30 May 2009

Your guess is as good as mine

North Korea has detonated a nuclear weapon, and even as they condemn people are looking for guidance as to what's going on, what this means and what might happen next. The traditional place to look is the media, yet for Australians there is simply nothing on offer that can give the information required to make sense of it all.

First, Fairfax got the website guy from the Lowy Institute, and he has no idea:
As with every previous act of military bravado from Pyongyang, the latest nuclear test is being parsed and dissected for its "messages". But sometimes a nuclear test is just a nuclear test.

What a load of wank. At no time from nobody can it be said that "a nuclear test is just a nuclear test". It's the biggest and baddest weapon there is, and it's always about sending a message, every single time. Glibness is intended to convey a deep reservoir of knowledge becalmed by emotional balance, but it actually conveys the opposite: Roggeveen hasn't really considered what little he knows, and has lunged for the bucket o' clich├ęs in the hope there might be something there for him. "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar", said Sigmund Freud; but at no time is a nuclear weapon just a cigar.
That's not to rule out that North Korea wanted to send a message of defiance to the United States and its allies. But this test should not be seen just as an elaborate performance for the benefit of foreigners - it is not always about us.

So what's it about? Is it some internal power play?
... there is the inescapable strategic logic that nuclear weapons give the North Korean regime what it most wants: security for itself and the country. Nothing the North Koreans do for themselves - or the US offers - will perform that task better than nuclear weapons.

So it is about foreigners after all, Sam, because if you want security from external threats you have to send them a message about your strength, don't you? Why not just say that? "The North Korean government was feeling a little insecure so it let off a nuclear weapon, with the implied threat that there's more where that came from, the end."
So what hope of a peaceful solution? Some have argued that the Bush administration took its foot off North Korea's throat in 2007 when it ended some financial sanctions in exchange for a new nuclear deal, on which Pyongyang subsequently stalled and dissembled.

Some?!?!?!? Who are these "some"?! Take down their names and send them to Greg Sheridan at once!
NORTH Korea's nuclear test and missile launchings offer sad and perhaps startling lessons. Lesson No.1: So far, the Barack Obama charm and kindness offensive has had no positive results in any conflict anywhere in the world.

Obama may believe he can change the world with a smile, a willingness to consult, extravagant official humility and a dose of undeniable charm. He is indeed not George W. Bush. Guess what? It makes not one tiny jot of difference to North Korea's Kim Jong-il or, indeed, to any of the world's dictators, terrorists, nuclear rogues or other bad guys.

Let us not forget, as Greg has, that at this point in the Bush Administration the then-US President was begging the Chinese for the return of a spyplane which they had brought down inside their airspace and which they were busy reverse-engineering. Look at that key phrase, "Obama may believe", as though Obama were just like every other Democrat happy to act as a blank canvas for the projection of Greg's silly and shallow theories.
Perhaps the financial sanctions that brought North Korea to the table once before deserve another chance.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. Perhaps nothing much was achieved at that table, the venue for all that stumbling and dissembling. Perhaps it's not worth pinning your hopes on a possibility from which no progress on any issue arising from this (the security of the northwestern Pacific, the rights and aspoirations of North Korean people, take your pick). Having attempted to hose down other people's hopes and fears, it's pathetic to offer this as some sort of - well, if not a solution, then some hoped-for process.
It would also help if China and Russia did more to convince Pyongyang to change course.

That's it? Hopin' and wishin', the same strategy that has beset Western policy on the peninsula since 1953. While you'd expect Greg Sheridan to have none of that, his bombast gland has poisoned his ability to perceive reality:
Lesson No.2: China is overestimated as a geo-strategic partner and as a central player in any solution to the problems North Korea presents. ... Why? Because the status quo suits China ... If South and North Korea reunited on the model of East and West Germany the whole peninsula would become a democracy ... a reunited Korea would almost certainly remain an ally of the US. Although China doesn't like the trickle of refugees it gets from North Korea now, it would hate sharing a 1400km border with a bold, prosperous, rich ally of the US. The refugee flow would then be the other way.

Far better to have a Stalinist buffer state, so long as it does not become so erratic as to directly endanger Chinese security.

This assumes that maintaining a Stalinist buffer state is sustainable. North Koreans and Chinese from regions bordering North Korea need only travel to the great cities of southern China to know just how badly they've been had. There, jobs and prosperity beyond the dreams of these wretched people is available because of capitalism and trade with other countries - the very countries from which the North Korean regime seeks protection.
But the six-party talks have conferred splendid benefits on Beijing. They not only afforded Beijing great prestige from hosting them, they also offered Beijing a superb diplomatic lever with Washington. The US State Department bent over backwards not to annoy the Chinese in case it led to them going slow on the six-party talks. Now Kim's tests have shown us, whether the Chinese were acting in good faith or not, they have achieved absolutely nothing that we want on North Korea.

And how is doing nothing prestigious, Greg?

Sheridan's "lessons" seem to be that nothing has really changed and that recent events represent just another step on the treadmill of dealing with North Korea. It's the mentality that left us unprepared for the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and for September 11. This flatulent certitude Sheridan engages in simply isn't helpful in understanding this complex issue.
To all who pin their hopes on the US military colossus, consult an atlas. North Korea's military may be decrepit, but it can mass enough Soviet-era artillery pieces on its border to do a great deal of damage to Seoul and a number of other cities close to the 38th parallel.

Consult a history book while you're at it, Sam. Chinese and Soviet military forces put paid to American adventurism in 1953 and while Greg Sheridan might sneer at Obama today, the very idea of US military action against North Korea has been a non-starter for almost seventy years. This is a straw man worthy of Sheridan himself.
Military action against North Korea would be utter folly.

Seoul, is barely 30km from the border. Across the border is a range of gentle hills. In those hills North Korea has nestled thousands of artillery pieces. The North could cause untold devastation in Seoul in the first hours of any conflict.

Strangely, Greg is not suggesting a pre-emptive strike, like he did with Iraq. Only the geography is different (including the lack of oil): the mad and belligerent dictator and the WMDs, they're all there Greg. Smite those peacenik wimps who would have the 38th remain one of the world's festering sores. Why do they hate our freedoms, Greg?

Sam isn't afraid to dream:
Perhaps the only hope lies in attempts to reform North Korea itself. That way, even if Pyongyang never disarms it would at least slowly become a more "normal" country that is less belligerent, more predictable and a more responsible nuclear custodian.

Is North Korea flexible enough to bend without breaking, or would it (to coin a phrase) melt down, as Pakistan is in the process of doing? Would it stay a "nuclear custodian", or would these be yanked back to Russia and China like the Soviet nukes were from eastern Europe after the Warsaw Pact dissolved? Greg Sheridan considers these matters in his muddled way:
What, then, is to be done? The problem cannot be ignored. The North Koreans have an appalling record of nuclear and missile proliferation, specifically to Syria and Iran ... some things can be done. One is to make maximum effort to prevent North Korea from proliferating nuclear material and technology.

North Korean nuclear technology came from Pakistan. It illustrates another failure of realism - containment. Kennan was conceiving of containment at the very time that nuclear secrets were leaking to the Soviet Union, and to even speak now of containment is ridiculous. Sheridan himself admitted it was ridiculous, yet he has nothing left to offer but empty procedure, just like Lowy's website boy.

All journalists have let us down when it comes to this issue, repeating the same old crap and accepting intelligence failure as just one of those things you just have to put up with. Clearly, it isn't - this blog and the story that followed, not led, the blog are running rings around flatulent clowns in the journosphere like Sheridan and Roggeveen. We are all poorly served by their intellectual and moral laziness, and the demise of newspapers as a business cannot but follow their demise as the source of information on our world.

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