Tag: North Korea
Pantelis Ikonomou, former IAEA nuclear inspector, offers this reflection on President Trump’s continuing threat to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal:
Last Friday, the US president said he is extending the sanctions waver for Iran one last time, for another 120 days, so Europe and the US can fix the nuclear deal’s “terrible flaws”.
Should we be relieved? Rather disappointed for the continuation of an ambiguous policy with unclear scope and dangerous consequences.
What are the “terrible flaws” of the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA)?
Crown points of concern for the US president are the nuclear agreement’s “sunset clauses” and “suspicious sites” in Iran, which are not monitored.
How can these be fixed in the upcoming 120 days?
The agreement’s deadlines regarding specified actions and defined sanctions have been thoroughly discussed and agreed upon by all signatories, including the United States.
As for “suspicious sites”, the IAEA has the agreed right and obligation to request access to any site it might consider necessary under the scope of the agreement. Such a request would be based on an IAEA assessment of credible open-source or other information provided by an IAEA member state, including the US.
Antilogos to Trump’s stance:
The IAEA conﬁrmed in a succession of reports that Iran is fully complying with the commitments made under the JCPOA, the world’s “most robust nuclear verification regime”.
The European High Representative Federica Mogherini, one day before Trump’s decision Friday, following a meeting in Brussels with the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany, the UK and Iran, stated that “the continued successful implementation of JCPOA ensures that Iran’s nuclear programme remains exclusively peaceful.” Europe considers that the agreement “is crucial for its security (and)…is determined to preserve it.”
Neither Russia nor China are backing president Trump’s stance on the Iran agreement. To the contrary, they both defend JCPOA, which they have both shaped and signed. It is in fact a multilateral agreement endorsed by the UN Security Council.
Trump’s position on the deal keeps Iran in closer ties to Russia, its foremost geopolitical ally; it could also push Tehran closer to Beijing.
Moreover, hardliners in Iran might assume full control of power in Tehran, triggering this time a non-safeguarded nuclear program, thus “pushing” other candidates in the region to follow Iran’s nuclear breakout.
At a time of acute nuclear threat, in particular the open-ended North Korean crisis, jeopardizing the integrity of the non-proliferation architecture, along with breaking solid bridges with historical friends and steadfast allies, could create a paramount threat to global security.
Former IAEA nuclear inspector
I hope the relevance of this more than two-year-old video is clear enough a day or two after President Trump threatened nuclear war against North Korea and went ballistic over the comments of a former White House adviser whom he fired. We needn’t mention his constant threats against the media, Hillary Clinton and her staff, and the Justice Department, the FBI, and even his own Attorney General. The man loses his cool faster, less appropriately, and more publicly than any president I can recall (that’s back to Truman).
Does it matter? I am told that President Obama, smooth and calm to a fault in public, in fact lost his temper and frothed at aides in private. I witnessed Vice President George H. W. Bush lose his temper over trivia on a visit to Brasilia, while I was waiting to brief him on the far more important issue of Brazil’s nuclear program. Nixon was acerbic, anti-Semitic, and vengeful in private and not much better in public. Truman wrote a scathing letter to a critic who savaged his daughter’s singing. I’m pretty sure Bill Clinton and George W. had their moments too.
Trump is different. He is angry much of the time and likes the effect his volatility has on others, so he flaunts it. He figures it helps him get his way. He thinks his berating of Iran for its crackdown on demonstrations will help the protesters. He has attributed North Korea’s willingness to talk with South Korea to his angry outbursts against Kim Jong-un. He imagines his criticism of China for failing to do more to restrain Kim will get Beijing to do more.
This tactical use of anger may work with Trump’s underlings, but it won’t with his international peers. “Insane,” the word foreigners are using to describe the President, is not a compliment in diplomacy. Nor does it necessarily mean he is crazy. What it is meant to convey is that he is not logical, rational, or reliable. His conclusions don’t follow from the premises, he reacts emotionally, and what he will do is unpredictable. On top of that, he is vain, conceited, and egotistical. He treasures compliments, overestimates his own influence, and resents slights.
One day Trump calls Pakistan his good friend, a few weeks later he is proposing to cut off hundreds of millions in assistance to Islamabad. Never mind that the US needs Pakistan’s cooperation to supply American forces in Afghanistan. He avoids any greater involvement in Syria than Obama but one day decides to react to Bashar al Assad’s use of chemical weapons with a massive cruise missile attack. Months later the chemical weapons are still being used without any US response. Where are all those critics who though Obama did not follow through sufficiently?
Trump may well stumble into war. Bullies have an inclination to escalate. But he has done zilch to prepare the United States for war with North Korea or Iran: no PR or Congressional campaign, no removal of US civilians from harm’s way, no argument in the National Security Strategy for the use of force, no nothing really. If he were to initiate hostilities with Iran or North Korea, I imagine he would have a hard time with both the public and the Congress, which simply are not ready for it, and of course much of the country would see the move as an effort to distract from the Russia investigation.
That of course is well understood in Tehran, Pyongyang, Beijing, and elsewhere. Trump’s intemperate threats are by now so empty of serious content that no one takes him seriously. He has few friends around the world. With the exception of Israel and Saudi Arabia, America’s allies wouldn’t support a military move against either Iran or North Korea at this point. Neither the ayatollahs nor Kim Jong-un seem much concerned, though both enjoy using a hostile Trump to encourage anti-American patriotism. China is meanwhile enjoying the fruits of Trump’s mistakes: the withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and his quiescence in the South China Sea.
Temperament matters. Like his America, this President’s is not great.
President Trump outdid The Onion yesterday, tweeting:
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!
Apart from the obvious stupidity of engaging in a fourth-grade ego contest with a nuclear-armed dictator, this tweet alone demonstrates how unfit Trump is to be president. Let’s consider the reasons why:
- Kim’s warning that he now had nuclear capability (and implicitly could hit the US mainland with it, not only US troops in South Korea and Japan) had been issued two days earlier, not just before this tweet. Trump is often criticized for acting too quickly, but one has to wonder whether his TV schedule is allowing enough time for intel briefings, never mind reading a newspaper.
- North Korea is a lot less “depleted and food starved” than once it was. Kim has improved its economic performance notably, even if the benefits are largely swept up by a small elite. Does that sound familiar?
- American nuclear weapons are unquestionably more powerful than whatever Kim has got, but the real issue is whether Trump is willing to risk loss of Los Angeles or New York (never mine Washington DC). Any US threat or attack, conventional or nuclear, could escalate in that direction.
- The world sees tweets like this one as demonstrating that the President is not rational. Who wants to be allied, or even friendly, with a nut?
Size really doesn’t matter. Kim has what he needs: enough credibility for his nuclear and missile capabilities to deter the US from either attacking or pursuing regime change. Nor does he need to turn to those capabilities in the first instance. He has also got a more than credible conventional threat to rain artillery shells on Seoul and much of South Korea, killing hundreds of thousands if not millions of people, wrecking the world’s 11th largest economy, and ending the long peace in East Asia.
Kim’s problem is that he can’t be sure Trump is rational. The Administration likes to advertise this uncertainty as an advantage. No one really knows what the President will do, which he presumes will make them think twice before crossing him.
That however is not how things really work. Uncertainty in international relations makes people hedge. South Korea is doing that already by trying to open an “Olympic” dialogue with the North, which Kim has accepted. If he can open some space between US war threats and South Korean jaw-jaw, Kim will have achieved a great deal. The US will be marginalized from issues on the peninsula and reduced to a second-rate player in the Asia Pacific, where Trump has already ceded trade (by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership) and the South China Sea to Beijing dominance. Kim will hedge too, turning to Russia to replace the support he has traditionally received from China, and trying to work something out on the economic front with the detente-seeking administration in Seoul.
Trump’s blustering and bullying is self-defeating. The Administration has been successful in tightening UN Security Council sanctions on Pyongyang. The President’s tweet will undo a good deal of the benefit from that significant achievement. He is isolating and weakening the United States, not to mention risking nuclear war. When will the Republicans in Congress wake up to their responsibilities?
I’ve been hesitating to post this, fearing someone would demonstrate that it’s not really Nikki Haley and that the scam is on me. That could still happen, but I am doubting it. It certainly sounds like her. Nor has she denied it so far as I can tell. The American press hasn’t given this scam many electrons. They are being extra-cautious these days to prevent Fake News accusations.
That’s Nikki Haley, the Republicans’ great female hope, scammed by two Russian prankster comedians pretending to be the Polish Foreign Minister. Binomo, the country she claims to be watching carefully, doesn’t exist.
I don’t know how this call was placed and why she accepted it. Usually senior government officials take their foreign calls either through the State Department executive secretariat or the White House switch. It’s foolish to do otherwise. The bureaucrats have good ways of checking on the identity of the caller.
What is striking about Haley’s behavior is how ready she is to pretend that she knows what she is talking about. A diplomat can’t know everything going on worldwide every day. I’ve often had to ask foreign government officials to explain in more detail what they are talking about–not the least because their perspective on the news could be different from ours. Saying “I’ll have to get back to you about that” is perfectly acceptable. Haley gets there eventually, but not before she has been well scammed.
Pretense, which is akin to lying but intended to make something appear true, is a distinguishing characteristic of this Administration. Trump pretends his first year in office was a successful one, hoping that saying will make it so. He pretends that he understands the details of legislation. He pretends to have good relations with Republicans in Congress. He pretends to have an agreement with China’s President about North Korea. He pretends that the Special Counsel investigation has demonstrated no collusion with Russia, repeating it 16 times. hoping the idea will stick.
It is not surprising to see others in the Administration take up this habit. Hierarchies model themselves on the top. It may even work–Nikki Haley likely pulled this “I know what you are talking about” act many times before getting caught. Not everyone will have been fooled, but that hasn’t deterred her. She’ll continue to play her pretense game. She, like the President, is more concerned to appear knowledgeable than to understand what is really going on.
This is a serious vulnerability in the diplomatic world, where there are a lot of people scamming every day of the week. Knowing the difference between true and false is a key diplomatic skill. Nikki Haley has had a lot of good press for her coherence and verbal skills, two qualities President Trump lacks. But she’ll need to get a lot better at detecting bullshit if she is going to succeed in diplomacy, never mind fulfill Republican expectations that she will break the glass ceiling in 2020 or 2024 to become president. Pretense doesn’t govern well, as Trump demonstrates every day.
Is America stronger after 11 months of Donald Trump or not?
It is demonstrably weaker, mainly because of his diplomatic moves and non-moves, but also because Trump has done nothing to reduce American military commitments and a good deal to expand them. Let me enumerate:
The diplomatic front:
- Trump withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) early in the game. The remaining negotiating partners have X-ed out the provisions the US wanted on labor and environmental protection and are preparing to proceed, without American participation. TPP was America’s ace in the Asia Pacific.
- He is withdrawing as well from the Paris Climate Change accord. That is also proceeding without the US, which will be unable to affect international deliberations on climate change unless and until it rejoins.
- He has withdrawn from UNESCO, which excludes the US from participation in a lot of cultural, scientific and educational endeavors.
- He hasn’t announced withdrawal from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but the negotiations on revising it are thought to be going very badly, mainly because of excessive US demands.
- He has refused to certify that the Iran nuclear deal is in the US interest, which is so patently obvious that the Republican-controlled Congress is making no moves to withdraw from it.
- His ill-framed appeal to the Saudis to halt financing of terrorists has precipitated a dramatic split among US allies within the Gulf Cooperation Council.
- Through his son-in-law he encouraged the Saudis to try to try to depose Lebanon’s prime minister and embargo Qatar, making the prime minister more popular than ever and shifting Doha’s allegiance to Iran.
- He has continued American support for the Saudi/Emirati war effort in Yemen, while at the same time the State Department has called for an end to the Saudi/Emirati blockade due to the humanitarian crisis there.
- His decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem heightened tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, undermined his own peace initiative, and obstructed the rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia he hoped for.
- He has done nothing to counter Iran’s growing influence in Iraq and Syria, or Russia’s position in Syria and Ukraine.
- He initially embraced Turkey’s now President Erdogan but has watched helplessly while Turkey tarnishes its democratic credentials and drifts into the Russian orbit.
- He has also embraced other autocrats: Philippine President Duterte, China’s President Xi, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to name only three.
- He has failed to carry the banner of American values and preferred instead transactional relationships that have so far produced nothing substantial for the US.
The military front:
- Use of drones is way up.
- So is deployment of US troops in Europe, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, not to mention ships and planes in the Asia Pacific.
- The Islamic State, while retreating in Syria and Iraq, is advancing in Afghanistan, where the Taliban and Al Qaeda are also holding their own.
- Allies are hesitating to pitch in, because the president is erratic. Japan, South Korea, and the Europeans are hedging because the US can no longer be relied on.
- The US continues to back the Saudi and Emirati campaign against the Houthis in Yemen, precipitating a massive humanitarian crisis.
- Cyberthreats to the US, including its elections, have increased, without any counter from the administration.
- Promises that North Korea would not be allowed to develop a missile that could strike the US have gone unfulfilled, and Trump did nothing effective once it accomplished that goal.
- Military options against North Korea, which are all that Trump seems to be interested in, will bring catastrophic results not only for Koreans but also for US forces stationed there and in the region.
- Russia continues to occupy part of Ukraine, with no effective military or diplomatic response by the US, and Moscow continues its aggressive stance near the Baltics, in the North Sea, in the Arctic, and in the Pacific.
The diplomatic record is one of almost unmitigated failure and ineffectiveness, apart from new UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea. The military record is more mixed: ISIS is defeated on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria, but that is a victory well foreshadowed in the previous administration. It is also far from reassuring, since ISIS will now go underground and re-initiate its terrorist efforts. None of the other military pushes has done more than hold the line. Anyone who expected Trump to withdraw from excessive military commitments should be very disappointed. Anyone who expects him to be successful diplomatically without a fully staffed and empowered State Department is deluded.
The US is more absent diplomatically than present, and more present militarily than effective. We are punching well below our weight. This should be no surprise: the State Department is eviscerated and the Pentagon is exhausted. Allies are puzzled. Adversaries are taking advantage.
Where will we be after another three years of this?
It happened in Alabama last night. A favored candidate of the Republican revolt against its traditional establishment lost to a Democrat in a dyed-red state. Black voters turned out in unprecedented numbers while some Republicans stayed home rather than vote for a racist child molester removed twice from the state bench for defying court orders. My compliments to both groups, though it is still disturbing that upwards of 48% of Alabama voters yesterday thought Roy Moore was a tolerable choice. My compliments also to Doug Jones, the successful Democratic candidate, who refused to abandon his pro-choice, pro-integration positions.
It is also happening with American policy towards North Korea. Secretary of State Tillerson has abandoned the pretense that Pyongyang will have to give up its nuclear weapons before Washington will talk. President Trump’s promise that Kim Jong-un would not get a missile that could deliver a nuclear missile to the US has in effect been abandoned. The North has gotten there, though it likely can’t yet marry the missile to the warhead and enable the warhead to survive re-entry into the atmosphere. Its rapid technological progress lately suggests there is no stopping the North from becoming a full-fledged nuclear weapons state.
This means the US no longer has many options. It can attack the North, but that would trigger a massive artillery barrage against Seoul and much of the rest of South Korea. Escalation to a nuclear exchange would be a real possibility. The only other option is containment and deterrence. There is no real issue of containment with North Korea: its hostility to the South is real, but it is mainly concerned with preservation of its own regime. US officials have been insisting that deterrence is not an option, but it is and they know it. There is no reason to believe that Kim Jong-un would be willing to risk a nuclear exchange except in extremis. He thinks of North Korea’s nuclear weapons as deterring the US from an invasion.
Letting Kim keep his nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles is not good. It will encourage other governments to consider getting the same capabilities, not least because of uncertainty about US commitments. This is especially true for South Korea and Japan, but the Iranians will also be watching what happens with North Korea with an eye to the eventual expiration of many of its commitments in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, aka the Iran nuclear deal). Many countries have given up the nuclear option because they felt more secure without than they would with, but that era seems to be coming to a close.
A world with a lot more nuclear weapons states is no more attractive than a world with Roy Moore in the Senate. We need to be doing everything we can to avoid both. But this President supported Roy Moore and mishandled North Korea. His weakness both at home and abroad is little comfort. Trump could issue a tweet tomorrow that would strip Tillerson of any semblance of credibility and put the US on course towards nuclear war. Transformation to a presidency that is more judicious both domestically and internationally is much to be wished, but little to be expected. Reality bites.