men don't go having serious intestinal surgery unless it's absolutely necessary. This story will play out in due time and whether it's cancer or something else, it appears that Castro's time on this earth is nearing an end.

Second, and perhaps more interesting, is that it appears the power transition has been completed. Raul Castro has an apparent strong hold on the government and, interestingly, the interview I saw suggested that he actually is a more effective governor than Fidel (who was a great orator, but couldn't organize his way out of his own closet).

I find this tidbit very interesting because for years there has been talk of a transition crisis after Fidel's death. In fact, when discussing communist countries with hereditary leaders, the West has always suggested that transitions are particularly dangerous. I'm not an expert in that area, but I've always felt that those thoughts were essentially overblown. When the old tyrant dies, eveyone wins (except the public) because there's a ton of things to divy up. Fighting for power pretty much goes against self-interest because if you go about things in a peaceful manner, you'll inevitably get more of the pie than you had before. So, transitions generally seem to be more about who gets what, than who is the President, Vice-President, etc. (And that, folks, is about as unscientific of an explanation as one could have.)

At any rate, if the pre-transition transition was effortless and smooth, then I have serious doubts about the risks of a post-Fidel Cuba falling apart into a Mogadishu type situation.

Of course, there is a third issue that deserves some brief attention and that is this: Can anyone explain why the United States still sanctions a tiny island nation 90 miles off its coast that has absolutely no international significance of any kind?

And no, I'm not looking for the: "Because the vocal Cuban minority in Miami is a powerful interest group..." type of explanation. I get the politics, stupid as they may be.

Instead, I'm wondering what the OFFICIAL US government justification of maintaining santions on a harmless nation that poses less than zero threat to our national security, especially when said policy is THE TEST CASE for why sanctions FAIL to change nation behavior or induce regime change. I just can't fathom the complexity or simpliticy of the lie and I'm too lazy to look for it on my own.

(Seriously, 50+ years of failure in Cuba and we still thought it would work in Iraq? Think about this for a sec: 36 years ago there were 17 Latin American/Carribean countries with dictatorships. Only 1 has been sanctioned and demonized throughout and only one is still an authoritarian regime. If there isn't any better evidence that sanctions often cause the EXACT opposite of what a nation desires, then I don't what else could prove that sanctions are not a weapon of the state that should be used with frequency. Some day, I'm hoping that policymakers will leave sanctions where they belong - as a seldom used option in foreign affairs.)

At any rate, I'll just say what everyone else in the US (except for the Cuban minority) already knows - lift the sanctions on Cuba, normalize relations, and move on. It's over. The Cold War, that is. We put sanctions on Cuba because of a specific historical context. That context is DONE. Finished. Kaput. It's time we rectified this because keeping the sanctions in place only serves to hurt the Cuban people and keep the Castro's in power.

Student Protests

Last, I'd like to relate a personal story. Yesterday, on my way to a company at which I teach english, my bus ran into a HUGE traffic jam. After waiting 25 minutes and moving about 12 blocks (still being 14+ blocks from where I needed to be) and being late, I exited my bus and started a very fast walk. When I reached Carrera 11 with Calle 74, the tear gas hit me. My eyes started stinging, my breathing became more difficult, and all round, it was a pretty unpleasant sensation.

At any rate, I didn't know what the hell was going on. I was late, there was some noxious thing in the air (didn't know it was tear gas at the time) and I wasn't paying too much attention to what was going on.

Turns out, I stumbled into the middle of a student protest that has gotten out of hand. Once I realized that, I turned off the 11 and went up to the 9th where things were pretty much normal. Best not to be in the midst of a dangerous situation, with tear gas in the air, hostile students throwing bricks, and a mix of military and police on the march. Fortunately, I arrived at the tail end of this event, so I was never in any daner. (Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me, and I would have liked to have shot some fotos of the military guys shooting the tear gas, the students yelling and throwing bricks, and the "civilians" standing around watching it all. Classic scene.)

At any rate, since that event I have tried my hardest to find out why the students are protesting. But no one seems to know. I even when to and couldn't find a story about it anywhere.

And this, my friends, is Colombia in a nutshell. A lot of things go down here, but people pretty much choose to remain ignorant. I have a feeling there is a particular "siege mentality" here in Colombia (try explaining that one in Spanish) that results in a lot of people choosing not to know too much about a lot of things. At the same time, there's also what I would describe as a "blue collar work ethic" mentality in which a lot of people say, "hey, I didn't have it too easy either, so I worked my ass off and I'm proud of my accomplishments. Suck it up and work harder and maybe you can become middle managment too."

I'm not judging these mentalities, nor am I attributing these mentalities to the relative ignorance over the the student protests (it could very well be that the students aren't exactly communicating their demands). But what I am observing is that I find it shocking that pretty much no one has any idea why the students are protesting. I mean, when major protests shut down parts of Washington, we know about it. But in Bogota, the people pretty much just say, "ah, another day in the life of the big city."

Very strange.

Ok, I lied

This is clearly the funniest thing I saw/read all week. Trust me, you don't want to miss this.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

North Korean Tomfoolery...and what the US Press isn't reporting

I hate to say I told you so...but it looks like I was right. But before we get to the meat, let's look at the situation.

What is being talked about internationally and on the blogosphere is that the North Korean nuclear test was a dud. In fact, there are really only two possibilities: either they tried to do a test and it failed or they faked it. See here for more info on why it failed.

I'm not going to speculate on that much. What does seem clear is that the "great danger" of a nuclear armed North Korea is, in short, vastly overrated. The North Koreans can't seem to make anything that actually works properly. See the last ballistic missile test. In fact, I think this comment from Arms Control Wonk accurately sums up the current state of risk:

"I close this discourse about operational confidence by noting that the United States has built a missile defense that does not work, to defend against a North Korean missile that does not work, that would carry a nuclear warhead that does not work."


Instead, I want to broaden the discussion that I mentioned the other day: that of motivation. North Korea has always used bluster, threat, and coercion as a means to get concessions on the negotiating table - or in this case, get too the negotiating table.

(Gee, can't think of any other nations that might use that strategy...)

This situation appears to be no different from recent history. As this post from Kevin Drum concurs, it appears that North Korea has become increasingly desperate in its desire for normalized relations with the United States, or, more promptly, a return to the negotiating table.

The Bush administration, however, has unequivocally stated in its tour de force expose of the North Korean motive, that there will be no negotiation at all.


The North Koreans, braggadosiously and quite hilariously, have responded that they, "hope the situation will be resolved before an unfortunate incident of us firing a nuclear missile comes."

As if they could:
a) put their non-functioning nuclear bome on their non-functioning missile, or
b) hit anything more serious than the Sea of Japan.

But in terms of diplomatic banter, that's about as good as it gets.

At any rate, what's the point? Well, I, for one, thing that the Bush administration has not only seriously mishandled this situation from the start, but will also use the current "crisis" as fodder for the mid-term election. Meaning, of course, that the response is likely to be more political than sensical.

This is a mistake.

Clearly the US can't be seen as caving to North Korean demands, but equally clearly, we need to return to the negotiating table and, importantly, we need to begin to rachet down the hostility between the two nations. We're in a position now where we can return to the table with serious options. The North has made it very clear that their pursuit for nuclear arms is more motivated around a desire for normalized relations with the United States, than it is for regional aggression or domination. In fact, a case can be made that North Korea has never pursued regional agression or domination - which sort of cuts down on the whole risk of nuclear warlordism.

But the strange US requirement that North Korea return to the 6-party talks or have no talks at all is gravely erroneous. (Since when has the Bush administration been a propent of internationalism and multilateralism?) It seems to me that any negotiation is better than no negotiation. That doesn't mean that we have to give them one iota of anything. But shouldn't we at least be talking?

At any rate, since we are currently enduring the most politically motivated of presidency's in recent memory, I fully expect this situation to get worse before it gets better. As in, perhaps the next president will be fully aware that a policy of all sticks and no carrots is likely to cause the very thing you desire to stop. Hopefully, nothing more serious than a few more failed North Korean tests will have passed, since it's awfully hard to put the nuclear genie back in the bottle.

But we'll see. Japan's panties are in a tizzle and while they're currently pushing harsh new sanctions (just what more can we add to the current sanction regime anyway?), let's hope that the Japanese don't get fed up and jumpstart their own nuclear program. Because I have little doubt that Japan could have a strong nuclear arsenal in under 5 years. And a nuclear arms race in Northeast Asia is about the least desirable outcome of the current situation.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Shifting Gears

Well, it's been another long and tiring week. My Spanish courses were quite frustrating this week - we're just moving too fast at this point and I feel like I'm falling behind. And my English class schedule was fairly brutal (6am class, 8pm class). But, it's the weekend and we're off to a country farm for the night (owned by my wife's uncle who is going with us) and we'll be relaxing properly.

At any rate, with all the crazy insanity of the GOP covering up a sexual predator in their ranks, and now hustling to blame anyone but themselves for not acting, I'm feeling that a variety of stories are being ignored. It's election season, so that's no surprise, but shockingly, there's more going on in the world than just Mark Foley's emails and the GOP cover up. So, a popouri will have to do.

Transatlantic Terror Update

This is something I've been wondering about for a little while now. We heard all the hub-hub when the arrests were made by the Brits that the would be terrorists were in the late stages of planning. I expressed pessimism about that point given the pretty radical failures of police in the US and UK to not just make arrests, but actually get convictions for terror plotters (I believe we're 0-infinity right now). In fact, the whole exercise of arresting would be terrorists seemed more like a "I saw a Muslim with a beard and he gave me a dirty look, he must be a terrorist" kind of operation than actually substantive police work.

At any rate, the difference in the UK appears to be that these guys really were planning terrorist action, at least as much as I'm planning on getting a job. That is, a couple guys sitting around bitching about the West and how it treats Islam eventually come around to the topic of terrorism, hatch a plot, and then start making some plans. That doesn't mean that they were anywhere near to actually launching a terrorist operation as we had been lead to believe.

The latest, via the Washington Monthly blog:

"The US warned Britain that it was prepared to seize the key suspect in the UK's biggest ever anti-terrorism operation and fly him to a secret detention centre for interrogation by American agents, even if this meant riding roughshod over its closest ally...

...The Americans' demand for Rauf's quick arrest dismayed the British intelligence services, which were worried that it could prompt terrorist cells in the UK working on separate plots to bring forward their plans or go underground....

...The intelligence source said the alleged plot had not been at the advanced planning stage."

Yep, you read that right. The US told Britain, our closest ally, that if they didn't make arrests, then we would - even if it was illegal. We're the kind of buddy that threatens to beat you up if you don't give us your lunch money.

But the way we treat our allies isn't really a surprise in the era of the Cowboy Presidency. In fact, none of this is a surpise.

So, to sum up, the Brits had an ongoing surveillance operation, they wanted to continue generating evidence, there was no imminent threat of action, the US threatened their closest ally, forcing an arrest, the arrest sent other potential terror cells operating in the UK further underground, and everyone was lied to about an imminent danger of "mass murder".


The hand that feeds Speaker Hastert

Just in case you haven't had enough, I found this story to be totally shocking. It's incredible to see just how corruption can prosper legally in your home country.

The basics, House Speaker Denny Hastert buys land for $5,600 per acre. Then he pools land with GOP buddies. Then, in the 2007 Transportation bill, he earkmarks $207 million for building a highway that goes past that land - a highway that the people and state government of Illinois don't want or need. Then land developer comes in and buys land for $36,152 per acre. Hastert nets $3,118,000. It's good to be the House Speaker, huh?

The Washington Monthly has the full scoop.

The Korean Proliferation Debacle

For the last 6 years, the Bush administration has turned a blind eye to the growing problem in North Korea. By all rights the ongoing nuclear crisis has been a collaboration between the North Korean government and the US. First a brief primer.

Short History

After the death of Kim Il Sung in 1994, North Korea inadvertently became a test case for “constructive engagement,” the policy of cooperating with a “rogue” nation (offering carrots) while also making clear the costs of non-compliance (sticks). This strategy encompassed two policy actions: the US led 1994 Agreed Framework (AF) and South Korea’s so-called “Sunshine Policy” initiated in 1998. The US brokered AF sought to freeze the DPRK’s nuclear program and replace it with civilian nuclear power, while president of South Korea Kim Dae Jung (1998-2003) argued strongly in favor of engaging the North through his controversial sunshine policy.

The essense of the Agreed Framework was that North Korea would shut down its nuclear reactors and allow IAEA monitors in for inspection in exchange for US funded construction of Light Water Reactors and fuel oil during the construction period. Essentially, the US agreed to build civilian nuclear power plants that couldn't be used to create nuclear material, if the North agreed to abandon its nuclear program. Fuel oil was critical to the deal because the North had to have power in the interim between the shutdown of its graphite reactors and the completion of the Light Water Reactors.

Fast forward about 4 years, a medley of shannigans on both sides, and we come to the straw that broke the camel's back and has the North positioned where it is today. In 1998, the GOP led US Congress slashed funding for fuel oil, essentially rendering the Agreed Framework moot. There were a lot of things that went into that decision (more or less US dissatisfaction about North Korean missile jibjabbery), but the point is, the situation we have today is largely because, since that moment, US policy on North Korea has been essentially non-existant.

The current situation

The Bush administration, as reader's of this space are fully aware, isn't exactly into "carrots." This is the most hawkish presidency in recent memory and their negotiating strategy is always pretty much, "do what we want or we'll bomb your cities into the stone age." With Korea, Bush has pretty much not had a clue from the get go. See the 2004 Presidential debates for the vacant stare on the Cowboy President's face when asked about the North Korea problem.

Today, we find ourselves in a precarious situation. The North has declared that it is ready and willing to test nuclear weapons. This is a warning shot off our bow. Prior to the Indian test in 1998, they continually urged the US to fullfill its Article 6 Commitments to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (work to reduce Nukes to zero) with the threat of a test for non-compliance. Well, the US didn't care much for the NPT, didn't make significant strides to reduce it's nuclear arsenal, and India tested. Pakistan followed suit shortly after.

What's the lesson from this? Nations that give warnings of nuclear testing generally don't want to test. They see it as a last resort. The warning is designed to call attention to a specific problem. In other words, it's the "stick" to the "carrot" of negotiation, peace talks, what have you. The North issued a public warning about it's nuclear ambitions not because it's gloating, but because it wants something. The question is what.

After thinking about it, and reading this post from the Washington Note and this excellent post from Arms Control Wonk, I have settled on four issues that are bothering the North.

1. The Secretary General of the UN problem - As everyone should be aware by now, the UN is set to select a new Secretary General in the coming months. The favorite is former South Korean Minister of Defense Ban Ki Moon. By all accounts, it seems inevitable that Moon will be in charge of the UN come January 1, 2007.

This is a potentially dangerous move. Selecting a South Korean to head the UN creates several problems for North Korea. On the one hand, it represents a threat to its legitimacy with its people. North Koreans (there is no distinction between North and South other than political) will be immensely proud of a Korean in charge of the United Nations. It will be impossible for the repressive North to contain the information or control opinion through propaganda. Whether Moon does a good job or not is irrelevant. He'll be one of the most important men in the world and Koreans everywhere will love him. It goes without saying that having the repressed people of the North idolizing or fawning over an important leader from the South represents a legitimacy crisis for the North.

2. The next Secretary General won't be seen as unbiased in peace negotiations with the North. This is a potentially more grave problem. Regardless of Moon's job performance or involvement with the 6-Party talks or any future negotiations with North Korea, it's clear that he will not be viewed as an independent negotiator. His appointment risks relegating the UN to the sidelines on one of the most important security issues of this century simply because the North won't trust him or any of his "minions". Not good.

3. The North is getting squeezed by new US financial sanctions. It goes without saying that when you are an outcast nation, you don't have too many options for revenue generation. The North, after suffering years of strong sanctions, have used three things to generate cash - missiles, drugs, and conterfeit US dollars.

(And this is why the mid-90's consternation about the North's missile sales to Pakistan was a clear case of seeing the trees but missing the forest. Sanctions left them with no choice.)

Cleverly, the Bush administration identified foriegn (Asian) banks that aided North Korea's counterfeiting operations and cracked down. US companies are not permitted to trade or have any dealings with those banks. It appears that the new round of sanctions has worked. The situation in the North appears more desperate and, as history shows, when the North gets desperate, they don't cave, they up the ante.

4. The North wants to resume talks, but the US doesn't. This is the crux of the problem, as I see it. At no time, do I think, has the North actually wanted to be a rogue nation with nuclear weapons, continually at risk of military action by the United States. Rogue leaders generally want to keep power. It's good for them. They get lavish palaces, absolute power over their people, and pretty much anything else they want. But, they have to walk a fine line between being a rogue and a dangerous rogue.

Saddam Hussein is a great example. He made a grave miscalculation before the US invasion, thinking that he had more time to stall and obfuscate. He just never realized that he was dealing with the Cowboy Presidency.

But North Korea is different. They have continually desired reintegration with the South that would lead to eventual reunification. They've never desired to be a rogue. But when the crunch starts affecting a dictator's own personal benefits, well, they get a bit more desperate.

Hurt my people, that's ok, I'll just blame you and see my popularity rise. Hurt me, and I'll have to find a way to hurt you back.

Now, we're dealing with a situation where the North sees a variety of concerning details rising on different fronts. By all estimations, they're not committed to a nuclear test because that's a point of no return. Instead, it appears that they're using the same negotiating tactic of the last 15 years - threaten when you want something. And this time, they want negotiations, they want to go back to the table.

Sadly, nobody in Washington is listening.

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