Tag: North Korea

Time for a Diplomatic Presence in Pyongyang

Jimmy Carter is off in North Korea again.  He’s supposed to bring home 31-year-old Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a Boston resident who was arrested in January for illegally crossing into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from China.

Obviously Kim Jong-il believes that allowing such high-profile rescue missions provides some propaganda value.  Former President Bill Clinton visited for a similar reason last year.  The little advantage that Kim gets from trying to appear magnanimous is a reasonable price to pay for winning the release of imprisoned Americans.

But the strange spectacle of regularly sending unofficial representatives to Pyongyang suggests that it is time to establish diplomatic ties.  The North Koreans undoubtedly would try to present that as a great victory, but it would be an opportunity for Washington to gain an advantage.

If there’s any hope of negotiations getting anywhere over the North’s nuclear program—I’m skeptical, to put it mildly—offering this form of official respect might prove helpful.  More important, opening even a small diplomatic mission in the DPRK would provide the U.S. with a window, however opaque, into the modern “Hermit Kingdom” as well as give North Korean officials occasional contact with Americans.

And having a channel of official communication would be helpful the next time an American wanders across the Yalu River into the North.  You don’t have to like a regime to deal with it.  The DPRK exists.  It’s time to acknowledge that diplomatically.

Jimmy Carter’s presidency was nothing to celebrate.  But he’s used his retirement to do good, as Mr. Gomes likely would attest.  We should use the former president’s trip as an opportunity to open official ties with the North.

Monday Links

Korea’s New ‘Berlin Wall’

Between 1961 and 1989 East Germany distinguished itself by routinely killing people seeking freedom.  Roughly one thousand people died trying to get over the Berlin Wall and similar barriers along the rest of the border between the two Germanies.

North Korea is following suit.  With anger apparently running high after a currency swap seemingly designed to seize what little wealth people had accumulated privately, the government of Kim Jong-il has instructed its border guards to shoot anyone attempting to flee what amounts to one giant prison camp.

Reports the Associated Press:

North Korea has ordered its border guards to open fire on anyone who crosses its border without permission, in what could be an attempt to thwart defections by people disgruntled over its recent currency reform, a news report said Saturday.

The National Defense Commission — the top government body headed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il — recently instructed soldiers to kill unauthorized border crossers on the spot, South Korea’s mass-circulation Chosun Ilbo newspaper said, citing unidentified sources inside the North.

It said the order could be an attempt by the communist government to stop members of North Korea’s middle class who are angry over suddenly being deprived of their money from leaving the country.

This horrid system can’t end soon enough.

Bush v. Obama on Diplomacy

The Hill’s Congress blog has a regular series that provides policy experts a forum to discuss current topics of the day. This week, the editors posed this question:

President Obama has taken a very different approach to diplomacy than President Bush. Does the new approach serve or undermine long-term U.S. interests?

My response:

What “very different approach?” Sure, President Bush implicitly scorned diplomacy in favor of toughness, particularly in his first term. But he sought UN Security Council authorization for tougher measures against Iraq; a truly unilateral approach would have bombed first and asked questions later. By the same token, President Obama has staffed his administration with people, including chief diplomat Hillary Clinton and UN Ambassador Susan Rice, who favored military action against Iraq and Serbia in 1998 and 1999, respectively, and were undeterred by the UNSC’s refusal to endorse either intervention.

There are other similarities. George Bush advocated multilateral diplomacy with North Korea, despite his stated antipathy for Kim Jong Il. President Obama supports continued negotiations with the same odious regime that starves its own people. Bush administration officials met with the Iranians to discuss post-Taliban Afghanistan and post-Saddam Iraq. In the second term, President Bush even agreed in principle to high-level talks on Iran’s nuclear program. President Obama likewise believes that the United States and Iran have a number of common interests, and he favors diplomacy over confrontation.

This continuity shouldn’t surprise us. Both men operate within a political environment that equates diplomacy with appeasement, without most people really understanding what either word means. Defined properly, diplomacy is synonymous with relations between states. As successive generations have learned the high costs and dubious benefits of that other form of international relations – war – most responsible leaders are rightly eager to engage in diplomacy. Perhaps the greater concern is that they feel the need to call it something else.

Monday Links

  • Podcast: When Germany enacted their own “Cash for Clunkers” scheme, some of the old vehicles were illegally exported and sold out of the country before being destroyed. Could it happen here? Would that be so bad?

Iran’s Stalinesque Show Trials

Stalinism was dropped even by the Soviet Union when the murderous Joseph Stalin died, but it has never disappeared completely.  North Korea, for instance, mimics the bizarre personality cult promoted by the Soviet dictator.

Now Iran appears to be adopting the Stalinesque tactic of staging show trials, with “confessions” from the obviously brutalized accused.  Reports the Wall Street Journal:

On Sunday, reaction by Iranian newspapers and Web sites to the trials of some 100 detained opposition members, including a former vice president, was polarized as some raised questions about whether their confessions were coerced.

The trial by Tehran’s Revolutionary Court appears to be paving the way for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to secure his grip on power and cap a gradual takeover of Iran’s political landscape by hardliners. Mr. Ahmadinejad, whose government claimed victory in the disputed June 12 presidential elections, is to be inaugurated Monday for a second four-year term. Opposition leaders said the election was rigged.

Top reformist figures appeared in court Saturday looking disheveled and dazed. They sat in the front row wearing gray prison pajamas and plastic slippers without socks, in an apparent attempt to humiliate them in public. The reform leaders were unshaven and had lost weight.

Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a cleric and former vice president to former President Mohamad Khatami, appeared without his robe and turban. Mr. Abtahi, who should legally be tried at the special tribunal for clerics, clutched a piece of paper and took the stand to give an elaborate confession. He said that reform leaders had been plotting for years to take over the government and had vowed to stick together.

By putting its outrageous repression forward front and center, the regime–fronted if not controlled by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad–has delivered its own affirmative answer to the question whether the recent ballot was stolen.   Although the regime has sufficient coercive force to remain in power at the present, it has sacrificed any remaining legitimacy at home as well as abroad.  The oligarchy led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is likely to have an ever more difficult time fending off challenges within the governing elite as well as among the people.

Americans should wish the forces of liberty and democracy well.  There is little that the U.S. government, with an unsavory record of supporting repression in Iran, can do, other than ensure that Washington does not divert attention from the responsibility of the Tehran regime for the many problems facing the Iranian people.  But people around the nation and world can help publicize the struggle in Iran and provide Iranians with the tools of freedom, including freer access to the Internet.  The Iranian struggle against tyranny is one with which all lovers of liberty should identify.

This “Cyberwar” Is a Cybersnooze

The AP and other sources have been reporting on a “cyberattack” affecting South Korea and U.S. government Web sites, including the White House, Secret Service and Treasury Department.

Allegedly mounted by North Korea, this attack puts various “cyber” threats in perspective. Most Americans will probably not know about it, and the ones who do will learn of it by reading about it. Only a tiny percentage of people will notice the absence of the Web sites attacked. (An update to the story linked above notes that several agencies and entities “blunted” the attacks, as well-run Web sites will do.)

This is the face of “cyberwar,” which has little strategic value and little capacity to do real damage. This episode also underscores the fact that “cyberterrorism” cannot exist – because this kind of attack isn’t terrifying.

As I said in my recent testimony before the House Science Committee, it is important to secure web sites, data, and networks against all threats, but this can be done and is being done methodically and successfully – if imperfectly – by the distributed owners and controllers of all our nation’s “cyber” assets. Hyping threats like “cyberwar” and “cyberterror” is not helpful.