November - December 2004

P.O. Box 190, Mount Holly, Virginia 2252
Volume 34, Number 5, Jerry Strope, Editor

"We’re relying upon others because we’ve sanctioned ourselves out of influence with Iran. In other words, we don’t have much leverage with the Iranians right now."

President George W. Bush, December 20, 2004

In this Issue:

We mourn the passing of
 Ray Alger, Paul Nitze, and Ted Taylor.

Will China Help Iran Get Nukes?

As the year 2004 comes to a close, the mainstream media are full of suicide bombers in Iraq trying to derail the upcoming elections there as well as the calamitous loss of life from a tsunami in southeast Asia. News on strategic de-fense matters may be found only on the inside pages of newspapers and on cable news channels. This issue’s "quotable quote" was found in one report of the President’s Dec. 20 press conference, which was largely devoted to defense of Secretary Rumsfeld’s performance in office.

Bush’s reference to dependence on others means European nations, especially Britain, France and Germany, the foreign ministers of which have been trying to get Iran to stop its efforts to enrich uranium for well over a year now. Iran has agreed to suspend its program several times now, only to flout the agreement or be caught cheating in some fashion. Finally, the 35-member Board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN watchdog agency, passed a resolution ordering Iran to suspend all uranium enrichment activities. In September, Iran denounced the IAEA action as illegal and threatened to stop cooperating with the IAEA as it is required to do under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The aforesaid foreign ministers stepped in once more and by early November announced that they had reached a tentative deal. Iran immediately demanded modifications in the tentative deal but finally notified the IAEA in writing on November 14 it would suspend uranium enrichment and related activities.

"Basically, it’s a full suspension" ac-cording to one diplomat. "It’s what the Europeans wanted." Tehran’s negotiator, Hossein Mousavian, told reporters Iran had agreed to a temporary suspension of enrichment activities. As part of the agreement, "Europe will support Iran’s joining the international group of states possessing the ability to manufacture nuclear fuel."

The US considers the Iranians are conducting a clandestine nuclear weapons program and wants the whole program scrapped. This deal does not settle the enrichment issue and buys Iran more time. The agreement commits Iran to suspend enrichment only while it works out the details of the aid package with the Europeans or until negotiations collapse again. President Bush’s remarks reflect a considerable amount of dubiousness about the current state of diplomacy.

To elucidate the full meaning of the last sentence of the quotable quote, we need to turn to the Asian goliath, China. Increasingly, China watchers are concluding that the Communist leader-ship of that nation has fixed on a strategic goal of equaling the US as a global superpower in perhaps 20 to 30 years. They have barely started their military buildup, having given priority to expansion of the economy, which is growing at a phenomenal 10 percent a year right now. At the same time, China is doing what it can to constrain the American economy by giving aid and comfort to its enemies.

Recently, China has entered into a long-term trade agreement with Iran. Iran has oil (and rugs) that China needs for expansion and China is now the low-cost supplier of TVs and toaster-ovens to the world. The leverage of a threat to withhold trade from Iran has withered for the US. Moreover, China is a full-fledged nuclear power. Will it help Iran go nuclear? It helped Pakistan to do so and Pakistan is now on our side.

And What about North Korea?

Japan and South Korea have been having talks about imposing economic sanctions on North Korea. South Korea is against sanctions and Japan is seriously considering them. On Decem-ber 17, however, Japan announced it will delay imposing economic sanctions, a move the North has said it would consider a declaration of war! According to wire service reports, Japan wants to give the rogue state more time to explain the fate of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang decades ago. There may be another reason for going slow at this moment in time.

On December 30, the Washington Post News Service published an article with the headline, Is North Korea headed for collapse. . .again? Many foreign affairs pundits have gone broke betting on the collapse of North Korea in the past, but the prediction is back again. "The idea that North Korea is about to collapse is back in fashion," says Jeung Young Tai, a member of the Korea Institute for National Unification, which is studying the likelihood of collapse.

In South Korea There are calls from some lawmakers to update the government’s classified contingency plan to deal with a possible collapse of Kim Jong Il’s regime. But President Roh Moo-hyun says that is not necessary. "It seems there’s almost no possibility North Korea will collapse." Nonetheless, the Japanese media have been full of rumors (probably false) of military defections and changes in the leadership elite.

The North Korean Human Rights Act passed by Congress in October provides up to $24 million to aid North Korean refugees and may be revitalizing activist groups and Christian missionaries. Still, we may be witnessing another round of wishful thinking. China controls the North Korean economy which is said to be in better shape than a decade ago after the collapse of the Soviet Union. China does not seem happy about the Kim Jong Il regime and its nuclear weapons program but the Chinese leadership is not about to risk loss of a communist government in North Korea. Until they have a suitable replacement, the current government is unlikely to collapse.

Missile Defense Goes Operational

Quietly, some two years after with-drawing from the 1972 ABM treaty, the US has in place "a limited" ballistic missile defense capability. "Could we shoot a missile down right now? Yes, we can do so," says Lt. Gen. Henry A. Obering (AF), Director of the Missile Defense Agency in the Pentagon. The system has an emergency capability that will improve over time with testing and additional deployments. "We believe that we have gotten all the equipment ready, checked out and verified; we’ve got the crews trained and certified," he said. "But that in and of itself does not make an operational capability. You need a period of time in which you go through your procedures, wring things out, kind of like a shakedown cruise for a new ship."

An MDA spokesman said the new system is limited—guess what—to stopping missiles from North Korea. "Any emergency capability for a missile launched from Asia is geared to a North Korean threat, not China or Russia." Yeah, sure. Shades of Mutual Assured Destruction! My own guess is that the current deployment provides protection against an accidental launch from either Russia or China at the very least. That level of protection has become more valuable since the Kremlin’s control over its nukes has become more uncertain and China’s level of control is not known.

The deployed system has interceptors at bases in Alaska and California. Other elements, both airborne and sea-based, will become operational this coming year and will provide several system layers designed to knock out missiles or warheads shortly after launch, in mid-flight and as they approach their targets. A third interceptor base is planned for Europe in the near future to deal with the threat of mid-range missiles fired from Iran. Eighteen Aegis warships, 15 destroyers and three cruisers, are being outfitted with SM-3 interceptors. The first six are slated for deployment during the next three months.

The system will be declared operational sometime in January 2005. Before that declaration, elements of three military commands have been busy with training and drills, according to Bill Gertz of the Washington Times. The drills involve simulating the launch of a long-range North Korea Taepo-Dong missile, tracking its flight, acquiring the war-head, and launching a successful intercept. One can hope these drills do better than the interceptor test of December 15, in which the interceptor failed to launch from the Marshall Islands test site.

Homeland Insecurity?

Tom Ridge resigned on November 30 from his cabinet post as Secretary of Homeland Security. Ridge, who will be remembered for the color-coded terror alerts mostly, said he would stay on until February 1 unless a successor is confirmed before then. His resignation generated a flood of so-called "analysis" of the situation in the recently-born de-partment, nearly all of it negative.

As an example, Newsweek, the best-selling weekly news magazine, carried a big story by Evan Thomas that started out, "The Department of Homeland Security is a bureaucratic nightmare." Not exactly an encouraging beginning!

President Bush almost immediately picked a replacement for Tom Ridge: Bernard Kerik, who was New York City’s police commissioner when the 9/11 attack occurred. Newsweek was ecstatic. "He could be just the man to take charge of the sprawling, sluggish, feuding DHS—to knock heads and demand results." There was just a small problem—Kerik had a history of minor scandals and maybe more. In a matter of days Kerik took himself out of consideration, pleading that he had just discovered a "nanny problem." He may have been using an illegal alien as a household employee—and may not have been paying taxes on the employee. There was some indication this was among the least of his difficulties. In any event, the President was left holding the bag, so to speak, and has not as yet found a more suitable replacement.

As to the negative media coverage, much of it has been generated by "leaks" from a number of agencies trying to pursue their own agendas or move onto the turf of another agency. The immigration and customs area is apparently chaotic and plagued with low morale. Indeed, low morale can be found in virtually every one of the 22 agencies that were transferred into Homeland Security.

US Rethinking Russia Policy?

The Washington Post News Service on December 13 alleged that the Bush administration was reviewing its Russia policy and might adopt a more confrontational approach toward Moscow. According to the WPNS an "unidentified US official said a key question is whether Moscow, with its deep involvement in the Ukrainian election, had pushed the issue to a ‘tipping point,’ forcing the adminis-tration to consider a more assertive approach."

The existing policy, adopted early in Bush’s first term and fine tuned after 9/11 has been to be supportive of the Putin presidency and to build a strategic "partnership" to fight terrorism and weapons proliferation. The policy was very effective in permitting the US to confront the Taliban in Afghanistan and to confine (we think) Bin Laden to the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Why publicity on this "review" should occur now is very strange. Secretary of State Colin Powell has submitted his resignation and President Bush has nominated his National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, to replace him. Ms. Rice has specialized in the development of our Russia policy. Is this "leak" an opening salvo in a policy debate during her confirmation hearing?

Happy New Year!