Saturday, March 15, 2003

I OPPOSE THE WAR ON IRAQ (as it presently constituted). Yet, when I read articles like this I find it more than a bit distasteful to find myself in company of folks like Mark Levine who find the prospect of a swift (and, therefore relatively low in civilian casualties) American victory, the ousting of Saddam Hussein, and no global increase in terrorism to be a "nightmare scenario." Read for yourself:
In this . . . scenario, the war is over quickly with relatively low U.S. casualties, some sort of mechanism for transitional rule is put in place, and President Bush and his policies gain unprecedented power and prestige. From my recent conversations with organizers and their latest pronouncements, it is clear that this possibility has yet to be addressed. Waiting much longer could spell disaster for the antiwar movement. . . .

In such a scenario, especially if there is no major upsurge in domestic terrorism, the antiwar movement will find itself publicly discredited and politically marginalized; remember the Y2K dooms-dayers? . . .

If the movement doesn't move with full effort to lay the groundwork for a Bush Wins scenario the massive organizing and consciousness raising of the last year could well prove fleeting, forcing the movement to start from scratch in mobilizing public opinion a year or two down the road.

Unless I am misreading the piece, he is arguing that such a scenario is a "nightmare" because it means that the anti-war crowd will have been proven wrong and will have more difficulty mobilizing people to support the same mistaken views in the future. Given that it appears that we are going to war, anti-war protests notwithstanding, a swift and certain victory (with no resultant increase in terrorism) is the best one can hope for, not a nightmare (except for people who like protest for protest's sake).


Yes, I know, the men and women who make up the president’s foreign policy team are seasoned professionals, with advanced degrees, and decades of military and foreign policy experience. It's hard to imagine how they could get us into this jam. But the facts speak for themselves.

For months Korea-watchers have been looking to see whether President Bush would do one of two things--hopefully both.

First, would he agree to direct negotiations with the North Koreans to test their openness to a diplomatic resolution to the crisis? And, secondly, would he clearly mark off some 'red line' the North Koreans should only cross at the risk of war with the United States? The spiraling sense of alarm in the foreign policy community grows from the realization that president refuses to do either because his advisors can't agree what our policy should be.

The picture would be very different if time were on our side rather than North Korea's. But it's not. Every day that goes by, the North Koreans move closer to processing plutonium and making nuclear weapons. If the North Koreans are dead set on building a nuclear arsenal, every day makes our future military task vastly more difficult. On the other hand, if they’re open to a negotiated settlement, every day our future negotiating position gets weaker. Either way, every day that goes by is a bad one for us and a good one for them.

In many ways, this nicely encapsulates the dilemma faced by Washington: the most the U.S. can hope for with resuming dialog with the DPRK is the chance to "test their openness." Failure to talk, however, doesn't accomplish anything at all. Lesser of two evils, anyone?



The United States planned today to resume spying on North Korean military activities from the skies above the Sea of Japan, while Japan said it was sending a destroyer to the same waters amid reports that North Korea may test-fire yet another missile into the area.

The United States command here said all aerial reconnaissance flights would take off as usual from bases in Japan but did not say if fighter planes would escort them in view of an increased threat from North Korean military jets.


The Associated Press ("RUSSIA RESUMES WARNINGS AGAINST THREATENING NORTH KOREA," Moscow, 03/12/03) reported that a senior Russian diplomat warned Wednesday against threatening the DPRK, saying Russia was continuing its quiet diplomacy aimed at reaching a settlement of the crisis around the DPRK's nuclear program. "Russia is definitely against preventive strikes on North Korea and against any military nuclear programs on the Korean peninsula," Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov said during a visit to Tokyo, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. He rejected any sanctions levied against the DPRK because of its nuclear program, saying such punishment would only intensify tensions, ITAR-Tass said.

PETER BECK SAYS ITS TIME FOR KIM JONG-IL TO CHANGE (in a Dong-a Ilbo piece that doesn't seem to be on the web)
I am increasingly convinced that once Saddam Hussein is dead or in hiding, the Bush Administration will train its weapons on North Korea's nuclear facilities. The mistrust and name-calling have reached such high levels that meaningful negotiations with North Korea are virtually impossible. The Bush Administration has painted itself into a rhetorical corner--how do you negotiate with someone you have called a "pygmy" and "evil"? At the same time, the White House will not just sit by and watch North Korea develop and export missiles and nuclear materials. With sanctions and blockades of questionable effectiveness, a preemptive strike looks increasingly attractive to the war hawks. Pyongyang's preference for provocative acts, like the test firing of missiles and the recent intercept of an American spy plane, will not bring the United States to the negotiating table, they will only stiffen the determination that the North poses a threat that cannot be tolerated.

If Kim Jong-il wants to avoid the fate that will soon befall Saddam Hussein, his only choice is to redirect his energies and reach out to his countrymen in the South—sooner rather than later. Despite the Korean public's profound disappointment with former President Kim Dae-jung, Roh Moo-hyun managed to win the presidency precisely because South Korean voters favor engagement over confrontation with North Korea. Ironically, at least part of the disappointment in former President Kim is the result of the North's failure to reciprocate Seoul's efforts at engagement.

President Roh presents a second chance for North Korea to undertake the reforms it has been contemplating for the past decade, achieve a meaningful and lasting rapprochement with the South, and rekindle the dreams created by the 2000 North-South Summit. Now is the time for Kim Jong-il to fulfill his promise to visit Seoul and take North-South cooperation to the next level. Or, will Kim act according to one of the most popular sayings in Washington, "The North never fails to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." If Kim misses this opportunity, the Korean people could be the loser. The stakes could not be higher.

Back in North Korea, the WFP has made a dismal forecast that several million children might die this year as the organization could run out of food by June without more donations from the international community. Barring new donations, hospitals will run out of medicine next month. Donations have gone down sharply since last year, apparently due to tensions over the North's drive for nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Earlier, North Korea had lost to Afghanistan in a contest of the urgency for help. Donor fatigue has been another factor in the continuous downturn in international assistance.

In a way, it is a harrowing question whether the leaders of these "rogue states" must be disarmed and removed by all possible means, so the innocent victims of their failed governance can be liberated from the gruesome reality. "Regime change" may well be considered an expedient solution to the dictatorship and economic failure under these notorious men. But this would be so only if America's "quick war of surgical attacks" completes its desired missions - hitting targets without heavy "collateral damage," or the loss of huge faceless masses.

Few wars have been fought in such an immaculate manner, however. Though without bloodshed, no less ruthless than an armed conflict is the current state of silent suffering of millions of people behind the heavy curtains of repressive authoritarianism. The prolonged standoff between Washington and Pyongyang over the latter's clandestine nuclear weapons may be a source of exciting news for international media. But think about the torturous hunger and terror prevalent in the secluded society.
President Bush would do far better to switch his apparently imminent war plan to assisting the country in building its infrastructure and mustering the strength to stand on its feet and feed its starving people. Likewise, Washington must look for ways to engage the wayward North to persuade it to give up its nuclear ambition to rescue its populace from a looming famine.

THE GAME OF THEIR LIVES: A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE 1966 NORTH KOREAN WORLD CUP SOCCER TEAM: Everything you wanted to know about the film, the story, the team (including many pictures of the medal-laden heroes today) and much more can be found here.


NORTH KOREAN EXPORTS: NOT JUST NUKES, THE DPRK ALSO PRODUCES ANIMATION Who, pray tell would want to purchase the services of North Korean animators? Why the French of course!
For years French and other European production companies have contracted work to SEK Studio, based in Pyongyang, says Dominique Boischot, president of Paris-based film production company Les Films de la Perrine. Boischot routinely faxes master drawings to North Korean animators.

Artists are reportedly educated at schools such as Kim Il Sung University. SEK's 1,500 artists makes it one of the largest animation studios in the world, says Boischot. He says he likes to work with SEK because it can handle large volumes of coloring assignments, for example, and complete orders efficiently and with excellent quality.

I loved this anecdote:

Several years ago Les Films de la Perrine wanted to hire SEK for its long-running television show, Wombat City. Set in the future, it features a multiethnic cast of teenaged characters zooming around in flying cars between sleek urban buildings. "But it was not possible to do it in North Korea," says Boischot, "because for them, the concept was so different from what they're used to seeing. They didn't really understand it.

"The show was done in China instead."

BRADLEY BABSON ON DPRK ECONOMIC REFORMS. The whole thing is worth reading but here are a few highlights:
Facing up to economic realities in the future will require that the DPRK leadership acknowledge the historic dependence on generosity of other countries and shift from behaviors that seek to extract subsidies from other countries to maintain viability of a failed system, to behaviors that foster foreign aid and investment on terms acceptable to the international community based on improved relations and commonly accepted financial practices. To accomplish this shift, it is also necessary that the DPRK leadership accept the political implications of the fact that economic survival depends on deepening not lessening economic interdependence with other counties. In the end, the Juche philosophy cannot achieve its basic goals in the economic sphere, and is destined for the same creative re-interpretation as the ideologies of the Communist Parties in China and Vietnam have undergone in recent years.

But the underlying story is that even in a good year such as 2001, cereal production remains far below the yields of the early 1990's and a food deficit of between one and two million tons per year is a structural reality for DPRK.

There are also many informal reports of the "dollarization" of DPRK, as the dollar, Yuan and Yen are used as the medium of exchange for domestic transactions. This is not surprising given the differences in price levels of the official and unofficial economies and the availability and denomination of won currency. Privately held foreign currency amounts to about $1 billion, more that twice the value of domestic currency in circulation.

It is also not clear that North Korean officials have enough knowledge of economics to design and implement the reforms in a way that will achieve the desired results. They have been sending study teams abroad and have been doing homework on their own, but there is no evidence that they are receiving advice from any knowledgeable outside source on the reform process. Thus, even if the political will exists, there is little known capacity to support the planning and management of economic system change. From this perspective, the recent reform initiatives could be seen as a courageous decision for the DPRK leadership or one of desperation.

TOKYO — Japan will impose economic sanctions on North Korea jointly with the United States and other willing nations if it test-launches a ballistic missile, Japanese government sources said Thursday.

The sanctions, which would include the suspension of cash transfers to North Korea, will take effect without any U.N. resolution, the sources said.

Japan has already reached an accord on the sanctions with the U.S., Britain and France and plans to seek support from South Korea, which has maintained the "sunshine policy" of engagement toward North Korea.

A sign of a move towards multi-lateral solutions? Perhaps. Too little, too late? Perhaps.

RUMOR ABOUT TOWN HAS IT that the pliot of the North Korean fighter that turned on its radar to target a American spy plane over the East Sea/Sea of Japan asked for permission to shoot the plane down but was denied. If valid, this is, on the one hand, heartening: higher-ups in the DPRK know that some lines are too dangerous to cross. On the other, the fact that the pilot even wanted to take action that might have started a war is frightening. What if he shoots first and asks for permission/forgiveness later?

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

--Bill Gertz reports that the DPRK is preparing to break its self-imposed moratorium on long range missile testing

But as is often the case, the actual copy of the article doesn't quite justify the headline:

Recent satellite photographs of a North Korean base showed activity that appeared to be flight-test preparations, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"There aren't indications of an imminent launch, but it is something they might well do," one U.S. official said. "It's certainly a possibility."

A second official said the activity is being watched closely and that there are concerns that the flight test, which would be North Korea's third in recent weeks, will be of the Taepo-Dong 2 ballistic missile.

A third official at the Pentagon said, "Clearly, the potential is there for a launch with little or no notice."

--China still wants no part in negotiations with North Korea

--in case you were wondering what some people in Ethiopia think of juche

Pyongyang, March 11 (KCNA) -- A preparatory committee was inaugurated by the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, group for the study of the Juche idea on March 3 to commemorate the Day of the Sun, birthday of President Kim Il Sung. The committee set a period of commemorating the day of the sun from March to April and discussed and decided on action program to hold a meeting, seminar, lecture, film show, photo exhibition and other colorful functions and introduce and propagandize the immortal revolutionary feats of the president through news media during the period.
Meanwhile, a similar preparatory committee was formed in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb. 20. The chairman of the Spanish Association for Friendship with Korea was elected chairman of the committee.

--an interesting account of a visit to P'yongyang

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

--The Korea Herald has an interesting editorial on anti-American sentiment in Korea. A glimpse:

We believe the noticeable growth of anti-USFK or anti-American sentiment here in recent years is due to negligence in serious efforts to stem the trend by either side of the alliance.
Sounds about right.

--The New York Times has a good piece on North Korean economic reforms Several interesitng bits follow:
Even as it rattles its nuclear sabers, North Korea is toying with a version of market reforms to patch its ravaged economy. But eight months after changes like price incentives began, the economy retains an unmistakable Alice in Wonderland quality.

"Our purpose is not to make a profit," Kim Chol, the 45-year-old manager, lectured patiently. "It is for the everlasting honor of our beloved leader, Kim Jong Il, that we are interested in serving proper meals to South Korean tourists, even to foreign tourists."

Asked the prices of ingredients for the meals, Mr. Kim said he did not know. He orders the food he needs. It comes.

When China made its first moves to free prices, in 1979, it acted cautiously and gradually, cushioned by a society that was 80 percent rural. In contrast, North Korean officials are imposing a food-price shock on a population that increasingly seeks the advantages of life in towns and cities.

Despite incentives by the Seoul government for companies to invest and trade with North Korea, interest from outside has trailed off. Investors cite erratic supplies of electricity, the cavalier attitudes toward contracts, a small domestic market and bureaucratic paralysis.

The number of new projects approved by the South Korean government fell to 3 last year, from 13 in 1998. Of 52 Southern companies allowed to invest in the North, half have dropped out of the program.


--One more thing:
Chosun Ilbo (Kim Min-cheol, "NORTH WARNS AGAINST SOUTH'S CRITICISM," Seoul, 03/11/03) reported that the Rodong Shinmun, a state-run DPRK daily newspaper, said Monday that DPRK's fighter planes that buzzed a US spy plane last week were carrying out their right to self-defense. It also said ROK's criticism of the interception was outrageous, and likened it to complaining that your brother had kicked a thief out the door. The daily said that the incident would not have occurred if US had not "recklessly asserted its military power by sending the spy planes on patrol." It said that the "thoughtless actions" of ROK would only push inter-Korean relations back to a more contentious state.

Monday, March 10, 2003


Blogging has, obviously, been light lately. Between snowstorms, kids with strep and pneumonia, and a visit to my alma mater to give a talk, I’ve been a bit busy. Anticipate being even busier in the future. Have even toyed with the idea of taking a hiatus until I finish my manuscript but can’t quite seem to do so.

We lurch ever nearer war (one week away?) but I can’t seem to get too exercised to oppose it. On the face of it, it seems as if one could make a fairly coherent and persuasive case against war: imagine trying to explain to your kids why American bombers destroyed much of Iraq’s infrastructure and, no matter how “smart” and careful they are, kill at least a few innocent Iraqi civilians; “you see, Saddam Hussein just didn’t meet that deadline so people had to die.” Yes, the cost of keeping the American troops in the region is significant and yes, keeping American troops and the credible threat of their use appears to be the only way to get Saddam to bunch. But the cost of going to war and killing people? That’s high too. Anyway, I’m still opposed but hardly virulently so. I think this is in part to the fact that so many of the anti-war arguments that are articulated either in the streets or in the papers are so blatantly wrong-headed, duplicitous or both.

Meanwhile, in Korea:
-- North Korea test fires another missile More here and here
--A Korea Herald editorial states that Bush should talk to the DPRK and shouldn’t go to war with Iraq because in doing so he would be “obtusely ignoring the global sentiment of people across the world”
--The USFK headquarters are to remain in Seoul (but not in Yongsan)
--And, surprise, surprise, U.S. branded a fascist and rogue state (by Communist newspapers)

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