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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘North Korea’

The Hidden Threat of Kim Jong Un

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

Yet again, the United States, and, indeed the world, finds itself having to confront a dictatorial regime led by a maniacal leader who continuously threatens both our country and that of our allies. Although Iran typically leads international headlines in this arena, the North Korean regime has taken center stage with both provocative acts and thinly-veiled threats.

Thus far, the U.S. and its allies have taken a “wait-and-see approach,” which, it seems, has only hardened the North’s resolve to establish itself as a dominant player in world affairs and a nuclear-armed nation. As the world stood by and watched, North Korea launched a satellite into space in December of last year and conducted another nuclear test this past February. Although it has vocalized its plans to attack the United States with nuclear weapons, the conventional wisdom is that the North’s technological advances have yet to create a nuclear warhead capable of fitting on a missile which can reach the U.S.

And, as if the world needs more pseudo-pundits addressing the situation, Iran’s foreign ministry has ironically asked both sides to use restraint and not promote “provocative behavior.” As foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said, “We think that the event that is intensifying between North Korea, South Korea and the United states should be controlled as soon as possible. Both parties should not move toward a corner in which there is a threatening climate.”

Although the U.S. can hardly afford to open a new front internationally and remains mired in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fact remains that Kim Jong Un continues to be caricatured by the press and not taken seriously enough. On April 7th, Saturday Night Live (“SNL”) opened with a fake press conference where Kim Jong Un brags about his sexual prowess and fist pumps Dennis Rodman towards the end of his address. While this is typical SNL fare, it is emblematic of the world’s failure to truly fathom the grave threat represented by maniacal figures like Un.

As if to make matters worse and again reinforce this image of two clowns hanging out, Dennis Rodman traveled to North Korea in February where he called Un “a friend for life” and announced plans to “have some fun” with Un in August, saying he “just wants to be loved.” Episodes like this may end up creating an air of oblivion about what is truly going on behind the scenes and lulling the world into focusing on the amusement of the affair as opposed to Un’s nefarious intentions.

History has a habit of repeating itself and we know from our experiences in the past that leaders who were not taken seriously while issuing existential threats often desire to carry them through. History is replete with examples of various countries placating or satirizing Adolph Hitler, who simply pursued his vision with uncanny fervor and focus. In 1940, Charlie Chaplin created the film, “The Great Dictator”, where he expressed his views through what has been called a “satirical attack on fascism.” Although creating a comedy about Hitler was very controversial, Chaplin stated “I was determined to go ahead,” “for Hitler must be laughed at.” In the film, Chaplin casts “A Jewish Barber,” who also plays the dictator “Adenoid Hynkel” and parodies Hitler.

As history would tell, society could ill afford to stop and laugh at a jingoistic megalomaniac like Hitler. The world waited, appeased, and ran away in fright until we no longer could, and by that time, Hitler’s Generalplan Ost, or Grand Plan to dominate Central and Eastern Europe and ethnically cleanse Jews and others in its wake had already had a devastating impact. The Holocaust was Hitler’s answer, and for the rest of the world, it was too late.

In this same time period, caricatures of Mussolini and Stalin were also readily available during their regimes, helping mask the true dangers these tyrants posed not only to their citizens, but to the world at large. Stalin, of course, was one of the most murderous dictators in history who cause the death and suffering of tens of millions through his forced labor camps and purging “enemies of the people.” Mussolini was also known to severely torture or imprison his opposition, in addition to framing and murdering them at a later time. His secret police exerted influence over most aspects of daily life and were in charge of ending any anti-Fascist activity.

The Dictator’s Lesson: ‘Nuke up Fast’

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

If you like what is happening with North Korea at the moment, you will love what happens when Iran goes nuclear.

In case anyone is in any doubt, it is always worth remembering that North Korea is a basket-case of a country – probably in the most abysmal situation of any country on earth (not forgetting the Middle East). Its people intermittently starve by the millions, and all of them lack even the most basic of amenities.

As Shin Dong-hyuk and a few other unbelievably fortunate escapees have attested, concentration camps (for once the term is not inaccurate) are maintained across the country. And even those fortunate enough not to be in them are cut off from the outside world by a regime which has the unique selling point of being the world’s only Stalinist monarchy. The authorities have no ability to provide the most basic services to the majority of its population; and after years of sanctions, can do almost nothing either internally or externally to alter the situation it finds itself in. Yet here it is, dictating the news agendas of the world.

And why? For two straightforward reasons. First, because it has a new leader of whom everyone is ignorant. No one – no other government, intelligence agency or foreign office – is entirely sure of his intentions. We do know that he spent some time at a school in Switzerland and has a fondness for basketball. But apart from that and a few other tiny details, there is almost nothing known about him. It was the same with his father and indeed his grandfather. We knew what type of sushi the current Kim’s father liked, and we knew he was a fan of Hollywood movies, but aside from such ephemera we had almost no idea of the type of man he was or the type of things he thought. Now his son – the third generation of the family to reign – is even more of a mystery. So there, undoubtedly, is the first problem.

But the second reason is even far more straightforward: North Korea is now in the Nuclear Club. No one is quite sure how rudimentary are the devices that they have set off (including the third such test just this February). But nevertheless they have managed it. Assisted by any number of rogue states, networks and cartels, the most isolated regime on earth has finally got into the only club that matters. And why? Why would a regime allow its people to suffer the most biting sanctions, the most appalling privations and itself to suffer the most complete international isolation – just for the possession of this one type of weaponry?

It is because the regime in Pyongyang knows something that everybody now knows but which those countries already in the Nuclear Club are increasingly unwilling to admit: the very clear lesson of the fate of Libya’s Colonel Qaddafi.

Qaddafi, you will remember, committed what is a clear, cardinal, school-boy error for dictators. In 2003, concerned by the U.S./U.K. and allied invasion of Iraq and toppling of Saddam Hussein for his WMD program, Qaddafi suddenly volunteered up – to the U.S. and U.K. it should be remembered, not the U.N. – his somewhat more-advanced-than-anybody-had-realized WMD program. Having seen Saddam Hussein fall for less, Qaddafi decided it was more trouble than it was worth in those days to continue going down that route.

But what a difference a decade makes. For apart from anything else, Qaddafi himself is now history. Having given up his WMD program, he then made the terrible error, once a rebellion against his rule began, of beginning to massacre his own people . And so – for humanitarian reasons – NATO intervened and toppled Qaddafi. And the last anyone saw of Qaddafi, he was being assaulted by a mob, beaten, having a knife put in every conceivable part of his body and then shot.

If you were a Kim or a Mullah, what lesson would you take from that? Personally, putting my dictator hat on I would take one lesson: “nuke up fast.” And certainly, on no account should you disarm. Disarmed despots are soon-to-be-dead despots. It is a lesson the North Koreans have taken on board with understandable eagerness and with – to date – considerable success. After all, for all the latest round of bellicose rhetoric against South Korea, there is no U.S. or NATO or any other kind of talk of, for instance, regime-change in North Korea. The system there may be – against stiff competition – the worst human rights violator in the world. Yet nobody is talking about toppling Kim. They are elementary nuclear, after all.

Deciphering the Chinese and American Korea Strategy

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Is there any piece of received wisdom more universally invoked than the inane piety that China wants to calm North Korea down, and gets annoyed when the Kims act up?  It’s hard to think of many.  This hoary premise gets trotted out every time.  And every time, it comes up short on explanatory or operational value.  It’s never relevant to why the Kim went crazy.  Nor is China coming down on a Kim ever the key to settling the Kim’s hash.  If the snarling Kim stops yelping for a while, it’s always because the U.S. was induced to do something – intensify some negotiating stance, make some offer, fork over some “aid,” make a concession to China; or maybe just look alert enough to make it the wrong time for a showdown.

You’d think someone would figure this out.  When the Kims start throwing food on the floor, somebody’s got an eye on Uncle Sam.

China’s Basic Posture

While it’s quite true that China sets boundaries on a given Kim’s latitude for geopolitical tantrums, it is wrong to suppose that China wants the same thing the U.S., South Korea, or Japan wants.  China is only interested in pacifying North Korea if events are not proceeding to China’s advantage.  If it is advantageous to China for the Kims to provoke responses out of the U.S., China will let the drama run its course.  (As discussed below, that is the case today.)

Conversely, it is equally wrong to imagine that China instigates what the Kims do.  The Chinese don’t have to make a Kim’s nonsense up for him; the average Kim is an indefatigable nonsense factory.  His natural intransigence and self-cultivated geopolitical alienation are useful for China – a convenience to be prized and guarded.

The Kim psychosis keeps the Korean peninsula divided, with one half of it joined at the hip to China.  For China, that is better than any other option – perhaps even better than the most unlikely one:  a united Korea joined at the hip to China.

The Chinese want to prevent, at all costs, the opposite situation: a united Korea allied with the United States and friendly with Japan.  But a united Korea would tend to be a pain in China’s neck in any case.  For the Chinese, keeping Korea divided is a pretty good option, especially when it’s the United States paying to guarantee that the division remains peaceful.  China couldn’t afford 60 years of guarding the DMZ.

The Obama Enigma

The underlying geopolitical structure for that assumption is starting to change, however, in part because of the deliberate, announced policy change toward the Pacific Rim on the part of the U.S.  But it’s also because, in the context of that new policy, no one is sure what Obama will do.  In visibly and enthusiastically rattling the saber at North Korea, he is not doing what previous presidents have done.  There is one exception – John F. Kennedy, abetted by Robert McNamara – and their pattern of behavior in foreign policy did not turn out well.

Obama’s pattern (Honduras, Iran, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria; the missile defense pull-out from Poland; the Obama nuclear policy and New START) is as confused as JFK’s, if not as bombastic.  Predicting what Obama means by the rather humorous “airplane escalation” in Korea – first the B-52s, then the B-2s, then, oh, no, not them, the F-22s – is something of a puzzler.  Is he trying to deter something?  If so, what?  Clearly, he’s not deterring Kim Jong-Un’s saber rattling or missile-launcher moving.

I was amused (yet again) to hear on the TV news yesterday that the U.S. Navy is moving one of its “mightiest warships,” USS John F McCain (DDG-56), to the waters off North Korea.  McCain is an Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyer, and as such is certainly mightier than the global-average destroyer.  But there are 61 other Arleigh Burkes, in total, and 15 others have the ballistic missile defense (BMD) upgrade that McCain has, including four other Arleigh Burkes homeported, like McCain, in Japan.  I’m a big fan of the Arleigh Burke, but I do wonder where the hyperventilating copy billing McCain as one of our “mightiest warships” came from.  I really hope it wasn’t a government office.

The question remains:  What is Obama hoping to achieve with these moves?  It’s like he’s doing an imitation of what he and other academic leftists perceive to be going on when nations come into conflict over something.  These leftists tend to characterize events in terms of nations “posturing” and “rattling the saber” at each other, with the implication that it’s all stupid, regrettable, and untethered to meaningful policy issues – and that it could be prevented with a little grown-up intervention.

The Shakiest Nukes in the West

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

In case everyone in Northeast Asia missed it, in spite of their intelligence and early-warning networks which have assuredly been tracking it in fine detail, the Obama Defense Department announced on Monday that the U.S. has been deterring North Korea by sending B-52 bombers on practice runs in its vicinity.  The specter of nuclear deterrence was clarified by Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter:

Deputy defense secretary Ashton Carter said during a visit to South Korea on Monday that the bomber flights are part of the U.S. “extended deterrence”—the use of U.S. nuclear forces to deter North Korea, which conducted its third underground nuclear test Feb. 12.

Nukes! I say.  Nukes!  Pay attention, dudes.

As Bill Gertz demurely puts it, “It is unusual for the Pentagon to make such overt statements about the use of strategic nuclear forces in Asia Pacific.”

Deterrence. Indeed.  That’s because such overt statements are a form of strutting and posturing that makes the U.S. look foolish.  Kim Jong-Un may be a weirdo who hangs out with Dennis Rodman, but he knows we have nukes.  North Korea wants nukes because the U.S., Russia, and China have them, and, in the crudest sense, they make us powerful – if not invincible, at least hard for anyone else to deter.

Making pointed comments about “extended deterrence” comes off as a novice’s imitation of what he thinks a tough security policy sounds like.  It’s kind of informative, in fact: this is what the political left thinks is necessary for achieving deterrence.  You have to remind everyone about your nukes.

It’s not like decision-makers in North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Russia, and China have been unaware of our big exercise with the B-52 participation.  Their radars track the B-52s all over the air space off the coast of Northeast Asia.  Each of them has a foreign-forces guide that informs every soldier and airman of the nuclear role played by the B-52 in the U.S. deterrence arsenal.  They fully understand what they’re seeing when the B-52s show up.

But to publicly emphasize the U.S. nuclear deterrent in this circumstance is misdirected anyway, if the deterrence target is North Korea.  For Pyongyang, evidence of the U.S. commitment to South Korea has been shown most effectively by our conventional military cooperation, which includes thousands of troops stationed in the South.  The nuclear threat is always implicitly there, but it isn’t needed to deter Kim Jong-Un.  We can take him down without going nuclear.  The audience for nuclear deterrence is Russia and China, and the point of it has always been to deter them from trying to settle the Korean situation themselves, to the detriment of our allies and interests in the region.

Is there any sense being fostered by anyone in the Obama administration that China or Russia needs special nuclear-deterring in the current situation with North Korea?  Does anyone at all, even outside the administration, think that’s necessary?  I don’t see that theme being retailed anywhere.  It makes no sense to rattle the nuclear saber at Kim Jong-Un.  But no case has been made that it ought to be rattled at Vladimir Putin or Li Keqiang either.

Nukes aren’t something you wave around like a drunk brandishing a knife.  The current situation has that feel to it, however.

Consider another aspect the situation. The Northeast Asian nations are sophisticated enough to understand: that U.S. nuclear-armed submarines are not sitting “near South Korean waters,” as claimed in additional South Korean news reporting cited by Gertz.  Sitting near South Korean waters would be pointless.  If a U.S nuke were ever launched at North Korea from a submarine, it would be launched from out in the Pacific by a ballistic missile submarine (SSBN).  We don’t have any other submarine-launched nukes today.

The nuclear Tomahawk missile (TLAM-N), formerly launched by attack submarines, was removed from U.S. ships and submarines in 1991 and put in storage.  Obama’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review recommended eliminating the TLAM-N from the U.S. inventory, and, as described by the Federation of American Scientists, the new 2013 version of the Navy’s baseline instruction on nuclear weapons contains no section on the TLAM-N.  This indicates that the TLAM-N is no longer in the inventory of nuclear weapons.

All tactical nuclear weapons having now been retired from the U.S. arsenal, there is no submarine-launched nuke that could be fired from a position “near South Korean waters.”  No one in Northeast Asia lacks the intelligence or resources to figure that out.  How did that impression get left with the South Korean media?

Perhaps the Obama administration imagines that it’s appropriate to pointedly warn North Korea about our nukes because Kim has a nuclear weapon himself?  The leap of logic here is fatal to stability, if that’s the thinking.  Even if Kim expended his one or handful of nuclear warheads, it is in the highest degree unlikely that we would use nukes on him, for the simple reason that it isn’t necessary.  If Kim getting one nuke causes the U.S. to begin treating North Korea like a credible nuclear power, then that one nuke has accomplished its purpose, and everyone else across the globe will want to try it.

There might be a neighborhood in which having a crude warhead or two makes one a member of an elite nuclear-armed “club” – but it isn’t Northeast Asia.  North Korea has not achieved the ultimate goal of the nuclear-armed dictator: invulnerability to deterrence.  Kim is still badly over matched in every way by Russia, China, and the U.S. – and, in fact, is over matched conventionally by South Korea and Japan as well, if it came to that.  It is unseemly and off-kilter for the U.S. to get into a nuclear showdown with North Korea.

There might or might not be utility in giving a bit of “informational” emphasis to our exercise series with South Korea right now, with the North being so obstreperous.  But there is no need to issue reminders of our nuclear capabilities.  Doing so, in fact, comes off as uncalibrated and a bit hysterical.

Originally published at the Optimistic Conservative.

What if They Mean What They Say?

Monday, March 11th, 2013

The U.S. generally makes allowance for verbal excesses from foreign governments, but if expressions of hatred and incitement to violence are actually harbingers of behavior, destruction and murderousness cannot be far behind.

At the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations [sic], Turkey’s Prime Minister equated Zionism with crimes against humanity. The American response was swift; speaking for himself and the administration, Kerry called the remark “objectionable.” But after expressing dismay, he called for nicer play.

“That said,” he commented, “Turkey and Israel are both vital allies. We want to see them work together to go beyond rhetoric and take concrete steps to change their relationship.” A State Department official concurred, saying the comment was “particularly offensive” and “complicates our ability to do all the things we want to do together.”

But what if Ergodan doesn’t want what the U.S. wants him to want — that is to say, he doesn’t want a changed relationship with Israel? What if harsh rhetoric and open political and financial support for Hamas — a U.S. designated terrorist organization — are part of Turkey’s regional Sunni Islamic ambition, which does not include Israel? What if Turkey’s prior cooperation was a phase to allow it to acquire political and military benefits?

In a similar vein, a few weeks ago, a North Korean diplomat told the U.N. Conference on Disarmament, “As the saying goes, a new-born puppy knows no fear of a tiger. South Korea’s erratic behavior would only herald its final destruction.” He added, “If the U.S. takes a hostile approach toward North Korea to the last, rendering the situation complicated, [we] will be left with no option but to take the second and third stronger steps in succession.” A North Korean general warned of the “miserable destruction” of the United States.

The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Conference on Disarmament called the comments “profoundly disturbing,” and the Spanish ambassador said he was “stupefied.” Why?

Beginning with President Carter, American administrations have treated North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear capability as defensive: designed to keep South Korea and the U.S. from overthrowing the cultish regime of the North. The U.S. tells itself that since it harbors no plans for any such invasion, it can reassure North Korea on that point and thus lessen its determination to have nuclear capability – hence the U.S. offers food, fuel and a light water reactor, thinking those “gifts” will reassure North Korea of America’s benign intentions.

But what if North Korea is not defensive, but rather Kim Jong Un, like his predecessors, believes that the unification of the peninsula should happen under governance of the North? How then should we understand the diplomat and the general? And how should we understand North Korea’s latest nuclear test?

The British ambassador said of the North Korean diplomat’s remarks, “It cannot be allowed that we have expressions which refer to the possible destruction of U.N. member states.” That is, of course, patently untrue. The U.N. tolerates and sometimes applauds Iranian representatives who have called not for the “possible” destruction of a U.N. member state, Israel, but for its outright annihilation.

“The Zionist regime and the Zionists are a cancerous tumor,” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said. “The nations of the region will soon finish off the usurper Zionists in the Palestinian land… In the new Middle East there will be no trace of the Americans and Zionists… Cancer must be eliminated from a body (the region).” For Qods Day last year Ahmadinejad told the Iranians, “Any freedom lover and justice seeker in the world must do its best for the annihilation of the Zionist regime in order to pave the path for the establishment of justice and freedom in the world.”

The P5+1, the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany who are negotiating with Iran, still seem to presume that Iran is pursuing nuclear capability for some reason other than to use it, and that it can, therefore, be dissuaded from developing it. But what if “annihilation of the Zionist regime” really is topmost in the minds of the Mullahs? What if they believe Israel has to disappear and they can make it happen? What will happen, then, when they get nuclear weapons, if they still really believe that?

Expert: Iran and North Korea Deal to Work Together Includes Nukes

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

Two of the world’s most brutal regimes, Iran and North Korea, each hell-bent on intimidating any country which dares to challenge it, signed an agreement in September to cooperate on science technology and education. In other words, North Korea is officially helping Iran move forward on its path to nuclear weaponization.

The deal was signed by the two countries when a North Korean delegation traveled to Tehran for the Non-Aligned Movement Summit which took place on August 31 and September 1, 2012.

That agreement was described by North Korea’s state-run news agency in non-threatening terms, simply as one involving “cooperation in science, technology and education,” but former State Department official David Asher, who testified at a congressional hearing on North Korea before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs last week, described it as very much like the agreement entered into by North Korea and Syria in 2002.  Asher warned that the 2002 agreement was the “keystone for the commencement of covert nuclear cooperation between North Korea and Syria, which ultimately resulted in the construction of a nuclear reactor complex.”

During Asher’s tenure at the state department he was the coordinator of the North Korea Working Group designed to curtail the nuclear threat.

The Syrian project was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike in 2007, shortly before its completion.  Experts agree that the Syrian-North Korean project had no purpose other than to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.

The late summer NAM Summit was described by Iran as the “most important” political event in the Islamic Republic of Iran’s 33 year history.  In attendance were not only many traditional allies of Iran, but also countries the U.S. consider to be allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.  That those countries visited when the U.S. is pushing hard to make Iran feel isolated within the diplomatic world, was a blow to U.S. prestige.

United Nations president Ban ki-Moon also attended the late summer NAM Summit, but Ban repeatedly criticized the Iranian government’s human rights record as well as its deplorable responses to the International Atomic Energy Agency regarding its nuclear program.

Both North Korea and Iran are the subject of numerous sanctions by the United Nations, under strong U.S. pressure.  In a meeting with North Korea’s president of the North’s Supreme People’s Assembly, Kim Yong-nam, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatolah Ali Khamenei stated clearly that the two countries share “common enemies.”  In this case they were referring to the U.S., but Iran and Syria are at the forefront of Israel’s many enemies.

North Korea is rich in raw uranium and other natural resources necessary for building nuclear weapons.  It also has the scientific know-how and centrifuge technology to share with its partner Iran.

On February 12, North Korea conducted its third and most successful nuclear test thus far.   It later declared it had made progress in securing a functioning atomic arsenal.  In response, the U.N. unanimously expanded sanctions on North Korea.

North Korea repeatedly claims that the United States is using military drills in South Korea in advance of launching a nuclear war against North Korea. Just last week, North Korea threatened to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the United States.

“Since the United States is about to ignite a nuclear war, we will be exercising our right to preemptive nuclear attack against the headquarters of the aggressor in order to protect our supreme interest,” the North’s foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

North Korea’s repeated willingness to ignore the demands of the international community to desist from testing nuclear weapons testing can only send the worst signals to Iran, which is that the U.N. will have meetings and denounce actions, but will not prevent further tests.

The Iran-North Korea Connection

Monday, February 18th, 2013

Before the North Koreans successfully launched a (non-functioning) satellite into orbit on December 12, 2012 there were reports, notably by space expert and NBC News consultant, James Oberg, that Iranian missile experts had been spotted in North Korea. If true, this would be perfectly consistent with the longstanding and close relationship that North Korea has had with the Islamic Republic of Iran. On February 11, the Pyongyang government exploded what it describes as a ‘miniaturized’ nuclear weapon. This test has dramatically raised tension levels in Northeast Asia. This underground test also raises difficult questions about Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

The nuclear explosion seems to have been more powerful than the previous two, the first of which in 2006 looked like a “fizzle.” No matter what the US intelligence community eventually determines about the exact nature of the February 11th explosion, it is obvious that the North Koreans are getting better at building these weapons. What should also be obvious is that the the information and expertise that the North Koreans are gaining is, in all probability, going to be shared with the Mullah’s regime in Iran.

In 1999 it was evident that Iran and North Korea were cooperating on both long range missiles and nuclear weapons. Back then, Bill Gertz, writing in the Washington Times, reported that “Iranian officials recently traveled to North Korea to discuss missile cooperation.”

Before that, in 1998, “The Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States” chaired by Donald Rumsfeld with members such as Paul Wolfowitz, R. James Woolsey and Richard Garwin, described how, “we traced the development histories of the related programs of North Korea, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan and the relationships among them.”

Since 1998, intelligence assessments of these types of programs, especially after the mistakes made in Iraq, have become even more politicized than they were in 1998. Any ambiguities in the information are seized on by intelligence analysts to downplay any danger that these rogue states may “break out” in unexpected ways. The highly controversial 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of Iran’s nuclear program is an example of this problem: the claim that Iran had given up its nuclear weapons program was derided as an apparent effort by the intelligence community to prevent the Bush administration from taking active measures against Iran.

However, the detailed language of the NIE indicates that the intelligence community was hedging its bets. They wrote, “We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.” We certainly do know that in February 2013, Iran’s drive to build up a stockpile of highly enriched uranium, which can be fashioned into a bomb, has accelerated.

In this context, the 2007 NIE makes a point that is all too relevant today:

We judge with moderate confidence Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 time frame. (The INR [Intelligence and Research : The State Department's in-house intelligence agency] judges Iran is unlikely to achieve this capability before 2013 because of foreseeable technical and programmatic problems.) All agencies recognize that this capability may not be achieved until after 2015.

Thus, according to the NEI, we are today right in the middle of the time period that the careful and reputedly dovish analysts of the U.S. intelligence community identified as the moment when Iran would have enough material for a nuclear bomb.

We have been told that there is no evidence that Iran is working on a bomb design, but if the Mullahs can simply buy a usable  and tested bomb design from North Korea, they could transform their status into a nuclear weapons state overnight.

The North Korean government is even more impoverished now than it was in 1999. It is likely that its bomb designs will be for sale at bargain prices. Thanks to the availability of a cheap and tested design, nuclear weapons programs could begin to emerge in previously non-nuclear nations. For example, Arab states that are losing confidence in America’s will to defend them against Tehran, could buy the North Korean warhead plans as easily as their Iranian adversaries.

Who’s Being ‘Provocative’?

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

Israel is now “provocative” in a ratching up from State:-

In unusually rare and blunt criticism* of its top Mideast ally, the Obama administration on Tuesday slammed Israel for continuing to announce new settlement construction on land claimed by the Palestinians.

The State Department accused Israel of engaging in a “pattern of provocative action” that calls into question statements from Israeli leaders that they are committed to peace.

Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said settlement activity only puts the goal of peace “further at risk” and urged both Israel and the Palestinians to halt all provocations and take steps to revive long-stalled peace talks.

“We are deeply disappointed that Israel insists on continuing this pattern of provocative action,” Nuland told reporters. “These repeated announcements and plans of new construction run counter to the cause of peace. Israel’s leaders continually say that they support a path towards a two-state solution, yet these actions only put that goal further at risk.”

I guess that since Arabs never build “settlements”, they aren’t ‘provocative’?

Note, on the Turkey blockade run, she avoids the term ‘provocation’:-

QUESTION: Okay. Well, one of the things that the Secretary said yesterday in – when – in her comments to this was that attempts to go into Israeli waters were provocative and irresponsible. And it’s my understanding that the flotilla organizers do not intend to go into Israeli waters but in – they will stay in international waters. Is that your understanding or is that not your understanding per what the Secretary said yesterday?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to the intentions of those involved in the flotilla. I think the Secretary was clear it was in response to a question yesterday –
QUESTION: Correct.
MS. NULAND: – as you remember, so that also speaks to the fact that publicly this issue is out there, that we do not want to see the bad situation of last year repeated. We do believe that channels exist for providing humanitarian aid to Gaza in a safe and secure way and that that situation is improving. And we urge all NGOs who want to participate in that to use those channels.
QUESTION: But does a flotilla sitting in international waters off the Gaza – off the coast of Gaza, is that a problem for the U.S.?
MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t want to get into the Law of the Sea issues here. I simply want to say that we don’t want to see a conflict at sea, on land. We want to see appropriate legitimate channels used for the –
QUESTION: I understand, but in the briefing that just preceded this –
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: – you talked about wanting to – in another instance, in the South China Sea, the U.S. has been very concerned about the freedom of navigation.

But later used it:

MS. NULAND: Well, thank you for that, Arshad. We are quite concerned, as I said yesterday. We are talking to both the Israelis and the Turks. We are urging both sides to refrain from rhetoric or actions that could be provocative, that could contribute to tensions.

Hillary Clinton used it in connection  with North Korea:

We all agree that North Korea’s provocative and belligerent behavior jeopardizes peace and stability in Asia. We are deeply concerned by its unprovoked attack on the island of Yeonpyeong, resulting in the loss of South Korean lives.  On behalf of the American people, I would like to convey our sympathies to the victims and their families.  Our thoughts and prayers are with you.  We want the people of South Korea to know that we are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with you, and we are deeply committed to your defense.The minister and I share the view that the attack by the North Koreans violates the Armistice Agreement of 1953; that North Korea’s provocative and belligerent behavior threatens us all, and that it will be met with solidarity from all three countries.

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