North Korea Tests Short Range Missiles; North Korean Negotiating Strategy

ABC News: North Korea Tests Short Range Missiles

Summary and analysis

North Korea test launched several short range missiles yesterday, in a not-so-veiled response to South Korean Unification Minister Kim Ha-joong’s comments. The North Koreans also kicked out South Korean diplomats. The South Korean government downplayed the missile launch, in their own not-so-veiled attempt at not provoking the North Koreans any further.

North Korea’s attempt at attention
Kim Jong-Il controls NK almost like a child would. Ever since the Soviet Union fell, he has resorted to provoking the U.S., South Korea, Japan, and China, in order to create divisions among the four so it can achieve its primary goal: regime survival. The promising nuclear deal appeared last year to signal the end to one of Kim’s regime’s strongest cards: the nuclear one. Now, it seems not so much (for several reasons; one of which is the fact that some in Washington believe North Korea sent nuclear technology to Syria).

South Korea and the U.S. must proceed carefully
South Korea and the U.S. must proceed carefully in order not to provoke North Korea. Seoul and Washington cannot afford to miss the chance of Kim giving up his nuclear program.

France Pledges More Soldiers for Afghanistan; More Still Needed

Reuters: Sarkozy pledges more troops for Afghanistan

Afghanistan, “The Forgotten War”, has been in dire need of more, unhindered NATO troops. The remaining troops in Afghanistan from most European countries have been under strict restrictions from their government to prevent casualties. Unfortunately, this has hampered progress in Afghanistan. The U.S. has been calling for more, new troops for months.

In a speech to the British parliament, French president Nicolas Sarkozy pledged more French troops for the war, and called on Britain to send more as well.

Setting a precedent
Hopefully, these new troops will encourage other NATO countries, such as the U.K. and Germany to send more soldiers.

More troops are still needed

Other NATO allies, including Britain and Germany (mentioned above), Canada, Turkey and Spain still need to send more troops. A stable, safe Afghanistan will benefit all of them.

Retaliation for Imad Mughniyah Assassination Soon?

Reuters: Hezbollah commander hailed as a martyr


Imad Mughniyah was Hezbollah’s military commander that was the mastermind of several of Hezbollah’s most successful operations starting in the 1980s. He was on the most wanted list in both the U.S. and Israel. February 12 he was assassinated via car bomb. No one has claimed responsibility, though Hezbollah blames Israel’s Mossad, the equivalent of the Israeli CIA. A 40 day mourning period then began, and is set to end tomorrow, when Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is expected to address thousands of followers at the event in Beirut's southern suburbs.

Will Hezbollah retaliate for the killing?
It is quite possible Hezbollah will retaliate. In 1992, after the Israeli assassination of Hezbollah leader Sayed Abbas al-Musawi, Hezbollah attacked the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Now that the 40 day mourning period is over, and Hezbollah cells have had time to collect information and to prepare for an attack, an incident is very likely.

Another all out Lebanon war?

Unlikely. The war conducted in the summer of 2006 was a huge failure for Israel. They are not likely to make the same mistake twice. Consider, as well, that they are bogged down fighting Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Anything the U.S. or Israel can do?
Stay alert, number one. Number two, don’t overreact. We don’t need another war in Lebanon.

Taiwan Pro-Independence Party Loses Election, Referendum

BBC: Opposition’s Ma wins Taiwan poll

Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintag party won Taiwan presidential elections, 16% higher than his nearest rival, Frank Hsieh of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party. A referendum on whether Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, should join the United Nations under the name of Taiwan was conducted along with the presidential vote. The referendum failed because enough voters did participate, although a clear majority of those who voted were in favor. The opposition boycotted the referendum, and the United States did not support the referendum.

The Kuomintag party (KMT, translated as Chinese Nationalist Party), is part of the Pan-Blue coalition of Taiwanese political parties that supports eventual reunification with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). KMT has been forced to tone down their rhetoric, and has been advocating the status quo: the People’s Republic of China being the official internationally recognized China, while Taiwan still maintains de facto relations.

What will China-Taiwan-U.S. relations be like?
The KMT and Ma have called for closer political and economic relations with the PRC, hoping to take advantage of China’s economic (super)boom. It is unlikely, however, the two nations will unify or Taiwan will declare independence.

The failure of the referendum and the KMT’s election will provide a much needed respite for the U.S. If the referendum had passed, and Taiwan had attempted entered the United Nations under the name Taiwan, there would be serious China-U.S. relations repercussions. Namely, Washington has promised to protect Taiwan from any Chinese military actions.

How the U.S. should proceed

The United States needs to proceed with caution and cannot afford to provoke either country. Washington should not advocate neither the reunification nor official separation. Any sudden move could upset the whole region. The economy is in a bad enough shape already, and an upset China could prove to devastate us only more. The status quo is fine.

Will Russia Recognize the Georgia Breakaway Regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia? - NATO/U.S. Policy in Eastern Europe

Reuters: Russia MPs urge recognition of Georgia separatists

Georgia, a former Soviet colony, has two de facto independent states within it: South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Neither region is recognized by any country internationally. Both regions have strong economic and political connections with Russia, and Russia has peacekeeping troops in both regions. In other words, Russia has a lot of leverage in these two areas.

Russian MPs voted unanimously yesterday to urge the Kremlin to recognize the two regions as independent if Georgia succeeds in its goal to join NATO. Russia has already decided to send more peacekeepers to both breakaway states.

Why is Russia being provocative?
There are four main reasons Russia flaunting its influence and being confrontational:
• Possible NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine
Kosovar independence
• American approval of new shipments of arms to Kosovo
• The European missile shield

The first impetus for Russia’s actions is the same impetus for the measure passed by Russia’s parliament. The NATO head of state summit in Bucharest, Romania, is going to take place on April 2. There, several former Soviet states will apply for NATO membership. Three of them – Macedonia, Albania, and Croatia – will be ignored by Russia. Two of applications – Georgia and Ukraine’s – Russia seriously opposes. And on Wednesday, President Bush endorsed one of the country’s applications: Georgia’s.

The second force driving Russia to possibly recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia is Kosovar independence from Serbia and the international recognition that followed. Russia was one of a handful of countries that did not recognize the new Balkan country. Russia supported Serbia in its goal of holding onto Kosovo; they failed miserably. Russia was trying to assert itself in its former sphere of influence. Consequently, when it failed, the Kremlin looked very weak. Russia didn’t respond immediately, other than cutting off some energy from Eastern Europe. I warned at that time that we could expect Russia to either (a) cut off energy from Europe, (b) cause the U.S. problems at the United Nations Security Council or (b) recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It looks like options (a) and (c) could be realized.

Thirdly, President Bush yesterday announced the authorization of supplying Kosovo weapons. This was just another action that is brazenly against the Kremlin’s wishes.

Finally, the U.S. and Russia had conducted high level negotiations last week over the planned missile shield to be built by America in Poland and the Czech Republic, and, well, they were a total disappointment. There was nothing the Russian government was prepared to do to convince Washington to change their mind; there were no concessions Washington was willing to make to please Russia. The negotiations ended in a stalemate.

How Washington should proceed
There are two arguments that can be made here. One, that Georgia is a vital American and European ally and needs to be protected and included in NATO. Alternatively, one could argue, tensions with Russia are strained enough already and either concessions need to be made so Georgia can be included in NATO or Georgia shouldn’t be allowed to join NATO at all.

What would be best for humanity as a whole? The second option: Concessions from both sides. Russia agrees to tolerate Georgia’s NATO membership bid, and the United States consents to make compromises over the Europe missile shield program. Either the program would be given up completely or toned down.

Really, in this scenario, it would be the United States that wins. America and her interests are not protected nearly as much as one might believe because of the planned shield (although, it is important to note, Russia is not hampered in the slightest by this missile shield as well). Therefore, it is not vital for Washington to continue the shield. In return, Moscow would allow Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO.

In fact, it is unlikely the next president (of the United States) would continue the shield anyway. Meaning, America would lose next to nothing, keep Russia happy, and gain Georgia’s acceptance into NATO.

Will the Arming of Sunni Militias in Iraq Pressure Iran?

Daniel Graeber has an interesting article in UPI (h/t) on the long term consequences of arming Sunni militias in Iraq.

But as the Sons of Iraq increasingly shed blood for the country, they are growing increasingly disenfranchised with the political rewards. Iraqis, including the Awakening Councils, want peace and stability, but as in any form of participatory government, they also want power. In Diyala province recently, members of the Sons of Iraq abandoned their checkpoints in protest of the Iraqi central government’s choice for police chief, who happened to be Shiite. That’s just one minor example of the swelling tide of political discontent emerging from the Awakening Councils, as many simply see no purpose in continuing the fight as the Awakening came with few rewards. Adding to the complexity is the tenuous cease-fire by the fighters loyal to the Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, who many of the Sawha forces fear.

I had Graeber's way of thinking until last week. Then I had a realization: what if the danger of arming the Sunnis was intentional? Why would anyone in their right mind do that, you may (rightfully) ask. Well, who is the United State's number one rival in the Middle East right now? Shiite Iran. Emphasis on the whole Shiite part.

Armed Sunni militias would make Iran's goal of puppeteering Iraq much, much harder for obvious reasons.

Not only that, but Iran really, really, really does not want to see the Sunnis rise up again in Iraq. The Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s resulted in the deaths of up to a million of the youngest and brightest Iranian men. Now, I'm not suggesting that Iraq would enter another conflict with Iraq, but this is still scary stuff for Iran.

Was this the Bush Administration’s intention? I have no way to know. All I know is that this is one of the consequences that we are going to have to deal with in the coming years.

Of course, there are still the many dangerous consequences Graeber mentions. For example, he and I both noticed the frightening similarities between our arming of Sunni militias now and our arming of the Afghani mujahedin during the Cold War.

Nominating a New CENTCOM Chief

It has just been announced that the commander of CENTCOM, the command that overseas the Middle East, Admiral Fallon, has resigned. This comes a week after a story was published in Esquire that portrayed Fallon as the only person stopping the President from going to war with Iran. In a press conference today, Robert Gates denied that those perceptions are true, but of course, you can't believe that for certain.

Choosing a new chief
Congress needs to quickly approve or deny any nomination President Bush puts forward based on a couple of their key beliefs: their position on Iraq policy, Iran policy and how diplomatic they would be. Congress must nominate a moderate who can, on occasion, stand up to the Bush Administration and their sometimes radical policy.

Gallup 6 Year Poll: 93% of Muslims are Moderates

Gallup poll: 93% of Muslims are moderates

The study was conducted from 2001 to 2007, and was very extensive.

About 93 percent of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims are moderates and only seven percent are politically radical, according to the poll, based on more than 50,000 interviews. In majority Muslim countries, overwhelming majorities said religion was a very important part of their lives -- 99 percent in Indonesia, 98 percent in Egypt, 95 percent in Pakistan.

But only seven percent of the billion Muslims surveyed -- the radicals -- condoned the attacks on the United States in 2001, the poll showed. Moderate Muslims interviewed for the poll condemned the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington because innocent lives were lost and civilians killed. (AFP)

To be fair, 7% of 1.3 billion is 91 million. Of course, percentage wise, this number isn't as significant.

Any thoughts?

BRIEF: War Unlikely in South America, Spike in Oil Likely

Reuters: Tension in Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela

The greatest consequence of this action is probably the spike in oil prices; they hit an all time high about an hour ago according to the AP. War is unlikely, IMHO; neither side has anything to gain.