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The Korean Conundrum 01-12-05

December 22, 2004

On Wednesday, January 12, 2005, Coalition members Ted Carpenter and Doug Bandow discuss their new book, The Korean Conundrum: America's Troubled Relations with North and South Korea at the Cato Institute.

The Cato Institute will host a book forum featuring the authors Ted Galen Carpenter, Cato's vice president of defense and foreign policy studies, and Cato senior fellow Doug Bandow.

In The Korean Conundrum: America's Troubled Relations with North and South Korea (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2004), Carpenter and Bandow question whether Washington's East Asia security strategy makes sense any longer given the possibility of a nuclear-armed North Korea and the fraying ties between the United States and South Korea. The prospect of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea becoming nuclear hostages makes it imperative to reconsider U.S. policy on the Korean peninsula and throughout East Asia. The book provides a candid assessment of America's position in East Asia and the wider world.

The event will also include commentary by Don Oberdorfer, former Washington Post correspondent and author of The Two Koreas; and Selig Harrison, Director of the Asia Project, Center for International Policy, and author of Korean Endgame followed by discussion and audience Q&A.

The event begins at Noon on Wednesday, January 12. For more information and to register please visit:

Posted by coalition at 09:20 AM

Not All Nuclear Is Bad

December 21, 2004

by Ted Galen Carpenter

The conventional wisdom is that all instances of nuclear weapons proliferation threaten the stability of the international system and the security interests of the United States.

Indeed, that is the underlying logic of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty adopted by the bulk of the international community in the late 1960s, which is the centerpiece of the existing non-proliferation system.

Members of the arms-control community have over the decades spent an enormous amount of time and energy agonizing over the possibility that stable, democratic status quo powers such as Germany, Japan, Sweden and South Korea might decide to abandon the NPT and develop nuclear deterrents.

Indeed, they have devoted at least as much attention to that problem as they have to the prospect that unstable or aggressive states might build nuclear arsenals.

The recent flap over the small scale (and probably unauthorized) nuclear experiments in South Korea is merely the latest example of such misplaced priorities.

The hostility toward all forms of proliferation is not confined to dovish arms-control types but extends across the political spectrum.

As the North Korean nuclear crisis evolved in 2002 and 2003, some of the most hawkish members of the U.S. foreign policy community became terrified at the prospect that America's democratic allies in East Asia might build their own nuclear deterrents to offset Pyongyang's moves.

Neo-conservative luminaries Robert Kagan and William Kristol regarded such proliferation with horror: The possibility that Japan, and perhaps even Taiwan, might respond to North Korea's actions by producing their own nuclear weapons, thus spurring an East Asian nuclear arms race ... is something that should send chills up the spine of any sensible American strategist.

That attitude misconstrues the problem. A threat to the peace may exist if an aggressive and erratic regime gets nukes and then is able to intimidate or blackmail its non-nuclear neighbors.

Nuclear arsenals in the hands of stable, democratic, status quo powers do not threaten the peace of the region.

Kagan and Kristol - and other Americans who share their hostility toward such countries having nuclear weapons - implicitly accept a moral equivalence between a potential aggressor and its potential victims.

America's non-proliferation policy is the international equivalent of domestic gun-control laws -- and exhibits the same faulty logic. Gun control laws have had little effect on preventing criminal elements from acquiring weapons.

Instead, they disarm honest citizens and make them more vulnerable to armed predators. The non-proliferation system is having a similar perverse effect.

Such unsavory states as Iran and North Korea are well along on the path to becoming nuclear weapons powers while their more peaceful neighbors are hamstrung by the NPT from countering those moves.

The focus of Washington's non-proliferation policy should substitute discrimination and selectivity for uniformity of treatment.

U.S. policymakers must rid themselves of the notion that all forms of proliferation are equally bad. The United States should concentrate on making it difficult for aggressive or unstable regimes to acquire the technology and fissile material needed to develop nuclear weapons.

Policymakers must adopt a realistic attitude about the limitations of even that more tightly focused non-proliferation policy. At best, U.S. actions will only delay, not prevent, such states from joining the nuclear weapons club.

But delay can provide important benefits. A delay of only a few years may significantly reduce the likelihood that an aggressive power with a new nuclear weapons capability will have a regional nuclear monopoly and be able to blackmail non-nuclear neighbors.

In some cases, the knowledge that the achievement of a regional nuclear monopoly is impossible may discourage a would-be expansionist power from even making the effort. At the very least, it could cause such a power to configure its new arsenal purely for deterrence rather than design it for aggressive purposes.

Washington's non-proliferation efforts should focus on delaying rogue states in their quest for nuclear weapons, not beating up on peaceful states that might want to become nuclear powers for their own protection.

The other key objective of a new U.S. proliferation policy should be to prevent unfriendly nuclear states from transferring their weapons or nuclear know-how to terrorist adversaries of the United States.

Those objectives are daunting enough without continuing the vain and counterproductive effort to prevent all forms of proliferation.

Ted Galen Carpenter is a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy and vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. His latest book, co-authored with Doug Bandow, is Korean Conundrum: America's Troubled Relations with North and South Korea (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2004).

All rights reserved. Copyright 2004 by United Press International.

Posted by coalition at 01:20 PM | Comments (0)

Iraq and the Election of 2004

December 03, 2004

by Christopher Preble

Were it not for the war in Iraq, political junkies could have gone to bed early on election night, because by all other indications, President Bush should have been re-elected in a walk. While Democrats point accusatory fingers at those supposedly responsible for their defeat, Republicans should be breathing a huge sigh of relief and pondering the political implications of foreign policy in the Bush administration's second term.

For all of John Kerry's campaign rhetoric about the worst U.S. economy since the days of Herbert Hoover, unemployment is relatively low-at 5.5 percent in October 2004, down from a high of 6.3 percent in June 2003, and comparable to the 5.2 percent unemployment rate in October 1996 at the end of Bill Clinton's first term. Overall economic growth is steady. Inflation and interest rates are low. Home ownership rates are at all-time highs. Those are some of the most popular statistics repeated by the president's supporters, but they also happen to be true. Those same statistics have proved over time to be the most accurate predictors of an incumbent president's vote-getting ability. Based on current economic statistics and trusted historical models, Yale economist Ray Fair predicted that Bush would win 56 percent of the 2004 vote.

And yet, despite the modest but measurable improvements in the economy, the president's popularity has been steadily falling for over three years. From a high point of 86 percent in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, his overall job approval-based on the average taken from three different polls-had fallen to 52 percent by October 2003, a whopping 34 point decline. Since March 2004, the president's overall approval has never exceeded 50 percent. The low point, surprisingly, did not come in the immediate aftermath of the Democratic primaries, when the news was filled with daily verbal attacks on the president's overall performance, but rather in May, following a wave of violent attacks on U.S. troops by insurgents in Iraq.

Critics of my argument might reasonably contend that numerous other factors, from the economy and jobs, to the budget deficit, to persistent concerns about the burdens of government spending, regulation and taxes, could just as easily explain the president's lukewarm job approval numbers.

But sentiments toward the war in Iraq coincide closely with the major fluctuations in the president's approval ratings. The "rally around the flag" effect, whereby citizens lend their support to the commander-in-chief during wartime, has proved fleeting. The two brief upticks in the president's poll numbers-in March and April 2003 coinciding with the start of the Iraq war, and in December 2003, after Saddam Hussein's capture-were followed by sharp declines.

As the military expanded its campaign against a rising insurgency inside of Iraq, and as the central justifications for going to war were discredited, fewer and fewer people saw the Iraq war as benefiting the United States.

According to exit polls, 52 percent of voters believed that the war in Iraq has not improved long-term U.S. security. These findings track with earlier surveys, such as the June 2004 poll for NBC News/Wall Street Journal, which found a slim majority of Americans (51 percent) believing that the military action against Iraq has increased the threat of terrorism against the United States.

The president and his aides successfully convinced a majority of voters that the war in Iraq was directly tied to the war on terrorism. Meanwhile, Senator Kerry's campaign failed to detail how his strategy, both in Iraq and on terrorism more generally, would constitute a vast improvement over the current state of affairs. Absent a clear choice on the most crucial issue of the campaign, 51 percent of the voters opted to stick with the status quo.

That doesn't provide much of a governing mandate for a president who desperately needs public support in order to tackle the most urgent problems facing him in a second term.

The president said in his post-election press conference that he has earned political capital and that he intends to spend it. Unfortunately, he is doing that every day in the sands and streets of Iraq.

The war in Iraq nearly cost President Bush the election of 2004. If his plan to shift security responsibilities to the Iraqi government in 2005 falters, the continuing military operations in Iraq may cost him his legacy here at home.

Christopher Preble, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, is a founding member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy. He chaired the task force that prepared the report Exiting Iraq: Why the U.S. Must End the Military Occupation and Renew the War against Al Qaeda.

Posted by coalition at 10:28 AM | Comments (0)