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a better l i fe? rural migrants struggle towards prosperity in CHINA – Pages 8 -11
JANUARY 2011 N o 1101
by SERGE HALIMI NELIE
Not quite the whole truth
The world narrowly escaped nuclear war in October 1962. In the run-up to the mid-term elections, President Kennedy repeatedly asserted that Soviet offensive missiles would not be deployed in Cuba and would not be tolerated if they were. Moscow did not respond, not knowing whether these statements were merely intended to pander to voters or were a genuine warning. Secret exchanges subsequently made the parties’ intentions clear and they were able to defuse the crisis. The Americans let it be known that they might discreetly agree, later on, to one of Moscow’s demands and quietly withdraw the Nato missiles deployed in Turkey. On the Soviet side, Khrushchev privately informed Kennedy that a US pledge not to invade Cuba would enable him to order the removal of all missiles from the island without losing face (1).
Will the WikiLeaks disclosures prompt diplomatic moves to avoid war, as in 1962, or prepare for it? Some leaks, it seems, are more troublesome than others. When Germany’s military authorities produced a fictitious Serbian plan, Operation Horseshoe, to justify the war in Kosovo, or when The New York Times passed on the Pentagon’s little white lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the White House did not call for sanctions.
It’s claimed theWikileaks disclosure that certain people visited the US embassy could have put innocent lives at risk. But if there really was such a risk (and none has yet been identified), why did so many people have access to these diplomatic cables? And what of the political risks? Granted, the French Socialist leader who confided to a US envoy in 2006 that French opposition to the Iraq war had been “too open” (François Hollande), or the Socialist MP who protested that relations between the two countries “were always better when the left was in power” (Pierre Moscovici), might have preferred these conversations to be disclosed a few decades down the line…
But an ambassador is not an ordinary messenger. To prove their worth, ambassadors may play up the extent to which the views of the eminent people they meet coincide with their own. The statements attributed to the American diplomats’ interlocutors have not been confirmed by those who are alleged to have made them. That they seem to be patently true, just as we already suspected, was apparently reason enough to publish them.
As to the threat to US security, Defence Secretary Robert Gates seems quite relaxed: “The fact is, governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets” (2).
Translated by Barbara Wilson
(1) See Graham T Allison, Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis, Little Brown and Company, Boston, 1971. (2) Pentagon press conference, 30 November 2010.
PENELOPE DAVIS – ‘Stacks’ (2010)
inside this issue Hush-hush: Julian Assange may pay a high price for free speech Page 2 Why elections cannot rescue Haiti from its agony and dependency Page 4 Israel: absence of peace creates conditions for yet another war Page 5 Oiling the wheels: China and Saudi Arabia get down to business Page 6
Politics of celebrity: false idols trump unadorned truth Page 10 Rwanda and Burundi: popular elections don’t change autocratic politics Page 12 Mob rule: the mafia’s role in riots by migrant workers in Italy Page 15 Controlling cyberspace: the hyperregulated world of Facebook Page 16
North Korea, fortress state
Pyongyang’s decision to shell a small South Korean island at the end of November ramped up tension in an attempt to restart talks with the US. North Korea is feeling the effects of isolation and sanctions, socio-economic change that the regime cannot fully control, and growing dependence on China y Philipe Pons
The current increase in tension in the armed stand-off in the Korean peninsula is part of a complicated strategic game. The recent drama has unfolded against the background of a state of war that has existed for more than half a century: though an armistice in 1953 brought an end to the hostilities between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and China on one hand and United Nations forces under US command on the other, no peace treaty was ever signed.
Strange as it may seem, North Korea’s recent hostilities are an attempt to restart dialogue with the US – by letting off firecrackers if need be. Such a dialogue would allow them not only to ensure their survival through the lifting of existing sanctions and obtaining of security guarantees, but would also release them from the embrace of their only ally, China.
North Korea’s shelling of a small South Korean island in the Yellow Sea four kilometres offshore on 23 November 2010 left four people dead and some 15 injured, including civilians. This attack is indicative of the latent state of war in the Korean peninsula. Sovereignty over the maritime zone west of the estuary of the Han river is claimed by the North, which never recognised the 1953 demarcation line drawn unilaterally by the UN (an organisation to which North Korea did not then belong). Previous clashes between the navies of North and South Korea cost lives in 1999, 2002 and 2009. But the November 2010 attack was the first time that the island of Yongpyong, home to a military base but also to civilians, had come under direct assault. The North said the attack was in retaliation for provocation from the South, which opened fire in waters over which it claims sovereignty. However, as the Korean specialist Haruki Wada of the University of Tokyo points out, this attack on civilians seriously compromises the policy of armed coexistence which, while not without tension, has nonetheless remained in place since the first Inter-Korean Summit in June 2000.
The shelling comes shortly after the revelation by US nuclear expert Siegfried Hecker, who was invited to North Korea in early November, of the existence of the country’s second uranium enrichment plant.This plant, despite Pyongyang’s protestations, may or may not be operational, but a pre-existing nuclear reprocessing plant has already enabled North Korea to conduct two atomic tests in 2006 and 2009 and to create around 10 nuclear warheads. With this programme, North Korea is pursuing several objectives simultaneously. It is equipping itself with a nuclear deterrent, a bargaining counter and technology it can sell. With the disclosure of its new plant, the regime intends to ratchet up the price of its nuclear disarmament.
The salvo from Pyongyang, coming after the anointing of Kim Jong-un by his father, the present leader Kim Jong-il, tends to confirm the prevailing image of this country: a fortress state run by a bellicose regime which, far from mending its ways, is perpetuating itself through a dynastic succession now in its third generation: Kim Jong-il in turn succeeded his own father, Kim Il-sung, in 1994. Are the two events linked, and was the attack intended as the leadership’s demonstration of resolve to the army? For now, given the opacity of the North Korean system, observers can only speculate.
What we can be sure of is that the fundamental problems the regime faces form the backdrop to the current increased tensions: isolation and international sanctions which further contribute to the stagnation of the economy; socioeconomic change which the regime cannot fully control; and growing dependence on China.
The strategy of ramping up tension that Pyongyang is pursuing may have several aims. First of all, it may be designed to bring an end to the Obama administration’s wait-and-see policy towards North Korea. Until recent months it has been characterised by what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called on several occasions “strategic patience”, in other words, not taking any initiative until Pyongyang has fulfilled its undertakings and dismantled its nuclear arsenal.
A second reason, which could explain this impatience, is its domestic problems. The promotion of Kim Jung-un within the party and the army (he was made a four-star general) should ensure the continuity of the regime in the event of Kim Jong-il’s demise. But that continuity is largely symbolic: the 27-year-old Kim Jung-un is unlikely to wield absolute power as his father and grandfather have done. Power will be exercised by a collegial system centred on the Kim family, whose most important member is his uncle, Chang Song-taek, the number two in the National Defence Commission (the country’s ruling body). Further support comes from an elite formed by the descendents of the partisans who fought against the Japanese. However, the regime will need to stabilise the country so that the transition of power passes off smoothly. It has
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Philippe Pons is a journalist