Friday, September 30, 2005

I know I haven't been writing as much as usual for the begining of the semester, but scandal is so addictive...

Everybody's talking about it

Sunday, September 25, 2005

North Korea and the Six Party Talks Agreement

As all the regular readers of this blog know, I talk about North Korea alot, so i'm sure you were just waiting for me to write about the recent "Agreement" at the Six Party Talks meetings.

On the face of it, it seemed like a really interesting development. You had the talks breaking down, and then you had China asserting its role as Chair and Host-- presenting a draft text to both the US and DPRK delegations. Now, this is what the Bush Administration had been pushing for all along, and finally faced with an assertive Chinese diplomatic initiative, they agreed to go along with it. Well, agreed might be too strong. China basically told North Korea to take the deal or else (or else what is never specified, but China is really the only nation that can credibly say 'or else' to NK and get results). China also pressured the US to sign as well.

What made the thing so interesting is that both sides made key concessions. The DPRK agreed to give up its nuclear programs. The Bush Administration, in making this agreement, gave in on critical points as well, agreeing among other things, to allow North Korea to obtain the two light water reactors promised to it under the 1994 Agreed Framework.

In a nutshell, Bush basically got the same deal Clinton did back in 1994--trade the current nuclear program for promises of security, diplomatic recognition, and a massive energy program.

All well and good, and then, guess what??? About a day after the agreement is signed, it seems to fall apart. North Korea says it wants all of its stuff up front, the US doesn't want to give them LWRs at any point in the forseeable future.

Why does this fall apart?
Well, it turns out, language matters!!!!!

First, this was doomed from the moment that the delegations agreed to each release a statement in their respective capitals to spin the agreement instead fo a joint statement. This meant that each capital could say what it thinks the agreement means, and naturally, each will interpret the agreement in a way most favorable to itself.
What is missing is the Shared Understanding of what that document means to the members of the group. All sides need to agree that the statement means the same thing to each of them. This is not an easy process-- after the 1994 agreement, it took nearly 50 follow-on meetings to hammer out the terms of how it would be implemented. No such schedule was set, only another round of the same talks was promised.

Second, its clear that they never worked out how this language would be put into practice. As this excellent article in the Sunday Washington Post shows quite clearly, the two sides have very different interpretations of the text (literally-- the interpretations from Korean to English and back again). If the DPRK thinks that a line means one thing and the US thinks a line means something else entirely, when they sit down to do whatever it is they are supposed to do, they are on a different page, and that's a problem. The Post also shows, line by line, how each side views the text and what each line means to each party.

So, international agreements seem to represent a convergence of interests among rational states in anarchy where preferences overlap.....
Except not.

And, its not that these agreements aren't worth the paper they're printed on because you can't trust the DPRK as far as you can throw it.

What this teaches us is that agreements are only as powerful as the shared understandings behind them. When parties already share a language and know its meaning in practice, they're fine. But, in this case, the meaning of the words of the agreement must be negotiated in practice-- it only works when both sides kow that they mean the same thing when they use the same words. And that is a long, difficult, painful, but ultimately successful path.

Filed as

Monday, September 19, 2005

Multilateral Diplomacy and Power Politics

Two must-read articles over the weekend got me thinking about the US and its relationship to the rest of the world.
It got me thinking about the nature of Hegemony and US hegemony in particular and what that means for the future of world order. It also got me thinking about the difficulties the US has been having in negotiating with North Korea and Iran over their nuclear weapons programs.

The first article was all about the rise of a more complex global "dance card" for international negotiations. In a nutshell, the US is facing a more difficult time pulling together allies. What is even more interesting is that some of the countries that are allies/partners in one issue area are rivals/competitors in another issue area. Take, for instance, China. On the one hand, the US is working closely with China on economic issues, with US-China trade on a massive, long-term upswing. On the security front, the US has leaned heavily on China to lead the diplomacy over North Korea's nuclear talks. And, clearly, there is great benefit to both nations in cooperating in these areas. On the other hand, China has been part of a group (with Russia) that opposes US efforts to use the UN security Council to go after Iran for its nuclear program.

With all the public calls for cooperative diplomacy with China, why has China been so reluctant to cooperate in many areas? Perhaps its because they see the US military reorganizing itself to contain a rising Chinese military presence in Asia.

The second must-read article detailed the subtle yet important shifts in US military deployments that are designed to provide a much more robust presence in Asia. This is stuff that flies under the radar--really, who is so interested if 1 or 2 submarines shift from San Diego to Guam for home ports? Who cares if B-2 crews add Guam to their regular rotation of overseas visits? China cares--they pay close attention to this stuff, and they know that all those military forces are there because of them.

So, if you are China, what do you do? Do you heed the calls for cooperation with the US, or do you address the military build-up in Asia and cause trouble that requires the US to expend its resources elsewhere?
How do you mix these elements of power politics and multilateral diplomacy?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

CNN reports today that Iran is announcing that it will share its nuclear know-how with other Islamic states.
Iran, the US, Europe, and the IAEA have been involved in a complicated minuete over Iran's growing nuclear program. The story is quite simple--Iran, which also has a lot of oil--is developing a substantial nuclear program. Iran claims that the program is for peaceful uses, energy and the like. The US and Europe think otherwise, seeing no good use for uranium enrichment facilities other than nuclear weapons production. As I posted below, this is still 5 years away from a full blown proliferation crisis, but of course by then it will be too late.

The interesting question raised here is why on earth would Iran export its hard-won nuclear know-how? Were Iran to go nuclear, it would be the second nuclear state in the Middle East--third, really, because the US is a major ME power, maybe fourth if you want to stretch the ME all the way to Pakistan. Regardless, this would give Iraq a tremendous advantage over its neighbors. Why, then, would it want to share this advantage with its neighbors?

Now, I'm not the first one to raise this question-- this post is inspired by my panel at APSA earlier this month. On that panel, Matt Kroenig asked the very same question. He looked to different case studies for his answer, but the idea is just as applicable here.

Why on earth would a state work so hard to get a massive advantage in power capability over its neighbors through nuclear weapons and then turn around and share that with someone else?
Make sense of that!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

While the response to Katrina seems to be dominating both the news and the blogosphere, I want to highlight something else that could easily slip under the radar (and, maybe, somehow, show a link between the two?).

In an influential report, the International Institute for Strategic Studies said that Iran was at least 5 years away from developing a nuclear weapon (Link to the Report, Link to NYT story).
This is a good thing, for it means that Iran won't go nuclear in the near future, drastically upsetting the Middle East and Persian Gulf regions.
But, it is also not a license to ignore the problem and say that its not a pressing issue and shouldn't be dealt with.

The US government is good at focusing on one or two problems at a time and funneling significant resources and efforts into solving them. Right now, we have Katrina and Iraq. But that's about all the government can really handle. After all, there are only so many hours in the day, and the President can't pay attention to everything at once. As Dan Drezner points out, given the focus on Katrina at the moment, other things will fall through the cracks.

What I worry about is this: 5 years from now, Iran is on the verge of going nuclear and there is a crisis in US diplomatic and security circles about what to do with this new and earth-shattering bit of information, and wonder how this could happen without anyone knowing and what we might do since we're totally unprepared for it.
Except that we shouldn't be.
5 years is enough time to focus on a problem and start a long term, coordinated US Government policy solution to Iran as a nuclear threshold state. 5 years from now, when Iran threatens to test a weapon, the US should have a plan for what to do.

This is the benefit of middle-range, cross agency planning. Its what the NSC and lower reaches of the Pentagon, State Department, and Intelligence Community should be doing.
And it can be done and done effectivley. Not long range analysis, like a scare-scenario of social security 50 years from now--that's too long to have any meaning to any individual. Heck, that's the entire Cold War. But 5 years is a managable time. Real people can and do make life plans within this time horizon. If you are a freshman today, think of what you need to do to get a job upon graduation. Do you spend time making that happen? Do you think about it every day? No, but you certainly invest effort to make sure that you aren't destitute after school (or at least you should be!!!)

But 5 years from now, someone else will be president and some other crisis du jour will be distracting attention and all of the sudden Iran will take the US by surprise and everyone will wonder why no one did anything and how this could happen so unexpectedly.
Katrina is teaching us that "surprise" and "unexpected" are products of our own making-- its what we choose to focus on and plan for. Plenty of people knew that a large storm could overwhelm New Orleans, plenty of people knew that the levees were vulnerable. But, no one chose to do the medium-term planning and investment to keep the very real and plausible from becoming a nightmare.

So, here's the advance warning about Iran. Don't screw it up.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

So much as been written on the hurricane and ensuing tragedy in New Orleans and Gulf Coast region that I don't have all that much to add...

What strikes me most about the whole situation, however, are 2 things:

1. Most of the severe damage to New Orleans happened after the hurricane, an indirect effect. When the wind and rain stopped, New Orleans was damaged. It was the breach of the major levee holding back the lake, coupled with the total electrical failure so that the massive pumping stations were not running to drain the water out of the city. The resulting flood has produced conditions that are getting worse, not better, as the days go on and further elements of what was once civil society fail.

2. The impact of a disaster in New Orleans has been felt quickly and widely across the country. Here, gas prices went up to $3.00 / gallon. The most significant impact, however, will be felt in the coming months: 60% of all US grain exports flow through New Orleans. 26% of all US oil and natural gas flows through Gulf Coast ports each year. 25% of all raw coffee available in the US was warehoused in New Orleans.

Katrina-- in doing far more damage than any terrorist attack could--exposed how tightly coupled and complex of a system the US economy and national fabric really is. Complex system failures are never the result of one thing going wrong, they are the result of several interconnected systems failing (sometimes for completely separate reasons) together. Its the interaction of system failures that really hurts.

Sadly, this lesson has been discussed before, and will be probably need to be discussed again.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

counter create hit