Sunday, June 18, 2017

Korea, Trump, Australia

I was asked in March to write for the Journal of Political Criticism an academic journal published biannually in Seoul. The article is forthcoming in the June 2017 issue. The past few months have seen tempestuous developments in global affairs and in Korea the election of an administration that seems a breath of fresh air. This [more radical] and this [general news service] are useful sources on current developments in Korea.

The article is not so much academic as in the form of writing with which I am most familiar, of policy and strategy advice to government. In the middle of the advice is that of the need to accept the status quo in North Korea. Diplomacy, negotiations, that seek regime change or simple de-nuclearisation by the north are useless.

This is the abstract of my article. Gavan McCormack suggested the title,  a bit more lively than my own words.

The Dilemmas of Middle Powers:
Australia and South Korea in The Age of Trump
A new and different administration has taken office in the Republic of Korea with warm and enthusiastic expectation for change on the part of voters.
The experience of a radically new Australian government, elected in 1972 but defeated three years later, may offer useful lessons. We learned that a government making changes on many fronts risks being misunderstood, risks its own coherence, risks defeat if there is not adequate coordination and adequate public knowledge and understanding of what is happening. Officials and defence force individuals need to have a clear view of the government’s perspectives and their roles in the future.
This is a period of great turbulence in world affairs and western leadership by the United States. There are clashes between different types of organisation and different social perspectives that need to be considered in addressing the Trump White House, the DPRK leadership… and the chaebols.
The United States’ position in the world is no longer unassailably dominant. The ROK’s future is not sensibly tied as in the past back through alliance to western perspectives. It is important for the ROK and China to develop vision statements of their future together.
There is a stagnation in approaches to the DPRK and new ways forward are essential. The ROK needs to assert its right to a commanding role in discussions with the DPRK. ‘Diplomacy’ is not an objective. To seek by diplomacy to get the DPRK to disarm is unrealistic without consideration of and empathy towards the DPRK’s perception of threat and need for deterrence. Acceptance of the status quo is important for any progress.
There must be clear directions for US and ROK officials and defence forces about who decides what defence activities may be carried out and what forces may be introduced or exercised. These directions must reflect ROK sovereignty.
There is a great pressure on the Korean situation from long-established rules, military plans and manoeuvres, tabloid hostilities and mockery of the DPRK and simple-minded opinions in too many high places that the North Koreans are simply crazy.

The ROK needs freedom to put historical baggage aside in dealing with the North. The future of the Korean peninsula has to be resolved in a process of self-determination. Every step must be documented and clear at every level.


While looking for something else, I stumbled on this record of a lunch I attended in 1976, between US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Andrew Peacock, Australian Foreign Minister.

Peacock with Shirley MacLaine
who when asked about their
relationship replied that all she
would say was that he was the only
politician she knew who had a Gucci
Kissinger 1976, source.
""Power is the
ultimate aphrodisiac"
My recall of the occasion has been of Kissinger's regard for countries as no more than proxy for his global ambitions, rather than as having their own character and interests.  More alarming in that regard than in prior reading and watching.

In the record, Peacock comes across much as he was, skating and fawning. Also anxious about China, as his successors remain, not least because they fear more than they know.

Kissinger much more clear headed about China than Peacock, also ruthless and angry about things done to the Nixon and Ford administrations by the Congress.

There is no mention of Kissinger's excitement when Peacock told him of John Ridley's access to porn on the hotel TV in New York and his inquiries about how and where to access it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

escalation and emptiness, fear and confabulation... versus facts

Australian and other English language media have been – to say the least – excited about the Korean peninsula recently. There are several elements to this. The most exciting (apart from splashy/crashy missile tests) was the annual parade in the DPRK capital Pyongyang on 15 April, birth date of founding leader Kim Il-sung, grandfather of the present leader Kim Jong-un. Here I have embedded a video presentation from the New York Times. This gives quick mention of weapons on display, for more go to Stratfor.

(That video will probably be followed by another, with US President Trump speaking of how Chinese President Xi and his people "have been really interesting to be with." I take that comment at face value and as important. Trump learns such a lot from watching TV and hearing people around him, rather than going over formal briefing. The meetings with Xi were long and would (I think) have involved consecutive translations rather than simultatious translations. In that environment you have time to absorb, time to observe, time to consider what you say. Time to really learn about others. I am sure this meeting will have had a bigger impact than many others, for example with the King of Jordan or the British Prime Minister, let alone the skating, blabbing environment of phone calls, e.g. with the President of Turkey and Prime Minister of Australia.)
This page provides an overview of the DPRK's Order of Battle.
('Order of Battle' means the units, formation and equipment of a nation's armed forces.)

For comparison this is the Order of Battle of North Korea focused US forces.

This is to be seen in the context of the overall Order of Battle of US forces. If you plan to work your way through that we will see you Thursday week after next. Good luck.

Recall in going through that stuff that President-elect Trump wanted a military parade at his inauguration. In retrospect, instead of people saying "oh no!" there might have been virtue in putting the whole order of battle (or at least the land and air based) on parade in Washington DC as the whole kaboodle of President, executive and legislature might still be standing there,  with hands on breast to try to cope with hunger.

The DPRK's defence budget is estimated to be about USD10 billion. In February 2017 Trump called for the US defence budget to be increased by USD 70, to bring it to around USD600 billion. Lots of data here. (Bear in mind regarding that Trump budget bid (accompanied by proposals for dramatic cuts elsewhere) that the President may recommend but the Congress writes the budget.)

There is useful world defence historical and comparative data here. Note that the Russian defence budget of USD70 billion matches the Trump increase bid. Note also the relatively modest (for such a significant new world power) size of the Chinese defence budget.


But to come back to the beginning, the DPRK's military parade, a couple of basic observations:

[1] despite the hysterical expectations of the DPRK going to war, the gathering of the military crown jewels to parade down the main street is rather more a sign that there is no expectation in the DPRK of real war now.
[2] the hysterical reporting misses the fact of the two months of joint US-ROK exercises, just completed. And this background report too. The various actions by the DPRK during this period must have been gold to those conducting the exercises.. real actions from the other side to be monitored in the south. As also the DPRK would have carefully monitored the electronic reactions on the southern side.


The Guardian on 5 April said there was a slow motion Cuban missile crisis happening. On 16 April the New York Times shamelessly reported this as a new expression:
What is playing out, said Robert Litwak of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who tracks this potentially deadly interplay, is “the Cuban missile crisis in slow motion.” 
... and that bit of plagiarism was then picked up and repeated by a spray of other media.

But despite alarming prospects right now that Trump could do something truly stupid, it seems that, arising from the careering cavorting cruise of the USS Carl Vinson and escorts, we are watching something between the Gulf of Tonkin incident manufactured to escalate the Vietnam War and a scarcely remembered wonderful British cold war satire The Mouse that Roared.  This little clip could be describing the court proceedings in Pyongyang or the White House.

We are advised that while the USS Vinson, at the time the Trump gang said it was going to Korea, wandered down from Singapore to the Indian Ocean for a little exercise with the Australian navy, it is now indeed on its way north to Korean waters. This is supposed to be a novelty. But in March it was in Korean waters for the Foal Eagle exercises and the heads of ROK defence forces were welcomed aboard. Before that it was similarly showing the flag in the Philippines. When the task force arrived in east Asia in February it was to show the muscle to the Chinese in the South China Sea.... 

Multitasking indeed.

There have been some commentators now saying that there are imminently THREE US carrier task forces in the area. For perspective, some general information on the carriers in the US navy.

Today US Vice President Pence is to give a speech on board the USS Ronald Reagan. Reagan has been based in Yokosuka Japan (near Tokyo) since 2015, and has for months been undergoing maintenance, a normal routine status known as Selected Restricted Availability. The third possible carrier participant in these crowded waters in east Asia is the USS Nimitz. 

This page gives information on all the carriers. An ordinary person might say "my oh my, that's a lot of carriers!" and that is correct. A second observation might be "Gosh, they must spend a lot of time moving those carriers around, you wouldn't leave them parked somewhere would you?" And yes, yes, a radio commentator got excited about that sort of thing in January 2017.

It is as obvious that you must move your carriers around all the time as it is obvious that they are vulnerable to prompt destruction in a major war... and also obvious that when you move a carrier it produces new policy, either because you wanted to produce new policy or because you hadn't thought about that. And so it is that the Nimitz is also setting sail from Washington State for the western Pacific today. This reflects Obama, not Trump.

But... to come back for a moment to the page mentioned at the beginning of the paragraph before last. This, below is what that page says about the Carl Vinson, as I write, up to date 19 April 2017. 

But why don't they fact check? 

The DPRK can really see that Trump is a paper tiger and the Washington Post is lazy. 

The DPRK would have known where the Vinson was. Not mugs, not crazy.


It is especially contemptible that discussion of 'what to do' including the announcement by the leader of the Australian Labor Party of support for Trump on Korea, is the disrespect towards and limited consciousness of the country in the middle, the Republic of Korea, south Korea—an extraordinary example of calm and sensibility, though shoved into identity with the US not least by Pence's visit. Little notice taken of the five days spent in Seoul last week by Wu Dawei, the Chinese principal negotiator on Korea and nuclear and his smiling meetings with five main candidates for the 9 May presidential elections.  All five candidates last week expressing in a TV debate their opposition to war. Where has there been focus on the statements by the ROK Reunification Ministry and the ROK Defence HQ that there will be no war and that a peaceful outcome is essential. Who mentions the visit last week of two Russian navel vessels to ROK naval headquarters?

[ I wrote this recently on the complexities for Australia shifting away from alliance with the USA. For the ROK much more difficult. ]

It may be that Russia sought to interfere with the US presidential elections in 2016.

It is very plain that the US has interfered in ROK presidential elections in 2017, confecting crisis, bringing pressure to urge people to vote on the conservative side, avoid candidates who give priority to talking with Pyongyang. In this I can see the engines of established hard line American policy, but I cannot see the sustained hard line solving the problems. Apart from establishing itself as an economic power, member of the G20, south Korea has continued with bumps and determination, to build a civil society, abandoning history of military dictatorship. This means the usual uncertainties of democracy, but also possibilities of peace on the peninsula not available with continued military pressure.

A resolution of the Korean problem can only be secured in discussions between Seoul and Pyongyang and mutual dismantling of military assets. A concept of the US doing what Seoul and Pyongyang want. A resolution of the Korean problem will produce many new positive opportunities in this region in which Russia, China, Korea and Japan sit. Projected dominant power by the US does not fit with that.


Let's conclude with a clip from Dr Strangelove ... but remember this is only a fiction of course. 

Stanley Kubrick wrote, produced and directed this film shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Monday, April 17, 2017

the future of Europe ... and Asia

This is an excellent little video made by someone in Europe, embedded here, obtained via Politico's Europe edition, about the future of Europe.

It is worth considering how far we are from prospect of good discussion about sensible futures in Asia. A region leading the world into the future, but bedevilled by power projection.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Satin bowerbird

Meanwhile, back at home, view from bedroom early morning, of a newly arrived dance-ground of a Satin Bowerbird. This is an amazing development for a suburban garden. Not everyone in the street approved of my filling the front garden with fruit and vegetables and trees. But clearly the Satin Bowerbird does. This garden, with deep shrubbery at the street, open space before the bedroom window, now provides a private seduction place for SB.

 This is a modest quality movie through glass with some reflections, made yesterday and today, from bedroom.

This is someone else's Hollywood version!

There is interesting information about bowerbird behaviour in this academic paper.  It is as noted an academic paper and the causal reader may finish up rolling on the floor by such passages as this:
Variation in male copulation success was primarily described by whether a male copulated or not.

This 2005 paper mentions that a variable in the appeal of male birds is the extent of their painting of the bower with saliva and other substances (not serving structural purposes). The authors do not know why this is so. I had a conversation perhaps a little more recently with a neuroscientist (I can find no academic reference) who said that the salivary painting of the bowers was at electromagnetic frequencies not seen by humans but seen by bowerbirds and bright shining iridescent. So when you look at those dead sticks and wonder why they are sexy, know that they are not just dead sticks at all for those who can see.

This point brings us back (of course) to international politics and the need for understanding that other people see things differently, should not be thought stupid or wrong because different. I realise that I have met only a moderate number of people, in my whole life, who know they are wrong, who did not believe what they did was sensible; just about everyone everywhere is right, in their own mind. If we can all step back a bit we can be wiser.

But I still have difficulty treating these scenes as mainstream. Although, recognising the extent of people's weird-seeming beliefs and behaviours, it's easy to see why Trump thinks he's right and others also think he's right. 

The term 'gaslighting' has crept into popular culture recently, with the rising tide of concern about domestic and other abuse. From wikipedia, on gaslighting:
Sociopaths and narcissists frequently use gaslighting tactics. Sociopaths consistently transgress social mores, break laws, and exploit others, but typically also are convincing liars, sometimes charming ones, who consistently deny wrongdoing. Thus, some who have been victimized by sociopaths may doubt their own perceptions. 
That's from Wikipedia. But is there not a broader sense in which the whole of societies are gaslit, not just the DPRK, but also huge chunks of the USA or Australia (speak not of Brexit).

The link to bowerbirds? We comprehend but a few percent of the minds of bowerbirds. People make fun of them, think them weird. Just like North Koreans, for example. And then those savvy people go to church and utter strange utterances, and some do more strange things at Easter.

Friday, April 14, 2017

and more on Korea


Can someone please explain how come it is OK for the US and certain other countries to have hundreds and up to thousands of nuclear bombs, but North Korea, Iran and unspecified other countries cannot have any?
Is there something I am missing about the apparent hypocrisy here? Is might is right the important message?
  1. Dx Yx
    Darren Yorston is a Friend of The Conversation

    In reply to I..
    Because America good, North Korea bad.
    The US tried to stop the Brits from acquiring atomic nuclear weapons. Quite ironic considering the Brits and Canada were both involved int he Manhattan project. Winston Churchill wrote about it in his history of the Second World War.
    If you look at global politics it’s having nuclear weapons that places you in the boys club. The US resists others countries from acquiring nuclear weapons because it reduces their power over them; Mutually Assured Destruction is a successful deterrent.
    Whilst North Korea may be a threat to world peace, what I think is more important to the US is that a nuclear armed North Korea is less likely to be threatened. Countries without nuclear weapons cannot fight back against the US, a nuclear armed country can.
    1. Dennis Argall

      In reply to I..
      Ixxx, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which came into force in 1970 recognised those states which had already tested nuclear devices as Nuclear Weapon States, others as Non-Nuclear Weapon States. With some increasing difficulties this has been a major instrument in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. At the outset, Australian ratification was opposed by a number of powerful people who wanted us to have a nuclear weapon capability.
      A small number of significant countries are not parties: Pakistan, India and Israel. South Africa is the only country to have had a nuclear weapon program and abandoned it. Iran has been a party since 1970, the negotiations with Iran are within a legal framework such as also binds Australia. The DPRK is unique in having signed on and then left after a few years. That is part of the issue.
      The other part of the issue is that the Korean war did not end in 1953, there was an Armistice. The Military Armistice Commission (MAC)continues to meet in the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) on the 38th parallel in Korea. The participants are the ‘Chinese Peoples Volunteers’, the [North] Korean Peoples Army and the United Nations Command.
      The defence attache in the Australian Embassy in Seoul is a participant in the MAC as are other participants on the UN side in the Korean war. Why and how this is the only occasion on which the UN has been a belligerent is for separate research.
      The ROK at the outset would have no part in the armistice, these days it does.
      For decades the conventional forces arrayed on either side of the DMZ have exceeded any elsewhere. There have been many flashpoints.
      In my view, too much US policy and too much media focus is shaped by the US forces hypertrophic buildup in relation to Korea. There have been political and diplomatic betrayals on either side.
      There is no way forward in war in Korea. Koreans do not want a war.
      South Korea’s (ROK) GDP is slightly smaller than Australia’s. It is a member of the G20. The ROK’s transformation since 1980 is in many ways as astonishing as China’s… with the added consideration that caught in the middle of what I describe above, they have headed step by step towards a sound democratic system from military dictatorship.
      There’s been some history in the past several weeks but my judgement still rests pretty much as here:
          1. Dxxx Yxxx 
            Darren Yorston is a Friend of The Conversation

            In reply to Dennis Argall
            Sure. However, I think that most people are of the view that nuclear, biological and chemical weapons are bad and should be gotten rid of. As a result people find it somewhat hypocritical that countries such as the US maintain large stockpiles of nuclear weapons and in many cases chemical and biological weapons as well. If nuclear, biological and chemical weapons are intrinsically bad then it doesn’t matter who has them.
            The US continues to have to these weapons because having the biggest stick is best. Ivo is correct; might does make right. There are enough nuclear weapons in the world to make a mess of our planet, more countries having them won’t make the world any more a wasteland.
            The US isnt trying to prevent North Korea from having nuclear weapons because it will attack the US. The US wants to prevent North Korea because a nuclear armed North Korea is less threatened by US threats and cannot be manipulated. China, Iran, Russia are all proof of that. The US cannot try the things it does on Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria with nuclear armed countries BECAUSE nuclear war IS a consequence that neither side will enter into.
            Conventional warfare is a different matter, and Iraq, Libya, Syria are all examples of that. There is no risk to the US for attacking those countries. That is the exact reason why the US wants to strike at North Korea, so that it CAN do it without consequence.
            Might makes right.
            1. Dennis Argall

              In reply to Dxxx
              I don’t think there is any moral right for anyone to possess let alone use any weapons of mass destruction. The landscape there is bleak and certain.
              I don’t think the US can strike north Korea without consequence. Not at all. And I think a number of people have been pointing that out to Trump including the President of China and the presidential candidates and the armed forces of south Korea.
              The total land mass of North Korea 120,000sq km and south Korea 100,000sq km is about the same as Victoria, Australia (230,000sq km). The total area of the United Kingdom is 240,000 sq km. In no sense can you have a war in the north that does not embroil both, inflict massive casualties on both. There are 50 million in the south, half that in the north, altogether three times the Australian population, 11 times the population of Victoria. And more than the population of the United Kingdom. The GDP of south Korea is slightly less than Australia’s; half that of the UK. Busy and crowded places.
              The three Chinese provinces adjacent to Korea – Jilin, Heilongjiang and Liaoning – have populations totalling more than 100 million. There is a short border (17km) between the DPRK and Russia, while the border between the DPRK and China, running along mountains and rivers, is 1400km.
              If you doubt that the Chinese - at large - might not take seriously the placement of the THAAD high altitude anti-missile device in south Korea recently (still a debate in the presidential elections) please note that to the end of March hitherto large Chinese tourist numbers have fallen 60%. 180,000 Chinese soldiers died in Korea in the Korean war. China is as close to Korea as to Vietnam, but the Vietnam war is over.
              The first people who have to sort out the issues in Korea are the Koreans. Next come China and Japan. The place of Japan is muddled to the extent that both Japan and the ROK are allies of the US, while both ROK and DPRK, especially the DPRK, have deep feelings about issues involving WW2 and long earlier Japanese colonial occupation. With China - mixed. China entered the Korean War as US forces approached the Chinese border in 1950 and General Macarthur wanted to carry the war to Beijing with nuclear weapons. President sacked Macarthur to stop him. The working relationship between China and the ROK is very large now but is only a couple of decades old.
              I take heart from the fact that the Chinese former Vice Foreign Minister now with high level responsibility for nuclear and Korean affairs has spent this last week in Seoul in smiling meetings with all the presidential candidates as well as government officials. As I also take heart from the presence of Russian naval vessels in south Korea on a goodwill visit.
              There are smart and powerful countries there who know that war won’t work, who don’t want a war. We spend too much time surrounded by game and movie memes and daily news of conflict. This has to be different. We have to shift our heads.
              I very much doubt that anyone in higher levels of the US defence forces, or National Security Advisor McMaster, or Defence Seretary Mattis, believes a war would work… even though they have rooms full of war plans. The north Koreans know a war won’t work but this column is too small a space to work through why they are not crazy. To say they are crazy one then has to say Trump is crazy. That is not a sensible place to go to secure the peace.
              There is a higher risk now of war by misadventure than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
              But against that there is some reassurance that the strategic and tactical intelligence resources focused on the peninsula are the deepest and most effective anywhere.
              At the same time it is pathetic to see Autralian media and politicians gobble up the US defence media line.
              Sending a carrier task force to Korea? It only just left Korea, it’s cancelled a visit ot Australia, sob sob..
              North Korea fired five missiles in the direction of Japan? These were old Scud type missiles, now nice for everyone at the beginning of US-ROK exercises which HAVE FOR DECADES given rise to US media and intelligence briefings irresponsibly saying “wolf, wolf, north Korean wolf” when it’s response to US-ROK movements.
              Why are we so suckered? The ROK armed forces this week said there will be no war, they don’t want a war, they want a peaceful solution to the problem. Who has reported that? If I, with a seven year old computer and a brain 66 years older than that computer can find out these things, why can’t the ABC? Or…
              I don’t think the discussion last night here, with a number of people speaking rudely of north Korea and proposing nuclear strike is anything other than trumpian. We have to stay cool.