Friday, June 24, 2005

The View from Korea

Its certainly a bit different than the view from the US, that's for sure. Its the little things that remind you of this.

One is CNN International. Its so much better than the domestic CNN. The first thing is that they have news. The second thing is that the news covers more "real" news and so much less stupid, celebrity news. No talking heads babbling drivle to each other.

The other is North Korea. It looks different from here. Not visually, of course (I haven't seen it yet, but a trip to the DMZ and Panmounjom will certainly happen at some point ) but conceptually. Two incidents stand out. One happened last night on the way to dinner. A Sookmyung faculty member hitched a ride to the train station on our bus. North Korea came up in the discussion, and he remarked that a number of Southerns have visited--one million by now--Mt. Kumgang on tours. The North is no longer a remote place, is a place many have visited (one in 48 citizens, more than 2%, to be close to exact).

Another came when I discovered that a fellow colleague here who is teaching a business section has worked with a number of North Koreans through a program with the Sweedish Government to teach basic business / entrepreneurial training. He said that the North Koreans were quite nice people, well educated, and eager to learn. Of course, he had a select few, but he said that they were quite earnest and eager to learn capitalism, in an attempt to reform like China.

From the US, North Korea is reduced to Kim Jong Il and his nuclear weapons. When reduced to one man, its easy to vilify. But, of course, any country is more complex than that. Certainly Kim Jong Il maintains an iron grip on political power, but he does not live alone. When you start to see the North from the South, it looks a whole lot different. A little less evil, a little more complex, certainly contradictory, quite difficult. But you can't get this picture Stateside, its just not there.

Friday, June 17, 2005

"I shall go to Korea."

I'm off to Seoul to teach a short class on International Security at Sookmyung Women's University.

So, there might be a few more posts about North Korea.....

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Boondoggle of Buying Weapons

As any student of US National Security policy will tell you, the Pentagon's budget is driven less by what the "international environment" and "national interest" demand and more by the domestic politics of Congress and the jobs provided by defense contractors.

The Washington Post today has a report on the House's consideration of the $409 Billion defense appropriations bill, and as usual, the debate focuses on major weapons systems. More money is being directed at the multi-billion dollar Joint Strike Fighter and F-22, and as usual, the Navy will be told to buy some ships it didn't ask for. Many in Congress look at these weapons systems and see jobs, jobs, jobs--the F-22 keeps a major production line open in the Dallas-Forth Worth metroplex. What's really interesting is that this parochialism now extends to spy satellites as well. The NY Times reports that the House Committee working on the Intelligence budget is planning to shift funds away from questionable spy satellite programs to hiring more human intelligence agents. Notable is the dissent registered by the California Representatives concerned about the jobs making the satellites.

This alone is nothing new. Military procurement has long been used as a source of Congressional pork-barreling. What I find particularly fascinating, though, is how truly unnecessary these weapons are. Most of the arguments for buying these new toys ultimately boils down to something like this: The rest of the world is catching up, we need newer, better, faster, stealthier equipment in order to keep our military edge. Its an easy sell.

Except that our military edge doesn't really come from the technology and weapons platforms as much as it does the way the US trains to fight using those weapons platforms.

I'm reading Stephen Biddle's new book, Military Power (and its really really good). He argues that Force Employment, not technology or numbers, is the key to military strength. Militaries that train, deploy, and employ the "modern system" of military doctrine succeed where others fail. It is here where the US excels.
So, really, you could have given the US older M-60 tanks, an Air Force of F-4 Phantoms, and such, and we still would have routed Saddam's Iraqi military. Certainly the newer weapons make the victory more dramatic. But, what makes the US military so strong is not just the technology, but the way that technology is used. Its the systems of systems, the coordination, the merging of intelligence and command and control, the jointness, the initiative of the unit commander. Really, the most important planes in the Air Force are arguably the E-3 AWACS (and here), which use Boeing 707's as airframes and has the equivalent of a Pentium 386 to power the ENTIRE radar system. Easily outdated technology, but it allows for a coordination and force employment that really matters. (As a side note, this shows why the ongoing discussion of China's military modernization is a bit over-done. Its not the modern weapons, its the ability to use those weapons that really matters).

So, what to make of all this? Well, for one, the Defense Budget is out of control, but really, that's like saying that the sun is hot. Really, what it shows, I think, is that the Defense Budget is a massive exercise in identity politics-- its really more about us than about them (whoever the threatening "them" might be). In part, its political identity-- a jobs program that we otherwise can't call a jobs program, because it would be much cheaper to take the money and give it away but that would be too much government intervention in the economy. Yet, to be strong on defense and still bring home the bacon for the district is a sure-fire way to re-election. In part, its about the identity of the military itself--the services have a great deal invested in the particular weapons systems, far more than probably healthy. And of course, its a bit (only a bit? I know some folks who would say its all about identity....) about who we are as a nation--what type of wars we "do" and don't do, what "is" and is not the problem, and what type of world we might hope to create and what type of world we want to avoid.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Dan Nexon has a fascinating post over at Duck of Minerva on Framing and Iraq.
I think he's on the right track with this-- his diagram is quite fascinating. In my Research Methods class I did a similar exercise only my diagram was much simpler. I had a triangle:

        /       WMD------Terrorism

(yes, its a poor graphic, but what can you do...).
The claim to sell the war was linking these three items to form an immenent threat that required preemptive action.

I think Dan offers a more sophisticated version of the same thing.

No where was this more in evidence than last night when Former Secretary of State Collin Powell was on The Daily Show with John Stewart.
Now, Stewart has a really good show going, and he's actually a good interviewer. He straigh up asked Powell: You sold the War on WMD, we now find there are no WMD, and suddenly its all about Democracy. Whats up with that?
(he was much funnier in his delivery than I am in my typing)

But, it shows the very disconnect that Dan talks about: Stewart clearly was speaking for all those for whom this administration smacks of duplicity. But Powell had a very nice comeback, aided by the rhetorical topography Dan diagramed, to say, no, it was a good thing to do and a good time to do it, and even if the Intel turned out to be wrong, it was the right decision to make.

It was probably the best interview I've seen with Powell on this.
Honestly, this show is so much smarter and more informative than anything on CNN....

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