Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Far Out; Far East

First, allow us to remember that this year is the 20th anniversary of the student protests and resultant massacre of June 3, 1989, in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China. If you recall, this event took place during the wholesale collapse of Soviet Communism in Eastern Europe. It was thought, with great hope, that the trend would extend to the People's Republic of China. Instead, we were eventually treated to the Oligarch's Totalitarian China.

Allow us to take a moment to recall those brave persons yearning to have their leadership listen for once to the governed. Allow ourselves to appreciate what we take for granted here. And to recall the iconic images we saw before our televisions went dark that fateful day the 27th and 28th Armies slaughtered thousands of their fellow countrymen.

This will bring me to the second part of this Far East post. Kudos to the Hermit Kingdom of the Democratic Republic of North Korea, as big a misnomer there has been since the German Democratic Republic went out of business in 1989, for detonating its second atomic device.

Also, let's thank George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for that results oriented foreign policy of engagement. Without them, North Korea might not have nuclear weapons!!

Kim Jong-il - at once the world's biggest loser and winner of "Most Likely to be Parodied As a James Bond Villain" contest, has spent what little capital his nearly useless country has to build a second atom bomb, so he can now attack two cities before it is vaporized in certain retaliation.

It seems Mr. il, er, uh, I mean Kim, hasn't realized that nuclear weapons are really more trouble than they are worth. See, if you don't use them, they don't do anything for you. And if you use them, they don't do anything for you.

As the inestimable John Keegan postulated in his book A History of Warfare, while war is an extension of politics by other means [see: von Clausewitz], nuclear war breaks this trend as it necessarilly destroys the political systems which created them. Nuclear weapons are in themselves a terrible conundrum. They provide a false sense of security, while permitting the boiling point of tensions to artificially rise under their umbrella.

As an example, think of the ubiquity of proxy wars between the Superpowers and their respective blocs which ran through the length of the Cold War. Where it might be thought that war would be impossible after the development and depolyment of large arsenals of ever more destructive nuclear arms, rather the reverse was true.

So now North Korea has tossed down its nuclear gauntlet, but has done so in a pitch black room. I say that because there are several key unkowns: the size of their weapon in yield as well as physical mass; this will directly affect their ability to weaponize this device, and limit how far they can throw it on their available rockets. In any event, their meager arsenal is but a drop in the bucket when compared to the arsenals of the USA and Russia in every way.

On the upside, though, is that it appears this test was slightly less of a fizzle than the last test, in 2006. So, it looks like Mr. Kim has an over rated roman candle at his disposal. Yay.

I wonder how many of his fellow Koreans the Dear Leader starved to afford his little vanity project.

Some opine that Mr. Kim may seek to put such technology on the black market, and that this is the true danger. Perhaps, but in order to make such a sale worthwhile it would have to be a relatively large amount of money. And to sell what he has worked so hard to create seems to me to be a little shallow minded, and Mr. Kim is not a dunce.

Finally, at the outset, President Obama has responded well. I do think that, short of a shooting war, which would be a calamity, the only thing left is for the nations most concerned - China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and the USA - as well as the rest of the civilized world, to tighten sanctions around North Korea like a slow noose. Every ship coming in or out of the Hermit Kingdom must be stopped and searched, and if Mr. Kim doesn't like it, well, he should just come out of his cave.

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