The Long View 2006-10-10: Remove Barriers; Shoot the Hostage; Breed Like Rabbits

Kim Jong-um  By Cheongwadae / Blue House - http://www.president.go.kr/img_KR/2018/04/2018042706.jpg, KOGL Type 1, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69950427

Kim Jong-um

By Cheongwadae / Blue House - http://www.president.go.kr/img_KR/2018/04/2018042706.jpg, KOGL Type 1, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69950427

Here is something to ponder. New York City took down its post-9/11 vehicle barriers, intended to prevent truck bombings and the like, in 2006. Ten years after that, European cities have added them. Of course, the state of the art changed quite a bit. Truck bombings take hard work and skill. Running pedestrians down with a vehicle just takes an acceptable credit rating.

Also, a prediction that didn't pan out: Kim Jong-un did indeed succeed Kim Jong-il.


Remove Barriers; Shoot the Hostage; Breed Like Rabbits

 

Security Barriers of New York Are Removed, reports the New York Times, and none too soon if you ask me:

They started appearing on Manhattan streets immediately after September 11: concrete and metal barriers in front of skyscrapers, offices and museums. Some were clunky planters; others were shaped artfully into globes. They were meant to be security barriers against possible car or truck bombers in a jittery city intent on safeguarding itself.

But now, five years later, their numbers have begun to dwindle. After evaluations by the New York Police Department, the city’s Department of Transportation has demanded that many of the planters and concrete traffic medians known as jersey barriers be taken away. So far, barriers have been removed at 30 buildings out of an estimated 50 to 70 in the city.

It will take a while to fix this. The whole region is full of slabs of concrete defacing the entrances to buildings and making the many fine new plazas look like construction sites. As the Times piece notes, some of the barriers have proven to be happy accidents: the bollards, the short, thick pillars set into the ground, make convenient stools and give a geometrical accent to open urban spaces. For the most part, though, the barriers detracted from aesthetics while adding nothing to safety. Good riddance.

* * *

Why did the North Koreans shoot the last hostage? That is essentially what they did with their recent nuke test, if that's what it was. Since the end of the Cold War, the whole of North Korean diplomacy has consisted of extracting tribute from its neighbors and the United States, based on the threat to develop nuclear weapons and an ICBM. Now that they claim to have actually exploded a bomb, what further leverage do they have?

Of course, the really strange thing here, even for a North Korean story, is that their WMDs are apparently duds. That was certainly the case with the recent, failed ICBM launch. As for the weekend's nuke, it may be that the explosive yield was so small because the test was of a tactical weapon, suitable for terrorist use. More likely the bomb was supposed to be a typical first nuke of a few kilotons, but it misfired. Some American analysts are suggesting it was a conventional explosion that the North Koreans are just claiming to have been nuclear. Even Team America would not have suggested such a thing.

It would be reasonable to anticipate that the Dear Leader will suffer a mishap at no distant date; perhaps one of his trains will explode again. When that happens, his likely successor will not be one of his lamentable offspring (not that the offspring won't try), but one of those funny-looking generals he likes to appear in public with at times of crisis, a general whom the Chinese find acceptable. What happens then is that the reunification of Korea becomes a real possibility, with the Chinese offering Seoul an orderly transition, contingent on the demilitarization of the peninsula.

* * *

Rich people are breeding like rabbits. Well, some of them are, if you believe The New York Times:

It's barely a blip on the nation's demographic radar — 11 percent of U.S. births in 2004 were to women who already had three children, up from 10 percent in 1995. But there seems to be a growing openness to having more than two children, in some case more than four....

The families involved cut across economic lines, though a sizable part of the increase is attributed to a baby boom in affluent suburbs, with more upper-middle-class couples deciding that a three- or four-child household can be both affordable and fun...

Clark, 38, is aware of the buzz that large families — in the suburbs, at least — are a new status symbol.

"I thought it was kind of funny," she said...

Since Strauss & Howe's model of history suggests some such development, and since I know a couple of families to whom this story applies, I can't say that I find the Times story altogether surprising. That's not to say I don't find it slightly surreal. Maybe you have to be a babyboomer or older to appreciate how strange it is for large families to be regarded as status symbol. I can remember when it was like smoking is today.

There is even a website.

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The Long View 2005-08-26: A Walk on the Blind Side

HELLADS

HELLADS

Twelve years later, the HELLADS system is still in development. The press release cited by CNN below said it would operational by 2007. Hah. With the recent sabre-rattling between the United States and North Korea, both the utility of such a system for the US [defense against countries too poor to pursue MAD], and the fears of arms control experts [that such a system would allow the US to bully countries too poor to pursue MAD] are on display.

Also, Gordon Chang is still wrong. I get why John went on about it all the time, but it just keeps not happening.

On the gripping hand, John correctly noted in 2005 that America's imperial wars were being sustained by the martial enthusiasm of white Southerners and their diaspora. The quietly competent servants of empire tend to come from nowheresvilles like Modesto, CA.


A Walk on the Blind Side

 

The invention of the atomic bomb blind-sided the political system. The physics was never a secret, of course, and I gather that the Manhattan Project was not that much of a secret in the scientific community; still, one can understand why statesmen and the military did not think systematically about the issue until they had to. The strategic nuclear era necessarily began in great confusion. I cannot help but reflect, however, that we will have less excuse for surprise if reports like this turn out to mean all they imply:

The High Energy Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS), being designed by the Pentagon's central research and development agency, will weigh just 750 kg (1,650 lb) and measures the size of a large fridge...Dubbed the "HEL weapon" by its developers, a prototype capable of firing a mild one kilowatt (kW) beam has already been produced and there are plans to build a stronger 15-kW version by the end of the year...If everything goes according to plan, an even more powerful weapon producing a 150-kW beam and capable of knocking down a missile will be ready by 2007 for fitting onto aircraft.

By "missiles," this means tactical and air-to-air, rather than ICBMs. Even if the latter is not the case in the first instance, however, reliance on nuclear deterrence is becoming a worse and worse bet, even for the medium term. This is bad news for the states that have been beggaring themselves to acquire the minimum strategic warhead-and-missile package necessary to forestall regime change: think not just of North Korea and Iran, but Pakistan and Israel.

* * *

Health scares have been one of the defining features of the public life of my time. Someday I must compile a list of the innocuous substances, from saccharine to alar, that the media has said may be poisoning our precious bodily fluids. Anyway, here's a new medical witch hunt we can be sure will blow over in due course: Daydreaming activity linked to Alzheimer's.

The parts of the brain that young, healthy people use when daydreaming are the same areas that fail in people who have Alzheimer's disease, researchers reported on Wednesday in a study that may someday help in preventing or diagnosing the disease...The relationships are not clear and do not yet suggest that daydreaming is dangerous, but further study may shed light on the relationship, the study said.

Perhaps I am forgetting something, but I believe that the only life-style scare of this type that had any merit was for smoking. On the other hand, since I was always a dreamy sort of fellow, maybe the reason I can't remember is that the disease has struck already.

* * *

Meanwhile, in China, the prophecies of Gordon Chang seem ever more plausible. The New York Times reports in a piece entitled Land of 74,000 Protests (but Little Is Ever Fixed):

There is a growing uneasiness in the air in China, after months of increasingly bold protests rolling across the countryside....But the response by the Chinese authorities, a mixture of alarm and seeming disarray, is a clear indication that whatever is brewing here is being taken with utmost seriousness at the summit of power.

Again, the problem is that the Party is subversive of the State. The latter attempts to make reforms, but cannot do so without the full participation of civil society, which the Party blocks. This is interesting from several angles, the most speculative of which is that China and America have sometimes been oddly in sync. That was the case during the Taiping--Civil War era, as well as during the bogus but parallel "youth rebellions" of the 1960s. As for the impending disjuncture in American history, there are projections on the Left and Right.

* * *

Vietnam differed from Iraq in part because the army that was sent to fight there was selected coercively from sections of the population that had little enthusiasm for going there. This does not seem to be the case with Iraq: even the enlistment deficit seems to have been solved, at least temporarily. As Shots Across The Bow put it:

First time enlistments are running a bit behind, another product of a burgeoning economy, but re-enlistments, even from soldiers in combat zones, are running ahead of expectations.

This is another example of the Blue State -- Red State divide. It matters much less now than it did in the 1960s how much the Blue States oppose the war, since they are not being asked to fight it.

Sometimes I wonder: are the Blue States, like the EU, really trying to withdraw from history? Here is a description of Harvard University from H. G. Wells's The Shape of Things to Come. It was published in 1933, but the scene is supposed to take place in 1958, in a history where the Great Depression never ended. As is so often the case with speculative fiction written decades ago, it has become Alternative History:

The impression of Nicholson, the visitor, was one of an elegant impracticality. The simple graciousness of the life he could not deny, but it seemed to him also profoundly futile. He seems, however, to have concealed this opinion from the President [of Harvard University] and allowed him to talk unchallenged of how Harvard had achieved the ultimate purification and refinement of the Anglican culture, the blend of classicism and refined Christianity, with a graceful monarchist devotion.

Today, of course, the conversation would be about diversity and the international community, but the spirit of David Brooks's Bobos is not new.

* * *

Speaking of impending transitions, the ever-gothic Peggy Noonan advises planners to Think Dark:

The federal government is doing something right now that is exactly the opposite of what it should be doing. ...Right now the federal government is considering closing or consolidating hundreds of military bases throughout the U.S....Among the things we may face over the next decade, as we all know, is another terrorist attack on American soil. But let's imagine the next one has many targets, is brilliantly planned and coordinated. Imagine that there are already 100 serious terror cells in the U.S., two per state. ...On the day the big terrible thing happens there will of course be shock and chaos. People will feel the need for protection--for the feeling of protection and for the thing itself. They will want and need American troops nearby and they will want and need American military bases up and operating to help maintain some semblance of order.

I see the point. The problem is that federal military installations were not sited to restore public order in the event of a societal breakdown.

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The Long View 2004-11-24: Regime Changes; Mars

A prediction of John's that did not pan out:

In an uncharacteristic indulgence of wishful thinking, I have been predicting for some time that Kim Jong-il's government in North Korea would just evaporate.

North Korea just keeps going. I admit I have no idea how it works, but it does.


Regime Changes; Mars

 

The New York Times columnist William Safire has endorsed the proposal to amend the United States Constitution to allow foreign-born citizens to be elected president. He acknowledges that such an amendment would allow Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger to run, a prospect Safire greets with little enthusiasm, but he is willing to endure it for the greater good:

When an immigrant is naturalized, his or her citizenship becomes as natural as "natural born." The oath taken and the pledge of allegiance given make the immigrant 100 percent American, with all the rights, privileges and obligations appertaining thereto. All except one - the right to the greatest political success.

This is not actually true. Naturalized citizenship is conditional in a way that native-born citizenship is not. People who lie on their naturalization applications can later be stripped of their citizenship, and occasionally they are. The only way I know for a native-born citizen to lose his citizenship is to start and lose a civil war. Truly equal citizenship would have to be irrevocable.

In the same column, incidentally, Safire speculates about the presidential election of 2008:

One step up at a time. After ratification of the 28th Amendment in 2007, I envision a G.O.P. ticket the next year with Rudy Giuliani or John McCain on top and Schwarzenegger as running-mate. For Democrats, Evan Bayh or Hillary Clinton for president, Peter Jennings (Canadian-born) for v.p.

Long-time readers of my website know how happy I would be if John McCain ran in 2008. Still, I must point out that he would be the grayest of Gray Champions, actually a little older than Ronald Reagan when he was elected. Also, McCain has been the dream candidate of so many people for so long that I dread the jinx that Tacitus ascribed to the short-lived reformer who followed Nero, the Emperor Galba: "By general consensus the most fit to rule, had he not ruled."

Senator McCain himself is in no hurry to make a decision about 2008, as we see here. Polls indicate (yes, polls are already being conducted for 2008) that McCain would tie Rudolph Giuliani for the Republican nomination, but would trounce La Clinton in the general election. Whatever else happens, Giuliani would be a mistake as a presidential candidate: he's a New York City exotic.

* * *

In an uncharacteristic indulgence of wishful thinking, I have been predicting for some time that Kim Jong-il's government in North Korea would just evaporate. Readers who are similarly inclined can no doubt take heart from recent reports like this:

TOKYO, Nov. 21 - After weeks of reports from North Korea of defecting generals, antigovernment posters and the disappearance of portraits of the country's ruler, the leader of Japan's governing party warned Sunday of the prospects of "regime change" in North Korea.

The most reasonable conjecture that I have seen so far is that a slow-motion, pro-Chinese military coup is in the works. Should it succeed, then one scenario is that reunification would become a real issue, but not in the fashion of the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic. China would allow such a thing only if the Koreas completely decoupled from the US alliance system. South Korea might be willing to do that, but they might not be willing to shoulder the costs of reunification. They might raise security concerns they did not really have in order to avoid stating their real objections.

This speculation assumes that the end of the regime is a controlled process. What happens if North Korean units along the demilitarized zone start fraternizing with their counterparts to the South, or just open the border? It is hard to imagine that the South Korean Army would advance into the North, but it is easy to imagine civilians doing so, in search of long-lost relatives. And what about those nukes?

* * *

Speaking of the Germanies, readers who know German might want to glance at the website of Nationaldemokratischen Partei Deutschlands: that's the "National Democratic Party of Germany," or "NPD" for short. This is a right-wing group that has done well in recent local elections. They support the end of multiculturalism, which means the protection both of German culture and that of the growing immigrant enclaves in Germany, which means sending the latter back where they came from. They want Germany to disengage from the EU economic system and to withdraw from NATO. They see American hegemony as one of the great threats to Europe. They want to reopen the territorial settlements of the past half-century in Europe and return Germany to its historical borders. Which historical borders they do not say, but they do say they want to do it by negotiation.

The program of the NPD is not so different from that of other nationalist parties in Europe, or even of some elements of the Republican Party in the United States. Still, despite their electoral successes, the NPD seems to me a curiously lifeless enterprise. There is a great deal about the Volk on their website, but not a lot about God or religion, which suggests that they have not gotten the memo about the theme of the 21st century. Certainly they show no awareness that Europe has become a field of Jihad.

Despite the mooncalf glances toward Silesia Irredenta, the overall impression they give is one of timidity. The website keeps talking about bending private enterprise to the service of the nation. What the German economy needs is a shot of adrenaline. That would not necessarily require a radical libertarian reform, but it does suggest that they should recognize that most Germans no longer work in coal mines or steel mills.

The NPD is not the Nazi Party. Nonetheless, aside from the absence of antisemitism and their disinterest in annoying the Russians, these guys seem to have learned nothing in over 70 years.

* * *

If you want to see some original thinking by a conservative, take a look at the site of the Canadian college student, J.J. McCullough, particularly the essay The Monarchy, the Conservatives, the Future, and Canada: Why the Monarchy must go and the right should support it

Conservatives will likewise have to come to terms with the fact that Canadian monarchism is often at odds with other aspects of their goals, notably the defeat of leftist cultural hegemony in Canada, and institutionalized anti-Americanism. They'll have to realize that monarchist views alone do not a conservative make, and in many cases support for the monarchy is simply yet another tool employed by the hysterical left-wing "nationalist" set.

Robertson Davies used to remark, rather hopefully, that Canada was a socialist monarchy, which at least left open the possibility that traditional elements could tame the modern ones. If I were Canadian, or English for that matter, I would not abandon that hope. Still, one remembers the old witticism that the Church of England is a necessary bulwark against religion: conservative symbols can drive out conservatism.

* * *

We have yet more evidence that Mars stinks:

Speaking this month at the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in Louisville, Ky., Dr. Michael Mumma, a senior scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., reported three years of observations had provided strong evidence for methane...Dr. Krasnopolsky's findings, relying on observations from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in Hawaii, were first reported at a conference in Europe this year and will be published in the journal Icarus.

In January, scientists working on the European Space Agency's Mars Express mission also reported the detection of the methane. A few months later, that group, led by Dr. Vittorio Formisano of the Institute of Physics and Interplanetary Science in Rome reported that the methane appeared to be more plentiful in regions where frozen water is known to exist underground.

As I noted earlier this year, this is all very good news, if you hope that life will be discovered on Mars. Methane is unstable. It must be replenished by geology or biology, and there is no obvious geological agent on Mars to do so. More wishful thinking?

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The Long View 2004-04-23: Cracking Ice

Rumors of the demise of the North Korean system were clearly exaggerated. Kim Jong-il made it another 7 years after this 2004 news item.


Cracking Ice

Accounts of yesterday's train disaster in North Korea are proliferating and inconsistent. (So is the romanization of the place where it occurred: "Ryongchon" or "Yongchon.") Earlier accounts say that the trains in question contained LNG and petrol. Later ones say explosives. In the explosive-laden versions, the trains either collided, or the explosives were set off by overhead electrical wires while the explosives were moved from one train to another. Total fatalities may be about 50, or 150, or that may just be for the people in the rail yard, with the final total about 3,000. None of these accounts is authoritative, including the ones from the Red Cross.

President Kim Jong-il's movements are generally secret, but he is believed to have passed through the station in question about nine hours before the explosion, returning from his recent summit meeting in Beijing, which is not believed to have gone well for him. This occasioned speculation that the disaster may have been a failed assassination attempt. The New York Times, which favors the petrol & gas theory, suggested another possible connection:

The fuel trains may have been payment to Mr. Kim for traveling to Beijing last week to meet with Chinese officials. In recent years, South Korea and China have routinely made large gifts to North Korea: either fuel, fertilizer, food or cash to ensure that bilateral meetings take place.

This explosion of rumor in an vacuum of hard information is reminiscent of the Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine in 1986. Because the government of the USSR initially tried to cover up or minimize the event, there were rumors (as I recall) that 50,000 people could have received lethal doses of radiation. Immediate casualties seem to have been in the dozens rather than hundreds, but perhaps 200,000 had to be evacuated, and there was a chronic uptic in thyroid cancer rates.

The Chernobyl incident marked the beginning of the end of the USSR. It did not seem so at the time, however. Then General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev used the occasion to reverse the USSR's traditional "bad news is no news" policy, as part of his larger program of glasnost ("openness") and market reform. These were universally seen as rational and humane policies. Some people predicted that the USSR would blow up if the level of repression decreased. Hardly anyone foresaw that the union would simply fall apart in five years.

This sequence of events is unlikely to recur in North Korea, but it's about time for something to happen.

* * *

Speaking of harbingers for the future, one notes this bit of unwelcome news from Capitol Hill:

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said it is time to think about compulsory military service again -- with American forces stretched thin by fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq -- but he stopped short of actually calling for resumption of the draft.

I am at a loss to understand what conscription would be supposed to accomplish at this point. Conscription made sense when "the army" meant masses of riflemen: the cannon-fodder military that appeared with the French Revolution. All specialties are so technical now that the brief training regimes of conscript militaries, as we know from the European countries that still have them, are little to the purpose. Moreover, combat arms is fairly selective. Even people who want a draft to make the military unusable would accomplish nothing more than to create a voluntary combat elite within a summer-camp system.

Regarding the argument that America's elite are shirking the risks of military service, who constitutes "the elite" in civilian life? Few Harvard graduates these days have military experience, perhaps, but businesses looking to hire executives are far more impressed by a military commission on a CV than they are by an MBA.

* * *

Meanwhile, Congress is thinking about what to do should a decapitation attack on Washington succeed:

[One] bill, sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (search), R-Wis., would require the holding of special elections within 45 days of the speaker's announcement of "extraordinary circumstances" that include more than 100 vacant seats in the 435-seat House...Democrats who oppose the Sensenbrenner bill as inadequate are angered by what they say are GOP-imposed limits on their ability to present alternatives, such as constitutional amendments to recognize temporary appointments as a way of preventing congressional paralysis...Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., also has proposed amending the Constitution so that each general election candidate for the House or Senate would be authorized to name, in ranked order, three to five potential temporary successors.

To this I say (as perhaps I have said before): instead of special elections, why not draft ordinary citizens to sit in Congress until a special election can be held? We do it for trial juries and grand juries. That would be a more meaningful way for the political class to mix with ordinary citizens than would sending them all off to boot camp together. In ancient Greece, remember, elections were thought aristocratic; democrats preferred to select decision makers by lot.

* * *

Finally, on the subject of postmortem disposition, I have become a great fan of the Kingdom Hospital series on ABC. This is an adaptation by Stephen King of a Danish television series. King was inspired to write it by his own stay in a hospital: he was hit by an SUV while walking along a road in Maine, which is what happens to a character at beginning of the series, too. In real life, the driver of the car was later found horribly and mysteriously murdered in his trailer home. In the series, the driver just fell off a roof. I'm not making this up

The series has a cleverly understated website here. Actually, it is so understated that casual websurfers may not get the joke, which seems to be the problem with the series in general.

One quibble: did I mishear the television, or does the script confuse All Souls' Day (November 2) with all Saints' Day (November 1)? Maybe that's what you get for not just using Halloween as the date of the fire that killed those innocent children so many years ago. 

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2003-06-11: Unpalatable Measures

Let's talk about Korea. I don't know the area well enough to vouch for the accuracy of this article by Peter Lee, but one thing that seems clear is that a reunified Korea would be very rich, and very powerful, especially in comparison to Japan. The South Korean age distribution skews way younger than Japan's, and North Korea even more so, so we would expect to see Korea wax stronger even without reunification, but reunification would have a magnifying effect.

Korean and Japanese Age Pyramids 2015 CIA World Fact Book

Korean and Japanese Age Pyramids 2015 CIA World Fact Book

Economic strength wouldn't peak for a while, the North is in pretty sad shape right now, but there is tremendous opportunity in the Korean people. You could guess that eventually the North would converge with the South's level of development. There are about 50 million in South Korea, and about half that in North Korea. All else being equal, that will eventually result in an economy half again as big, or a little more once you subtract military spending that would no longer be needed.

Another thing that is clear is that some people would get very, very rich from reunification. Using China and Russia as models of what it looks like to modernize an economy held back by Communism, there will be immense opportunities, but the rewards will be distributed by political means, not economic ones.

Unpalatable Measures
Why may the current tit-for-tat attacks in the Levant be different from earlier tit-for-tat attacks? At the risk of sounding bloodthirsty, the latest exchanges may bring peace closer.
A quick review: President Bush just visited the region to preside over a handshake between the Israeli and Palestinian premiers regarding the "Road Map for Peace." Hamas almost immediately refused to take part in the cease-fire the agreement contemplates, and killed five Israeli soldiers over the weekend. Then the Israelis were rude enough to try to assassinate the Hamas leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, which made him visibly cranky on television. Just as I was writing this, a suicide bombing in Jerusalem killed 16 people; Israel struck at another two Hamas leaders in Gaza City.
One lesson we might draw is that prominent American officials who visit that area better have an awfully good reason for going there, because there are likely to be several more dead bodies soon after they leave. Something is different this time, though: the people exchanging fire are not the interlocutors. Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas agreed to the new peace process. His very office was created to pursue it. The people the Israelis are shooting at are Abbas's political enemies. (The position of Chairman Arafat is, as usual, ambiguous but unhelpful.) Eventually, it will occur to the leadership of Hamas that they are not only putting their own lives at risk, but that Abbas is likely to be the beneficiary. At that point, a cease-fire might look like a better idea.
 
* * *
Reports of cannibalism have been coming from North Korea. Supposedly, the combination of another bad harvest and drastic reductions in foreign food-aid has pushed people over the edge. One never knows what to make of reports of this type. Every famine occasions stories of cannibalism, oftentimes quite similar stories about a more or less open market in people parts. Such accounts are particularly hard to believe in a society as anti-commercial as North Korea. Still, there are other recent stories that suggest something may be about to happen there.
For one thing, the country is under increasing foreign pressure. Without quite declaring an embargo, the Japanese have become fussy about the regulation of the shipping to Korea, which means the North Koreans have been substantially cut off from foreign remittances and smuggled military technology. Meanwhile, the US is moving its forces back from the demilitarized zone. When the redeployment is complete, it will be possible to make airstrikes into the North without putting Americans at risk from the North's artillery. (The people in Seoul wish they could say as much.) What does the government of North Korea say about all this? They announced that they want to develop a nuclear deterrent, so they can divert to civilian needs the resources now dedicated to the huge army.
There are two problems with this. The first is that North Korea already has a nuclear deterrent. Even if it does not have a nuclear-armed ballistic missile, the US is not sure of that, so the US is reluctant to act preemptively. The other is that the era of nuclear deterrence is almost over, at least for small arsenals. The US will have some measure of defense against ballistic missiles next year. The Japanese will have it slightly later. It's hard to say what the North Korean government knows, but they surely know that. If the conventional military is going to be reduced, that will be because it is more of a menace to the regime than the US is.
 
* * *
No, I am not going to read Hillary Clinton's new memoir, Living History, not when I still have a perfectly good collection of the speeches of Neville Chamberlain to get through. (I do: a fine hardcover, entitled In Search of Peace; G. P. Putnam's Sons 1939.) The reviewer for the New York Times seemed less than pleased with Senator Clinton's book. However, I am not going to pan a book I have not read, even when it is written by one of Those People, who are once again up to Their Old Tricks.
A more obscure publishing event later this month will be the appearance of my own book, The Perfection of the West. This is another anthology, like Apocalypse & Future. Also like that book, it's a print-on-demand work published by Xlibris. I still have to approve an actual printed copy of The Perfection of the West before it becomes available; the Xlibris procedure involves working with PDF files before I see a final proof. When the time comes, I will put up a short promotional page about the book, as well as various little buttons and graphics on my site to draw people's attention. Anyone who decides to buy it will have the satisfaction of knowing that Barbara Walters played no part in the decision.
By the way, if you are ever given a choice between editing your own book and taking out your own appendix, don't dismiss the second option out of hand.
 
* * *
Speaking of clueless people being up to their old tricks, I see that NBC is likely to do a sequel to its 1980s miniseries, The Visitors. That's the one about a fleet of flying saucers that arrives on Earth, bearing aliens who look friendly and human but are actually man-eating reptiles.
This is an outrage. I have nothing against man-eating reptiles, but that series was a missed opportunity. The problem with The Visitors was that the writers had obviously started to adapt Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End but then chickened out. Childhood's End has some claim to being the most disturbing science-fiction novel ever written. In that book, the end of history comes in a way that is reminiscent of Vernor Vinge's "Singularity," or even Teilhard de Chardin's "Omega Point."
From what I have been able to determine, by the way, Teilhard and Clarke did not influence each other. Both may have been influenced by Olaf Stapledon, whose works feature the idea that the crown of evolution may take the form of a sudden, worldwide jump to collective consciousness.
That story would not have been too hard to tell. It would have required two sets of characters: one for when the spaceships arrive "now," and one for the end of days that comes 80 years later. However, the basic premise would have been no harder to get across than that of Forbidden Planet. There was even an X-Files episode about the Singularity. The people guilty of The Visitors attempted none of this, however. They took the image of the big flying saucers hovering over the world's major cities, and they took the idea that the aliens Are Not What They Seem, and then they turned their brains off. They even made the UN Secretary General a Swede rather than a Finn, as in the Clarke book, perhaps on the assumption the audience is ignorant of geography. [The assumption may be correct, but the audience has no more idea where Sweden is than where Finland is.]
NBC may get its comeuppance for this. The subtext for The Visitors was anti-militarist and mildly paranoid. The implication was that anyone wearing a uniform is a Nazi. These sentiments have become anachronistic.
Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2003-01-16: Plan B

It might seem that I am giving John a hard time about being wrong about the Iraq War with the benefit of hindsight, and after he is dead and cannot defend himself. In reality, I completely agreed with John at the time [and Jerry Pournelle], so I am trying to understand why I was wrong too.  We have ended up with an interesting natural experiment here. At the time, in early 2003, John thought that failing to invade Iraq would led to a state of affairs much like North Korea at the time, an obnoxious state that had to be placated because of its possession of nuclear weapons.

Twelve years later, North Korea is still obnoxious, and is attempting to increase their ability to threaten their neighbors with submarine launched missiles. Fortunately, the North Koreans don't actually have submarines capable of carrying missiles, so this threat is pretty useless at present.

Iraq is a huge mess, and now it is clear that Iraq never had the means to develop nuclear weapons, so that is a failure on two counts. There has been a great deal of concern that Iran might try to develop a nuclear weapon, but I can't really see the problem. India and Pakistan have managed not to nuke each other, and they hate each other at least as much as the Israelis and the Iranians do. Iran and Israel don't even share a border, which makes problems far more likely.

A nuclear Iran might be a bigger problem for the Sunni US client states in the Persian Gulf, but then I also see that bit of inter-religious rivalry as none of our business. All in all, maybe an unmolested Iraq [and Libya, and Syria], even if the nuclear thing had been real, would have been better than what we ended up with. Stronger states, even if unjust, at least kept a lid on the chaos we see now. If a decadent state is one that wills the ends but not the means, what is a state that keeps doing the same thing over and over even when it isn't working?

Plan B
 
Let us assume that the Bush Administration is reined in by the international community. The UN weapons inspectors in Iraq are permitted to pursue their inquiries until the end of the summer, perhaps until next winter. The US is prevailed upon to negotiate with North Korea. Maybe the US even resumes oil shipments to keep the lines of communication open. What happens then?
First, any hope of a non-nuclear Islamist front disappears. The US would be unable to keep an invasion force in the Middle East until the end of 2003, much less to redeploy one if the current forces are withdrawn. This would be partly because of the cost of logistics and partly because of the upcoming presidential election, but chiefly because such regional support as there is for an invasion would have evaporated. The bluff of the US would have been called. The states of the region would be scurrying to accommodate themselves to Iraqi hegemony. Iraq would have a deliverable bomb by the end of 2004. The UN arms inspectors will express surprise.
Meanwhile, in East Asia, just as the US is withdrawing from the Middle East, North Korean nuclear capacity would have developed from two experimental devices to a usable arsenal, including missiles that can certainly hit Japan and probably parts of the United States.
There will then be a brief period of alarms and crises: perhaps an oil embargo, perhaps an artillery bombardment of Seoul. Before very long, though, a nuke will go off in a European or American city. Then several things will happen.
On a theoretical level, the hypothesis on which the great international institutions are based will have been refuted. The UN was founded on the idea that a system of consultative, collective security makes the world a safer place. Within a few years of a retreat from Iraq, however, it will be clear to all that the collective security system actually made the situation far worse. The wars of retaliation and preemption to follow would, nominally, be undertaken by an alliance rather than by the US alone, but the alliance would work outside the UN system. Like the alliances that won the First and Second World Wars, this one would function as an emergency executive, with little regard for existing institutions or international law as it appeared at the beginning of the 21st century.
 
* * *
What I have outlined here is not an optimal scenario. However, even if the current balancing act between Iraq and North Korea can be brought to a successful conclusion, we have to face the fact that the international system is decadent. I use this term in the sense proposed by Jacques Barzun in From Dawn to Decadence: a decadent society is one that wills the ends, but not the means. One way or another, we will get to the ends for which collective security was supposed to be the means. The problem is that there is a great deal of sentiment for taking the worst way possible.
 
* * *
Speaking of blocked societies, I just finished Jonathan D. Spence's Treason by the Book, which deals with a hapless conspiracy against the Qing government of China in the early 18th century. The scope of the book is smaller than Spence's God's Chinese Son, but then not many historical events were as big as the Taiping Rebellion.
Treason by the Book recounts an incident in which the emperor decided to deal with rumors about his government by a policy of "transparency." Government printers published an anthology of all the documents relating to the investigation of some rather naive conspirators, and the emperor made a great show of clemency. Meanwhile, he took the opportunity to suppress a whole literary tradition based on the writings of a Ming loyalist. (The loyalist's works, awkwardly enough, were standard texts for students preparing to take the civil service exams.)
We learn quite a bit about Manchu China from all this, down to the distribution list of the Capital Gazette, the imperial version of the Federal Register. However, Spence has managed to turn a bureaucratic case-study into a gripping mystery story. It is not giving away the ending to mention that one of the things we learn is how a legal system works that lacks the concept of double jeopardy.
 
* * *
We have more Fortean phenomena: this time it's a ghost ship, an abandoned commercial fishing boat off the west coast of Australia. In point of fact, since the vessel in question sailed through pirate-ridden waters and the crew was quite capable of deserting in any case, it would take a certain skill to make the incident into a great mystery. Arthur Canon Doyle himself had a hand in making the legend of the Marie Celeste, but where is his equal today?

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The Long View 2002-12-26: Blind Eyes

John has a funny aside here about that portion of the Catholic Right in America that is perpetually embittered. Mark Shea nicknamed them the Lidless Eye, perhaps on the analogy of the way they are always anxiously searching for heresy in the way Sauron was anxiously looking for the One Ring.

It was a good name, and it stuck, but the thing the Lidless Eye crowd never really had was power of any sort. Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies demonstrated the awesome power of the Eye of Sauron, the utter terror of finding its gaze fixed upon you. Nobody really cared what the Lidless Eye crowd said unless it was to make light of them. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus was a frequent target, and he didn't even know it until someone else told him.

Steve Sailer has started using the term to describe the way that the social media and old school media collaborate on events that have been selected to drive the Narrative. In a country of 300 million people, bad things happen every day. Some of those bad things get selected to be the target disproportionate media attention in order to advance the cause of the day, and the Eye of Sauron is brought to bear. Recent examples were the Trayvon Martin case, Ferguson, MO, and that pizza place in Indiana.

The full attention of both wings of the media is a fearsome thing to behold, and it probably is just as terrifying as the baleful attention of Sauron. And probably as mindlessly destructive too. For example, the property values in Ferguson have dropped by half in the last year. That hurts everyone who lives there, black, white, or otherwise.

The other thing the Eye of Sauron cannot do is look in more than one place at once. At lot of attention was focused recently on the disparity in arrest rates between blacks and whites in Ferguson, but Ferguson isn't unusual in this respect.

It is simply that Eye is now fixed on Ferguson, and cannot pay attention to places that are far worse in racial disparities in arrest rates. Also, since some of the places with the worst racial disparities in arrest rates are wealthy liberal places like Malibu, CA and Madison, WI, paying attention would just complicate the Narrative.

The Eye of Sauron is a far better metaphor for the media-driven politics we see now than it ever was for dis-satisfied Traditionalists. The destructiveness, the terror, the single-minded focus to the point of ignoring larger threats, the fit is perfect.

Blind Eyes
 
Now that the North Koreans have provoked a nuclear crisis, one of the wonders of the season is the sudden realization among the media commentariat that the United States might have to fight two wars simultaneously, on the east and west side of Asia. The mention of the possibility by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at a recent press conference seems to have been the first that many of them had heard of the idea, even though it has been the central strategic issue since the end of the Cold War. The Progressive position was that a military prepared for major wars in two theaters was an expensive anachronism after the Soviet Union ended. Some strategists said that more than one war at once was "unlikely," as if wars were purely statistical phenomena, not political acts.
Today's perfectly predictable state of affairs has caused mass cluelessness among Asia experts, even Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institute, who has otherwise been sensible on subjects like missile defense. In a recent interview with National Public Radio , he has said that the United States cannot "close its eyes" to events on the Korean Peninsula by refusing to talk to North Korea. Rather, the US must continue to ship oil and food to North Korea. In other words, the US should continue to honor its half of the agreement on which the North Koreans reneged regarding the development of nuclear weapons. The US must further engage in "continuous dialogue" with North Korea, with an eye to reaching a "really tough" diplomatic agreement, under which they would promise again not to make nuclear weapons, or at least not to make any more.
"Closing your eyes" to a situation means that you take no account of what happens in the real world. That is precisely what too many Asia experts are insisting on; they say the US should proceed as if North Korea had not broken its treaty obligations on a life-or-death issue. It is also hard to see what a "tough" diplomatic solution might entail. Might we threaten to cut off the oil if North Korea starts up its breeder reactor again, like we are doing already?
They did not restart the reactor because the lack of oil left them no alternative. The energy issue is a red herring. The national grid is not even set up to use any power the plant might produce. The reactor is an extortion engine. That's all it's for.
As for the humanitarian issue, there would be some point in maintaining food shipments to North Korea if that would actually alleviate the famine. However, the fact is we know, from experience, that the North Korean government is less interested in ending famine than in managing it. Any measure that keeps the current government in power simply prolongs the misery.
The US should allow the North Koreans to follow unimpeded the road to perdition they have chosen for themselves. North Korea has beggared itself to gain the measure of deterrence that comes from possessing a few nuclear weapons. May they have joy of it. Short of a serious hostile act by North Korea against the US or a US ally (which must include an attempt to export a nuke), the US can refrain from all military action against North Korea. If the North Koreans want oil or food, they have to pay for it, with concessions or money in advance. If they want to talk, then by all means let us talk to them. Just don't give them anything in exchange for mere dialogue.
If the new, accommodationist government in South Korea thinks otherwise, then let them offer what aid they will. The inveterate mendacity of the North will soon appall them to a better opinion.
The goal of our policy must be to shorten the time before the North Korean regime implodes. It is entirely possible that some of the fragments from that event will be nuclear. Frankly, it is better for the implosion to occur sooner, when the fragments are few, rather than later, when they will be many.
 
* * *
Something that O'Hanlon does realize is the necessity to settle the Iraq matter before the US can focus on Korea. What he, and others, do not grasp is that "progress on arms inspections" would not be enough. If the situation is defused, and the regime in Iraq survives, the US will not be able to make a credible military threat anywhere in the world. It most particularly will not be able to make a credible threat in Korea, perhaps even for the minimal purpose of deterring exploratory conventional attacks from the North. So, does this mean that an invasion of Iraq is inevitable, no matter what happens?
An occupation of Iraq is inevitable, but I am starting to wonder whether a proper invasion will be necessary. Stories continue to come from that unhappy country about the despair of the government at all levels, and about the visible deterioration of Saddam Hussein personally. As pressure builds on the regime in January because of the concentration of invasion forces, it might just crack. The move into Iraq may be less like an invasion than an elaborate raid. It could be more like Bush Senior's invasion of Panama in 1989 than like Desert Storm in 1991.
Even in this rosiest of scenarios, however, there would still be considerable problems in establishing law and order. There will also be terrorist attacks in the West by Baathist sympathizers.
 
* * *
There has been some progress on the terminology front. I am still partial to the term "Tranzie" (transnational progressive) for the sort of person who thinks that the world should be run by the World Court and the UN, provided the latter is controlled by an assembly of NGOs. However, in an article in the current issue of The National Interest, Normative Shift , Coral Bell suggests that a better term might be "cosmopolitan civil society." The use of the term "cosmopolitan" instead of "international" or "transnational" is an important distinction.
Traditional internationalists, like those who established the great international institutions after World War II, have no intention of eliminating nations as such, or even of diminishing national sovereignty in any essential respect. Every internationalist identifies with some nation. He supports international institutions for the same reason private entrepreneurs support reasonable government economic regulation; rules are necessary to make the system work. Cosmopolitans, in contrast, have only loose sentimental ties to a particular nation. Quite often, they make their living through cosmopolitan businesses, or, perhaps more often, through cosmopolitan social work.
The term "cosmopolitan" was coined in Hellenistic times for a world not unlike our own. It would make sense if it made a comeback.
 
* * *
Special thanks to the industrious Mark Shea of the blog, Catholic & Enjoying It!, for applying Tolkien's term, "The Lidless Eye," to that portion of the Catholic Right that is never satisfied under any circumstances. I like a good horror story about liturgical abuse or seminary scandal as much as the next guy. Still, when I look at The Wanderer and The Remnant, and even The New Oxford Review these days, I can't help thinking that these people should like more stuff.
The Lidless Eye picks fights with Catholic writers on points of doctrine that the Lidless Eye critics imagine to be part of the deposit of the faith, but which are often of their own devising, based on a selective reading of obscure sources. The Catechism is rarely good enough for them. Even when they have the theology right, they have a wonderful capacity to misread the texts they are criticizing. These are the sort of people who condemn The Lord of the Rings as New Age pantheism.
I usually go to a Latin Mass on Sunday, so I suppose that makes me conservative enough for most purposes. If the Lidless Eye annoys me, there must really be a problem.
 
* * *
Readers will be alarmed to know that there have been more Fortean phenomena since last week. Now it's giant webs falling on Texas. Can the spiders be far behind?

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The Long View 2002-10-30: Surrender and Taxes

With the trial in Boston of Chechens acting Checheny, this is a good time to review the fact that Chechens have pretty much always been a pain in the ass to everyone who came in contact with them, and the age of air travel is exporting this fun to everyone. The great Russian novelists, like Tolstoy, wrote admiring/admonitory novels about the Chechens. Which also reminds me of Scott Adams' recent blog post against reading fiction. I'm more sympathetic to his argument than I would have thought, but I suspect that a diet of pure non-fiction wouldn't help you accurately understand the Chechens in the way that Tolstoy can.

In the years after 9/11, the Russians suffered immensely from their proximity to the Chechens. They might have deserved it, but if you think of the Chechens like the Apaches or the Comanche in nineteenth-century America, minus smallpox, you might have a better idea of what is going on.

Speaking of crazy, we still suffer from the annoyance of the North Korean zombie state twelve years later, mostly due to their possession of nuclear weapons. It seems plausible to me that something could eventually tip North Korea into union with South Korea, but the two countries aren't quite like East and West Germany. Only the power of the Soviet Union kept the two Germanies apart. China, the relevant regional power in Asia, actually seems to help keep the North Koreans reined in. They really are crazy.

Finally, we turn to the tax code. President Obama recently suffered a defeat at the hands of his own party over the 529 college savings account plans that illustrates how obscure our tax code has become. The last time a major tax reform was passed, it actually caused a minor recession, in part because of the partisan tendencies of the then Republican Congress to favor tax cuts over pruning deductions. However, the President's recent difficulty highlights the powerful pull tax deductions exert in American politics.

In principle, you should be able to craft a tax code change that is revenue neutral, but makes compliance simpler. This ought to be better, but good luck actually implementing it. Another probably necessary reform that will never happen is spreading the tax base more widely among American citizens. The strange thing is that while our tax code is one of the most progressive in the world [defined as taxing the rich the most], our welfare programs seem to be less progressive [defined as making poor people better off]. This isn't actually a paradox once you realize that tax revenues [not rates] would be higher if poorer people paid more taxes. John often made this point, but I didn't understand how it worked until recently. The populist temptation to soak the rich isn't what made America a paradise in the middle of the twentieth century.

It was the noblesse oblige of the elites that made it possible. That took a degree of solidarity we no longer possess.

Surrender & Taxes

 

Here is the Russians' Chechen problem: they already tried surrender, and it didn't work. They actually withdrew from Chechnia for a while in the 1990s, after attempts to suppress the separatist movement failed. The Russians probably would have reconciled themselves to an independent Chechnia, or at least might have negotiated a new status for the country within the Russian Federation. As it happened, however, they were not given the chance. A working independent government failed to form in Chechnia. The place was taken over by bandits. The bandits were increasingly in league with the Islamicist network, and began to infiltrate the surrounding republics. There really was no alternative to another invasion, though it should have been carried out with less indifference to civilian casualties.

Had there been no invasion, would something like last week's hostage-taking in Moscow have been avoided? Probably not: the Islamicists have ambitions for the other predominantly Muslim areas of the Russian Federation. Certainly Chechen terrorism did not stop when Chechnia was de facto independent. The pacification of Chechnia is an appalling undertaking on all sides, but negotiation is not an option.

 

* * *

The same is true of the nuclear threat posed by North Korea. The political class in the United States has yet to grasp that the 1994 agreement negotiated by former President Jimmy Carter was one of the great catastrophes of modern times. Even those who understand that something serious has happened are still determined to do nothing about.

Consider, for instance, Nicholas D. Kristof. Although a columnist for the New York Times, he has shown that he is not necessarily inaccessible to the light. Nonetheless, in column entitled "The Greatest Threat" (Oct. 29, 2002), he was capable of writing this:

 

"Donald Gregg, a former ambassador to Seoul who is president of the Korea Society, says imposing sanction on Korea 'would be crazy.' Likewise, a military strike is not feasible, given that it would probably trigger a new Korean war.

"On the other hand, how can we accept a North Korea with a large nuclear arsenal? How can we continue to ship fuel to the North as if nothing had happened?

"That leaves only one alternative, holding our nose and negotiating a deal with North Korea (without ever calling it negotiating, and possibly using proxies like China). The North would give up its nukes nd missiles, all sides would agree to end the hostilities of the Korean War (there never was a peace treaty), and Western countries would normalize relations with the North."

One does not quite know what to say to this. The one thing we know about the North Koreans is that, when you make a deal with them, they accept payment and they don't make delivery. The dismissal of sanctions is particularly bizarre. Unlike Iraq, for instance, North Korea is so isolated that it is one of the few places in the world where sanctions would be very effective. This is particularly the case because, by most accounts, "North Korea" actually collapsed a few years ago. All that's left is a post-apocalyptic government that survives on the proceeds of foreign extortion.

The "one alternative" is to drive that regime to implosion. The problem is that, thanks to Jimmy Carter, that inevitable course is now much more perilous.

 

* * *

Let us turn for a moment to a more pleasant subject: taxes. I see that the Treasury is considering yet another general overhaul of the federal income tax. I myself have rather fond memories of the last big reform bill. What was it, the "Thorough and Efficient Reform Act of 1986"? Maybe it was the "Tax Efficiency and Reform Act of 1986." Anyway, TEFRA kept me and several other editors at West Publishing Company innocently engaged for many weeks. West had the contract to edit the United States Code (and the Internal Revenue Service Code, which is actually distinct), so we cut up the 1,500-page bill into little strips and pasted them onto cards. Then we penciled in changes to make the bill's text conform to the style of the IRS Code.

As you might suppose, this could be tedious. Indeed, some of us went mad, and had to be put down. Nonetheless, the work was done, and I at least remain convinced that we made the world a slightly better place.

The TEFRA principle was simple enough. The tax code had evolved in such a way that the rates that individuals and businesses actually paid were much lower than the nominal rates. People avoided paying the nominal rates by investing or spending their money in a way that took advantage of deductions. Some deductions were well intentioned. Some were pure pork. In any case, they had grown like a coral reef, so that it was impossible to tell what effect any given change to the tax laws would have on revenues. More important, everybody was spending more and more time worrying about the tax implications of their activities, and less and less about whether those activities made economic sense. The obvious solution was to lower the nominal rates and remove the deductions, so as to keep revenues at the same level.

That almost happened. The tax rates were lowered and their number diminished. Tax forms became simpler, briefly, because the number of deductions decreased, too. The big failing of TEFRA was that Congress was keener to lower rates than to end deductions, so the result was not revenue neutral. In consequence, Congress created the Alternative Minimum Tax, one of the great practical jokes of modern accounting. It takes back some of the deductions that TEFRA kept. The Alternative Minimum Tax was originally supposed to affect only high-income tax payers with large deductions. However, the increasing incomes of taxpayers since 1986, and the addition of a new coral reef of deductions, mean that more and more people now have to pay the Alternative Minium. This, no doubt, is part of the reason the Treasury believes a total overhaul is in order.

I myself have no particular preference for what a new tax code should look like. I do, however, have one principle to guide reform. Like a machine with no moving parts, this is an ideal that the real world can only approach. Nonetheless, it is the key to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The principle is this:

 

Never do anything for tax purposes.

There, now you know. Go teach all nations.


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The Long View 2002-10-17: Expressions of Sympathy

Topical commentary from John in 2002 about the glee with which the North Koreans flouted the nuclear anti-proliferation treaty, the faux inspections leading up to the Iraq War, and the D. C. snipers, Lee Boyd Malvo, and John Allen Muhammad. In this case, John turned out to have a pretty good guesses about Malvo and Muhammad.

John was far too innocent to find things like this funny, but Somebody Blew Up America reminds me of Who Bitch this is?

Expressions of Sympathy

Let us pity Mohammed Aldouri, the Iraqi ambassador to the UN. This morning The New York Times finally ran his Op Ed piece, in which he gives his readers the assurances of unconditional weapons inspection that his government can never quite bring itself to give to the actual weapons inspectors. On the same day, the Times reports that North Korea says it is "nullifying" the 1994 arms control agreement designed to prevent that country from acquiring nuclear weapons. They also say that, yes, they have been running a clandestine fissile materials program, which they strongly hint has already produced usable weapons. Few events, short of nuking Osaka, could have more plainly illustrated the complete bankruptcy of the international arms-control regime. Perhaps the ambassador's only consolation is that some opinion-makers will surely argue that we cannot possibly deal with Iraq now, because of the new crisis in East Asia.

No such consolation is available to former US president, Jimmy Carter, who just a few days ago received the Nobel Peace Prize for doing things like helping to negotiate the 1994 agreement. At the time, it was obvious to all serious observers that the agreement was a US capitulation, and that it simply meant the North Koreans would acquire nuclear-armed missiles a bit more slowly. It may or may not have prevented a conventional war at the time. By allowing North Korea time to acquire a nuclear deterrent, it has certainly made a war appreciably more likely now. So much for containment, I think.

 

* * *

Predictably, speculation about the identity of the DC Shooter has turned to the possibility of an al Qaeda link. This theory makes as much sense as any other. The shooter has obviously had considerable training as a marksman, and his ability to avoid capture to date suggests special-operations training. On the other hand, these shootings no more resemble what Islamicist terrorists normally do than they resemble what home-grown rightwing terrorists normally do, or for that matter what serial killers normally do. If there really were a connection to al Qaeda, one would expect several shooters to be operating simultaneously around the country. However, the terrorist connection was recently given some support by descriptions of the shooter, which say he is a swarthy fellow, possibly "Middle Eastern or Hispanic."

This is slender evidence. Swarthiness is an unreliable indicator of nationality, even assuming the descriptions are correct. The police have been handling the situation well so far, perhaps because, unlike the FBI in connection with the anthrax cases, the police don't seem to have become ideologically committed to any one theory. One trusts that the police, at least, will cut the swarthy of the world some slack, even if the swarthy are driving white vans.

 

* * *

Most in need of sympathy of all may be Amiri Baraka, the Poet Laureate of New Jersey. That title was enough to open any late-night talkshow monologue with a laugh, even before the incumbent laureate gifted the world with his poem, Somebody Blew Up America. As we all know by now, that work is largely a list of rhetorical questions, such as "who murdered the Rosenbergs" and, most famously, "Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers/ To stay home that day." Media reports do not fully convey the scope of the questions. The poem goes on and on with such queries as:

Who own them buildings
Who got the money
Who think you funny
Who locked you up
Who own the papers

Mr. Baraka's poem has excited so much hostile comment that the governor of New Jersey is seeking to strip the laureate of his laurels. A point that no one seems to have noticed is that the poem in question may be derivative. Both in style and content, Somebody Blew Up America mirrors the The Stone Cutters' Song from an episode of The Simpsons:

Who controls the British crown?
Who keeps the metric system down?
We do! We do!

While this scarcely amounts to plagiarism, surely New Jersey deserves a poet laureate of greater originality? Or perhaps, instead of a state poet, a state animation?

Copyright © 2002 by John J. Reilly


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The Long View 2002-09-12: Destabilizing Deterrence

There is immense value to a country in possessing nuclear weapons, at least in part because of the mythos that has grown up around them. Iraq didn't really have the ability to make nuclear weapons, but Saddam would be toasting his good health today if they did. [there are those who disagree] North Korea would still exist, since they managed to annoy their neighbors for a good long while without nuclear weapons, but everyone would take them far less seriously. Qaddafi thought that making nice with the US after the Second Gulf War would work, and you can see how well that worked for him.

However, for all that, there are a number of countries that plausibly could have developed nuclear weapons, and have chosen not to. Why not is a more interesting question than why.

Destabilizing Deterrence

 

Just this morning, the New York Times ran an Op Ed piece that illustrates the decay into which the concept of strategic deterrence has fallen. In "The Wisdom of Imagining the Worst-Case Scenario," Milton Viorst gives us some imaginary horribles to chew over in connection with a US invasion of Iraq. He suggests that by "moving into Saudi Arabia, Saddam Hussein would shift the battlefield far to the south, imposing on American troops a much heavier burden than just the capture of Baghdad." Such a move would put the operation of the Saudi oil fields at risk, and so the whole world's economy.

It's actually a little hard to imagine how Iraqi mainforce units could invade anything under the cover of US air supremacy, but it is not out of the question that Iraqi missiles could do some damage to the oil fields. However, these things would be only the beginning of evils. Suppose the Iraqis fire some bio-chemical weapons at Tel Aviv, and the Israelis nuke Baghdad? In that case:

 

"[Pakistan's President] Pervez Musharraf....has joined America's war on terrorism but would be unlikely to survive politically should there be a nuclear attack by an American ally on Iraq's Muslims. Islamists, overthrowing him, would take control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal; lacking the ability to launch missiles that would reach Israel, they would turn to India, their proximate enemy. A nuclear attack would set off global chaos."

As a matter of fact, a Pakistani nuclear strike would not "set off global chaos," though it would result in the end of the Pakistani state in short order. What would set off chaos would be if an Islamist government in Pakistan started handing out small nuclear devices as party favors to terrorists and criminal groups, something that elements of the Pakistani security services have hinted they might do. This would actually be far more like the situation we would face, should Iraq and Iran ever acquire the bomb.

Doubtless the sovereign suppliers of the technology of mass destruction could always maintain plausible deniability. They could feed the world's terrorist networks and black arms-markets with components, expertise, and occasionally sanctuary. Such countries rarely do anything blatant enough to constitute a traditional causus belli. Up until now, of course, it has been possible to strike at states that do such things, or to threaten them with retaliation: measures such as the air strikes on Libya by the Reagan Administration did much to transform the open support for terrorism displayed by some governments in the 1970s into the much more tactful attitude of the past 20 years or so. This is what is about to change.

A single, deliverable nuclear weapon grants a state a large measure of invulnerability. Even if Iraq were openly underwriting Al Qaeda's campaign against the United States, the US could not plausibly threaten to remove the government in Baghdad, if that meant that Tel Aviv, or Rome, or Paris, would go up in cinders as soon as the Rangers took the last Iraqi presidential bunker. Conventional aggression by such states could never be answered by conventional responses that posed an existential threat to their regimes. This is, in fact, much the situation that now confronts the US with regard to North Korea, a nuclear-armed failed-state that survives by exacting blackmail from the US and from its neighbors.

During the Cold War, deterrence served not just to prevent a nuclear exchange, but also to inhibit the direct use of conventional force by the US and the USSR. In the current era, deterrence has nearly the opposite effect; it still reduces the chance that weapons of mass destruction will be used, but it facilitates the use of force against the majority of the world's states that have no hope of acquiring an effective deterrent.

The dismaying thing about the Cold War was that, while it was on, there seemed to be no reason why it should not continue forever. That is not the case with the Terror War. The number of irresponsible states that seek to acquire the immunity afforded by weapons of mass destruction is not large. The arms networks they support are also limited in geography and resources. A consistent policy of preemption could end the danger worldwide in much less than a generation. Forcible regime change should be necessary in just a few cases; once it is clear the policy will be carried out consistently, no state will openly run the risk of falling within its ambit.

Then we will have deterrence we can live with.


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The Long View 2002-06-02: The Menace in South Asia

NagasakiEven now that the Cold War is long past, most Westerners feel horror and shame at the thought of nuclear war. This is understandable, but the possibility of mutual assured destruction, and the intensive cultural revulsion that possibility engenders in us, are the products of a particular time, place, and set of assumptions.

It took a great deal of time and effort to demonize all things nuclear. Immediately after the Second World War, there intense optimism about harnessing atomic power for the good of mankind. For example, there was Operation Plowshare, which sought a way to turn the crude destructive power of the atom bomb to more mundane purposes, much the same way TNT and other explosives became a tool of the construction and mining industries. The attitudes of 1950s America toward the power of the atom seem blithe to us now, but this is the direct result of a campaign to convince us of the utter horror and unwinnability of a nuclear war.

There was a losing side of that campaign, for which I feel some sympathy. While they lost the war of public opinion, they definitely won the actual Cold War. After the 9/11 attacks, Paul Krugman suggested creating an office of evil to help the government imagine horrible things so we would not be surprised so badly next time. This role was filled for a long time by men like Edward Teller and Herman Kahn, who were perfectly happy to think the unthinkable in order to better prepare for it. A later entry in the field was the Strategy of Technology by Possony, Pournelle, and Kane. They argued that a decisive advantage in war could be gained by the targeted pursuit of specific technologies, particularly in the Cold War, which was already a technological contest.

Arguably, this was in fact the strategy that impoverished the Soviet Union to a degree where the dissent of client states like East Germany and Poland could fatally destabilize it. However, at present, the men who brought this about are likely to be remembered for nuclear brinkmanship and warmongering rather than successfully preventing the Cold War from turning into a hot one, and achieving victory as well.

What is perhaps even less well appreciated is how different the world is now from the peak of the Cold War. The US and Russia still have a lot of nuclear weapons, but the real worry these days is that some unpleasant little excuse for a country like North Korea or Pakistan will start something nuclear. It would be bad if they did, but to see MAD as the result is a failure of the imagination, or perhaps a success of propaganda. Look at the picture that heads this post, and imagine for yourself, "this is one of only two cities ever destroyed by nuclear weapons." And then try to believe your lying eyes.

The Menace in South Asia

 

There are three important points about the current confrontation between India and Pakistan. The first two are commonplaces. The third has not been addressed by policy makers, at least in public.

First, it is not likely that the fighting between the two countries will go beyond border skirmishes. This is not a situation like 1914 in Europe, when strategic plans had to be carried out like clockwork if they were to be carried out at all. Furthermore, the situations of the parties are not symmetrical. While Pakistan is perhaps most to blame because of its acquiescence in the use of its territory by militants, India would be the actual aggressor in a war. That country's friends and well wishers have let the Indian government know that a war would delay India's accession to the ranks of the great powers.

Second, even if a serious invasion of Pakistan does occur, it is unlikely that the conflict will go nuclear. On the nuclear level, Pakistan would have to be the aggressor. It is hard to see what Pakistan could gain from that step. The use of tactical nuclear weapons to halt an Indian invasion could cause the Indians to escalate their goals from border security to the destruction of the Pakistani state. In any case, India will always be in a position to declare victory and withdraw. There is no necessary ladder of escalation.

Third, if there is a war and it does go nuclear, India is going to win decisively. Its traditional enemy will be dismembered and the fragments disarmed. The civilian casualties India would suffer, even in the worst-case scenarios, would be proportionately less than those suffered by Great Britain in the Blitz. The moral that the world would draw from a South Asian nuclear war is that nuclear wars are fightable and winnable.

The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union occasioned the creation, not just of new weapons systems, but of new disciplines in logic and political science. Those disciplines applied only in a historically unique situation of overwhelming firepower and comparably high levels of technical competence. Nuclear weapons began, however, as an incremental augmentation to the tactics of area bombing. A substantial amount of time passed before the Cold War competitors had the nuclear devices and the delivery systems that could threaten the existence of each other's societies. India and Pakistan are far from crossing that threshold.

Several countries around the world aspire to just the situation in South Asia, where the use of nuclear weapons is a rational option. An Indian victory would have obvious policy implications for Iran, Taiwan, the Koreas and even Japan.

Just yesterday, President George Bush made a speech at West Point in which he declared that deterrence is not enough. He is right, but few people have remarked on the scope of the police project he is proposing. Let us take a deep breath as we prepare to jump in.


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