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2010 July 11 Sunday
America To Become Pawn In Next Great Game?

America's standing relative to other major nations is in decline. Some of that decline was unavoidable because China and India have so many people and they are industrializing. Other aspects of the decline are self-inflicted by elites who insist upon an immigration policy which will substantially lower per capita GDP in coming decades. Steve Sailer speculates on whether the US will align with China or India and how Chinese, Indian, and Jewish ethnics in the US will push the US in one or the other direction. My guess is we'll choose a course that is contrary to our best interests. That's been the intensifying pattern in recent decades. The punditocracy will continue to offer really impressive rationalizations for why we should do stupid things abroad and domestically. Such is life in a declining empire.

The American colonies had a smaller GDP than the mother country during the American Revolution, for example, but Ben Franklin talked the French government into bankrupting itself for American independence. (He was quite the charmer.) In WWI, Germany, despite having tens of millions of German farmers and engineers in America, did not charm America, and thus lost. Israel, to cite a more recent example, has done quite well for itself strategically despite a limited GDP and being up against Arabs and their oil money.

So, the obvious card to play in the coming China vs. India global struggle is for influence and control over the fading Anglo-Euro world, especially because Anglos don't like to think about themselves being played.

When looked at from this perspective, India's chances against China in 2100 don't look so awful. Indians are better at learning English, and better at marketing ideas in English than Chinese. (One American marketing consultant in China has said that to Chinese factory owners, "marketing" means shouting "Real cheap! You buy now!")

Let's look at the leading Anglosphere countries and which way they are likely to tip (or be tipped):

Australia: China
Canada: I don't know. It could be close.
Britain: India
America: That's the big question

There are lots of Chinese in America. The Chinese have lots of money and will have even more in the future. Over several generations, the emotional distinctions between China and their neighbors and/or enemies like Vietnam, Korea, and Japan might fade, leaving a unified East Asian v. South Asian division from the perspective of the U.S.

On the other hand, I have a vague sense that the East Asians in America might wind up playing the role of Midwestern German-Americans in early 20th Century America, who were outmaneuvered by Anglophilic Eastern elites.

America's best bet would be to become less involved. But rather like Britain keeps wanting to punch above its level America's elites will try to play the Great Game as pawns (they'll imagine they are more than that of course) in order to have the feeling of exercising power. Plus, we'll have ethnic groups internally pushing us to act in their perceived interests rather than in the real interests of the majority.

Consider US involvement in the Middle East over the last 20 years. Take the money that we've spent on military intervention, foreign aid, and maintaining a navy capable of operating that far afield. That same money would have bought us something close to independence on imported oil if we'd instead channeled the money toward hybrids, electric cars, shifting home heating from oil to ground sink heat pumps, and other efforts to get off of oil.

Steve goes on to speculate on how the Jews will try to win favor with India and China. I do not think the Jews can afford to ally with one of those two countries against the other one. India is closer to Israel but China will be much wealthier. He also looks at a Jewish organization that looks at which long term strategies are best for Jews. What's left of the Anglosphere ought to do the same for themselves even though other ethnic groups would prefer that we didn't.

America's decline will not be rapid enough to avoid becoming a target for intense ethnic group machinations. My dreams of a return to isolationism will remain just that - dreams.

By Randall Parker    2010 July 11 09:12 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2009 July 26 Sunday
China To Accelerate Overseas Acquisitions

The Financial Times reports that the Chinese government will encourage Chinese companies to do more overseas acquisitions.

Beijing will use its foreign exchange reserves, the largest in the world, to support and accelerate overseas expansion and acquisitions by Chinese companies, Wen Jiabao, the country’s premier, said in comments published on Tuesday.

“We should hasten the implementation of our ‘going out’ strategy and combine the utilisation of foreign exchange reserves with the ‘going out’ of our enterprises,” he told Chinese diplomats late on Monday.

The Chinese government has intentionally run a large trade surplus and built up a $2 trillion reserve in foreign holdings - much of it in US sovereign debt. So they have the cash needed to do the buying.

But other governments block some Chinese acquisitions for national security and commercial competitiveness reasons.

The U.S. effectively blocked a takeover of 3Com by Bain Capital and Huawei Technologies. Some of 3Com's assets were deemed "strategic," meaning China should never get its hands on technology that might be counter to American interests.

The most significant example of a fight between a sovereign government and China's M&A power was the death of a deal between Chinese mining company Chinalco and Rio Tinto (RTP). Chinalco planned to put almost $20 billion into the metals company.

As the biggest importer of almost all commodities (with the exception of oil where the US buys more) China has a vested interest in getting control of foreign mines and oil fields.

China has long been scouring the globe for energy and commodities to feed its thrumming economy. What is new is the leadership’s determination to increase outbound foreign direct investment, or O.F.D.I., as it weans the economy off low-value, export-oriented manufacturing. The deal by Sinopec, the largest Chinese oil refiner, to buy the Swiss oil explorer Addax for $7.24 billion last month was China’s largest overseas acquisition yet.

Letting the Chinese get control of more mineral resources is a bad idea. China already restricts export of a variety of minerals including rare ones not available elsewhere.

The complaint, filed with the World Trade Organization by the European Union as well as the U.S., accused China of restricting exports of various materials including zinc and coke, a key component for making steel, by establishing export quotas, duties and other restraints.

European industries have been complaining about these restrictions for years.

The European Commission said on June 23 that it has heard concerns for a number of years from European industries about Chinese export restrictions, namely quotas, export duties and minimum export prices, which China applies on key raw materials, such as yellow phosphorous, bauxite, coke, fluorspar, magnesium, manganese, silicon metal, silicon carbide and zinc – many of which cannot be sourced elsewhere.

Yet China is buying pieces and controlling interests in companies which operate mines that extract rare earth metals outside of China.

Copper is not the only metal China seeks to control and Teck is not the only acquisition China has made in the resource sector. In what could be a further indication of China’s tightening grip on the supply side, the China Non-Ferrous Metals Mining (Group) Co., Ltd. (CNMC) recently acquired controlling interest in the Australian rare earth project developer Lynas Corporation Ltd. (Lynas). The full transaction, comprising a combination of equity, debt and loan guarantees, is valued at US$366 million and provides a glimpse of what rare metal companies are really worth.

What is at stake? See this recent post from The Oil Drum on oil and minerals scarcity. Starting around slide 12 the presentation shifts toward mineral reserves and where minerals get produced. Does slide 18 really represent the future for minerals availability? Will other major reserves for rare earth minerals be found outside of China? Also see this post by André Diederen about minerals scarcity. China's export restrictions aside, if the situation with minerals reserves is really that dire we are in trouble.

By Randall Parker    2009 July 26 03:21 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2008 March 15 Saturday
Boeing Furor Over Outsourcing National Security

If we outsource steel production, silicon chip production, flat panel display production, car production, software development, chip design, energy production (which is more important than the airplane that dispenses the fuel IMO), and thousands of other things and our elites acquiesce to this state of affairs while we run monstrous deficits and go into hock to the world why do our elites expect us to take them seriously when some of them try to draw the line at aerial refueling tankers?

But the hot rhetoric could sound overly nationalistic, and even hypocritical, once the real implications for jobs and national security become clear. Boeing, for example, would have made many of its own tanker parts overseas, and some experts say that claims of job losses to a foreign company seem exaggerated.

For now, though, the pro-Boeing, pro-America talk is showing no signs of letting up.

“We really have to wake up the country,” said Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington State, where Boeing is a significant employer. “We are at risk of losing a major part of our aerospace industry to the Europeans forever.”

Representative Todd Tiahrt, Republican of Kansas, said: “It’s outsourcing our national security. An American tanker should be built by an American company with American workers.” Boeing would have done some of its tanker assembly in Kansas.

I'm just asking.

Our elites are willing to fritter away a far larger competitive advantage and source of national security than the ability to do refueling tanker design in the United States (and EADS and Northrup Grumman will do tanker construction in Alabama anyway). We ought to try to hang onto more important advantages like sound finances and a smart populace. We do have one important advantage over East Asia that we ought to try to enhance rather than ruin.

By Randall Parker    2008 March 15 10:22 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2006 April 24 Monday
US Weaker Against Iran Due To Iraq Debacle

After describing how Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr gets funding from Iran for his ten thousand militiamen of the Mahdi Army Peter W. Galbraith points out that the US presence in Iraq has severely weakened Washington's ability to influence the actions of Iran's government.

For two months, the Coalition and the Mahdi Army fought pitched battles around Shiite Islam's holiest shrines. Iraq's senior Shiite clerics and politicians, all of whom saw al-Sadr as a threat, assured Bremer of their support and did nothing to help him. Iraq's Shiites were the prime beneficiary of Saddam Hussein's overthrow, but America's stock in Iraq had fallen so low that only Iraq's Kurds were prepared to stand with the United States against al-Sadr. By May 2004, al-Sadr's insurgency so disrupted US supply lines in Iraq that Bremer considered ordering food rationing for the thousands of Americans working in Baghdad's highly fortified Green Zone. A year after liberating Iraq, the world's only superpower was finding it difficult to feed the Americans in charge of the occupation.

Today, Moqtada al-Sadr controls one of the largest factions within the victorious United Iraq Alliance (UIA), the coalition of Shiite religious parties that won the December 2005 national elections. Nor is he the only member of the Alliance likely to side with Iran if war comes. SCIRI—the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq—is Iraq's largest political party. It was founded in Tehran in 1982, and its name gives an accurate idea of its politics. The Iranians also created, trained, and apparently still fund SCIRI's military wing, the Badr Corps, which has over 12,000 troops. Iraq's interior minister, Bayan Jabr, is the former head of the Badr Corps, whose members he has helped place throughout Iraq's national police. Dawa, the third major element in the UIA, also has close relations with Iran.

With the US Army vastly overextended in Iraq and Iran's friends in power in Baghdad, the Iranians apparently feel confident that the United States will take no action to stop them if they try to make a nuclear weapon. This is only one little-noticed consequence of America's failure in Iraq. We invaded Iraq to protect ourselves against nonexistent WMDs and to promote democracy. Democracy in Iraq brought to power Iran's allies, who are in a position to ignite an uprising against American troops that would make the current problems with the Sunni insurgency seem insignificant. Iran, in effect, holds the US hostage in Iraq, and as a consequence we have no good military or nonmilitary options in dealing with the problem of Iran's nuclear facilities. Unlike the 1979 hostage crisis, we did this to ourselves.

This is the irony of Bush and the Jewish neoconservatives who promoted his Iraq debacle: They made the US much weaker in dealing with Iran and yet Iran poses a much more serious threat to Israel than Saddam did.

Galbraith points out that arrogance is not a substitute for competence and sufficient resources to accomplish a task.

In his State of the Union address, President Bush told his Iraq critics, "Hindsight is not wisdom and second-guessing is not a strategy." His comments are understandable. Much of the Iraq fiasco can be directly attributed to Bush's shortcomings as a leader. Having decided to invade Iraq, he failed to make sure there was adequate planning for the postwar period. He never settled bitter policy disputes among his principal aides over how postwar Iraq would be governed; and he allowed competing elements of his administration to pursue diametrically opposed policies at nearly the same time. He used jobs in the Coalition Provisional Authority to reward political loyalists who lacked professional competence, regional expertise, language skills, and, in some cases, common sense. Most serious of all, he conducted his Iraq policy with an arrogance not matched by political will or military power.

These shortcomings have led directly to the current dilemmas of the US both in Iraq and with Iran. Unless the President and his team—abetted by some oversight from Congress— are capable of examining the causes of failure in Iraq, it is hard to believe he will be able to manage the far more serious problem with Iran.

I do not mind arrogance so much when it comes from people who are really good at whatever they are doing. But Bush's major talent is winning elections. His arrogance in foreign policy is completely unjustified. At this point he couldn't even win elections any more. (and see here for more on his approval rating)

Read Galbraith's excellent full article. It is a review of a couple of books about the Iraq war: George Packer's The Assassins' Gate and L. Paul Bremer III's My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope. The material relayed by Galbraith from those books provides insights what decisions were made by the Bushies and reveals a very damaging amateurishness on the part of Bremer, Bush, and other decision makers. Again, read the whole article.

By Randall Parker    2006 April 24 09:11 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2006 April 18 Tuesday
Energy Seen As Warping Diplomacy Of Big Powers

Wondered when the national security types might start noticing what a serious pickle the United States is in due to oil and natural gas? Testifying before the US Senate Foreign Relations Comittee on April 5, 2006 US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says that growing appetites for energy are warping diplomacy around the world.

"We do have to do something about the energy problem. I can tell you that nothing has really taken me aback more, as secretary of state, than the way that the politics of energy. I will use the word 'warping' diplomacy around the world. It has given extraordinary power to some states that are using that power in not very good ways for the international system, states that would otherwise have very little power," Rice said.

"It is sending some states that are growing very rapidly in an all-out search for energy states like China, states like India that is really sending them into parts of the world where they've not been seen before, and challenging, I think, for our diplomacy."

She said "We are looking to technological solutions for the energy appetite of growing countries. And, of course, being able to cooperate with India on civil nuclear cooperation would help us to pursue that goal. And finally, I'll just note that we also are looking very hard for good partners in the nonproliferation work," she added.

"On the question of the India nuclear weapons programme, first of all, the Indian programme, we believe, just in terms of what India's incentives or disincentives are to grow its nuclear programme, its strategic programme, are more related to the political-military conditions in the region, than to any quantity of available nuclear material," Rice said.

This is all terribly predictable. Of course China is going to spend big money to compete with the United States for influence among the oil producing countries. The bigger the Chinese economy gets the greater the effort the Chinese government will make with foreign aid, military advisors, military equipment sales, diplomatic support in the United Nations, and in still other ways to curry favor with the oil producers. US influence will decline accordingly.

China does not object to bad human rights records when it courts countries.

China's oil industry has wooed countries that the United States has tried to isolate for political reasons -- such as Sudan, Iran and Burma -- potentially undermining the isolation efforts. Three of China's major oil companies have been aggressively pursuing long-term supply arrangements in such places as Venezuela, Nigeria, Gabon and Angola.

Since US influence will decline in oil producing countries the US ought to reduce its dependence on oil.

See my March 2004 post "Luft And Korin On China's Rising Demand For Oil And Saudi Arabia". I make a different argument in my post "Increased Chinese Demand For Oil Is A Net Loss For The USA". In a nutshell: rising demand from China and other countries forces the United States to pay more for oil. This makes us worse off. We have to make and export more stuff to pay for the oil we use.

American and Western dependence on oil creates environmental, economic, and national security problems. I think the most adaptive response to the heightening competition for dwindling oil reserves is to focus on developing replacements for oil rather than get caught up in a geopolitical Machiavellian "great game" for control of the oil that remains. But as energy prices continue on their upward path and growth in world oil production appears to falter the neocons compound our economic problems by draining America's treasury in Iraq while they prepare to extend their war into Iran.

The US trade deficit, worsened by the high price of oil, is eventually going to cause a decline in the value of the dollar. Since oil is priced in dollars that decline in the dollar will lower the cost of oil in other currencies. That, in turn, will increase demand for oil in other countries which will drive up the price of oil in dollars even higher.

Jane Bryant Quinn's recent essay "The Price of Our Oil Addiction" captures my attitude toward our situation:

Unfortunately, we're investing in war, not in crash projects to develop new energy sources. Maybe there's time to spare. But some events, like true civil war and collapse in Iraq, could change everything in a day. We're running a faith-based energy policy—still addicted to oil. If something goes wrong, it will go wrong big.

The Bush Administration is keen to change everything in a day by launching a strike against Iran. That'd take about 3 million barrels of oil a day off the market. Hello deep recession.

I have very low expectations from Washington DC on energy policy as I do on immigration policy, Middle Eastern policy, and fiscal policy. Hopefully entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and others in the private sector will come up with solutions.

By Randall Parker    2006 April 18 08:46 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (12)
2006 January 15 Sunday
Dimitri Simes: Jihad Unintended

Dimitri Simes, president of The Nixon Center and publisher of The National Interest says a Carter Administration covert operations in Afghanistan helped push the Soviets to invade.

ACCORDING TO former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, now one of the most acerbic critics of President Bush's handling of both Iraq and radical Islam, the Carter Administration authorized a covert CIA operation, notwithstanding an expectation that it would provoke a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In an interview in Le Nouvel Observateur in 1998, Brzezinski said that clandestine U.S. involvement in Afghanistan began months before the Soviet invasion; in fact, he added, he wrote a note to President Carter predicting that "this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention." As Brzezinski put it, "we didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would." And even in hindsight, Brzezinski thought "that secret operation was an excellent idea", because "it had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap" and exploited "the opportunity of giving the USSR its Vietnam War."

Of course, this is not what the Carter Administration told Congress or the American people at the time.

In view of Soviet expansionism elsewhere, the United States had little choice but to fight the invasion of Afghanistan once it occurred. But supporting resistance to a Soviet occupation is very different from intentionally "increasing the probability" of a Soviet invasion.

More recently, Brzezinski has acknowledged that one of his motives in entangling the Soviet Union in Afghanistan was promoting the liberation of Central Europe by diverting Soviet attention from responding more forcefully to Solidarity's challenge. Yet, desirable as this end might have been, one may question whether it justified using means that would provoke an almost decade-long war in Afghanistan that both devastated the country and jump-started a global Islamic jihad against America.

The US use of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to funnel support to Afghan rebels helped push the rebellion in a more Islamic direction and helped to radicalize many Saudis. Plus, Pakistani ISI agents developed lots of relationships with radical jihadists. This helped the Taliban come to power and stay in power. Suppose the CIA had put more effort into directly supporting the insurgency against the Soviets rather than use Muslim intermediaries. The CIA might have been able to favor relatively less religious insurgents. Though it would have taken a fair amount of foresight for the CIA to appreciate how big a problem the Muslims were going to become.

Simes also says the US could have prevented the rise of the Taliban by compromising with the Soviets to keep a coalition government in power on Soviet withdrawal. He also says the Clinton Administration rejected Russian proposals for joint action against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Simes points out that in some cases where the US government claims to take a position based on principle it supports outcomes which have important implications for many other border disputes and legitimacy questions.

What if Russia takes the predictable position that what is good for Kosovo should be good for other unrecognized but de facto independent states such as Nagorno-Karabakh or the Transdniester Republic? What of separatist regions like South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which share borders with Russia and where local populations overwhelmingly do not want to be a part of Georgia? In the latter case, the United States would face a series of unpleasant choices. Would the United States, in the name of principle, compel a pro-American Georgian regime to abandon its desire to restore the country's territorial integrity? Or would Washington side with Tbilisi, especially if it decides to use force to recapture these regions? If the latter, the United States could find itself embroiled in a major dispute with Russia that could effectively end cooperation on other matters of vital importance to the United States. And how would the United States force a resolution granting independence to Kosovo through the UN Security Council over probable Chinese objections, without offering guarantees that Taiwan will never become a separate, independent state? Or argue that Kosovo deserves full independence without setting a dangerous precedent that the Kurds of Iraq and Turkey may seek to emulate? The potential for trouble seems serious and real.

One thing I find annoying about Bush Jr Administration rhetoric on foreign policy is the seeming sincerity with which Bush and his underlings claim they are taking principled positions. The many inconsistencies in the Administration's positions make the claims of principle really hard to believe. When Bush Senior claimed we were fighting Saddam over Kuwait due to considerations of high principle I was gratified to know that he didn't really believe this (James Baker off-the-record to the NY Times: “We are talking about oil. Got it? Oil, vital American interests.”). Bush was just trying to prevent Saddam from becoming too powerful and to send a message to other governments (especially governments eyeing oil properties) not to go on wars of conquest. But Bush Jr. often seems too intellectually lazy to bother thinking out the many ramifications of his decisions. Simple moral principles can not replace the need for understanding the rest of the world. Clinton also made mistakes (many outlined by Simes) though not so much due to intellectual laziness as due to beliefs in myths.

Simes thinks in a calculus considerably more nuanced than what we hear from the Bushies or many ex-Clinton Administration foreign policy makers. It seems fitting that Simes runs The Nixon Center. Nixon would have understood these calculations and he would probably have made better decisions than Clinton or Bush II on events in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Russia, and other foreign lands.

Read the full Simes essay. It reminds me of just how ignorant not just US presidents but many US foreign policy makers tend to be about just how different foreign lands are from the US. The belief in the universalism of US or Western values continually trips up US policy makers who seem unable to grasp just how different other ethnicities, cultures, societies, and religions really are.

By Randall Parker    2006 January 15 09:40 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2005 January 19 Wednesday
China Seeking Indian Ocean Oil Sea Route Naval Bases

Bill Gertz reveals some of the details of a report entitled "Energy Futures in Asia" about China's naval strategy written by Booz Allen Hamilton for the US DOD.

The internal report stated that China is adopting a "string of pearls" strategy of bases and diplomatic ties stretching from the Middle East to southern China that includes a new naval base under construction at the Pakistani port of Gwadar.


China is building naval bases in Burma and has electronic intelligence gathering facilities on islands in the Bay of Bengal and near the Strait of Malacca. Beijing also supplied Burma with "billions of dollars in military assistance to support a de facto military alliance," the report said.

The report projects world oil demand growing from 75 million barrels per day currently to 120 million barrels per day by 2025 with 80% of that increase going to Asian customers. Suppose that is correct. It suggests that approximately 80% of all economic growth in the next 20 years will be in Asia. Though possibly the existing Western nations will experience economic growth that provides a higher ratio of increased output to increased energy use. As it stands now China's ratio of economic output to energy use is lower than America's (sorry no cite for this which is from memory). But I would expect their efficiency of energy use to increase with time.

But I have a more basic problem with a projection of such a large increase in oil production. For too many countries oil field production is declining. Between now and 2025 more countries will reach their peak oil production and their production will begin to decline. So the remaining countries (chiefly in the Middle East) will have to massively expand their production. A production increase of 45 million barrels per day is more than 4 times total current Saudi production. So how is such an increase in the cards? I'm skeptical.

Oil is China's Achilles Heel from the standpoint of military strategy. Even if they use their massive economic growth rate to build a much larger blue water navy (and I expect they will do exactly that) it is far easier to deny the use of the oceans to some nation than to protect the sea lanes. On the other hand, even if the US and China clash over Taiwan the US would have a difficult time denying oil to China while still allowing oil to get through to other nations in East Asia. Though conceivably the US could allow tankers with carefully selected crews of known loyalties to go around New Guinea headed toward Japan and South Korea.

By Randall Parker    2005 January 19 03:23 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2004 December 24 Friday
Would Bin Laden Have Been Better Off Waiting To Attack America?

Vikram Sood, recently retired head of India's foreign intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), has written an interesting piece on ways that both Osama Bin Laden and the United States have damaged their positions each after first making substantial gains.

Masoud was the last obstacle to establishing Taliban rule in Afghanistan and making that country truly Islamic. He had to go. Months of planning and two assassins eventually succeeded in murdering Ahmed Shah Masoud on September 9, 2001 (see Masoud: From warrior to statesman, September 12, 2001). The country was up for grabs now, with the Taliban as the only real viable force in Afghanistan. They had the backing of Pakistan and the support of al-Qaeda. Strategic depth was a reality for the Pakistanis for a short period on September 9.

From Afghanistan, the Islamists could fan out into the resource rich Central Asian republics from Kazakhstan to Turkmenistan. Why stop there? There was Chechnya beckoning, and the green flag of Islam would fly from Morocco to Pakistan and throughout parts of Europe.

Sood is arguing that absent the 9/11 attack the United States and the rest of the Western nations would have awakened too late to stop a spread of Islamist rule throughout Central Asia. This sounds at least partially plausible. I say "partially" because my guess is that some of the governments of the "stans" in Central Asia likely would have succeeded in holding off an Islamic insurgency even without US help. He also says (and I agree) that the US role in Iraq has cost the US a lot of the gains in terms of goodwill that came from 9/11. The US invasion has been a great propaganda coup for Bin Laden and the Jihadists. Worse still, that miscalculation continues to cost the US and looks to do so for years to come.

The answer to the question of whether Bin Laden made a mistake with the 9/11 attack depends on Bin Laden's primary goal. To Bin Laden the "stans" of Central Asia are a side show. His primary interest is Arab countries (since they speak a version of the language of the prophet) and Saudi Arabia in particular. However, radical Islamist regimes in Central Asia would have been assets to his primary cause. Also, the power of the Islamists in the Pakistani government could have been strengthened if the US didn't decide to focus attention and pressure on Pakistan. Also, time spent waiting to make a really big attack on the US would have been time to train terrorists and build up bigger networks of sleeper agents. So I'm inclined to agree with Sood that the 9/11 attack was a mistake.

On the other hand, the 9/11 attack created the conditions that made the US invasion of Iraq possible. That invasion has hurt the US strategically in a number of ways. I therefore find it difficult to conclude at this point that Bin Laden's attack was a strategy miscalculation.

Each faction in a struggle makes miscalculations. The Islamists in Europe are also notable for their miscalculations. Rather than avoiding political assassinations and attacks until their fraction of the populations of various countries gets much bigger they just couldn't help themselves a small group of them responded to the message coming from the radical Islamic community in Holland and had to go assassinating Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh while threatening to kill many others. This is the problem with a militant religious movement that has no central authority and no disciplined chains of command. Freelancers will eventually heed the call of the propagandists and go hunting. More such attacks by Islamists acting independently of Al Qaeda in France, Germany, and other European likely will shift public opinion against Muslims and lead to changes in immigration policy that will reduce future Muslim immigration to Europe.

Al Qaeda and other Islamists may manage kill a lot more Europeans. Attacks with lethality similar to the Madrid train bombings may be repeated. Such attacks are going to shift public opinion in non-Muslim countries but likely will do nothing to recover US losses in public opinion in such important Muslim countries as Indonesia. Still, gains for the US are possible as a result of Jihadist attacks in other countries.

According to some reports Al Qaeda even seems inclined to pursue operations in Europe in order to attack countries (notably Italy and Britain) that have troops on the ground in Iraq fighting alongside American troops. What I find difficult to guess is whether success in carrying out such attacks will do more to build resentment in Europe toward Al Qaeda or toward the US for invading Iraq. But successful Jihadists attacks in Europe will drive European public opinion in an increasinly anti-Muslim direction regardless of what the attacks do to European opinion of America.

By Randall Parker    2004 December 24 11:21 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2004 November 16 Tuesday
Americans Want To Reduce Reliance On Middle Eastern Oil

The Hudson Institute and pollster Frank Luntz report that the American people want greater efforts to be made to create alternatives to Middle Eastern oil.

The key findings of the poll indicate that:

  • By an almost 3 to 1 margin, Americans prioritize "reducing our reliance on foreign oil" over "cheaper prices for oil and gas."
  • 91% of Americans agreed (74% strongly agree) that "when it comes to energy, we need an America that relies on its own ingenuity and innovation - not the Saudi royal family."
  • 83% of Americans agree that "reducing our dependence on foreign oil must be a top priority for the next administration."
  • 57% of Americans say that the U.S. government should allow energy companies to explore for oil in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), as well as in many areas off the U.S. coast.

Since September 11th, Americans have become increasingly aware of the link between oil, politics, and terrorism, and they now fear that buying oil from the Middle East means financing terrorism. For this reason, Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil. In fact, by an almost 3:1 margin Americans believe that "reducing our reliance on foreign oil and gas" was more important to them than "cheaper prices for oil and gas."

The Bush Administration would not have to convince the American public to support a more aggressive energy policy. The public is well ahead of the politicians on seeing the connection between energy and national security.

An energy policy aimed at developing technologies that reduce US and world reliance on Middle Eastern oil would benefit US national security and also make the environment cleaner. Research and development efforts would eventually produce technologies to produce energy at lower costs and technologies for the use of energy in more efficient ways. Both set of technologies would reduce costs and therefore save money in the long run. For more see my posts China Energy Consumption Growth Complicates Anti-Terrorist Efforts and Luft And Korin On China's Rising Demand For Oil And Saudi Arabia.

By Randall Parker    2004 November 16 11:00 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (23)
2004 October 26 Tuesday
Bush Or Kerry Worse On Iraq?

I do not see that the Iraq invasion can yield the United States a net benefit. At this point the best we can do is to hope to limit the extent of the damage to our interests. With that thought in mind here is an intuitive take on George W. Bush versus John Kerry on Iraq.

First of all, Bush gets points against him for what he's done so far. The Bush Administration made many miscalculations and mistakes in deciding to invade Iraq and in how the occupation has been handled. Defenders of Bush can argue that some of those mistakes were made by non-partisan government agencies and the Bush defenders can shift some of the blame onto the CIA, DIA, and other agencies. One can argue (correctly) that Bush had support from many Democrats for the Iraq invasion. So Bush had no monopoly on bad judgements. Yet he has to be judged by the quality of his own decision making and too many of his decisions made about Iraq were wrong. There were even people who foresaw in advance that many of the official judgements and expectations about Iraq were wrong.

Some may accept that Bush had made some huge mistakes and yet take the optimistic position that Bush has had 4 years in office to learn from his mistakes. Therefore we should expect better quality decisions from him in a second term. This might be true. Surely I hope it is true if he gets reelected (which continues to be my expectation). But one problem with this argument is that Bush tends not to learn from his mistakes. The guy isn't curious enough to learn. I do not see him getting substantially wiser. Sure hope I am wrong on that one.

Some of Bush's mistakes fit a pattern. The erroneous assumptions the Bush Administration made about the moldability of Iraq were liberal assumptions. Bush and the neocons did not make conservative mistakes about human nature. Will events in Iraq eventually shake Bush from his liberal views about the appeal of democracy and freedom?

The biggest difference between Bush and the Democrats on Iraq is that the Democrats tend not to see the unilateral exercise of US power as legitimate at all. So for that reason a President Gore probably would not have invaded Iraq. Yet he would likely have believed (or at least professed to believe) that Iraq could be turned into a liberal democracy.

As for the WMD issue: I think the Bush Administration wanted too hard to find the answer they expected to find. On top of that there are competency problems in the CIA and other parts of the government that were involved in intelligence assessments. But it is the government after all. We should expect a limited level of government competence (at least we should if we are real conservatives).

What I hold against Bush most of all is that he has put us in a position in Iraq where we might lose. This would result in the diminution of our own influence combined with a huge increase in the morale and motivation of the jihadists. That would then put us under increased risk of terrorist attacks.

This danger of boosting Jihadist morale is our greatest strategic danger in the Middle East. We are in a position where either we suffer still more damage to our interests when we withdraw from Iraq or the best case is that we manage to get out in a few years with a regime change that sticks. We should avoid the outcome that we invaded, failed to put down the insurgency, and then left to have the government taken over by Jihadists or at least openly anti-American leaders.

Whether we manage to withdraw with a positive spin on the outcome or not, in either case we suffer the damage of allies who think we are too reckless to ally with again in future operations, even more tens or hundreds of billions of dollars spent, lives lost, and soldiers coming back who will never be normal again. Plus, we have incurred the cost of a large shifting of public opinion in Muslim countries such as Indonesia against the United States. This has to help Al Qaeda recruitment.

It is hard to guess at Bush's or Kerry's real intentions. Kerry especially is an unknown quantity in an executive position. He's spent about the last couple of decades as a Senator. But it is necessary to make a guess about each of them and what they would do about Iraq in the next 4 years if we are going to come to any conclusions at all on which will be worse.

Note that I said "which will be worse" and not the more typical "which will be better". To me "better" connotates the ways Sears catalogs would label products "Good", "Better", "Best" (haven't seen a Sears catalog for a long time and so I don't know if this is still the practice) to imply that they are all useful products worthy of buying. But my take on Bush and Kerry is that neither belongs in a Sears special catalog of Presidential Candidate Products.

My guess is that Kerry has less will and less determination to exit Iraq in a way that will not seem like a retreat and strategic defeat. I doubt that Kerry sees as much at stake there in part because he didn't put US forces there in the first place and in part because he probably doesn't worry as much about how the Jihadists see the United States.

But is there anything that can be said in favor of Kerry? Well, he'd come with a new crew and that crew would be less wedded to existing policies. So Kerry might fix some policies currently in place in Iraq. Maybe Kerry would be willing to ask for more resources by arguing that he didn't make the mess but he has to fix it (though I doubt this since he will want to increase domestic social spending). It is at least possible that Kerry will be better than Bush in how the actual occupation is managed.

But my biggest concern with Kerry is over exit strategy. We should try to avoid being seen doing a withdrawal that makes it seem we are retreating out of Iraq. Kerry is more likely to retreat and let the Arab Muslim Jihadists think they have won a victory. We are better off exiting under conditions that seem like a US victory to the Arabs and especially to the Islamic Jihadists (in other words, Al Qaeda terrorists and their allies) and would-be Jihadists.

However, it is by no means certain that a withdrawal that is not a strategic defeat is an attainable goal. Such a withdrawal requires that we succeed in building up at the minimum a new authoritarian dictatorship in Iraq that simulates the outer form of a democracy well enough (or that at least can keep itself in power) that we can declare victory and leave. But it is by no means clear that we can put a government in power that can stay in control after we withdraw. If that is the case then having Kerry in office might actually be an advantage since he'd be more willing to accept the inevitability of the bigger loss and cut our losses sooner.

As I see it at this point we are screwed. If Kerry gets in he has less will to win than Bush does. But if Bush gets reelected will it be any worse? With Bush reelected we will have the idiot who put us in this risky position in the first place by invading and who then was unwilling or unable to build up enough political support to get the resources needed do a proper large scale occupation from the outset.

The other wild card in this analysis is Congress. If Congress undercuts the US occupation in a year or two then a President's own will may not matter. Will Congress be more willing to cut and run if Kerry or Bush is elected? If Congress does pressure for a withdrawal that allows a collapse of the pro-US regime will US interests be more harmed than if we stay longer to try to ensure a friendlier regime after we leave?

On the issue of Iraq as a way to choose between Bush and Kerry ot is hard for me to see who makes the most sense to choose. So I don't have a final answer for you. I would only argue that what is possible for us to accomplish in Iraq is somewhere between modest and disastrous and that Kerry and Bush are a pretty awful pair to choose between.

Note to people who are visiting ParaPundit for the first time: As you can see from the above this is not the place to visit if you want a partisan Panglossian view of politics. There are plenty of cheerleader blogs for Democrats and for Republicans. I lean right. But I have a pretty dismal view of political leaders and the human condition.

By Randall Parker    2004 October 26 02:51 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (12)
2004 September 03 Friday
Aftermath Of Iraq Invasion Makes US Look Impotent

Writing for the Jerusalem Post Barry Rubin examines the active support by Syria and Iran for the insurgency in Iraq, America's inability to halt that support, and the harm to US interests that surely flows from the Iraq invasion.

First, it is overextended in Iraq, spending vast amounts of money and using pretty much all the available military forces.

Second, support for its presence in Iraq is already falling rapidly. There would be no domestic backing or international support for engaging in a wider war.

Third, after having been so criticized for going into Iraq in the first place, the administration would not have much credibility in charging that Iran and Syria are engaged in aggressive activities.


Arguably, any gain in the "fear factor" brought about by the US overthrow of Saddam is being eroded. Those who argue, in the words of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini two decades ago, that the US cannot do a "damn thing" are having that feeling reinforced today.

The Iraq war's outcome has undermined the credibility of US power no matter how long American forces remain in Iraq. Indeed, one could argue that the longer they remain, the worse the problem will become.

I expect some readers to take issue with Rubin's contentions. But if the Iranians and Syrians feel intimidated by the power of the US military then why are both regimes allowing active recruiting of fighters and passage of fighters through their territories into Iraq? Why are the Mullahs in Iran still busy working to develop nuclear weapons? Where is the sign that the Iranian and Syrian governments have been intimidated into changing their policies in directions more in US interests? Where is the gain?

Having America look weak provides an incentive for angry Muslims to join the ranks of active terrorists or to donate to terrorist organizations. At the same time US involvement in Iraq is also turning Muslim public opinion against America. It is hard to see where there is a net benefit for the United States in US Middle Eastern policy.

Steve Sailer has an excerpt of a James Fallows article interviewing national security professionals about the consequences of the US invasion of Iraq.

But the biggest question about the United States—whether its response to 9/11 has made it safer or more vulnerable—can begin to be answered. Over the past two years I have been talking with a group of people at the working level of America's anti-terrorism efforts. Most are in the military, the intelligence agencies, and the diplomatic service; some are in think tanks and nongovernmental agencies. I have come to trust them, because most of them have no partisan ax to grind with the Administration (in the nature of things, soldiers and spies are mainly Republicans), and because they have so far been proved right. In the year before combat started in Iraq, they warned that occupying the country would be far harder than conquering it. As the occupation began, they pointed out the existence of plans and warnings the Administration seemed determined to ignore.

As a political matter, whether the United States is now safer or more vulnerable is of course ferociously controversial. That the war was necessary—and beneficial—is the Bush Administration's central claim. That it was not is the central claim of its critics. But among national-security professionals there is surprisingly little controversy. Except for those in government and in the opinion industries whose job it is to defend the Administration's record, they tend to see America's response to 9/11 as a catastrophe. I have sat through arguments among soldiers and scholars about whether the invasion of Iraq should be considered the worst strategic error in American history—or only the worst since Vietnam. Some of these people argue that the United States had no choice but to fight, given a pre-war consensus among its intelligence agencies that Iraq actually had WMD supplies. Many say that things in Iraq will eventually look much better than they do now. But about the conduct and effect of the war in Iraq one view prevails: it has increased the threats America faces, and has reduced the military, financial, and diplomatic tools with which we can respond.

"Let me tell you my gut feeling," a senior figure at one of America's military-sponsored think tanks told me recently, after we had talked for twenty minutes about details of the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. "If I can be blunt, the Administration is full of s---. In my view we are much, much worse off now than when we went into Iraq. That is not a partisan position. I voted for these guys. But I think they are incompetent, and I have had a very close perspective on what is happening. Certainly in the long run we have harmed ourselves. We are playing to the enemy's political advantage. Whatever tactical victories we may gain along the way, this will prove to be a strategic blunder."...

Yet in spite of all this Bush is probably going to get reelected. My guess is that most Americans are not paying enough attention to draw a distinction between the war against terrorists and the war in Iraq (though there are small signs of improvement in public understanding). Certanly the rhetoric from speakers at the Republican convention suggests that the Bush reelection strategists believe they can blur that distinction to their advantage. My guess is that they are correct.

There is one upside to Bush's reelection: Bush will have to deal with the consequences of his own decisions. However, that upside of Bush's reelection hardly makes 4 more years of Dubya worth it in my estimation.

By Randall Parker    2004 September 03 02:34 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2004 August 29 Sunday
China Becoming Biggest Economic Player In East Asia

China is becoming the biggest trader in Asia.

American military supremacy remains unquestioned, regional officials say. But the United States appears to be on the losing side of trade patterns. China is now South Korea's biggest trade partner, and two years ago Japan's imports from China surpassed those from the United States. Current trends show China is likely to top American trade with Southeast Asia in just a few years.

I'm sure those regional officials all know that American military supremacy is predicated upon American economic supremacy and that the days of America's role as largest economy in the world will likely end by mid 21st century at the latest.

The ability of the US to use economic power is in decline in Asia. China has more than neutralized the effects of US trade sanctions on Myanmar (a.k.a. Burma).

China has in fact capsized Washington's policy with its own trade deals, which far outweigh the value of the American penalties. The State Department estimates that Myanmar lost about $200 million in the first year of the ban on imports to the United States. At the same time, it said, trade between China and Myanmar amounted to about $1 billion in 2003.

The Chinese expect to increase trade with Myanmar to $1.5 billion by 2005. As China's economy continues to grow its trade with many countries is going to become integer multiples of US trade with those same countries. US economic influence is going to decline as a result.

The United States has peaked as a world power. The US economy will continue to grow. But continued more rapid economic growth in East and South Asia is going to cause the US economy to shrink as a fraction of the total world economy. At some point China's economy is probably going to become larger than the US economy. This means that not only will the US continue to become a relatively less important trading partner but China's economy is going to become so large that China will be able to afford to outspend the United States on military equipment.

Barring some major cataclysmic event such as a Chinese civil war or natural disaster there seems no way for Taiwan to maintain its independence unless it develops nuclear weapons. The Taiwanese would be wise to go nuclear now before China can credibly threaten to launch an attack aross the straits.

There are many things that the United States ought to be doing about the rise of China. The essential insight that ought to drive decision making by US policy makers is the knowledge that the US is going to become relatively less powerful in the future. We ought to ask ourselves what we could do now to better position ourselves once the US is not the undisputed strongest military power in the world.

Energy policy is a key area where we ought to be responding to the rise of China to find ways to prevent our national interests from being as deeply harmed by our loss of influence. We are going to become less influential in the Middle East. This is one of many reasons we should seek to develop technologies that obsolesce oil. If oil becomes obsolesced then we will have less at stake in the Middle East and our interests will be less harmed by the growing influence of a competing power. See my previous posts Saudi Arabia, Terrorism, Democracy Promotion, And Energy Policy, China Energy Consumption Growth Complicates Anti-Terrorist Efforts, and Luft And Korin On China's Rising Demand For Oil And Saudi Arabia.

By Randall Parker    2004 August 29 04:24 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2004 August 03 Tuesday
Oil Prices Hit $44 Per Barrel, May Rise To $50 This Winter

Oil futures prices peaked at over $44 per barrel before retreating.

Oil prices reached record levels for the second day in succession as the price of a barrel of crude in New York broke through the $44 (£24) mark to peak at $44.24.


Analysts have forecast that prices are likely to rise further ahead of winter, possibly to a peak of $50 a barrel.

So much for the conspiracy theory that the Saudis were going to cause oil prices to drop in order to help George W. Bush get reelected.

Rising demand from China and the United States combined with fears about supplies have pushed up prices.

The price was fuelled by fears of a terrorist attack in the U.S., concerns about the reliability of oil shipments from Russia - and the realisation that there may not be much that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries can do to stabilize prices.

High energy prices take money from consumers that otherwise would have been spent on other goods. This decreases demand for locally produced goods in oil consuming nations while at the same tine increasing inflation. Higher oil prices may force the Federal Reserve to hike interest rates.

The US may be more directly exposed, however, in that the Federal Reserve has not ruled out a rise in interest rates in the case of increased inflation and has slightly lowered its GDP growth forecast for 2004, now between 4.50 per cent and 4.75 per cent, ahead of a more marked slowdown in 2005 of between 3.5 per cent and 4 per cent.

US consumer spending turned down in June.

U.S. consumer spending in June took its biggest plunge since September 2001 as shoppers, sapped by high energy costs, cut back sharply on car purchases, a government report showed on Tuesday.

Consumer spending might have bounced back in July according to some preliminary reports. But rising energy prices are going to put pressure on consumer spending.

The Saudis are denying that they are having problems pumping oil.

But there is little OPEC can do to relieve the pressure: it is already operating within 5% of capacity. There are even rumours that Saudi Arabia’s state oil company is experiencing production difficulties, suggestions the kingdom strenuously denies.

The Saudis claim they have huge oil reserves. But the information which they use to make their reserve estimates is not available for other parties to examine and verify. Some analysts believe that the Saudis are exaggerating the size of their oil reserves (see the update at the bottom of that post). If the more pessimistic assessments of oil reserves are correct then the current high prices of oil may be the beginning of a trend toward still higher oil prices.

Looked at in inflation-adjusted terms the highest peak in oil prices came in 1981 when oil was almost $60 per barrel when measured in 2004 dollars. An attack on Saudi oil fields could put oil prices up to the level reached in 1981 and perhaps even well above that.

A different kind of bad news could cause oil prices to drop. A big terrorist on an oil consuming nation could lead to a reduction in economic activity that results in lower oil demand and lower oil prices.

However, Tony Nunan at Mitsubishi Corporation in Tokyo, said that should an attack happen, prices would be more likely to fall.

"After 9/11 people stopped consuming because of the uncertainty... If the target is a consuming nation, you would expect an attack to affect the market to the downside," he said.

We need a better energy policy along with better immigration and border control policies to make it harder for terrorists to get into the United States. Rising oil demand from China means more money for the Wahhabis.

By Randall Parker    2004 August 03 12:20 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2004 June 27 Sunday
Seymour Hersh: Israel Helping Kurds Financially, Militarily

Writing in the New Yorker Seymour Hersh reports that Israel's government decided some time in 2003 the US intervention in Iraq was doomed to failure and Israel has responded to American strategic failure in Iraq by helping the Kurds to run operations into Iran and Syria.

In a series of interviews in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States, officials told me that by the end of last year Israel had concluded that the Bush Administration would not be able to bring stability or democracy to Iraq, and that Israel needed other options. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government decided, I was told, to minimize the damage that the war was causing to Israel’s strategic position by expanding its long-standing relationship with Iraq’s Kurds and establishing a significant presence on the ground in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. Several officials depicted Sharon’s decision, which involves a heavy financial commitment, as a potentially reckless move that could create even more chaos and violence as the insurgency in Iraq continues to grow.

Israeli intelligence and military operatives are now quietly at work in Kurdistan, providing training for Kurdish commando units and, most important in Israel’s view, running covert operations inside Kurdish areas of Iran and Syria. Israel feels particularly threatened by Iran, whose position in the region has been strengthened by the war. The Israeli operatives include members of the Mossad, Israel’s clandestine foreign-intelligence service, who work undercover in Kurdistan as businessmen and, in some cases, do not carry Israeli passports.

Laura Rozen of the War And Peace blog says she's heard reports consistent wtih Hersh's claim.

For what it's worth, I too have heard reports from former American diplomats consulting in northern Iraq that Israel is behind the creation of a Kurdish central bank in Kurdish northern Iraq, of mysterious Israeli American advisors to Iraqi Kurdish leaders, of Israelis buying property located around southeastern Turkey's GAP dam, and other developments that would seem to give credence to this report.

A Kurdisk central bank? Does anyone know: Have the Kurds introduced their own currency?

Hersh claims Israel was initially motivated to help train the Kurds to be able to find, reach, and kill leaders of Shiite militias that were fighting against the occupation. But Israel has expanded the scale of its involvement to include operations into Iran to install monitoring devices aimed at Iranian nuclear facilities and other activities in Iran.

On the one hand, this move by Israel threatens their de facto alliance with Turkey. On the other hand, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Turkey, the rise to power of Islamic politicians, and the weakening of the Turkish military's ability to protect the secular nature of the Turkish state are most likely destined to weaken and perhaps even end that alliance anyhow. Plus, the argument has been made (sorry, no citation, from memory) that the Turkish military's officer corps is gradually becoming more Islamic and therefore the military may not always be firmly committed to a secular state in the future anyhow. Also, Turkey's bid to join the EU threatens Turkey's alliance with Israel. There are obvious reasons for the EU to be pushing Turkey away from Israel. The EU is pretty critical of Israel and is more worried about appeasing its growing Muslim population and building better trade relations with Muslim countries in North Africa and the Middle East. So even without the Iraq debacle how many years of good relations does Israel have left with Turkey given current trends?

The Israelis may see an indepedent Kurdistan as more valuable than the troubled alliance with Turkey and they may be right. But can the Kurds actually achieve independence? Or will Syria, Turkey, and Iran ally to stop the Kurds? Also, which side will the US come down on should events develop to the point where the Kurdish leaders make a serious attempt to win independence? That depends on all sorts of unpredictable factors (e.g. whether Iraq is in a general civil war at that point). The Bush (or Kerry?) Administration may try to create a confederacy where Kurdistan is officially part of Iraq but de facto independent. That way the US could argue that the neighboring countries do not really have a reason to intervene.

A number of commentators have argued that the neoconservatives in and around the Bush Administration (i.e. the Jewish neocons who have been wielding real power) supported the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's goverment in large part because they saw his overthrow as beneficial to Israel. For instance, James Bamford, author of a pair of very important books on the National Security Agency The Puzzle Palace: A Report on America's Most Secret Agency and Body of Secrets : Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, has written a new book entitled A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies. Because of the criticisms he levels at leading neoconservatives Bamford's book has been attacked by neoconservative ideologues. But a number of less ideologically driven reviewer have given it more positive reviews such as this Amazon reviewer Robert D. Steele.

The book is especially strong on the Rendon Group being used to illegally propagandize American citizens with U.S. taxpayer funds, on the abject failure of George Tenet in revitalizing U.S. clandestine operations, on the failure (treated more kindly) of Mike Hayden to bring the National Security Agency into the 21st Century, and on the very unhealthy merger of the U.S. neoconservatives that captured the White House, and well-funded Zionists in both America and Israel who essentially bought themselves an invasion of Iraq--a remarkable coincidence of interests: Jews paying to invade Iraq, Iranians using Chalabi to feed lies to the neo-cons so they would be deceived into thinking Iraq would be a cake-walk, and Bin Laden never daring to dream the entire U.S. population and all arms of government--including a passive media--would "sleep walk" into what this book suggests is one of the dumbest and most costly strategic errors in the national security history of the USA.

This book is not, despite some of the ideologically-motivated reviews below, an attack of George Bush Junior, as much as it is an appalled and informed review of how a complex government collapsed in the face of 9-11, and a handful of ostensibly patriotic and very myopic individuals were able to abuse their personal power because all of the professional counter-forces: the diplomats, the spies, the military professionals, the Congress, the media--every single one was not sufficiently competent nor sufficiently motivated to mandate a more balanced policy process that could understand the many global threats (terrorism and Iraq are actually two of the lesser ones), devise a comprehensive long-term strategy, and execute that strategy using *all* of the instruments of national power, including strong global alliances that lead all governments to fight all gangs in the most effective fashion possible.

Steve Weinberg praises Bamford's latest book.

James Bamford, one of the most talented but unsung investigative reporters of the past 25 years, has accomplished the difficult. ``A Pretext for War'' not only contains significant new information, but it also combines that information with previously known material to make better sense of Sept. 11, its lead-up and aftermath than any other book I have read.

Bamford sees the US war to overthrow Saddam as foreshadowed by a report written by some of its leading neocons to present to former Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

According to Bamford, the basic blueprint for the administration's Middle East policy had been drawn up in the mid-1990s by Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and David Wurmser, three neoconservatives who would be named to influential positions in the Bush administration.

Described as a kind of "American privy council" to former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the three proposed what they called a "Clean Break" plan, which involved getting the United States to pull out of the peace negotiations in order to let "Israel take care of the Palestinians as it saw fit." Under the "Clean Break" plan, Israel would launch pre-emptive attacks against its major Arab enemies and replace Saddam Hussein with a puppet leader friendly to Israel.

Bamford records that Netanyahu wisely rejected the plan but that the Perle group found a more receptive audience for their recommendations inside the Bush administration. The fact that several of the key players most aggressively pushing the Iraqi war had originally outlined it for the benefit of another country raises "the most troubling conflict of interest questions," he writes.

The "Clean Break" document is available online and its full list of signatories are Richard Perle, James Colbert, Charles Fairbanks, Jr., Douglas Feith, Robert Loewenberg, Jonathan Torop, David Wurmser, and Meyrav Wurmser, The document, entitled A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm, did call for Israel to overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.

Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right — as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions. Jordan has challenged Syria's regional ambitions recently by suggesting the restoration of the Hashemites in Iraq. This has triggered a Jordanian-Syrian rivalry to which Asad has responded by stepping up efforts to destabilize the Hashemite Kingdom, including using infiltrations. Syria recently signaled that it and Iran might prefer a weak, but barely surviving Saddam, if only to undermine and humiliate Jordan in its efforts to remove Saddam.

The document fantasizes about restoring Hashemite control of Iraq and fantasizes even further that doing this could work wonders on Shiite attitudes in Lebanon. The level of pure fantasy in this neocon view of the Arab countries is breathtaking in scope. Some of these guys are in high level positions in a Republican Administration. My mind boggles.

King Hussein may have ideas for Israel in bringing its Lebanon problem under control. The predominantly Shia population of southern Lebanon has been tied for centuries to the Shia leadership in Najf, Iraq rather than Iran. Were the Hashemites to control Iraq, they could use their influence over Najf to help Israel wean the south Lebanese Shia away from Hizballah, Iran, and Syria. Shia retain strong ties to the Hashemites: the Shia venerate foremost the Prophet’s family, the direct descendants of which — and in whose veins the blood of the Prophet flows — is King Hussein.

The document even shows signs of the spell that Ahmad Chalabi was weaving in neocon imaginations back in the 1990s.

. As a senior Iraqi opposition leader said recently: "Israel must rejuvenate and revitalize its moral and intellectual leadership. It is an important — if not the most important--element in the history of the Middle East."

Chalabi is obviously very good at telling ideologues what they want to hear.

Note that the "realm" they are keen to secure is Israel. Note that they advocated an Israeli effort to overthrow Saddam Hussein in order to make Israel more secure. Note that one of the signatories (Feith) of that document is now the number 3 civilian official in the US Defense Department and he was a leading advocate of the invasion of Iraq. David Wurmser, leading advocate of US support for Chalabi, is Dick Cheney's assistant for the Middle East.

The irony of this neocon effort to help Israel is that the neocons' priority in terms of threats to Israel did not match the priorities assigned by Israel's own strategic thinkers. Also, the neocons' attempt to help Israel has clearly backfired. For many years Israel has (correctly, in my view) seen Iran as its chief threat. My guess is that Sharon and his cabinet went along with the US on Iraq because they had to publically support their powerful benefactor's policy and saw at least a potential advantage in Saddam's overthrow. But the ensuing insurgencies and the worldwide political fall-out has strengthened Iran's position and therefore has made Israel's strategic position even worse than it would have been had Saddam remained in power.

Let us be clear on what set of events led the Israelis to this point of so heavily supporting the Kurds that Israel's much vaunted alliance with Turkey is now threatened: Very well placed and mostly Jewish neoconservatives advocated and managed to win support for the overthrow of Saddam. This set in motion a series of events that have created conditions under which the Israelis are in the difficult position of having to choose between their alliance with Turkey and their interest in helping the Kurds against the Iraqi Shia Arab insurgents, Iran, and Syria. At the same time, US forces are so tied down in Iraq and the credibility of the pro-preemption camp is so tarnished that the US is far less able to challenge Iran than it was before the overthrow of Saddam. It seems clear to me that the neoconservatives have caused great harm to both US and Israeli national interests.

Laura Rozen says Paul Wolfowitz is especially to blame for deteriorating Turkish-Israeli and Turkish-US relations.

Meantime, what does the information in this Ha'aretz story say about the evolution of relations between Ankara and Tel Aviv? What had cemented strong relations between Turkey and Israel was a few shared strategic enemies, particularly Syria and Iran, as well as a shared principal ally: Washington. Particularly, Washington over Europe. All that has shifted, with improved Turkish-Syrian relations, somewhat improved Turkish-Iranian relations, improved Turkish-European relations, and deteriorating Turkish-US well as the rise of a (moderate) Islamist government in Ankara, and a more hardline Israeli government under Ariel Sharon. Neocons have long cherished the idea of a Washington-Turkey-Israel alliance, even over Washington's long-time alliances with NATO and certainly over Europe. But according to my Turkish sources, no one has done more to alienate Turkey from the US than the neocons, particularly Paul Wolfowitz who manages to alienate Turks with every public statement since the run up to the war. [According to Turkish sources, Wolfowitz had said something along the lines of, if what was keeping Turkey from joining the US-led alliance invading Iraq was Turkish public opinion, that Ankara should just disregard it. Not terribly democratic.]

Laura Rozen also argues that of course Iraq is now a much better environment for Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists than it was when it was ruled by Saddam.

The facts speak for themselves. Iraq was not cooperating with al Qaeda or its offshoots like Zarqawi in a serious way before the war, certainly not to the degree that members of the Saudi and Pakistani security and intelligence services were. Zarqawi of course was mostly operating in northern Iraq, in terroritory under the control of the US no fly zone - a fact the Bush administration would like us not to remember. By any reading of the news, Iraq today must certainly rank the world HQ for Islamist radical terrorists, and is certainly one of the most insecure places in the world, a misery for its citizenry and foreign occupiers alike.

Bush still hasn't fired a single one of his neocons as a result of events in Iraq. Is it that he doesn't want to publically admit to a huge mistake during an election year? Or, worse yet, does he still believe in these advisors and the strategy they are selling him? That is a scary thought. If that is the case they will probably try to build up support to invade Syria next year while still failing to admit that the biggest source of radical Islam is Saudi Arabia and that world dependence on oil is an urgent problem because it is funding the spread of Wahhabism.

US grand strategy toward Islamic terrorists ought to be centered around recognition that Saudi Arabia is the center of gravity of the enemy, that we need to develop technologies to obsolesce oil, that we need far better immigration and border policy to protect us from terrorists, and that we need to stop conducting our Middle Eastern policy in ways which yield us no benefits and which just anger the Muslims. But first and foremost, American policy should be based on the assumption that there is no magic bullet bold stroke that can solve the problems of the Middle East or of the threat of terrorism.

Noan Millman of Gideon's Blog links to this post and makes a number of useful comments of his own. For instance, Noah thinks Iraq could deterioriate into a civil war patterned after Lebanon.

. Lebanon still looks terribly likely to me. And with Iran playing North Vietnam to Iraq's jihadi Viet Cong, we could be in this for a long while. Vietnamization, remember, only looked like it might work *after* the VC were devastated by their Tet Offensive and *after* Nixon had dropped more ordnance on the North than was used in WWII.

Noah also examines the context of the "Clean Break" document and whether the neocons in the Bush Administration are following it and refers to the damage done by "happy talk from guys like Perle".

So: do I think folks like Perle and Wolfowitz, etc. have been reading from this script for the past 3 years in the Bush Adminsitration? Sadly, I do.

I am a big advocate of peace through strength. I think Sharon has done a huge amount to shore up Israel's deterrent - Operation Defensive Shield, the ongoing campaign against the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza, the building of the security fence, etc. I am nervous about the pullout from Gaza not because I think Israel should keep Gaza - Israel should be desperate to get rid of the place - but because I remember the pullout from South Lebanon and what followed. But Israel has learned - Sharon has learned - that it cannot achieve political objectives by force, only military ones. And its problem with the Palestinians, no less than the American problem with the jihadi ideology and the general political disfunction of the Middle East, is not a military problem solvable with military force. Folks like "Anonymous" who think a scorched earth strategy is the only way to win our war are as wrong as the neo-cons who thought that if someone simply toppled Saddam or Assad or whoever that peaceful, pro-Israel Arab democracies would sprout.

I'm not a pacifist. I do not shrink from advocating the use of the US military to overthrow a government or blow up a terrorist training camp. But I have a serious problem with the extent to which the use of military force has been oversold as the panacea for solving problems with terrorists, with Middle Eastern societies, and assorted other ills. Vietnam and Lebanon ought to serve as useful lessons that struggles have many dimensions and one can do very well in the military dimension while settting one's side up for failure on the level of grand strategy.

The "happy talk" of the Johnson Administration and the US military made the North Vietnamese propaganda victory from the Tet Offensive possible. The "happy talk" of the neocons has gotten us involved in Iraq based on false assumptions, tied down lots of our military, cost us huge bucks, made us completely unprepared for what followed, and has done serious harm to US interests instead of improving our position. Useful policy ideas (e.g. radical immigration policy changes, a massive energy research project) are ignored because the happy talkers claim their policies can handle the threat of terrorism and the problems posed by fundamentalist Islam.

By Randall Parker    2004 June 27 02:58 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2004 June 21 Monday
Saudi Arabia, Terrorism, Democracy Promotion, And Energy Policy

What does it say about Saudi Arabia that the government there is just now shutting down a charity that the United States calls a one of the "principal" backers of Al Qaeda?

CAIRO – Last week the Saudi Arabian government reversed years of policy when it promised to swiftly dissolve the operations of Al Haramain, a charity with close ties to the Saudi government the US alleges is one of the "principal" backers of Al Qaeda.

Though US officials have complained about the charity since at least 1998, the Saudi government's typical response had been that while some individuals within the sprawling charity might have ties to known terrorists, its operations were overwhelming peaceful and its problems not systemic.

The Saudis have already forced out the charity's leader Aqeel al-Aqeel in November 2003 but they have not prosecuted him for any crimes. This fits a larger pattern where the Saudis do not prosecute their own nationals for supporting terrorism elsewhere.

A report released this week by a high-level task force of the Council on Foreign Relations makes similar conclusions, finding the Saudi government has failed to hold any well-connected individuals accountable for terror-financing activities.

Given the sheer number of Saudis involved in terrorist attacks in other countries this is a very telling revelation.

Saudi citizens are, however, sufficiently disgusted by attacks within Saudi Arabia that many cheered the killing of the local Al Qaeda leader Abdelaziz al-Miqrin.

JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA – The kidnapping and beheading of American Paul Johnson Jr. marks a turning point in Saudi public opinion against his Al Qaeda slayers.

Celebrations broke out at the news Friday night that Abdelaziz al-Miqrin, the man responsible for Johnson's death, had been killed. It was the first time in the kingdom's 13-month fight against terrorism that ordinary citizens expressed spontaneous joy at security forces' success.

But do not expect a major change in the educational system, religious teachings, or popular views in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is a major source of money for terrorism and probably the biggest source of Jihadists and terrorists in the world. The Saudis also openly and aggressively fund the spread of Wahhabi Islam around the world. Saudi Arabia is a national security threat to the United States at the same time that it is a vital supplier of oil for the world economy. Spencer Ackerman. filling in for Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, has a series of posts interviewing and excerpting quotes from an anonymous serving US intelligence agent who has a new book forthcoming entitled Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terrorism. Ackerman asks the intelligence agent what should we be asking the Saudi rulers to do and the intelligence agent says we can not expect too much.

TPM: What should we be asking them to do?

ANONYMOUS: I think we're focused on what we want them to do. We want to control al-Qaeda within the kingdom. We want them to continue to produce oil. We want them to do any number of police-type, and intelligence-type cooperation, and I'm sure they'll be willing to do that. But what we [really] want them to do, as I wrote in the book, I don't think is going to happen: people argue that we should force them or pressure them to change their curriculum and their education system, and that is very unlikely to happen. The al-Sauds, when they came to power, made a deal with the Islamic establishment: the al-Sauds would take care of the economy and foreign policy, and the religious establishment would take care of education. I'm not sure they're terribly eager to adopt a curriculum of Islamic education as it’s proposed by the United States. …

It's a system that's not prone to reform at a pace that would satisfy us. A pace that would satisfy us would completely destabilize the country. We're going to watch them do as much as they can, and they'll do as much as they can that's consistent with the survival of the state.

I would encourage you all to read the interview in full.

This anonymous intelligence agent is also the author of a book released last year entitled Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama Bin Laden, Radical Islam & the Future of America.

Writing for The Guardian Julian Borger reports that this anonymous intelligence agent thinks Al Qaeda is becoming more competent and able.

"What I think we're seeing in al-Qaida is a change of generation," he said."The people who are leading al-Qaida now seem a lot more professional group.

"They are more bureaucratic, more management competent, certainly more literate. Certainly, this generation is more computer literate, more comfortable with the tools of modernity. I also think they're much less prone to being the Errol Flynns of al-Qaida. They're just much more careful across the board in the way they operate."

As for weapons of mass destruction, he thinks that if al-Qaida does not have them already, it will inevitably acquire them.

This guy thinks the Bush Administration's strategy is completely wrong, that the invasion of Iraq has been very detrimental to our interests, and that Al Qaeda is probably so satisfied with the Bush Administration that it will launch a terrorist attack in the US near the election to rally the American people around Bush to get him reelected! I find his argument plausible.

Ackerman thinks Borger is exaggerating the extent to which this intelligence agent is aiming to bash Bush specifically.

Julian Borger has a story in The Guardian that paints the anonymous intelligence professional who penned the forthcoming Imperial Hubris: How the West is Losing the War on Terror as animated in no small measure by "contempt for the Bush White House and its policies." That's a bit wide of the mark. Does the book exhibit contempt for the administration's policies? Certainly. It also takes a dim view of the White House's conception of what motivates al-Qaeda and how to fight it. But in the book and in an interview, Anonymous doesn't traffic in Bush-bashing. He has much harsher words to say about the leadership of the intelligence community, whom he faults for bending too far to the predispositions of the policymakers they serve.

Ackerman also takes issue with the anonymous agent's argument that democracy promotion is bound to be counterproductive. However, my own take on democracy promotion is that there are a number of obstacles in the way of democracy promotion in the Middle East that the neoconservatives fail to even acknowledge (see bullet list in the middle of that post). The neoconservative and liberal advocates of democracy promotion appear to be arguing for it in part because they do not like what it says about human nature if there are peoples who simply do not want to become Western style liberal democrats. But this denial of human nature and differences in human beliefs does not change human nature. People do not all universally embrace the same set of values in the same rank order. There are huge differences in the extent of belief in various values. Those differences are quite resistant to change for a number of reasons (again, see my post about the obstacles in the way of democracy in the Middle East).

While I do not see democratization as a panacea I still think it is worth looking at the question of how to spread ideas into the Middle East that might have the efffect of making them less hostile to us. Jon B. Alterman argues for a change in how the United States promotes democracy and liberalism in the Middle East.

But if we are honest with ourselves, we need to recognize that, as a group, such liberals are increasingly aging, increasingly isolated, and diminishing in number. These liberals are losing a battle for the hearts and minds of their countries, and populations are increasingly driven toward younger and more disaffected personalities.

America’s problems do not stop there, however. The United States faces a paradox. Liberal reformers in much of the Arab world are already seen as clients of foreign powers and as collaborators in a Western effort to weaken and dominate the Arab world. Focusing attention and resources on these reformers runs the risk of isolating them still further, driving a deeper wedge between them and the societies we (and they) seek to affect. In such an event, U.S. efforts are not only ineffectual; they are counterproductive.

U.S. efforts to promote political openness and change in the Arab world would be far more effective if they stopped trying to coax the disparate sparks of comfortable liberal thought into a flame and instead concentrated on two targets: regional governments and mass publics. The U.S. also needs to be willing to work multilaterally to promote reform in a way it has been unwilling to do up to now. If the stakes were lower, the U.S. could afford the luxury of taking an easier and less effective approach to political change in the Arab world. In today’s environment, it isn’t nearly sufficient.

Whether the approach Alterman argues for could work in practice a number of his suggestions strike me as more likely to be effective than what is currently being tried. Invasion of Iraq has not been a liberalising influence in Iraq or in the rest of the Middle East. However, even if there is some better set of ideas for spreading democracy in the Middle East that have a chance of working this is at best a long term project. The spreading of democracy is not a short or medium term solution to the threat of terrorism. The anonymous intelligence agent is therefore correct to argue that the Bush Administration's strategy is deeply flawed.

Ackerman reports that the anonymous intelligence agent doesn't think we can win a battle of ideas in the Muslim countries.

But Anonymous doesn't really consider it possible for the U.S. to answer bin Laden in a battle of ideas throughout the Islamic world: U.S. support for what many Muslims may see as unjust policies has drained us of our credibility, he argues. He combines that critique with a rejection of anything resembling democracy promotion. Woodrow Wilson, to Anonymous, is a "bloody-handed fantasist." Insisting on democratic reform in the Muslim world then becomes naïve futility--even though one of Bin Laden's rallying cries is, as Anonymous puts it, U.S. support for "tyrannical Muslim governments."

Suppose we can't. What's our back-up plan? We need one and we need to start implementing it today. Defense in depth is one element. We ought to make it much harder for unfriendlies to get into the United States. We also need to push hard to develop technologies to obsolesce oil as a way to defund the Wahhabis.

Of course other efforts would require resources. But, as the editors of The New Republic admit, resources are finite.

Resources are finite. To defeat and occupy Iraq, the United States has transferred special operations units from the hunt for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Because our military is stretched so thin in Iraq, we cannot threaten military action in Iran or North Korea, which has reduced our diplomatic leverage. The tradeoffs even extend to the nonmilitary sphere. The Bush administration's refusal to adequately fund security for U.S. chemical and nuclear plants, for inspections at our ports, and for the police officers and firemen who would be the first to respond to a terrorist attack is well-documented. Absent its enormous expenditures in Iraq, the administration could have far better addressed these threats--threats more urgent than a tyrant in Baghdad with nuclear dreams, but no nuclear plans.

We could have paid for decades of a very large set of energy research efforts for what it cost us to invade Iraq. We could have gotten far better control of our borders, trained large numbers of multilingual intelligence agents, and put a lot more effort into slowing nuclear proliferation. The continued pursuit of current policy will bring with it still more opportunity costs.

It is gratifying to see the anonymous intelligent agent lists energy policy as one of the elements of a better grand strategy for dealing with the terrorist threat. The United States and the West as a whole ought to play to its strengths. One of those strengths is that we have a lot of scientists and engineers and can afford to engage in massive research and development projects. While energy research is not a short term solution neither is invasion and promotion of democracy. But a better energy policy is an essential element of a better grand strategy in response to the threat of terrorism.

The US should have an energy policy shaped much more strongly by national security considerations. A national security policy for energy should include an additional $10 billion or more per year spent on energy research as part of a recognition that the world's increasing dependence on Middle Eastern oil creates national risks for the United States.

Some of the neoconservatives are more intent on invading Syria. Why? Advocacy of said invasion by David Frum and Richard Perle seems more motivated by their support of Israel than concern for American security. Yet they have no interest in invading Saudi Arabia. It is hard to take seriously their belief that US military force can be used to transform the Middle East into a more liberal and democratic region when they are placing Syria ahead of Saudi Arabia on their list of priorities. They have nothing to offer that has any chance of reforming the Middle Eastern society most in need of reform (Saudi Arabia - as if this even needs stating). How can military attacks and democracy be solutions against such a widely distributed enemy which is most concentrated in the one Middle Eastern country which the Bush Administration is reluctant to even criticise? The neoconservatives pride themselves on a supposedly tougher and more realpolitik view harnessed to the spread of great ideals. Yet their grand strategy is so logically incoherent that I'd be too embarrassed to try to defend it. So I'm going to continue to attack it instead. We deserve to be defended. The neoconservatives are not defending us.

By Randall Parker    2004 June 21 01:23 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2004 June 13 Sunday
Security Workers In Saudi Arabia In League With Al Qaeda?

The killing of BBC cameraman Simon Cumbers and non-fatal shooting of BBC technician Frank Gardner happened in spite of their being under the supposed protection of a Saudi government assigned and driver. Well, there is an interesting twist to the story: the minder and driver have both been arrested on suspicion of being in league with the attackers.

Visitors to Saudi Arabia are warned not to move around without government protection, despite fears that some officials are colluding with extremists. The minder and driver who accompanied Gardner and Cumbers were arrested after investigators refused to rule out the theory that they tipped off the attackers.

This fits into a larger pattern in Saudi Arabia where after each attack well informed figures are quoted claiming that Saudi National Guardsmen or police or other security figures were providing information and other assistance to attackers. The support for the attackers may be so high that protection of Westerners in Saudi Arabia may simply be impossible at this point.

One Westerner (quoted uder a pseudonym) says that in spite of all the claims that the radical clerics have been replaced with moderate clerics he can hear cries for Jihad from the mosque next to his living quarters.

A mosque overlooks Mr McDonald's wall in the compound. "I was in the pool last Friday when l heard them shouting about jihad during the prayers. I know things won't be right. They found photographs of the compound inside the mosque last year."

My guess is that the biggest thing protecting the oil producing equipment is the belief of the Jihadists that they can drive out the Westerners and get control of the government without blowing up the oil fields, oil processing facilities, and port facilities. The oil facilities have not been blown up because Al Qaeda doesn't want to blow them up. Suppose the Jihadists change their minds. Then what?

The Saudis can probably gradually replace non-Muslims with Muslims in order to keep the oil fields operating. Suppose the Saudis do that and the princes remain in power. Will Al Qaeda at some point 2 or 3 years down the road decide it is time to interrupt oil production in order to bring down the regime and hurt Western economies? The Saudis can hire many of their own citizens to guard the places. But the insurgents (terrorists, revolutionaries, they are all those labels) can just bribe or intimidate the guards or simply appeal to the religious convictions of the guards or get their own people to apply for jobs doing guard work.

We should not let ourselves be in the position of relying on the strategic calculations of Al Qaeda's leaders to allow enough energy to flow for our economy and those of our trading partners to continue to function. We face both an economic threat and a national security threat from the conditions within Saudi Arabia. Energy strategy is an element of national security strategy and conditions in Saudi Arabia are a threat to our national security.

By Randall Parker    2004 June 13 04:23 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2004 June 09 Wednesday
Ronald Reagan Really Did Catalyze End Of USSR

James Pinkerton, a former Reagan Administration domestic policy wonk, describes how Ronald Reagan really did help accelerate the collapse of the USSR.

But years later, in 1991, Vladimir Lukhin -- once a top diplomat for the USSR, then the chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Russian Duma -- told me how Reagan's SDI speech was received on the other side. In '83, upon hearing of Reagan's SDI speech, then-leader Yuri Andropov ordered two different studies -- one from the Red Army, one from the Soviet academy of sciences -- to analyze the new American initiative. Two years later, in 1985, the reports came back to the Kremlin, both bearing the same basic message: "We don't know if the USA can succeed with this missile-defense plan, but we know that the USSR cannot." This forced the Politburo into an agonizing reassessment: something, Lukhin recalled, had to change. And that change, the Russian gerontocrats hoped, would come in the form of a young new leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, who took power in 1985. Gorbachev had no intention of unhitching the communist system in Russia, but in the course of trying to compete with the Americans, that's exactly what happened; "Gorby" was an accidental liberator. As Lukhin told me, "Reagan accelerated the collapse of the Soviet Union by five to ten years" -- which was fine with Lukhin. And if that single step shaved so many years off the lifetime of the evil empire, that's pretty good in my book.

What I learned from Ronald Reagan: A political condition that is widely believed to be permanent can suddenly be changed. Now, that is not true of all political conditions under all circumstances. Conditions have to develop to a point where a big break with past patterns becomes possible. Ronald Reagan as US President in 1960 could not then have catalyzed the break-up of the Soviet Union. But one should not always assume that just because some condition has a feeling of permanence that it really has to be accepted as unchangeable.

The secular ideology underpinning the Soviet regime was based on a view of this physical world. It was disprovable in this physical world and by the 1980s the objective evidence had accumulated to the point where the evidence weighed overwhelmingly against communism. The Soviet Union's own elite protectors of their order such as the KGB and the party elite had spent enough time abroad and knew enough about the rest of the world to know that their system was failing massively. That the Soviet system could then be pushed to a tipping point was something that Reagan, a far more intellectual and learned man than his critics knew or wanted to believe, was able to see quite clearly.

We ought to be asking ourselves what are the status quo policies and systems of belief of today that could be pushed to a tipping point for our advantage. One regime stands out in this regard: North Korea. It is based on an ideology that is disproven in this world. Yet it is incredibly isolated and the North Korean population does not understand the extent of the gap in living standards between North Korea and, say, South Korea, Japan, and the United States. The Bush Administration like the Clinton Administration before it is making a serious mistake by not trying much harder to reach the North Korean people with information about the outside world. All manner of books and radios ought to be delivered into North Korea by airborne balloons, sealed plastic containers dropped near their shores, smuggled in from China, and placed aboard North Korean ships docked in foreign ports.

We also ought to be asking ourselves what longer term strategies we should be pursuing to slowly move societies that are host to other hostile ideologies toward tipping points. Of course the most obvious are the Islamic countries. In my view impatience and a Panglossian outlook are causing too many people to view terrorism as a short-term problem that can be solved with short-term tactics. But Islam has been around for a long time and the Islamic societies are not now near tipping points away from the allure of the beliefs found in the base text of Islam.

On the domestic front one subject where there is far too much defeatist thinking is immigration. Lots of people do not like current lax immigration policy that allows in large numbers of unskilled immigrants who are creating a growing lower class and an increasing burden upon the more productive. People who resign themselves to the stupidity of current immigration policy should allow themselves to get more angry and to more loudly proclaim their anger with current policies. Immigration is a solvable problem. We just have to be willing to get mad enough at our politicians to force them to take notice.

Note: Over 10 years ago I read a quote in The Economist by a former socialist Foreign Minister of Italy who relayed a conversation he had with Reagan in the early 1980s. Reagan told this Foreign Minister that he was going to keep upping his competitive push against the Soviets until the whole Soviet system collapsed. The Foreign Minister said that at the time he thought Reagan was crazy and yet he turned out to be right. I've tried Googling for this to no avail. If anyone comes across the quotes for that conversation or similar conversations between Reagan and other political figures in the early 1980s could you post a link in the comments of this post?

Update: Frederick Turner on the importance of Reagan's labelling of our enemies as enemies.

Later I read the Austrian free market economists, and realized two things: one, that they had essentially won the argument with the socialists, both on the theoretical level and on the level of practical results; and two, that Reagan had realized this twenty or thirty years earlier, and it was I, the socialist, who had been the pseudo-intellectual, and not he. Later still, after I had been practicing the martial arts for a few years and had been in enough championship bouts to validate the ancient teachings about clarity of spirit and trained instinctiveness of decision, I came to another realization. The enemy can only be defeated through his own feelings; he can only be defeated if you recognize him as your enemy; and he will only concede when he realizes that you are crazier -- more committed to victory -- than he is.

And there were indeed enemies in this world. As Yitzhak Rabin said, "You make peace with your enemies, not with your friends." Ronald Reagan could well have coined the same words. If we pretend that our enemies are really our friends, and that if we make nice with them they will do what we want, then we will never be able to make peace with them. Why should they make peace -- looking at it from their point of view -- when we do not even respect them enough to recognize them fair and square as our enemy? Christ said "love your enemy," but he did not say "don't have enemies," because that is not in our power. We love our enemies by respecting them, and we are able to make peace with them if we respect them enough to take them seriously, and put them in a position where it is in their interest to make peace with us.

This brings to mind the current "War On Terror" as George W. Bush has labelled the fight against the Muslim Jihadists who use terrorism. This muddled phrase is a far cry from Ronald Reagan's term "Evil Empire" directed at a clearly labelled ideological enemy. "War On Terrorism" would be a slight improvement. A bigger improvement would be "War On Terrorists". But even that falls well short of what is needed. We are not warring against all terrorists throughout the world regardless of their motivations and targets. We are not, for instance, fighting terrorists in Sri Lanka. We are specificially warring against Islamic terrorists.

There is a reluctance in our elites to clearly label the enemies we are fighting. But our enemies see themselves as Muslim warriors. A substantial portion of all Muslims in the world approve of their fight and see them as legitimate fighters for Islam. One reason for this reluctance is that while we wanted to totally defeat fascism and at least some of us wanted to totally defeat communism most people (quite reasonably in my view) do not see the wiping out of the Muslim religion as an achievable or acceptable way to eliminate the Islamic terrorist threat. Yet we need a more clearly labelled enemy. "War On Terror" just doesn't cut it.

In my view as long as Muslims continue to pine for the return of their golden age of enormous empires expanding at the edge of a sword we are going to continue to face threats from them. As long as Muslims believe that the proper relation between Muslims and non-Muslims is that of ruler and very submissive subject they are going to be a threat to the secular Western liberal democracies and to much of the rest of the world. The terrorists are like the tip of the iceberg of a mindset that pervades whole Muslim societies. The root idea that we need to defeat is their mindset holds that there is no separation between government and religion and that Muslims have a right and obligation to rule. The "War On Terror" phrase is a denial of the real body of beliefs that we are fighting.

By Randall Parker    2004 June 09 12:02 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (12)
2004 June 01 Tuesday
Did Saudis Let Terrorists Escape In Exchange For Hostages?

Survivors and witnesses say that the Saudi National Guardsmen made a deal to let the hostage takers escape in exchange for no further deaths of hostages.

Saudi commandos cut a deal to let Al Qaeda terrorists escape and stage-managed a dramatic "rescue" of dozens of hostages at a luxury housing complex, survivors and witnesses allege.

One former hostage said he overheard the militants working to cut a deal with Saudi security forces that cordoned off the complex early Sunday.

"Let us go and we'll let the hostages go," one of the hostage-takers told Saudi authorities, the survivor said.

At least 3 hostage-takers escaped but a wounded one who is reportedly the leader of the group was captured. Was this trade-off worth making? The terrorists may well end up killing many more in a future attack.

Robin Gedye of the Daily Telegraph says domestic Saudi terrorists have escaped so many times from attacks that they must have had help from Saudi security officials or police or guardsmen or foreign workers in security agencies (or some combination thereof). (free registration required)

Time and again, when Saudi police have mounted raids on al-Qa'eda suspects, many terrorists have been able to slip away as they did on Sunday. In November, several terrorists escaped from a raid in Mecca; 10 militants vanished on Aug 10 during a gun battle with police; and last May 19 al-Qa'eda suspects shot their way out of a police trap. The inevitable conclusion over last weekend's operation is that the terrorists have often had help on the inside - help to plan the operation, help with knowledge of the area and help in escaping.

The United States government first started advising Americans to leave Saudi Arabia a year ago in response to continuing attacks. It says a lot about just how rotten the Saudi government has become that when terrorist attacks first started happening Westerners were blamed and locked up on the pretense that they were liquor black marketers. Weapons seized from Al Qaeda safehouse in Saudi Arabia on May 6, 2004 were traced back to the Saudi National Guard and it is suspected that Saudi National Guardsmen may have knowingly sold weapons to Al Qaeda operatives.

Another interesting story about the Saudi National Guard and Al Qaeda came from some former Saudi Guard trainers who worked for Vinnell Corporation, Northrup Grumman subsidiary with an interesting past in oil field construction work and CIA services. Vinnell has been training the Saudi National Guard for about a quarter of a century. Therefore its trainers have insider views of what is going on in Saudi Arabia from a security standpoint and the claims by some trainers that Saudi Guardsmen are collaborating with Al Qaeda terrorists have to be taken seriously.

* Some members of the Saudi National Guard knew about the bombing in advance and gave inside help to al-Qa'ida, including possibly a detailed map of the target.

* An "exercise" organised by the national guard removed 50 of 70 security staff for the day of the bombing, thus leaving the compound "defenceless".

If all these reports of insider help are correct then the odds are higher that at some point Saudi oil production will be disrupted by terrorist action. The main factor preventing damage to oil facilities is probably Al Qaeda's preference for killing non-Muslims. The Al Qaeda leadership may see the oil facilities as Muslim possessions that should not be damaged. Also, some wealthy Saudis who make a lot of money money either directly or indirectly from the oil flow may be telling Al Qaeda's leaders that if they damage the oil fields and ports then the money that they need for waging Jihad will be reduced.

As for what we should do about this state of affairs: My most recent beating of the drums for a better energy policy can be found in Threats To Saudi Oil Fields Argue For Better Energy Policy

The US should have an energy policy shaped much more strongly by national security considerations. A national security policy for energy should include an additional $10 billion or more per year spent on energy research as part of a recognition that the world's increasing dependence on Middle Eastern oil creates national risks for the United States.

Every time we buy gas we send money to our enemies. It is time we started doing something about that fact.

By Randall Parker    2004 June 01 09:06 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2004 May 29 Saturday
Threats To Saudi Oil Fields Argue For Better Energy Policy

The Economist has a good article on the lack of spare oil production capacity, the concentration of spare capacity in Saudi Arabia, and the terrorist threat to Saudi oil facilities.

Amy Jaffe of the Baker Institute, at America's Rice University in Texas, observes that in 1985 OPEC maintained about 15m bpd of spare capacity—about one-quarter of world demand at that time. In 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, OPEC still had about 5.5m bpd of spare capacity (about 8% of world demand). That, argues Ms Jaffe, meant that the cartel could easily and quickly expand output to absorb several disruptions at once.

That is simply no longer true. Today's fast-shrinking spare capacity of about 2m bpd is less than 3% of demand—and it is entirely in Saudi hands.

Where has all that spare production capacity gone? General global growth in energy demand, but especially from China. Andy Xie of Morgan Stanley says demand in China is growing by leaps and bounds.

Surging oil demand for oil from China is the primary cause for the high oil price. Chinese demand is currently increasing three times as fast as the trend in 1990s. Global demand was rising by about one million barrels per day every year in the 1990s. Chinese demand is now rising at that speed by itself.

This rising Chinese demand for energy is causing the Chinese to make energy deals the world over. This creates both economic and security problems for the United States which US policymakers continue to steadfastly ignore.

Xie sees a decline in the rate of growth in Chinese demand as part of coming cooling off of China's economic growth. But in the longer term Chinese demand looks set to grow much higher than it is today. US energy policy and national security policy do not show signs that this trend has been internalized into policy calculations.

The Economist article reports on the possibility that Saudi Arabian oil production could be suddenly reduced by a well planned terrorist attack against Saudi Arabian oil facilities.

An even scarier possibility raised by Mr Baer is the crashing of a hijacked aeroplane into Abqaiq, the world's largest oil-processing complex. If done with the help of insiders, he speculates that the facility's throughput (nearly 7m bpd, on his estimate) would be choked off to as little as 1m bpd for two months—and might remain as low as 3m bpd for seven months.

Mr Woolsey adds that an attack using weapons of mass destruction (especially “dirty bombs”) would be even more devastating than one that used mere aeroplanes. All told, the pessimists reckon that well-co-ordinated attacks could take as much as 6m-7m bpd of Saudi output off the market for weeks, and perhaps longer.

The Mr. Baer mentioned in the excerpt above is the same Robert Baer who argues in a recent book that American policy makers have become conditioned to look too uncritically upon the risks of US dependence on Saudi oil.

The Saudis are currently producing about 8.6 million barrels per day (though estimates range as high as 10 million and they are supposedly increasing production rapidly) which is over 10% of the approximately 80 million barrels per day current worldwide daily oil production. Eric Chaney and Richard Berner of Morgan Stanley predict that if a terrorist attack on Saudi oil facilities reduced world production by 5% or 4 million barrels per day then oil prices would double until an economic slowdown and adjustments reduced demand.

A genuine supply disruption could spike energy quotes; as Eric Chaney and I recently noted, a loss of 5% of global crude output could double prices to $80 (see “Oil Price Update: Still Higher and More Uncertain,” Global Economic Forum, May 7, 2004).

In their "Oil Price Update" mentioned above Chaney and Berner say the spike in prices would not last because consumers would lose buying power and demand for energy would decline.

In one — our worst case scenario — serious political troubles in Saudi Arabia trigger a supply disruption. If the Kingdom is not able to play its marginal supplier-of-last-resort role in today’s taut market conditions, we might well re-visit price levels not seen since the second oil shock (USD 80 /bbl in 2004 dollars) before the transfer of income from oil consumers to producers chokes off global demand sufficiently to clear the market. At the other end of the spectrum, a second scenario involves an easing of political tensions in the Middle East, combined with a sharp slowdown in China that would send prices plummeting to the low twenties; we assume in this alternative that OPEC discipline would weaken if its members had to cope with a sudden loss of revenue and income.

But will such a successful attack against a major Saudi oil facility take place? The recent history of attacks in Saudi Arabia shows the terrorists are now shifting toward targetting foreign oil workers.

The latest attack on The Oasis housing complex in Khobar was again aimed at foreign oil industry workers.

The latest strike at another oil company compound, following a similar attack on May 1 on the western Saudi town of Yanbu, seemed clearly intended as a new attempt to start an exodus of the thousands of workers on whom Saudi Arabia depends to keep its oil industry running.

The attack on Saturday hit at the core of the relationship between the West and the Saudi kingdom. Most of the oil production and the American and other Western technicians who keep it flowing are based in and around the urban centers of Khobar, Dammam and Dhahran, clustered together near the shores of the Persian Gulf, just across from Bahrain.


About 15,000 Americans and 10,000 Britons are believed to be residents in the Eastern Province, the largest concentration of foreigners in the country. The United States Embassy warned all Americans in April to leave the country.

Note that a lot of those people are the families of the oil workers. If the families move out the workers themselves could still stay and present a smaller and more easily defended set of targets. Some of the families might opt to move to Bahrain so that the workers could see them periodically without travelling too far.

Al Qaeda is taking credit or responsibility (depending on your point of view) for the latest attacks against foreign workers in Khobar.

"The heroic mujahedeen in the Jerusalem Squad were able, by the grace of God, to raid the locations of American companies ... specializing in oil and exploration activities and which are plundering the Muslims' resources, on Saturday morning," said the statement signed by "the Al-Qaeda Organization in the Arabian Peninsula."

"They have so far managed to kill or wound a number of crusaders, God's enemies. We will give details later, naming the heroes of our blessed squad," it said.

Local Saudi Al Qaeda leader Abdulaziz al-Muqrin has called for a war against Western oil company workers and the Saudi royal family. How successful will this terrorist guerrilla war be in reducing Saudi oil production? It is hard to predict this sort of thing. First of all, the attacks so far have been aimed at foreign workers rather than oil facilities. Why is that? Are the workers easier to target? Or do the attackers not want to damage their own country's oil fields? Do they simply want to deny to Westerners? Or is their real goal to cut revenue to the Saudi government in order to bring it down in a revolution?

The Saudis could reduce the size of the risks posed to the foreign workers by allowing the workers to work longer shifts and stay overnight in production facilities. This would reduce transit risks and risks from attacks in living quarters. Also, they could reduce the number of housing complexes that house foreigners and concentrate those complexes with more security around them. The workers could even have housing built for them right next to oil facilities and well away from populated areas. Siimilarly, office space for the oil industry could be built away from the cities and near the oil production facilities in more easily defended locations. Then access to the workers could be more easily controlled. The larger point here is that the Saudis can afford to greatly increase the security of the workers using a number of methods. Then to cut production Al Qaeda would need to shift to direct attacks on oil facilities.

As for whether Al Qaeda can actually bring down the House of Saud: There are obvious analogous situations in recent Arab history where radical Islamists tried to bring down a regime. It is worth noting that none have succeeded. For example, the Egyptian government successfully put down an Islamist insurgency in the 1990s. Though the violent phase in Egypt lasted for several years.

Political violence in Egypt reached a climax from 1992 to 1997 and then decreased steeply.25 During the period of clashes, government forces dislodged militant Islamists from their hiding places or confronted them while they were preaching in mosques. Thousands were arrested, wounded, or killed. Political assassinations became common. The government assassination of Ala’ Muhiel-Din, spokesman for al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya, in 1989 brought militant response in kind. Al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya claimed responsibility for a 1989 attempt to assassinate Interior Minister Zaki Badr, the 1990 assassination of Speaker of the People’s Assembly Ref’at Al-Mahjoub,26 the 1992 assassination of the secularist writer Farag Fouda, a 1993 attempt on the life of Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz, a 1995 attempt on the life of President Mubarak, and multiple attacks on Copts and foreign tourists, culminating in a massacre of some sixty tourists at the Hatshepsut Temple in Deir Al-Bahari near Luxor on November 17, 1997. The Jihad Organization was involved in multiple armed attacks, including three failed assassination attempts aimed at Information Minister Safwat Al-Sherif (April 1993), former interior minister Hassan Al-Alfy (August 1993), and former prime minister Atef Sidqi (December 1993). 27

Of course the big difference with Saudi Arabia is the world's dependence on its huge oil reserves. The rest of the world (excepting Western tourists in Egypt) was not much affected by internal Egyptian insurgency and counter-insurgency. But if political violence in Saudi Arabia lasts for several years it is quite possible that at some point during that time Al Qaeda will succeed in blowing up some Saudi oil facilities. If we are lucky the first damaging attack will be enough to wake us out of our slumber about energy policy but not big enough to bring on a deep recession and years of stagflation.

Oddly enough, the current on-going experience with insurgents in Iraq may be a reason for optimism about continued Saudi oil production. Iraq is far more chaotic and lawless than Saudi Arabia and yet Iraq is still managing to produce at approximately pre-war levels in spite of on-going attacks on oil facilities and pipelines.

Any expectation that the US occupation could quickly turn around the Iraqi oil industry, enabling it to influence or challenge Opec policy, has vanished. Output is currently at 2.8m barrels a day. The end of year target is 3m. By the end of 2005, the CPA is talking about 4m barrels a day, but no leading analysts takes this view seriously. One Seymour Pierce analyst said: “You can’t conjure a million barrels a day from nowhere.”

However, in the face of the violence and security risks oil production can't rise in Iraq until a much higher level of security is achieved.

In the Kirkuk field, oil output has been constrained by sabotage, reservoir damage, the theft of spare parts and repeated attacks against the 1.1-mil b/d capacity pipeline to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.

Since May 2003, there have been more than 100 attacks against the country's 4,350-mile-long pipeline system and 11,000-mile-long power grid. In early April, insurgents hit the oil pipeline from Kirkuk to the 110,000 b/d Daura refinery on the outskirts of Baghdad.

The biggest problem with Iraq is that the investment is not being made to scale production to much higher levels.

Given that both Saudi and Iraqi oil fields may be subject to terrorist attacks for years to come what should the United States do about it? The US should have an energy policy shaped much more strongly by national security considerations. A national security policy for energy should include an additional $10 billion or more per year spent on energy research as part of a recognition that the world's increasing dependence on Middle Eastern oil creates national risks for the United States.

One way that the higher security needed for oil field development might be achieved in at least some parts of Iraq would be to partition Iraq either formally or informally with a loosely coupled confederation. Let them self-govern and choose their own governments for each region. If we lower our sights for what is possible to achieve in Iraq we increase our chances of succeeding at what we actually try to do. Regional autonomy would increase the chances of success in each region. There are many obstacles to the achievement of democracy in an Iraq based on a highly centralized organization of government. Some (though not all) of those obstacles are avoided under a partition plan.

Regardless of whether partition brings better odds of success at democracy it may improve the odds of oil fields development. One region's government (perhaps the Shias or perhaps the Kurds) would be faster at establishing security and then in that region oil exploration will be able to take place most rapidly. The government of the Sunni region would have the most incentive to rapidly explore its region under a partition scheme since it would have the least amount of existing oil production capacity. If, given self-rule, the Sunni government opts to have nothing to do with American or British oil companies and decides to bring back Russian or French oil companies to explore for oil in their Western Desert then that will be their choice to make. The Kurds will be able to export oil by the pipeline that passes through Turkey while the Sunnis will be able to export using the pipeline that passes through Syria and the Shias will be able to export via their Persian Gulf oil terminals.

As this map of Iraq oil fields shows, with the exception of the East Baghdad oil field most Iraqi oil fields now in production are in the Kurdish north and the Shia south east. See also this map for a more detailed view of some of the fields but note that second map does not show the exact location of the East Baghdad field. Mismanagement of Iraq's oil fields in part due to UN sanctions probably will limit how much can be extracted from existing production fields. The poor extraction techniques which are damaging the fields have not yet stopped either.

While the maps above show that most oil fields in Iraq currently in production are located in Kurdish and Shia Arab regions there are some oil fields in the Sunni Arab region and there may be a lot of oil in the Sunni Arab Western Desert.

According to the Oil and Gas Journal, Iraq contains 115 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, the third largest in the world (behind Saudi Arabia and Canada). Estimates of Iraq's oil reserves and resources vary widely, however, given that only 10% or so of the country has been explored. Some analysts (the Baker Institute, Center for Global Energy Studies, the Federation of American Scientists, etc.) believe, for instance, that deep oil-bearing formations located mainly in the vast Western Desert region, for instance, could yield large additional oil resources (possibly another 100 billion barrels or more), but have not been explored. Other analysts, such as the US Geological Survey, are not as optimistic, with median estimates for additional oil reserves closer to 45 billion barrels.

Given that the Saudi oil fields look to be entering an extended period of risk of damage by Al Qaeda attackers the West and the world as a whole have an increasing need to get Iraq's oil fields on line as quickly as possible. Also, the United States needs to make a much larger effort to develop technologies that will obsolesce fossil fuel oil as an energy source. But in spite of rapidly growing oil demand, high oil prices, the continued terrorist threat, and worsening crisis in Iraq and Saudi Arabia neither major political party in the United States has embraced the need to make a big push to develop new energy technologies. Tell your friends, coworkers, Congresscritters, and even other bloggers: The United States needs a better energy policy.

Update: The Saudis stormed the Khobar residential compound where hostages were being held by the Muslim gunmen and the death toll is now around 22 people.

Saudi Arabia says 22 people, most of them foreigners, were killed in the day-long terrorist siege of a foreign housing complex in the Persian Gulf oil city of Khobar.


Saudi officials say the dead include eight Indians, three Philippine nationals and three Saudis. An American, three Britons, an Italian, a Swede, a South African and an Egyptian also were reported killed.

A death toll of 22 mostly non-Muslims will be seen by Al Qaeda as a victory since that is a large enough number to scare many non-Muslims into leaving.

It might seem obvious and practical to allow the foreigners to have guns inside their residential compounds. But my guess is that the Saudis will refuse to allow that because it would be an acknowledgement of limits to Saudi ability to prevent attacks and also could be portrayed by the Jihadists as the government allowing an armed "5th column" of non-Muslims inside the kingdom.

The attackers shot non-Muslims and let Muslims go.

Abdul Salam al-Hakawati, a 38-year-old Lebanese corporate financial officer, said gunmen rummaging around his family residence said, "This is a Muslim house'' - apparently seeing framed Quranic verses on the walls.

He said a man in his early 20s, carrying a machine gun and wearing an ammunition belt, told him: "We only want to hurt Westerners and Americans. Can you tell us where we can find them here?''

Using attacks on personnel Al Qaeda probably will have better luck at reducing the rate of progress of new oil drilling projects than at slowing production of existing projects. But if Al Qaeda starts carrying out attacks on facilities and does so with sufficient expertise then it might manage to do damage that reduces current production.

Update II: Remember that the money the whole world spends to buy Saudi oil funds the spread of Wahhabism in the US and around the world. While the Bush Administration pretends (believes?) that all religions are inherently good the use of this myth to formulate policy is damaging to long term US national interests.

By Randall Parker    2004 May 29 10:56 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2004 May 06 Thursday
Saudis Blaming Israel For Terrorist Attacks In Saudi Arabia

The de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia blames Jews for being behind the terrorist attacks happening in Saudi Arabia.

May 4 - Only days after the State Department praised Saudi Arabia for its “aggressive” and “unprecedented” campaign to hunt down terrorists, Crown Prince Abdullah—the country’s de facto ruler—has startled Bush administration officials by blaming “Zionists” and “followers of Satan” for recent terrorist acts in the kingdom. “We can be certain that Zionism is behind everything,” Abdullah told a gathering of leading government officials and academics in Jeddah as he talked about the weekend attack on oil workers, which killed six people, including two Americans. “I don’t say 100 percent, but 95 percent.”

Abdullah's claim is of course absurd. The attackers are the most extremist types of Wahhabis who believe that even the rulers of Saudi Arabia are not sufficiently doctrinaire.

MEMRI relays many echoes of agreement with Abdullah from public figures Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon.

Saudi Daily Blames Zionism for Terror Attacks

In its May 3 issue, the Saudi daily Okaz published an article by Abd Al-Qadr Fares of Gaza, titled "Zionism Arose Based on Conspiracies, and Lives Only Off Bloody Sights," in which it blamed Zionism for the May 1 attacks in Yunbu':

"It is Zionism that extended its hand of destruction two days ago [May 1], as the crown prince announced, on the Saudi lands, by means of killing and of sowing death, destruction and aggression against human dignity in an attempt to shake [both] the security of the kingdom and regional security, and in order to accomplish its interests. [It did this] by [sending] elements who were misguided, and dubious [elements], to carry out these operations that serve only Zionism and the forces of world imperialism and arrogance." [3]

In support of this allegation, the same day the paper published commentary on Crown Prince Abdallah's statements, under the headline "Experts and Historians Demand That the Youth Be Warned of the Plans Directed Against the Region: Zionism Leads Terror so that the World will Be Hostile to the Muslims and Arabs," in which three Arab experts stated that it is most probable that Israel was behind the attacks in the kingdom.


Dr. Fayez Rashid of Amman, Jordan, director of the Arab Center for the Study of Zionism and Israel, said: "The positions, balanced policy, and moderation of the [Saudi] kingdom have gained it great respect in the international community. This does not please Zionism, whose most important goals are weakening the Arab countries, halting their relations with the external world, disrupting their relations with the international community, and sowing civil strife. Thus, we do not wonder that Saudi Arabia is one of Zionism's most important target countries, particularly in light of the positions that Saudi Arabia still holds regarding a solution to the Arab-Israel conflict, [positions] that co

There are all sorts of rationalizations that can be offered for Crown Prince Abdullah's statement. Surely he feels threatened by his home-grown radicals and would like to discredit them in the minds of Saudis by calling them fools duped by some Zionist plot. There may be other motives for Abdullah's statement. But it seems to me there is an obvious take home lesson from all this: Saudi Arabia is a serious problem that is not going to get better in the foreseeable future. The world's growing dependence on Saudi oil is a national security problem for the United States.

The nature of the national security problem posed by the Saudis is many fold. One problem is that the Saudis are exporting their version of Islam the world over including the west African oil producing nation Nigeria.

However, despite repeated rumors, there has until this year been little evidence of organized foreign support for violence and domestic terrorism. Now such evidence is appearing. On February 3, the Nigerian government announced that an unnamed Iranian diplomat was arrested on January 23 in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, after he was found taking photographs of Churches, a presidential villa, the defense headquarters, and the Israeli, British, and American embassies.

The usually reliable news service Compass Direct reports that one of January's "Taliban" raiders, Muslim cleric Alhaji Sharu, confessed to police that he was a middleman between Nigerian extremists and the Al-Muntada Al-Islami Trust, a Saudi funded "charity" headquartered in Britain. Sharu said that the Trust's money had been used to propagate a Wahabist version of Islam in Nigeria and fund religious violence.

The United States currently has an insufficient strategy for dealing with the threat that Wahhabisms poses. One obvious option available is to embark on a massive research effort to obsolesce oil and thereby eliminate a major source of the revenue that the Saudis and other Muslim radicals have for spreading their religious doctrines and funding terrorism. We are wasting precious time every day that goes by that we are not embarked on this effort.

By Randall Parker    2004 May 06 04:46 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2004 April 26 Monday
China Making Energy Deals The World Over

China has surpassed Japan as the second largest importer of oil and it will most likely surpass the United States within 10 or 20 years. An article in Newsweek reports many examples of Chinese efforts to build better diplomatic relations and to do oil development deals in many countries around the work.

Now Chinese diplomats are spending more time in Riyadh, Saudi oil officials are learning Mandarin Chinese and the bonds between the two countries are stronger than ever. Little wonder that Chinese officials afforded VIP treatment to Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi when he visited in early April. And it may have paid off: the minister boosted hopes for a long-delayed $3 billion contract to enlarge an existing refinery and build an ethylene project in the Chinese province of Fujian. If it goes forward, the deal would raise Saudi energy exports by as much as 50 percent. Sinopec—the Chinese refining conglomerate with the largest stake in the project's development—was already awarded a gas-exploration license for nearly 40,000 square kilometers in Saudi Arabia's Rub al-Khali basin earlier this year.


Hu Jintao and his entourage of globe-trotting oil officials have been loitering in Libya and glad-handing in Gabon. In January Hu embarked on a tour of energy-exporting African states, inking a 30-year deal to buy Gabonese crude and laying the groundwork for future deals in Chad and Niger.

In the face of all this the Bush Administration intends to cut rather than increase energy research spending. Energy policy is national security policy. The Bush Administration is lacking in a serious strategy for a major national security issue. The Bushies are taking a very short-run view of US energy needs and are not considering the longer term problems that result from the money that flows to the Middle East to buy oil. The Bushies seem to be oblivious to the fact that America's only serious rival for global power is in the process of gaining more important and influence in the eyes of Middle Eastern oil producers and that this rival will likely eventually displace the US as largest customer of the Middle Eastern oil producers.

See my previous posts China Energy Consumption Growth Complicates Anti-Terrorist Efforts and Luft And Korin On China's Rising Demand For Oil And Saudi Arabia for more on the problem that the world's oil dependency posese for US national security and what we ought to do about it.

By Randall Parker    2004 April 26 01:55 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
2004 April 20 Tuesday
Do Saudis Manipulate Oil Prices Before Presidential Elections?

Bob Woodward sure knows how to promote a book. Woodward's latest book Plan Of Attack on the Bush Administration decision-making that led up to the invasion of Iraq has enough salacious claims about major players to guarantee a fair amount of controversy and free media coverage. You can read excerpts from the book in a Washington Post series. The biggest flap about the book so far is over whether the Saudis promised to lower oil prices to help reelect George W. Bush.

``Bandar wanted Bush to know that the Saudis hope to fine-tune oil prices to prime the economy in 2004,'' Woodward wrote. ``What was key, Bandar understood, were the economic conditions before a presidential election.''

The Saudis are predictably denying this supposed deal.

``The allegation that the kingdom is manipulating the price of oil for political purposes or to affect elections is erroneous and has no basis in fact,'' said a statement issued in Riyadh by top Saudi foreign policy adviser Adel al-Jubeir.

Bandar says Carter asked for lower oil prices for the 1980 election and Clinton did for the 2000 election.

"President Clinton asked us to keep the prices down in the year 2000," Bin Sultan told CNN's "Larry King Live,"

Bandar's claim seems highly plausible. Presidents would have plenty of incentive to ask the Saudis for lower prices before elections. But don't tell that to John Kerry. He is most upset.

"If it is true that gas supplies and prices in America are tied to the American election, tied to a secret White House deal, that is outrageous and unacceptable to the American people," Kerry said.

Hey, if it is standard practice for the Saudis to lower prices before US Presidential elections then maybe we should amend the constitution to reelect presidents yearly. Think of all the money we'd save.

Given that the price of oil is now at about $35 per barrel if the Saudis have a plan to help Bush it must be a pretty weird plan. A decline in oil prices of, say, $10 per barrel would take a while to filter down to gas station prices and lower oil prices would take a while to boost the economy. Bush needs a robust economy with declining unemployment most of all. Current Saudi oil production levels are therefore not helping Bush to be reelected.

Prince Bandar probably does not have the power within the Saudi government to engineer a big increase in oil production. The faction he is a part of is opposed by another more religiously fundamentalist faction in the Saudi royal family that views the United States with considerable hostility. The opposing faction may well see high oil prices as desirable because they may prefer Bush to be defeated.

Some people are reacting to this quote from Woodward scandalized by the very idea of the Saudi ambassador seeming to intervene in American politics by lowering the world price of oil in order to help a sitting US President get reelected. But even if this is true (and, again, I have my doubts given Saudi internal politics) the emphasis on the possibility of unethical secret deals and undue influence misses the most important point: Saudi Arabia's role as swing producer for oil and possession of oil reserves that are widely believed to represent a quarter of the world's oil reserves give Saudi Arabia's government enormous influence. The Saudis could just as easily drive up the world price of oil in order to prevent a sitting US President from getting reelected. For all we know the Saudis might secretly be intending just that outcome while pretending to Bush that they intend to drive the price of oil down.

My point here is that the bigger problem is world reliance on a corrupt oppressive theocratic state for what is currently the most important natural resource for the world economy. The time spent venting about undue influence oil reserves give Saudi Arabia over American politics ought to be more productively directed toward arguing for a massive research and development effort aimed at obsolescing oil as the primary energy source for the world's economy.

If any of readers think the Saudi royal family is lined up united for a George W. Bush reelection see my previous post Michael Scott Doran: The Saudi Paradox for a more nuanced view of internal Saudi politics.

For arguments on why and how we could launch a huge effort to accelerate the development of technologies to obsolesce oil see my previous posts Intervention In Liberia Linked To Oil Dependency, China Energy Consumption Growth Complicates Anti-Terrorist Efforts, Luft And Korin On China's Rising Demand For Oil And Saudi Arabia, and Energy Policy, Islamic Terrorism, And Grand Strategy.

By Randall Parker    2004 April 20 12:37 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2004 March 13 Saturday
Luft And Korin On China's Rising Demand For Oil And Saudi Arabia

Writing in Commentary Magazine Gal Luft and Anne Korin (both of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS)) have written an article exploring China's relationship with Saudi Arabia and China's growing need for oil entitled The Sino-Saudi Connection

According to a conservative estimate by the U.S. Department of Energy, China’s oil imports over the next two decades will grow by 960 percent. The International Energy Agency predicts that, by 2030, those imports, now at 1.9 million barrels a day, will rise to at least 10 million barrels a day, the current import level of the United States.

If the Saudis opted to acquire their own bomb, they would likely become the first nuclear power to have bought one off the shelf. Were this to happen, it would represent the culmination of a Sino-Saudi-Pakistani nuclear project that began in May 1974 when, following India’s ascension to the nuclear club, China sent scientists to assist Pakistan in developing that country’s own nuclear program. By the early 1980’s, China had supplied the Pakistanis with enough enriched uranium to build a few weapons. In 2001, the CIA reported that China was continuing to lend "extensive support" to Pakistan’s program. Today, Pakistan is estimated to have an arsenal of between 35 and 60 nuclear weapons.

How did Pakistan, with its grinding poverty, pay for this expensive project? Some of the costs were undoubtedly carried by the Chinese in pursuit of their own interests, including their rivalry with India. But considerable evidence suggests that Saudi Arabia played a part as well.

Luft and Korin make an argument familiar to regular ParaPundit readers: Growing Chinese demand for oil is going to result in a decreasing influence of the United States over Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern oil producers.

Even if Saudi Arabia does not pursue nuclear status, however, it has abundant reasons for looking east to China both for markets and for military assistance, just as China has abundant reasons for looking west to Saudi Arabia for continued access to Middle Eastern oil. And aside from these mutual interests, an alliance with China would hold other attraction for the Saudis. Unlike the U.S., the Chinese do not aspire to change the Arab way of life, or impose freedom and democracy on regimes that view such ideas with skepticism and fear. Indeed, Chinese attitudes toward the open societies of the West are markedly similar to those of the Arab despotisms themselves.

The Chinese also have at their disposal immense reserves of manpower, which they can deploy to protect the oil resources of any new allies they acquire. Thousands of Chinese soldiers disguised as oil workers, for example, are used today to guard petroleum facilities in Sudan. With 11 million men reaching military age annually, China could easily replicate this elsewhere. Finally, while the U.S. is continually castigated by the Arabs for its closeness to Israel, China’s ties with Jerusalem have never risen above the level of indifference.

The Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS) turns out to be an organization dedicated to promoting views which which I'm in incredibly strong agreement:

The Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS) is a non-profit organization dedicated to setting America free from the oil dependence that threatens its security. We believe that a shift from oil is the best guarantor of global security, prosperity, and freedom for generations to come. Through technology we can win the war on terror and shake the yoke of our energy dependence without compromising our way of life.

The IAGS website has additional articles which develop their line of argument.

What makes penetration and control of money transactions in the Arab world especially difficult is the Hawala system--the unofficial method of transferring money and one of the key elements in the financing of global terrorism. The system has been going for generations and is deeply embedded in the Arab culture. Hawala transactions are based on trust; they are carried out verbally leaving no paper trail.

The Saudi regime has been complicit in its people's actions and has turned a blind eye to the phenomenon of wealthy citizens sending money to charities that in turn route it to terror organizations. Furthermore, Saudi government money funneled into madrassas where radical anti-Americanism is propagated has been instrumental in creating an ideological climate which generates terrorism.

Reducing demand for oil would decrease the money available to spread hostile Islam and to support terrorism.

There are many strategies proposed by counter-terrorism experts to obstruct terrorist financing. Many of them are effective and, indeed, some of the steps that have been taken since September 11, such as freezing bank accounts and improving the scrutiny over international monetary transfers, contributed to a reduction in Al-Qaeda's financial maneuverability. But the only way to deal with the problem strategically is to reduce the disposable income and wealth generation capacity of terrorist supporters.

Hence, America's best weapon against terrorism is to decrease its dependency on foreign oil by increasing its fuel efficiency and introducing next-generation fuels. If the U.S. bought less oil, the global oil market would shrink and price per-barrel would decline. This would invalidate the social contract between the leaders and their people and stem the flow of resources to the religious establishment. It will likely increase popular pressure for political participation, modernity and reformed political and social institutions.

Reducing demand for Middle East oil would force the petroleum-rich regimes to invest their funds domestically, seek ways to diversify their economies and rethink their support for America's enemies. Only then financial support for terrorism could radically diminish.

It is very gratifying to read policy analysts whose analysis of the problems posed by US and world dependence on Middle Eastern oil agrees so very closely with my own. My most recent post on the topic is Demand For Oil Increasing From Rapidly Developing Nations. Also see my post on the problem posed by rapidly growing Chinese energy consumption: China Energy Consumption Growth Complicates Anti-Terrorist Efforts. See the bottom half of the post Intervention In Liberia Linked To Oil Dependency for Nobel Laureate Richard Smalley's appeal for a massive research and development effort to develop alternative energy technologies. For more on the threat of Saudi Arabia buying nuclear weapons see the post Without US As Ally Saudi Arabia Could Go Nuclear. My argument for why an energy policy aimed at obsolescing oil as an energyh source is found in the post Energy Policy, Islamic Terrorism, And Grand Strategy.

In my view it is not enough to reduce or even to eliminate US dependence on Middle Eastern oil. The main problem is not that the US is vulnerable to supply cut-offs. The biggest problem is that the whole world's demand for Middle Eastern oil is funding the spread of Wahhabi Islam, terrorism, and nuclear proliferation. While technologies that allow oil to be used more efficiently will be of some benefit the only way to reduce world demand for Middle Eastern oil is to develop technologies for producing energy that are cheaper to use than oil.

By Randall Parker    2004 March 13 02:08 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2004 February 06 Friday
Demand For Oil Increasing From Rapidly Developing Nations

The National Interest has an essay about the increasing leverage that oil producing nations will wield as energy demand grows worldwide.

Russia's increasing geopolitical importance as a source of energy-whether oil, natural gas or electricity-rather than its military arsenal also points to another development likely to have geopolitical ramifications: competition for energy. Europe, for example, currently consumes approximately 44 percent of the world's energy supply-yet it cannot be assured that it will continue to have access to all of the energy that it needs. After all, China has now surpassed Japan as the second largest user of oil, after the United States, and has radically increased its own oil imports. With domestic production unlikely to increase, China is buying up more oil on the world markets-imports for 2003 are up by 30 percent from last year, and imports as a whole are expected to double, to 4 million barrels a day by 2010. In thirty years, China will be importing the same amount of oil that the United States currently does-10 million barrels per day.

While China has seen its rate of oil consumption skyrocket over the last decade (by 109 percent), it is not the only hungry consumer. During the same period South Korea's usage increased by 78 percent. By 2010, India is expected to be the world's fourth largest consumer of oil, absorbing 3.2 million barrels per day. This means that there will be increased competition not only for existing oil resources but also to discover and lock-in new discoveries. India is actively searching for assets in a number of countries, including Russia, Yemen, Sudan, Vietnam and Iraq.

This trend is going to weaken US influence over regions of the world which pose both terrorists and WMD proliferation threats to the US even as the US reliance on those regions for vital oil increases. The lack of Bush Administration criticism of the government of Vladimir Putin on everything from the decline in freedom of the press, human rights abuses, corruption, and the war in Chechnya is just one manifestation of the need for the US government to cater to countries that are major oil suppliers. This limits the ability of the US to pursue its national interests, most notably with regard to stopping the spread of Wahhabi Islam, terrorism, and WMD proliferation. See my post China Energy Consumption Growth Complicates Anti-Terrorist Efforts for a previous argument on this subject. There is a need for energy policy to be treated as national security policy first and foremost. As of yet the US government has not increased efforts to develop new energy technologies with a level of effort that is commensurate with that need.

The political competition for oil may become far more intense and prices may steeply rise even sooner if, as some experts have begun to speculate, world oil production may have already peaked.

"World production is flat now," says Kenneth Deffeyes, a Princeton University geology professor.

But that's a controversial view. Other pessimists talk about 2010; many analysts see no change until 2035.

There is an argument coming from many economists that since a world oil production peak has been forecasted for decades without ocurring that the harbingers of doom are wrong. But remember the lesson of the boy who cried wolf: the wolf eventually came. Past failures to accurately predict the point at which world oil production will peak have to be weighed against past successes in predicting peaks in production in some major producers. As the list of producers which have passed their peaks keeps getting longer (50 countries and counting) the question becomes just when will the remaining major producers reach their production peaks?

Some argue that the oil production peak is not happening right now but will happen within 10 years. See my previous FuturePundit post Will Sun Cooling And Oil Depletion Prevent Global Warming? for links to arguments in support of that view.

The estimates for production peaks depend on the accuracy of the oil reserve figures. Can the official oil reserve figures by various countries be trusted? Irish oil geologist Colin Campbell, a major proponent of the view that world oil production will peak in less than 10 years, argues some OPEC members have exaggerated the size of their oil reserves in order to get bigger OPEC oil production quotas.

Table 1A2 illustrates this flawed database. It shows that in 1985, Kuwait added 50% to its reported reserves, although nothing particular changed in the reservoir. It did so because OPEC quota was based in part on reserves: the higher the reserves, the higher the quota. That action, incidentally, greatly upset its neighbour Iraq and was one of the causes of the Gulf War. Then moving to Venezuela, in 1988 it doubled the size of its reserves, doing so by including the huge amounts of heavy oil that had been known for years, but which it now decided to include in the resource base for no particular reason. Its action then caused Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Iran and Iraq to retaliate with enormous, overnight increases in reported reserves to protect their OPEC quota. It is interesting to note that the Neutral Zone, which is owned equally by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, had two owners with no motive to change the numbers.

My take on this subject is that the price of oil does not include in it major costs that we pay in terms of pollution effects, defense spending, and home security and anti-terrorist spending. As the price of oil rises and demand for oil from other countries increases all of those costs will rise. The US ought to treat energy research as vital for national defense and our national interest. Regardless of when oil production will peak we would be better off from a national security standpoint and from an economic standpoint if we had technologies for producing other forms of energy for a price that is lower than what we pay for oil.

By Randall Parker    2004 February 06 03:18 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2003 November 06 Thursday
China Energy Consumption Growth Complicates Anti-Terrorist Efforts

China's energy consumption is growing rapidly and Chinese economic growth can be expected to raise total world demand and, therefore, world prices for oil for many years to come. This is bad news for US attempts to defend itself against Islamic terrorism and the spread of fundamentalist Islam.

Those who are skeptical about the statistics on the rate of growth of China's economy need look no further than rising Chinese energy consumption figures for a good hard measure of economic activity.

From 1989 to 1996 the installed capacity and electricity generation rose by 9.3 and 9.2 percent respectively. By the end of 2001, the installed capacity had risen from 57.12 million KWh in 1978 to 338.61 million KWh (including 2.1 million KWh nuclear power), and the electricity generation grow from 1978's 256.6 billion KWh to 1483.9 billion KWh (including 17.5 billion KWh nuclear power). Now both China's installed capacity and electricity generation have leapt to world second place.

One big mistake the Bush Administration is making in the battle against Islamic terrorists is that it has no real long term strategy that will have only long term pay-offs. The Islamic terrorist threat will not end in the next 5 or 10 years regardless of what strategies are pursued. A big advantage could be gained by the development of energy technologies to reduce the value of oil reserves in the Middle East and reduce the amount of money flowing to the Middle East. Energy technologies that would, once developed, be cheaper to use than current world market prices for oil would displace oil in uses all around the world and, as a consequence, lower world oil prices and lower the amount of money flowing to Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states. This would reduce the amount of money available to spread Wahhabi Islam, to operate madrassah schools, and generally to cause threats to us.

Nobel Prize winner Richard Smalley believes the United States ought to be spending $5 billion per year to develop technologies that will obsolesce fossil fuels. See the update at the bottom of this post for links to his Congressional testimony where he states that he believes our dependence on fossil fuels is a solvable problem. Put that $5 billion dollar amount in perspective. Congress has voted to spend $87.5 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan. We will probably spend even more than that in Iraq and Afghanistan in future years. Consider an even larger context. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, director of the Congressional Budget Office, provides a picture of expected future defense spending.

He said the defense budget, which stood at about $380 billion this year, excluding the emergency spending, could average $472 billion a year through 2009 and $533 billion a year between 2010 and 2022.

The US economy is over $10 trillion per year. The total cost of the 9/11 attack is in the ballpark of about $100 billion. Another larger attack could cost far more. Isn't it time we started to take some large steps toward developing technologies that will reduce world demand for oil as a way to reduce the amount of money available to the Islamists to make trouble for the rest of the world?

China replaced Japan as second largest oil consumer in 2002.

Brent oil prices averaged $ 25.19 a barrel in 2002, according to BP, which was up only slightly from 2001's average price of $ 24.77 a barrel. This price, however, was "well above" the post-1986 yearly average of $ 19.40 a barrel, BP reported. "Prices during 2002 ranged from a low of around $ 18 a barrel in mid-January to peak just before the end of the year at $ 32(/barrel)," the report said. Global oil demand, meanwhile, was "broadly flat," BP said, increasing 290,000 bpd to 75.7 mm bpd from 75.5 mm bpd. "All of the increase is attributable to China where oil consumption increased 5.8 % or 332,000 bpd," BP said.


China, meanwhile, accounted for 68.5 % of the increase in global primary energy consumption in 2002 and has become a "major energy consumer and importer," according to BP's report. "Consumption of coal, which accounts for 66 % of Chinese energy use, grew a massive 27.9 %. Oil consumption increased 5.8 %, or 332,000 bpd, accounting for all of the world's oil consumption growth in 2002," BP reported, adding, "China replaced Japan as the world's second largest oil consumer."


"Natural gas is the world's preferred non-transport fuel. Outside the former Soviet Union, gas consumption has grown 3.4 %/year over the past decade and its share of total energy consumption is now roughly equal to coal at 24 %," the report said.

How much money is spent buying oil? To use round numbers, 75 million barrels of oil per day times $25 per barrel is $1.875 billion dollars per day of money flowing to buy oil each day. For a whole year that is about $684 billion dollars spent buying oil. With the Middle East possessing about two thirds of the world's oil reserves and with demand and probably prices rising it seems reasonable to expect the amount of money flowing to the fundamentalist Islamic states of the Persian Gulf to rise substantially in coming years.

Keep in mind that in 2002 the economies of the United States and Europe were very weak. So the flat world oil consumption for 2002 is not representative of the long term trend which continues to be toward increasing world oil consumption.

The continued growth of the Chinese economic juggernaut promises to greatly increase the demand for oil. It is going to happen. The effect will be to increase the challenge we face from the Islamists. We need a response that will solve the problem. The Chinese dependence on oil also bodes poorly in another way with regard to our problems with Muslims: The Chinese, mindful of their own growing dependence on Middle Eastern oil, are going to become increasingly inclined to give the Arab oil states anything they want. Weapons? Weapons technology? The Chinese are going to be inclined to say yes to any requests coming from the Persian Gulf states. Our ability to convince the Chinese to refrain from proliferating dangerous technologies will consequently decline.

For a very detailed breakdown of world energy consumption and energy reserves see the BP Statistical Review of World Energy for 2002. (PDF format)

World consumption of primary energy increased by 2.6% in 2002, well ahead of the 10-year growth trend of 1.4% per annum. Reported growth in energy demand of almost 20% in China was behind much of this relative strength: energy consumption in the world, excluding China, grew by less than 1% during the year, reflecting a second year of below-trend economic growth.

Coal was the fastest-growing fuel in 2002 on the back of a huge 28% reported rise in Chinese consumption. World coal consumption increased by almost 7%, well ahead of the 10-year annual trend rate of less than 1%. Natural gas consumption recovered strongly to grow by 2.8% in 2002, while oil consumption was broadly flat for the second year running. Nuclear and hydroelectricity grew by 1.5% and 1.3% respectively.

World coal consumption increased by 6.9% in 2002. However, this was almost entirely a Chinese phenomenon: reported consumption in China rose by an extraordinary 27.9%. Excluding China, world coal consumption grew by just 0.6%, with strong growth of 3.7% in Asia (excluding China), and modest growth in North America of 1.5%, offset by declines of 1% in Europe and 7.8% in the FSU.

See the PDF on page 5 for a geographical view of the world's oil reserves. The Middle East contains about twice as much oil as the rest of the world put together. Rapid Chinese economic growth will ensure that the amount of money flowing to the Middle East to buy oil will increase substantially in future years.

US oil reserves represent less than 4 years of current US oil consumption.

According to the EIA, the United States has 21 billion barrels of proved oil reserves as of January 1, 2000. The U.S. uses about 6.6 billion barrels per year. That is only enough oil to last the U.S. about three and a half years without importing oil from other countries. 84% of the reserves are concentrated in four states. Texas has 25%, both onshore, and offshore. Alaska has 24%, California has 21%, and Louisiana has 14% onshore, and offshore. Since 1990, U.S. oil reserves have dropped about 20%. New oil discoveries made in 1999 were made almost entirely in the Gulf of Mexico, and Alaska. (321 million barrels). All other discoveries were extensions of existing oil fields, or new reservoirs discovered in old fields. (404 million barrels).

US oil reserves are not a solution for US domestic needs. Even if they were the rest of the world would still be sending lots of cash to the Middle East. The existing level and expected rise in world demand for oil is a national security problem for the United States. Energy policy should be treated as an element of national security policy and spending on energy research should be considered as just as important as spending on weapons development, troop deployments, or intelligence efforts.

Update: The situation with the world's oil market going forward is going to get even worse for another reason: world oil production will probably peak within 10 years. Natural gas production will most likely peak a few years later. Even if there are a lot of reserves remaining the problem is that there is a limit to how fast old fields can produce. The oil doesn't move fast enough underground that it can be pumped up rapidly even when a lot of oil is remaining. One big asset the United States has is a lot of great scientific minds in great research universities. It is time to play to our strengths and provide America's university researchers billions of dollars per year in basic research money to explore all manner of questions whose investigation can yield useful discoveries for developing new energy technologies. Do the basic research in the unversities and then let venture capitalists and corporations pay for the commercialization of the discoveries.

By Randall Parker    2003 November 06 10:53 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (26)
2003 September 24 Wednesday
Adam Garfinkle Challenges Convention Wisdom On Foreign Policy Mistakes

In an essay entitled "Foreign Policy Immaculately Conceived" in Policy Review Adam Garfinkle challenges a number of popular criticisms of US foreign policy in the post-World War II period.

The immaculate conception theory of U.S. foreign policy operates from three central premises. The first is that foreign policy decisions always involve one and only one major interest or principle at a time. The second is that it is always possible to know the direct and peripheral impact of crisis-driven decisions several months or years into the future. The third is that U.S. foreign policy decisions are always taken with all principals in agreement and are implemented down the line as those principals intend — in short, they are logically coherent.

Garfinkle delves into the US alliance with the Shah of Iran and argues that the US intervention and the Shah's own decisions as ruler of Iran yielded many benefits to Iran and to the US and that some of those benefits are surprisingly long-lasting.

More than that, though the immaculate conceptionists tend not to know it, the shah granted the vote to women in 1964. It was this act that first galvanized clerical opposition to the regime and was the catalyst for the first occasion upon which Ruhollah Khomeini went out and got himself arrested. We know how the story turned sad in 1978, but the success of the shah’s reforms went so deep in Iranian society that the rule of the Islamic Republic will, in the end, not stick. Perhaps the best illustration of this is that the mullahs have not dared suggest that the vote be taken away from women, though this is precisely what their theology would mandate. The clerical regime’s reticence on this score defines a significant limit, a social red line, that leaves open a dynamic in which the empowerment of women may well drive Iranian society toward pluralism, the flowering of liberal constitutionalism, and eventually democracy.

Even that is not quite all. Immaculate conception theorists hold that once the shah was restored, his repressive misrule made the Ayatollah Khomeini inevitable. Not only is the shah’s repression distorted and exaggerated in their telling of it, but it was the bungling of the Carter administration that allowed the clerics to seize power. Illustrating the difference between an ignoramus and a fool, some of that administration’s cabinet members not merely believed — they actually said it publicly — that Ayatollah Khomeini was a “saint” who would soon retire from politics. Worse, the administration actively dissuaded the Iranian military, via the infamous Huyser mission among other modalities, from preventing the mullahs from taking power. Supporting the shah was good policy. Failure to adjust when the shah’s touch slipped was unfortunate but not fatal. The mismanagement of the endgame was disastrous, but it was also entirely avoidable.

Garfinkle cites a number of examples of past US foreign policy positions which are criticised today by people who ignore the context in which those decisions were made. Many such criticisms show a fundamental ignorance of what was at stake during the Cold War that made those decisions so compelling at the time.

Read the essay in full. His views of the decisions taken by the Bush Sr Administration during and immediately after Gulf War I and the reasons for those decisions are particularly interesting.

Update: To illustrate Garfinkle's first point about how foreign policy critics will argue that the US is doing something in foreign affairs for just a single reason: There are many people who argue that the US overthrew Saddam Hussein just for oil. Then there are others who say the US did it to protect Israel. Then there are others who say the US did it just to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction. But in reality the US government weighs a long list of factors and typically has many reasons to take any one action and many other reasons not to do so. Among the arguments for overthrowing Saddam Hussein was the desire to stop the US from being blamed for the continued poverty in Iraq that was at least partially a product of the UN sanctions for which the US was seen as the main promoter and enforcer. Another reason was to see if democracy introduced in one Arab country might spur reforms in other Arab countries that made terrorism less likely. Still other motives can be listed that were certainly weighed by the Bush Administration.

Even when an interest is listed (e.g. oil) one still needs to think thru what exactly that means if we are to understand exactly is the US national interest. In the case of oil a rather simplistic argument has been made in some quarters that the US just wants to pump the oil and make a big profit off it. In this extreme view the assumption is that the US will make more from controlling the oil fields and producing and selling the oil than it costs to seize and hold the country that has the oil. As we can see from the recent Bush Administration budget request for rebuilding Iraq that argument is not credible.

While the most severe critics of US policy with regards to Middle Eastern oil are obviously wrong in their statement of American interests the US really does have a large national security interest in Middle Eastern oil and politics. But many defenders of the US government Middle Eastern policy tend to argue that oil does not serve as a motivation for US actions in the Middle East because they don't want to admit to any selfish interest on the part of the US in setting US policy toward the Middle East. These defenders of US policy are essentially trying to argue that the US has no interest in who controls the oil fields. But oil is obviously a very big factor in US decision-making and this denial is unconvincing and leads to conspiratorial theories about what motivates US policy. Yet the real motives in US policy are obvious. During the Cold War the US long sought to keep Middle Eastern oil fields out of the control of the USSR. The US has also sought to block the rise of a regional hegemon whether it was Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini or Iraq under Saddam. The main US interest in Middle Eastern oil is that no one power controls it or is in a position to prevent it from being developed and sold. That interest is shared by a great many other countries. But the bulk of them are willing to stay silent about it and let the US do the dirty work and to take the criticisms for interventions in pursuit of that interest.

While there were many motives for fighting both Gulf wars there was an obvious oil-related US motive in both cases: The first war sought to prevent Saddam from keeping Kuwait's oil and eventually threatening Saudi Arabia's oil fields. The second war allowed Iraq to safely (at least hopefully) come out from under UN sanctions and to have large amounts of money invested in the development of its oil fields. This is not to say that the second Gulf war was fought solely to increase Iraqi oil production. But that was certainly one of the many motives for it.

One unfortunate outcome of the debate about US foreign policy toward the Middle East is that interests are misrepesented and denied and therefore policy debates do not converge toward the best policy choices for dealing with the interests at stake. This is seen most clearly in the case of oil because American and world dependence on Middle Eastern oil combined with the conditions in the Middle East make energy policy an important US national security issue. The simplistic postures taken by too many debate participants ("it is all about oil" vs "no, it is all about stopping terrorism and WMD proliferation") prevent a proper consideration of what the US ought to do about energy as a national security problem. We spend a lot of money for military purposes and in foreign aid in part (though not solely - the US has many interests after all) due to that dependence on Middle Eastern oil. In my view the amount that we spend for national security due to our oil dependence is enough to fully justify the expenditure of tens of billions per year on basic research in a Manhattan Project effort to develop cost-competitive replacements for Middle Eastern oil.

By Randall Parker    2003 September 24 03:22 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 September 23 Tuesday
US Combat Troops Quit Saudi Arabia

US forces have quietly left Prince Sultan Air Base.

The drastically reduced American profile could simplify the government's position among Saudis who espouse Osama bin Laden's contention that the American military foothold was an affront to the kingdom's sovereignty. For years, the American presence not far from Islam's two holiest sites, at Mecca and Medina, has provided Al Qaeda with an important rallying cry.

The US Air Force has completed its shift of operations to Al Udeid Air Base which has been undergoing expansion in Qatar.The only remaining US soldiers are 500 advisors training Saudi National Guard.

The US kept forces in Saudi Arabia for too long after the first war was fought against Saddam to kick his forces out of Kuwait. But the logic for keeping them was to contain Saddam since he was left in power. Half measures require continued management of a problem. Now that Saddam is gone so is the rationale for the US troop presence in Saudi Arabia.

In part, Pentagon officials say, the shift is a logical outgrowth of the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq. Thirteen years after it began, the officials say, the American base's original Iraqi mission had been accomplished.

Critics can rightly claim that the US now has to intervene in Iraq in a way that creates even bigger effects than the effects created by the presence US forces in Saudi Arabia. But previous policy was not sustainable. The presence of US forces in the country which contains the two holiest cities in Islam presented an on-going propaganda tool for extremists to appeal to the Muslim masses. Iraq at least is less important to Sunni Islam.

By Randall Parker    2003 September 23 11:49 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2003 August 05 Tuesday
Students From China Caught Stealing Military Technology

Another valuable piece of military technology falls into Chinese hands.

Two Chinese students studying in the United States supplied China's military with American defense technology that allowed Beijing to produce a special metal used in sensors and weapons, according to a Pentagon report.

"This is a classic example of how the Chinese collect dual-use military technology," an FBI official said. "Students come here; they get jobs; they form companies."

The quote from the FBI official sounds a bit misleading. The text of the article gives the impression that the student studying at Iowa State University stole the data from a computer on campus that was in a laboratory run by the US Department of Energy.

While only a small portion of the 50,000 students from China studying in the US are spies that small number can cause enormous damage to US national security. Is it wise to let students from China to study in the US? Should there at least be restrictions on which majors they can study or which univerisities they can attend?

By Randall Parker    2003 August 05 02:51 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2003 July 30 Wednesday
Time To Hold China Responsible For North Korea

Kevin at Incestuous Amplification has linked to an article in the Weekly Standard entitled "Peking Duck" about the lack of help coming from China in dealing with North Korea. Kevin sums up an excellent commentary on the article by arguing we can not afford to take the time to slowly escalate.

How close to a tragedy must the situation approach before China is forced to act? Wouldn't it be more useful (and less dangerous) to convince the Chinese that an economic tragedy will befall them unless they "turn off the spigot" than it would be to toe the line with a North Korean nuclear tragedy? Simultaneous and escalating pressure on both NK and China is the only way to get both of them to take us seriously. With unknown quantities of plutonium likely being processed as we speak, the clock is ticking. We can't afford to to draw out the escalation over a matter of years unless our intelligence and interdictions are foolproof enough to guarantee that no nuclear material will escape. I don't think anyone in the CIA would be willing to give that guarantee.

I've argued previously that since China protects North Korea diplomatically, provides crucial aid for keeping the North Korean regime in power, and even allows North Korea to use Chinese airspace and airbases to trade weapons that the United States should hold China responsible for what North Korea does. China is essentially serving as a facilitator for the Pyongyang regime's actions. So how should we hold the Chinese responsible. I would suggest a US Presidential speech that has a section that runs as follows:

China saved the North Korean communists from defeat in the Korean War and tens of thousands of American soldiers were killed fighting Chinese forces. China supplies 40% of North Korea's food and 70% of its energy. Chinese diplomats stand ready to veto any UN Security Council resolution of sanctions against North Korea. China opens its airspace and airbases to transport aircraft carrying out weapons trade between North Korea and Middle Eastern nations. China has shown itself unwilling to help put a stop to North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Therefore it is the announced policy of the US government that North Korea will be considered from this day forward as a full client state of China and all North Korean actions will be treated as actions sanctioned and approved by the Chinese leadership in Beijing.

Let me be clear about what this means in practice. If China launched a nuclear attack on the United States or its allies the US would of course retaliate. But since China is the protector of its client regime in Pyongyang North Korea any nuclear attack carried out by the North Korean regime will be considered by the United States as an attack carried out by China itself. Any retaliation the US makes in response will be made as if the nuclear missiles launched from Chinese soil.

Also, if North Korea sells nuclear arms on the international black market to a group or nation that in turn uses those weapons against the US or its allies any nuclear attack which uses nuclear weapons built by North Korea will be viewed by the US government as an attack by the Chinese government on the US or its allies. I serve fair notice on the Chinese leadership that China will not be allowed to dodge its responsibility for its role in making the North Korean nuclear program possible. If the leadership of China wishes to avoid American retaliation for a future nuclear attack launched by North Korea or by purchasers of North Korean nuclear weapons then the US stands ready to cooperate with China to take any measures necessary - including the overthrow of the barbaric Pyongyang regime of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il - to put a permanent end to the North Korean nuclear weapons program.

Those who have power should be held responsible for their exercise of that power. What is missing in the debate about North Korea's nuclear program is a clear assigning of responsibility to those who make North Korean nuclear weapons development possible.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 30 12:33 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2003 July 29 Tuesday
Threat To Royal Family Causes Saudi Crackdown On Terrorists

It speaks volumes that it took a direct threat to the house of Saud to get the Saudis to go after terrorists.

"The change is that since May there is a realisation that there is a threat to the house of Saud and to the kingdom's security -- that this no longer about the Western presence in Saudi Arabia," one Saudi-based Western diplomat said.

"They (Saudi authorities) are very serious about the crackdown now because this is seen as a challenge to the Saudi government itself," Saudi analyst Jamal Khashoggi said.

So when only foreigners were getting killed then no big deal. But they are coming after the house of Saud? Well, that's different. Time to go after the terrorists.

Suddenly the Saudis are cracking down in a big way.

Almost weekly raids since militants staged bombing attacks in the capital in mid-May have revealed an extensive network of alleged terrorist cells and weapons caches across Saudi Arabia.

How many years do you suppose those terrorist cells have been operating?

200 arrests of terrorist suspects in Saudi Arabia in the last 2 months.

The arrests of more than 200 al-Qaida suspects over the last two months-- and revelations that al-Qaida may have had training facilities in Saudi Arabia-- came after attempts by Saudi officials to play down the presence of the terror network in the kingdom.

We are lucky that the Saudi terrorists started targetting their own government. The US government has been notably unsuccessful in its attempts to get the Saudis to make a big effort against the Saudi terrorists.

The recently released Congressional report on 9/11 draws attention to the fact that Saudi national Omar al-Bayoumi was getting a lot of money from Saudi Arabia and giving it to two of the 9/11 hijackers.

Al-Bayoumi struck up a conversation with al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar after he heard them speaking Arabic and he invited them to move to San Diego. Al-Bayoumi returned to San Diego after leaving the restaurant and al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar arrived in San Diego shortly thereafter.

According to several FBI agents, the meeting at the restaurant may not have been accidental. In fact, the FBI's written response to the joint inquiry refers to the restaurant encounter as a "somewhat suspicious meeting with the hijackers." According to another person the FBI interviewed after Sept. 11, al-Bayoumi said before his trip that he was going to Los Angeles to pick up visitors

When al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar moved to San Diego, al-Bayoumi gave them considerable assistance. ...

Since Sept 11, the FBI has learned that al-Bayoumi has connections to terrorist elements. He has been tied to an man abroad who has connections to al-Qaida. . . .

Despite the fact that he was a student, al-Bayoumi had access to seemingly unlimited funding from Saudi Arabia. For example, an FBI source identified al-Bayoumi as the person who delivered $400,000 from Saudi Arabia for the Kurdish mosque in San Diego. One of the FBI's best sources in San Diego informed the FBI that he thought that al-Bayoumi must be an intelligence officer for Saudi Arabia or another foreign power.


It is easy to find fault in US policy toward Saudi Arabia. What is not as easy is to come up with a better set of policies. Some people argue that we should invade and overthrow the Saudi government. Well, we have a developing threat from North Korea and from Iran with their nuclear weapons programs. A single nuclear bomb in the hands of terrorists could kill millions. We also have the occupation of Iraq which is costing us dead American soldiers just about every day while burning about $1 billion per week and tying down half of the deployable troops in the US Army. We can't even sustain that level of commitment indefinitely with the current size of the Army. On top of all that we are now faced with the demands of idealistic do-gooders that we should invade (not that they use that term) Liberia for humanitarian reasons. Who wants to pay for a much larger military to deal with all these demands? Who wants to pay with American lives?

So what to do about Saudi Arabia? First of all, the US ought to make it harder for Saudis to travel to the US. As long as Saudi nationals are orders of magnitude more likely to be terrorists than, say, Norwegians or Japanese or Paraguayans why shouldn't we treat them differently? Granted, most are not terrorists. But we can't afford the risk posed by the subset that are and we can't with any accuracy tell which are and which are not.

Another thing we ought to do is to simply say that Wahhabi Islamic clerics are not welcome in the US. Their version of Islam is a threat to US security. We should admit this right out loud and behave accordingly.

To reduce the influence that the Saudis have in the US government we ought to make it a rule that State Department, Defense Department, CIA, and FBI employees can not work for Saudi Arabia or Saudi lobbyists for some number of years (5? 10?) after leaving government.

Retired CIA officer Robert Baer, author of the just-released book Sleeping With the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude, tells The Atlantic Monthly that he sees as the cause of the government's unwillingness to be more realistic about Saudi Arabia.

And what is the answer to "Why don't we look inside?"

Dependence. Dependence on cheap oil. It's a dependence that's so strong that it's almost like a narcotic. You don't question the pusher. So many of my colleagues who worked in Saudi Arabia left the CIA and went to work for the Saudis. How can they spend thirty years in the CIA, walk out the door, and have the same remarks I do if they are working for the place? This is an uneasy relationship, because even the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Prince Bandar bin Sultan, has admitted that he holds out jobs in front of bureaucrats, knowing that one day they can work for the Saudis or work for defense companies that work inside Saudi Arabia. These companies don't want to question Saudi Arabia. You're not going to get Boeing or any of these other companies, like the Carlyle Group, to do independent studies saying, "Oh, by the way, our source of cheap oil is wobbly."

Katherine McIntire Peters has written a review of Sleeping With the Devil.

It is also refreshingly devoid of partisanship; there are plenty of villains in the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton Administrations. Baer describes his unwitting brush with what would turn out to be the Iran-Contra scandal; his anger and frustration over the U.S. abandonment of Iraqi opposition forces at a critical time; and his disgust about the long shadow cast by Big Oil over the Clinton Administration.

Baer has a previous book on terrorism and his career in the CIA: See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism.

As part of our longer run strategy we ought to fund a large research effort aimed at kicking our addiction to oil.

Update: So where is al-Bayoumi? Safely in Saudi Arabia (slightly different spelling).

Meanwhile, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz ruled out Tuesday the possible extradition of al-Bayumi.

"We have never handed over a Saudi to a state or foreign party and we will never do it," Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted Prince Nayef as telling Al-Hayat newspaper.

Any Saudi who commits a crime in another country and manages to escape back to Saudi Arabia is beyond the law of other jurisdictions.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 29 12:02 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2003 July 13 Sunday
Japan, China Competing For Russian Oil

Peter Baker has a great article in The Washington Post about the competition between Japan and China over whether an oil pipeline will be built from Russia into China or to the Russian port of Nakhodka to be loaded on tankers to ship to Japan.

The Japanese, said one person involved on the Russian side, are playing on Russia's historical fears of China, with which it shares a long border. The Japanese, "in order to persuade the Russians, play a geopolitical game. They say, 'Do you want to be gobbled up by the Chinese?' And of course we don't. We're white people."

Issei Nomura, Japan's ambassador to Moscow, disputed such characterizations. "Don't put it that it's a war between Japan and China over Russian oil," he said. "This is not the case." Yet in an interview he also raised the issue of Russia's dwindling population in the Far East just north of China, touching on Moscow's historic fear of Chinese encroachment. "It's a serious demographic problem," Nomura said.

No, no, we are not playing on your demographic fears of of your shrinking Far Eastern population next to the huge growing Chinese population that increasingly comes up to the Far Eastern part of Russia to trade and gain influence and who eventually might try to seize Siberia. No, we are not reminding you Russians that you face a grave long term threat to your Siberian holdings. Make no mistake that we are not going to bring up your demographic problems! Count on us not to ever say that China is a threat.

Chinese demand for oil will more than triple by 2020. The proposed pipeline would only supply about a third of their current demand. Note that the competition here is between Japan and China. What is notably missing? The US. The United States ought to wake up and realize that rising world demand is going to raise prices and increase the amount of money flowing to Muslim nations that embrace a hostile religious ideology.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 13 09:23 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 July 09 Wednesday
Rand Think Tank On 10 Big Underappreciated Issues

The Atlantic Monthly Magazine has an article written by Rand Corporation think tank analysts on 10 developments in political and military affairs that do not have the attention they deserve. A page from Rand's site also lists the 10 items with brief summaries and the titles of each of the Rand researchers. Here are the items with my own brief comments.

  • The West Bank Wall. The wall being constructed to separate Israel from the West Bank Palestinians is a great idea and should have been done years ago. Two peoples so deeply divided can not share sovereignty over the West Bank. The wall will be a de facto border which will at the very least indicate that anything on the Palestinian side will not be taken from the Palestinians to give to settlers. Though some Palestinians are losing access to their land as a result of the wall being built it will be a net plus overall. A physical barrier will make terrorist atacks much harder to do.
  • A Shrinking Russia. This is a problem. But a much bigger problem is The Shrinking West. The most industrialized countries are not reproducing. Also, the most skilled, educated, and responsible people have, on average, fewer children (if you don't believe me see, for instance, the Australian twins study of a couple of years back that found a negative correlation between educational attainment and child-bearing).
  • The Hindu-Muslim Divide. Rand analyst Rollie Lal says (emphasis added) "This may force Indian Muslims—traditionally moderate and supportive of the secular state, even on the sensitive matter of Kashmir—to shift their allegiance from the state to some sort of larger international Islamic movement, as many Muslims have done in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore." Yes, well how about the radicalization of Muslims in Indonesia? That seems equally a problem to what is going on in India because Musliims are the overwhelming majority in Indonesia.
  • AIDS and African Armies. Kevin A. O'Brien makes the argument that AIDS will so weaken African armies that they will be less able to keep the peace. While he says that weakening African militaries will be a net harm to stability it is not clear that this is the case. Will rebel militias not be weakened as much because they have younger members? Will the death of older officers put less peaceful younger officers in charge? He could have fleshed out this argument better.
  • The Tehran-New Delhi Axis. The fear here is that India could sell Iran weapons and weapons technology that would make Iran more of a problem for the United States. Seems like a justified fear.
  • Anti-Satellite Attack. Karl P. Mueller & Elwyn D. Harris say "Within the next five years not only Russia and China but also Pakistan, North Korea, and even Iran may acquire the ability to carry out a nuclear attack against satellites." GPS satellites are fortunately too high up to be affected. This is not an attack that has much short-term military value since most of the damage would occur over weeks and months of a resulting enhanced exposure to radiation. But it would be economically disruptive. From a communications standpoint the danger of this kind of attack will probably diminish as an increasing percentage of communications goes by fiber optic cables. But weather and other remote sensing applications are best done from space.
  • Defense Industry Goliaths. Is this really a big concern? We'd have more defense contractors if we spent more on weapons acquisitions. The big consolidation from the late 1980s onward was driven by shrinking defense budgets. As for there being few contractors who can design a fighter airplane: well, the Pentagon insists on very expensive designs and therefore it can't afford to pay for many competing designs. The consolidation in the defense industry is more a symptom of problems with the DOD and that is where analysts should focus their efforts.
  • The Aircraft Carrier Shortage. Yes, 12 carriers are not enough. But then 10 US Army divisions are not enough and yet many liberals who oppose increased defense spending are promoting US intervention in Liberia. If the US is going to be global policeman we are going to have to spend more on defense. The $6 billion the Rand folks quote as the cost to build a carrier is even less than what I've read the new ones will cost: $9-10 billion each. That is a lot of money. For that money we could instead spend to develop nanotechnology for solar photovoltaics, fuel cells, and assorted other technologies that could end our reliance on oil. That'd do far more for our security. The Rand folks need to do more out-of-the-box thinking.
  • The Indo-Pakistani Indus Water Fight. Never heard of this dispute before. Not surprising though. As the population of the world increases the price of water will rise and the political conflicts over water will intensify. Note that eventually nanotech advances will allow far cheaper filtration of water. Such advances would reduce the size of the problem but not eliminate it.
  • Urban Warfare. Rand folks want money spent on developing technologies for fighting in urban environments. Good idea. We should rush thru technologies that would be useful for reducing casualties of occupation forces in Iraq. Soldiers should have devices for looking over walls and around corners. Remote-controlled mini-cars with cameras could be developed fairly rapidly. Lots of other sensor systems could be built quickly and tried out with the occupation forces in Iraq. The Iraq occupation ought to be treated as a real-life lab test environment and many new designs ought to be developed and tried out quickly there.

How about items that should have been on Rand's list? Here are some of mine (not a complete list - I welcome other suggestions):

  • The World's Growing Dependence On Oil. As I just argued we ought to be making a huge effort to develop replacements for fossil fuels. This is a technical problem that can be solved. We ought to solve it sooner rather than later. The benefits (economic, environmental, security) of developing replacements for oil would be enormous.
  • Elite Unwillingness To Label Islam As An Ideology. You can't effectively fight an opponent if you refuse to acknowledge the nature of the opponent. It was acceptable in the Cold War to villify communism as a dangerous ideology. We lack similar clarity in dealing with Islam. If our leaders had more guts and wisdom they'd stop letting Muslims immigrate to the West and stop having them come here to school to learn advanced physics and other knowledge useful for WMD design. Our leaders also ought to work harder to cut off the financial flows that sustain the spread of Wahhabism.
  • The Death Of The West. Too few babies, especially among those most educated. Demography matters. The financial consequences of large numbers of retirees with high health care and other costs will hit the West hard. That the most free, democratic, and prosperous societies are going to fade for demographic reasons does not bode well for the future.
  • The Enormous Size Of The US Trade Deficit. It is over 5% of GDP. This can not be sustained. The low national savings rate is a real problem as well. China's fix of its currency against the US dollar is making this worse. We face a potentially dangerous period ahead if, as a result of this trend, we eventually see a large scale abandonment of the US dollar as the main trade currency. The amount of dollars held outside of the US is enormous and if they all started coming home the US would experience severe inflation.
  • The Greater Ease Of Making Weapons Of Mass Destruction. Technological advances will make it increasingly easy for smaller nations and non-governmental groups to build nuclear bombs and bioweapons.

We need to tackle the big problems that we are not trying very hard to tackle now. We especially ought to put more effort into tackling solvable problems whose solutions would provide large benefits. I don't know how to get smart women to put child-bearing ahead of the next promotion at work (any ideas?). Also, what to do about the Indo-Pakistani conflict is beyond me. But problems that would yield to technological solutions which would deliver enormous benefits are problems which we ought to try hard to solve. Our dependence on oil strikes me as the biggest problem that A) can be solved and B) whose solutions would provide huge benefits.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 09 01:21 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2003 July 08 Tuesday
Intervention In Liberia Linked To Oil Dependency

Writing for The National Review James H. Robbins makes an argument for intervention in Liberia.

A stable, democratic, U.S.-leaning Liberia could serve as an important forward base to defend U.S. interests and promote regional stability. Liberia would be the Western counterpart of the expanding U.S. base in Djibouti, established to block terrorist escape routes from the Middle East into East Africa. Liberia is also located along the shipping lanes for energy resources coming from Nigeria (already a major oil supplier to the U.S.), and potential untapped future energy supplies from Sao Tome and Principe.

Note the assumptions here. He assumes it is within the power of the United States to create stable democracy in Liberia. Is that even possible? Most likely Liberia could be made to have a democracy under the guidance of an essentially benevolent sustained US military occupation. Defenders would say it was not colonialism. Certainly it would not be done to exploit the locals and the locals would be given a great deal of autonomy from the occupation forces. But it would be a form of colonial rule, albeit as a newer and more politically correct neocolonialism which the European Left might even look upon favorably (and then again, maybe not).

That British flagship of politically correct Leftist thought, The Guardian, has an article about US intervention in Liberia that emphasises the oil supply protection rationale for intervention in Liberia.

At a meeting organised last month by the Corporate Council on Africa, a senior CIA official, David Gordon, predicted that over the next decade African oil would be potentially more important to the US than Russia or the Caucasus. According to other participants at the meeting, he went on to warn however that over the following decade the oil industry ran the risk of imploding as a result of the region's inherent instability, unless the US did more to prop it up.

The world's dependence on oil is funding the spread of militant Islam, funding terrorism, and causing the United States to spend a lot of money and to deploy soldiers to far-flung locations in the world. Under the circumstances many of those deployments and expenditures of cash may even be fully necessary. But keep in mind that as the US extends its military presence to more places and ups its level of involvement in those places the costs for keeping the oil flowing are rising for the American taxpayer even while the spread of Islam and the funding of terrorism are still increasing the costs and risks to the US and other countries in other ways. While current force deployments may be necessary for short to medium term goals it is not clear that current strategy is adequate. At the same time current US strategy is expensive and risky.

Saudi money is promoting the spread of Wahhabi Islam in Indonesia. (NY Times requires free registration)

Until recently, Indonesia has been famously relaxed about its religion. But slowly Indonesians are becoming more devout and in the battle for the soul of Islam here the Saudis are playing an important though stealthy role, Indonesian scholars say.

The Saudi money has come in two forms, Indonesian and Western officials said: above-board funds for religious and educational purposes, and quietly disbursed funds for militant Islamic groups. The Saudi money has had a profound effect on extremist groups, allowing some to keep going and inspiring others to start recruiting, the officials said.

Well this is bad. If Islam is just another peaceful religion (okay, stop laughing) then why shouldn't the Saudis be free to spread their version of it? After all, they occupy the lands where it originated. Who are we (can't be getting judgemental about the beliefs of other cultures, to do that would be intolerant and un-P.C.) to judge the Wahhabis and say their interpretation of Islam is wrong? After all, the Koran does have a number of verses that support the rather dim view that Wahhabis take of non-believers.

The problem that the US faces in battling with Islam as an ideology is that no how no way are the majority of government leaders and intellectual elites going to say that Islam itself is the enemy. Battle against Islam at the level at which communism was battled (e.g. keeping communists from coming to the country, teaching, getting sensitive jobs) just isn't in the cards. Yet the US is about to build up its presence in West Africa in part because we want to get more of our oil from non-Middle Eastern places. And, again, that might even be a wise thing to do in the short term. But what is our long term strategy?

In my view one essential element of a long term strategy that would attempt to deal with the underlying problem posed by militant Islam would be to eliminate the need to use oil as an energy source by developing other energy sources that will turn out to be cheaper in the long run. If we can succeed in doing this we will eventually deprive the Saudis and other Muslim states of the money that now goes to spreading Islamic religious and ideological beliefs (an excellent argument can be made that Islam is inherently an ideology btw). What are our alternatives to doing that? The Saudis are not going to change all that much for the better. We could invade and split the Eastern Saudi oil fields off into a new country populated by the Shias who live in that area. That'd at least take those revenues away from the Wahhabis. But there is little support for that idea - in large part because there is a reluctance to make any move that seems like a more direct attack on any part of Islam. As long as we treat religions as inherently purer than secular ideologies I see little hope for military means to defund the spread of Islam.

A better approach would be to develop technologies that would eventually lead us to methods of producing energy that would be cheaper than oil. However, at this time we just are not trying that hard to develop replacements for fossil fuels even though we are expending hundreds of billions on the military. Plus, we are spending nearly $100 billion a year to import oil and that amount is going to increase as demand rises.

When I compare the amount of money spent on solar energy research (it is in the few tens of millions for effective basic research - not to be confused with dumb tax write-offs for installing current generation solar equipment and other boondoggles) with the money that is spent on the military and on oil imports it makes no sense to me. We face an ideological foe that may gain nuclear weapons deliverable by terrorists into our cities. We are spending hundreds of billions to try to manage the problem. And yet we are not willing to attack the roots of the problem.

The only argument that I can see that could be made against energy replacement research as an element of grand strategy against radical Islam is that there may simply not be technological solutions that will produce cheaper energy. That seems unreasonable to me. Such an argument strikes me as analogous to someone saying before Edison that we'll never discover a cheap long-lasting material that can glow in response to electricity passing thru it. We already know that, for instance, photons can cause electrons to flow in some forms of photovoltaic materials. Also, there are promising approaches for lowering the cost of photovoltaics by orders of magnitude using thin films, precisely spaced fullerene bucky balls, and other methods. Solutions can be found. We just have to find them. Our national security would be enhanced, our costs of defense would be lowered, and our import costs would be lowered if we found these solutions sooner rather than later.

Update: 1996 winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of the buckminsterfullerene (aka fullerene or ''buckyball") Dr. Richard Smalley. testifying before the US House Of Representatives Subcommittee On Energy Committee On Science says technological solutions to our energy problems are there waiting to be discovered.

I will get right to the point. Energy is the single most important problem facing humanity today. We must find an alternative to oil. We need to somehow provide clean, abundant, low-cost energy throughout the world to the six billion people that live on the planet today and the ten-plus billion that are expected by the middle of this century. As cheaper, cleaner, more universally available this new energy technology is, the better we will be able to avoid the human suffering and the major upheavals of war and terrorism.

Even though the problem of energy has vast political, economic, and social aspects that have been at the root of most wars and much of the political strife for the last century, it is only a technical problem. There will be a technical solution; we just need to find it.


Nature has already given us one such reactor and provided the necessary distance and shielding. It is our sun. There is plenty of energy from this natural fusion reactor to provide all our energy needs for centuries to come. We just don't know how to harvest it, store it, to transport it, and to use it in the amounts we need.

I believe the DOE Office of Science can find answers to how to do this. The technology that will do what we need does not yet exist. It will come from discoveries in basic science and particularly from nanotechnology. The biggest breakthrough will come in some, perhaps, small lab in some surprising way, perhaps made by some brilliant, young black woman who is currently not even out of high school. It will come from a garden of science, cultivated by DOE's Office of Science.


We need to find that new energy technology, and do it quickly.

I believe the U.S. should launch a 1B$/yr program within the Office of Science to find this answer, and plan to ramp this up to over $10B in 5 years. The new energy program must be big enough to inspire and capture the imagination of our nation's youth, get them to choose a career in science because of their idealism, and their sense of mission. And the program must be bold enough to actually make the necessary scientific breakthroughs happen.

Smalley is talking about an effort that is in a ballpark in terms of money that would still only amount to a few percent of what the US spends on the military. The total amount of money spent would be far less than the cost for the invasion of Iraq. Why not try it?

By Randall Parker    2003 July 08 04:09 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2003 July 03 Thursday
Lawrence Kaplan Analyses Bush Policy On North Korea

Lawrence F. Kaplan has an article on TNR about the Bushie Pyongyang policy entitled Split Personality.

Bolton, whose hawkish foreign policy views routinely put him at odds with his State colleagues, has never had much use for the blandishments America's diplomatic corps favors in its dealings with North Korea. In response to the latest round of provocations from Pyongyang, which included an announcement that it possesses a nuclear weapon, Bolton--along with Condoleezza Rice, National Security Council counterproliferation point man Robert Joseph, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney--has devised a new policy toward the Stalinist state. The Bolton strategy, as Koreawatchers have dubbed it, calls for the selective interdiction of ships from the North carrying drugs, missiles, and weapons technology. These illicit exports, bound for the likes of Yemen and Pakistan, net Pyongyang roughly $1 billion per year, almost twice the amount of its legitimate exports. Administration officials claim the strategy's goals are fairly straightforward: "strangulation" followed by "regime change." Hence, its supporters see no pressing need for negotiations with the North.

Part of that trade in weapons (in drugs too?) takes place via airplanes that travel from North Korea to the Middle East with stops at airfields in China. Interdiction of ships alone will not stop all of it. Plus, some might be getting smuggled into China and out into the world via Chinese ports and ships. China has had plenty of time to reconsider their policy toward North Korea and cut off these avenues of export for the North Koreans. Well, so far it looks like the Chinese leaders are going to continue to support the Pyongyang regime. So how much of the $1 billion in trade can be stopped by the US and its allies? I'd like to know whether the Bush Administration has any internal estimates on that score and what those estimates are.

To put that $1 billion dollar figure for arms and drug trade revenues in perspective, the CIA thinks the North Korean economy is about $22 billion per year total. So even if all the North Korean drugs and arms trade could be cut (which seems highly doubtful) the loss would amount to less than 5% of their total economy. Still, there would be multiplier effects if that happened because the North Koreans use some of currency generated by those exports to buy inputs (e.g. oil, metals, electronics, etc) that are essential for making some parts of their economy operate.

But then there is the question of just what percentage of the essential external inputs to the North Korean economy are actually being paid for by the North Korean regime. Some of those inputs are being paid for by the Chinese foreign aid budget for North Korea. Some might be coming as aid paid for by the South Korean government. So we can't stop all North Korean exports and they do not have to pay for all their essential inputs anyhow.

While Kaplan thinks it unlikely that partial sanctions will bring down the regime he sees the Bush Administration policy toward North Korea as being more a case of a box half full than half empty (not that he uses that phrase) and his article is written in a fairly optimistic tone. He thinks the Bush Administration informal partial sanctions policy is an improvement and does increase pressure on the regime. Still, when he comes down to the end of his analysis he still concludes that North Korea will get nuclear weapons before partial sanctions cause enough damage to the regime to bring it down. Well, hey, I reach the same conclusion and that is precisely why the box looks half empty to me.

His analysis is worth a read if you are interested in following the twists and turns of US policy toward North Korea and the thinking of various factions in and outside of the Administration. He's collected some good on and off the record quotes from a variety of people. But given that he agrees current policy is probably not sufficient to prevent North Korea from building a bunch of nuclear weapons. Given that North Korea's possession of a bunch of nuclear weapons is, to put it mildly, not a problem whose many ramifications (e.g. a nuclear blast radius extending out from perhaps Long Beach harbor or San Diego harbor) we want to deal with I am disappointed that Kaplan did not talk about additional policy options besides sanctions and negotiations.

The mainstream public policy debate in the US about North Korea's nuclear program continues to be marked by a distinct lack of imaginative and creative thinking. One can hope that more clever and subtle discussions of a much wider range of policy options is happening secretly in Dick Cheney's office or in Langley or the Pentagon. But I read a lot on North Korea and I do not see any visible signs that this is the case. In hopes of enriching the public debate about North Korea let me briefly repeat once again some suggestions for covert operations aimed at North Korea:

  • The US should launch a massive effort to get books and radios into North Korea to break the North Korean regime information monopoly over its own people. Ships and submarines could be used to release sealed packages that could then float with prevailing currents onto North Korean beaches.
  • North Korean illegal aliens in China could be reached with materials to read and with financial aid. Some of those reached will eventually return to North Korea with a lot more knowledge about the outside world and with political and economic ideas that are now unknown to them. The presence of North Koreans in China (and in Russia for that matter) should be treated as an opportunity to reach people who are much more difficult to reach in North Korea.
  • Border guards could be offered bribes to let in books and radios.
  • The CIA and cooperating friendly intelligence services should organize an effort to reach all North Koreans who travel outside of the country with official permission. Attempts should be made to get information and little gifts into their hands. The goals should be to try to corrupt them and to change their thinking. Books and radios could be left in hotel rooms and offices where they stay, in North Korean ships that dock in ports of other nations, and even in luggage of travelling North Koreans.

Basically, I'm arguing for a massive set of covert operations to reach North Koreans with information and to corrupt and compromise them. Yes, there would be risks for CIA agents and for agents of allied intelligence services trying to operate in China, Russia, and other countries around the world. There'd be risks for locals who were hired by intelligence agents as well. But some of the operations could be run from friendly countries. Plus, some could be run as naval operations with submerged subs releasing materials to float to the surface and then toward North Korean beaches. See the comments section of my previous post North Korean Leaders: Let Them Eat Sneakers for additional ideas for covert operations against the North Korean regime.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 03 12:36 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 June 27 Friday
Saudi Arabia Suspends 1000 Clerics To Retrain In Moderation

The Saudi Arabian government is sending some of their clerics for training in more moderate and tolerant ways of thinking.

Three prominent clerics who preached intolerance were arrested, hundreds have been removed from their positions, and more than 1,000 have been suspended, Al-Jubeir said.

In a bold move by Saudi standards the Saudi princess are going to get some of their clerics to say that the 9/11 attacks were a bad thing.

Abdul-Rahman al-Matroudi, deputy minister at Saudi Arabia's Religious Affairs ministry, said clerics would be instructed to tell worshippers the September 11, 2001, attacks -- which was believed to be carried out mainly by Saudi hijackers -- violated Islamic teachings.

Gee whiz, what a radical step for the Saudis to take almost 2 years after a mostly Saudi group of terrorists killed a few thousand Americans.

There are 80,000 Muslim clerics (my guess is that they do not allow any other religions to have clerics inside their borders) in Saudi Arabia distributed across 50,000 mosques.

"They have been told what happened on September 11 and (attacks) in other places are against Islam and they have to tell the people that this is the stand which Muslims should take," Matroudi said.

Saudi Arabia has more than 50,000 mosques, each with a prayer leader or preacher.

The Saudis would like us to believe that this latest move is not in response to terrorist attacks or American pressure.

Despite the fact that the Saudi governmental official who announced this step stressed it was not linked to the American pressures on the Kingdom, nor the explosions which targeted houses complexes in Riyadh, nor clashes in Mecca, however, stopping those preachers and advocates from work can be listed in the context of several stances announced towards controlling extremism and monitoring the flow of assets and talks on amending certain educational curricula.

Does this latest move mean anything? These clerics are not going to change their minds as a result of some quick retraining. Their attitudes took years to shape and the Koran has plenty of verses in it that they can cite in justification for their hostility toward non-Muslims. Also, only a small portion of the Saudi clerics are going for retraining and yet surely many more clerics and, importantly, members of the broader Saudi population share their opinions. One indicator to watch is whether the other clerics stop teaching ideas that encourage hostile actions toward non-believers.

In the long run, what is more telling is whether other clerics will tone down their rhetoric.

'We have to wait and see whether it will change the behaviour of the other clerics,' said Mr Ahmad Lutfi, a Middle East expert at the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS).

If the Saudi ruling princes find the will to implement reforms we still do not know whether they have the capability to reign in the Wahhabi mullahs and purge the most radical members of the elite from power. But suppose all that could be done. Overnight miracles are just not in the cards. Even if the mullahs stopped preaching hostile messages and the Saudi school textbooks and other aspects of their cirriculums were changed to take out the messages that help encourage hostility to the West we'd still have to contend with the influence of previous generations on new generations as well as the influence of what is in the Koran itself. We are also still going to have to deal with the effects of generations of Saudis who have already been raised to believe things that make them fertile recruiting ground. Also, the biggest influences on new generations are the parents who are the members of existing generations whose attitudes have already been shaped.

In response to previous attacks the Saudis have made token gestures to change their religious and political culture and to crack down on the most extreme elements of their society. Many commentators are understandably skeptical that current Saudi government reform noises will accomplish anything that is more than skin-deep.

Far from being a transformative event, the Riyadh bombings elicited the standard Saudi response to such unpleasant developments. Every few months, the Saudis announce new restrictions on charities or launch another PR campaign in the United States--but they change their behavior only in response to insistent demands from outside.

There are reasons to think that the Saudis will do more this time around than they did in response to the Khobar Towers bombing and other terrorist activity in the past. They realize that the US government is quite unhappy with them and now sees a large number of Saudi nationals as a long-term threat to US security. They also realize that the terrorists are more likely to strike in Saudi Arabia as long as the US is making it much harder for terrorists to get into the US. At the same time, the US conquest of Iraq puts the US in a position of having less need for Saudi Arabia and hence strengthens the US government's ability to apply pressure on the Saudis to reform. Increasing Iraqi oil production will gradually further strengthen the US ability to pressure the Saudis.

In the longer run the vulnerability of the Saudis to US pressure will depend in part on the size of Iraqi oil reserves. Current known Iraqi oil reserves are less than half of official Saudi reserves (though there is not enough transparency in published Saudi estimates to know how accurate they are). But Iraq is less well explored and may turn out to have more oil than Saudi Arabia.

Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world with some 112 billion barrels of proven reserves after Saudi Arabia’s 259 billion barrels. But Iraq has yet to be fully explored and some studies place oil reserve figures closer to 432 billion barrels.

Another factor is the production of oil from the Alberta Canada oil sand reserves.

Alberta's oil sands are a vast resource for Canada and North America, with an estimated 2.5 trillion barrels of bitumen in the ground, of which 315 billion barrels is recoverable with current technology and economic conditions.

One problem with the Albertan reserves is that their production cost is several times that of Saudi Arabia or Iraq. Iraq's oil is so accessible that it costs only about $1/barrel on average to drill whereas Saudi reserves cost about $2.50/barrel. But Alberta oil sands now cost $12 per barrel for mining, drilling, and processing costs to convert into a useful barrel of oil.

Undaunted, energy companies have ploughed billions of dollars into bringing down the cost of producing oil from tar sands. This has dropped from about $30 a barrel three decades ago to less than $12 a barrel at the latest facility, which was officially opened by Royal Dutch/Shell and its partners on June 19th, and joins plants run by Suncor and Syncrude, two Canadian firms whose businesses are built around the tar sands. An article in Oil & Gas Journal declared recently that some 180 billion barrels of oil trapped in those tar sands should now be considered economically viable, and so classified as “conventional” oil.

The problem is that the higher production cost for Alberta oil includes a large up-front capital investment cost. The risk that oil prices could plummet serves as a disincentive against making much larger capital investments to build up oil production of the Alberta oil sands. Therefore while Saudi Arabia currently makes 8 million barrels of oil per day only 200,000 barrels per day are made from the Alberta tar oil sands. While there are plans to double Alberta oil sands production it seems unlikely that Alberta production will rise to be as high as that in some of the Middle Eastern states. If efforts were made to produce a great deal of oil from oil sands the Saudis and other Middle Eastern producers might briefly boost production far enough to drive down world oil prices enough to scare off potential investors. While we can probably expect some increase in Alberta production unless production costs can be brought down much further it does not seem likely that oil sands will play a major role in cutting the amount of money flowing into hostile Muslim societies, feeding the spread of a dangerous religious belief system, and funding terrorism.

The long term trend in world oil consumption is upward (likely a one third increase in the rate of consumption in the next 20 years) while at the same time oil reserves are being depleted in many parts of the world. Therefore even greatly increased Iraqi oil production will not keep down oil prices indefinitely. We are still faced with the prospect that Saudi Arabia will continue to receive a great deal of money from oil sales and that a large portion of the Saudi population will continue to embrace a rather austere and intolerant version of an already generally problematic religion.

What we really need in the long term are technological advances that will enable new methods of generating energy that are lower in cost and capable of displacing fossil fuels as sources of energy.

Update: See my previous post Energy Policy, Islamic Terrorism, And Grand Strategy for more on the argument that energy policy is crucial in the longer term battle against the Islamists.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 27 09:50 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 June 24 Tuesday
Kenneth Pollack Proposes Persian Gulf Security Condominium

Kenneth Pollack thinks a series of security agreements and security forums in the Persian Gulf might be able to solve security issues in the Persian Gulf region.

Beginning in the 1970s, NATO and the Warsaw Pact engaged in a host of security engagement forums, confidence-building measures, and arms control agreements (such as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions talks, and the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe) that were intended to deal with all of the continent's various security issues as a whole. Negotiating these deals took over two decades of painful wrangling. But in the end, they produced a Europe that was much more stable and secure than ever before.

In the Persian Gulf, such a security condominium would entail a similar set of activities bringing together the United States, the GCC countries, Iraq, and Iran. The process would begin by establishing a regional security forum at which relevant issues could be debated and discussed, information exchanged, and agreements framed. The members could then move on to confidence-building measures, such as notification of exercises, exchanges of observers, and information swaps. Ultimately, the intention would be to proceed to eventual arms control agreements that might include demilitarized zones, bans on destabilizing weapons systems, and balanced force reductions for all parties. In particular, the group might aim for a ban on all WMD, complete with penalties for violators and a multilateral (or international) inspection program to enforce compliance.

This may seem like an unrealistic proposal. To be fair to Pollack he does list many reasons why it may not be achieveable. Iran could limit its reach by either refusing to join or by demanding Israel's inclusion. The Western European countries realized they needed the United States as a security guarantor against the Soviet threat and this gave the US a degree of leverage in Europe that is missing in a Middle East where there is not one single threat recognized as such by all countries.

In my view the Mullahs in Iran are not interested in a set of security agreements as a substitute for the benefits of possessing nuclear weapons. They want the recognition and respect that they think they'd get from having nuclear weapons. Some in the Iranian leadership also fantasize about using nuclear weapons against Israel.

One big problem with Iran's nuclear weapons development program of course is that the Iranians would have nuclear weapons. But another problem is that as more countries get nukes that more other countries will think they either deserve to have them too or that they need to have them in order to defend themselves against their nuclear-armed neighbors.

The biggest problem I can see with Pollack's proposal is that if the US was to propose a large diplomatic initiative and to begin having negotiations with a large number of countries in the Persian Gulf - including Iran - that the negotiations would require many years to reach a point where they might result in an agreement that would prevent the development of nuclear weapons by countries in the region. But those years spent negotiating would be years that Iran could spend making a great many nuclear weapons. At this point it just doesn't seem like we have enough time to pursue such an ambitious diplomatic initiative if our chief goal is to prevent the next nation in the region most likely to go nuclear from actually doing so.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 24 08:53 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 June 15 Sunday
Bush Administration Sharply Divided On Iran

Richard Perle says the US has no policy on Iran.

"As of now, there is no Iran policy," American Enterprise Institute scholar Richard Perle tells Insight. Until recently Perle was chairman of the Defense Policy Board, and he remains close to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "It is well known within the administration that Iran is the single most active source of terrorism and is the biggest financier of terrorism. And yet, no clear strategy has been developed to deal with Iran," Perle says.

The Washington Post has an article quoting numerous analysts and government sources about the debate on Iran policy.

Bureaucratic tensions have reached the level where each side has begun accusing the other of leaking unfavorable stories to the media to block policy initiatives. "The knives are out," said a Pentagon official, who criticized national security adviser Condoleezza Rice for failing to end the dispute by issuing clear policy guidelines.

The clock is ticking. The United States has to choose a policy that will work before Iran gets nuclear weapons. Support democratic opposition? Threaten the mullahs with military strikes to induce them to give up their nuclear weapons program in exchange for some sort of deal with the US? It seems harder to offer Iran anything similar to what was given to North Korea starting in 1994 because Iran has oil revenue. Besides, the appeasement and bribery strategy failed with North Korea as the Pyongyang regime proceeded to pursue a secret uranium enrichment program most likely with Pakistani help.

Meanwhile, demonstrations took place in Iran for the fifth consecutive night.

There were reports of smaller demonstrations in at least two other cities, a sign that the momentum of the protests, which Washington have hailed as a cry for freedom, may be gathering pace.

It would be nice if these demonstrations kept getting larger and larger and eventually brought down the government. But, as I've previously repeatedly argued, Iran is still not a likely candidate for a successful revolution to overthrow the Mullahs.

Various elements of the Iranian government are jamming foreign satellite feeds to prevent US-based Iranian groups from inciting protests, arresting reform-minded opposition figures, and even arresting pro-government thugs who have been attacking protestors. While the Bush Administration debates Iran policy and some Iranians protest against their government the Sunday Telegraph reports the Iranian government is recruiting Iraqi rocket scientists.

The Iranian regime is particularly seeking Iraqi specialists in solid missile propellants, a technology in which Baghdad was strong but Teheran weak.

The people and government of Iran are obviously making a really big and multi-pronged effort to make their country into a major source of world news stories...

By Randall Parker    2003 June 15 03:25 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
New US Military Basing Strategy Starts To Be Fleshed Out

The Washington Post reports on details of plans for a more flexible configuration of US military deployments and bases.

The United States would still maintain a ring of permanent military "hubs" on U.S. territory, such as Guam, and in closely allied countries, such as Britain and possibly Japan. But many of the major bases on which it had relied, such as those in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Germany and South Korea, will be replaced by dozens of spartan "forward operating bases" in southern Europe, the Middle East and Asia, maintained only by small, permanent support units, Hoehn and other defense officials said.

The US military is really configuring itself to deal with events that run thru an "arc of instability" that stretches from Muslim northern Africa thru the Muslim Middle East, Central Asia, and then into East Asia.

Lots of lightly manned bases near trouble spots will be the norm.

In some of these places, the U.S. might post a few dozen troops who would keep the base in good condition and maintain equipment for use by troops that occasionally arrive for training. In case of war, these forward bases could be used as launching pads for strikes elsewhere. Current bases in Romania, the Philippines or Kyrgyzstan might fall into this category.

Other bases will be far more austere. The U.S. might rotate through these facilities once every year or two for training or for attacking terrorists. Such bases might be in places such as Azerbaijan, Mali, Kenya or the Horn of Africa. The goal is to cut the time it takes the U.S. to respond with an air, ground and naval force from months to days or even hours.

The current distribution of US bases is obsolete in light of current threats.

Peter Singer is a defense analyst with the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. Singer explained to RFE/RL the Pentagon's rationale: "We have a military basing structure right now that reflects Cold War priorities. And that's not in the best interests of U.S. national security; it certainly doesn't reflect any kind of grand strategy. And so it makes sense to shift some of these forces around, to move them into areas where there's greater need, to take them out of areas where there's local resistance, where they're unpopular, where they're not able to carry out their training."

One of the most curious aspects of the plan is the potential that bases in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan may be kept and even upgraded. The biggest disadvantage of those bases is that they are in very land-locked countries. There are many countries whose permission is needed in order to fly in or ship in supplies and personnel to those bases. Plus, they are corrupt and it is possible that resentment in their populaces toward US forces may build with time if the US military comes to be seen as protecting their regimes.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 15 02:18 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 June 11 Wednesday
United States Organizing Limited Interdiction Of North Korean Shipping

The Bush Administration is trying to build support among allies for a limited form of naval blockade against North Korea referred to as "selective interdiction" where North Korean ships suspected of carrying certain categories of goods would be boarded and searched.

John Bolton, US undersecretary of state for arms control, said last week that Washington was discussing with its allies a plan to interdict ships carrying goods to and from North Korea and other rogue states suspected of developing weapons of mass destruction.

Australia is among the nations involved in the naval interception planning.

Australia is talking to the United States about a new mission to intercept North Korean vessels suspected of carrying missiles, counterfeit money and drugs - a move that could escalate the already high tensions in northern Asia.

North Korea's recent announcement that it is a nuclear power has strengthened the case of the hardliners in the Bush Administration. Greater efforts will be made to reduce North Korea's income.

Despite divisions in US ranks over how to treat with North Korea - between hard-liners and super-hard-liners, as one analyst describes it - the White House for now is willing to apply a combination of carrots and sticks to test the possibility of getting Kim Jong Il to abandon his nuclear goals. Later this week in Honolulu, American, Japanese, and South Korean officials will meet to refine this approach - including discussion of how to "dry out" the North's cash flow through efforts to stop its drug and counterfeiting trades, as the senior Asian diplomat puts it.

Indications are that Japan and Australia are ready to join the US in ratcheting up pressures on North Korean shipping.

An Australian diplomat, Ashton Calvert, is due to meet officials in Tokyo on Wednesday to discuss the proposals. He is also due to meet US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who is also visiting Tokyo.

Japan's recent detention of a couple of North Korean ships in Japanese ports is part of an unannounced plan to pressure and reduce income to the North Korean regime.

The detentions come after Bush administration officials said recently that they are encouraging allies to squeeze North Korean shipping by enforcing safety rules and by searching for illegal drugs, a major North Korean export. This unannounced and unlabeled policy is designed to pressure North Korea into negotiating an end to its nuclear bomb program.

This gradual ratcheting up of pressure seems like the right policy to pursue at this point. It is not so drastic that it is going to frighten off the Japanese from going along with it. The Australians are joining in. It is even possible that South Korea may at least partially cooperate to at least try to cut into North Korean illicit drug smuggling.

The Japanese have already announced that they will let these two ships, the Namsan 3 and the Kuksabong-2, go. But North Korea has responded by cancelling a visit by another North Korean ship in protest. Each inspection and delay is another cost for the North Korean regime.

The North Koreans can not understand what the fuss is all about. The Pyongyang regime says they just want to develop nukes as an economy measure to save money.

''We are not trying to possess a nuclear deterrent in order to blackmail others but we are trying to reduce conventional weapons and divert our human and monetary resources to economic development and improve the living standards of the people,'' KCNA said.

The US and at least some allies are going to gradually introduce new measures to make life more difficult for North Korea. An outright total blockade of North Korean shipping is still unlikely at least thru this summer. But it seems a safe bet that the Bush Administration is at very least doing the planning and preparing the resources needed to escalate all the way to a total naval blockade.

The biggest wild card in this game continues to be China. The impact of a blockade of North Korea can be greatly decreased if China responds by stepping up aid to North Korea. On the other hand, it is still possible that at some point the Chinese leadership will decide to cooperate with the United States and put the screws to North Korea. If the US and allies cut North Korea off from other external sources of income the effect will be to increase the leverage of China over North Korea while at the same time effectively making China responsible for what the North Korean regime does. The Chinese leaders must be aware that if they prop up the North Korean regime after the regime has had other sources of income cut off and if the North Korean regime then sells nuclear weapons China will be widely seen as the enabler that made possible whatever North Korea's customers do with the weapons.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 11 03:50 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 June 09 Monday
Without US As Ally Saudi Arabia Could Go Nuclear

Michael A. Levi of the Brookings Institution argues that if the United States breaks with Saudi Arabia, ceases to guarantee its security, and becomes openly hostile toward it then Saudi Arabia has the money to buy nukes from either Pakistan or North Korea and plenty of motives to want nuclear weapons:

Why would Riyadh want nukes now? Because of a potentially dangerous confluence of events. The rapidly progressing nuclear program of traditional rival Iran has no doubt spooked the Saudi leadership. Last fall, dissidents revealed the existence of a covert Iranian uranium-enrichment program, forcing analysts to drastically revise down their estimates of how long it might take Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. Reacting to that development, Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, recently wrote that "Saudi Arabia is the state most likely to proliferate in response to an Iranian nuclear threat" because, he argued, the Saudis fear a nuclear-armed Iran could have designs on Saudi Arabia, a Sunni monarchy that is home to a large number of oppressed Shia.

We ought to think twice about breaking with the Saudis. Will doing so reduce the amount that wealthy Saudis donate to terrorist groups? Will doing so reduce the amount of hatred of non-Muslims taught in their mosques and schools? Will a declaration that the Saudis are our enemies make them spend less money to spread Wahhabism around the world?

The United States needs to keep in mind its goals. We need to reduce the amount of money flowing to terrorists and to the spread of the most militant forms of Islam. We need for Middle Eastern governments to reform their school curriculums and to take the anti-Western venom out of their government-controlled media. How to do that short of invasion and regime change?

We must also consider the possibility that we do not have the ability to work a change on Muslim societies on a scale sufficient to change what causes them to be threats to us. We need to ask how we can reduce their ability to create terrorist threats without their becoming any more enlightened. The biggest single thing we do that helps them create threats to us is that we buy oil from them. One element of a much longer term strategy to reducing the threat from the Muslim countries is to fund basic research that can lead to the development of technologies that could create non-fossil fuel energy sources that are cheaper than oil.

Unfortunately, US government energy policy is pretty dumb. Even when money gets spent on alternative energy sources most of it gets spent on tax credits and subsidies to pay for construction of solar, wind, and other installations using today's technology. For example, Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn recently inserted a clause into a federal appropriations bill to to spend $1.3 billion installing solar panels on US federal buildings. Sound like a nice idea? Well, refinement of current photovoltaic cell manufacturing processes is not going to make photovoltaics cheap enough for mass deployment. We need to find new kinds of materials to use to make photovoltaics cheap. Paying the manufacturers to make more stuff using existing materials and processes is a very cost-ineffective way to advance the state of the art in photovoltaics. The federal government spends only a few tens of millions on basic research (approximately $30 million) on photovoltaics. If spent more wisely that $1.3 billion could increase the rate of basic research on photovoltaic materials literally by an order of magnitude. Oberstar had the support of Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D CA) for this spending idea. This in spite of the fact that elsewhere Woolsey has had the temporary sense to speak in support of increases in basic research on energy. Congresscritters need to stop causing mischief with symbolic feel-good spending proposals and work on supporting the fundamental advances needed to make non-fossil fuel sources cost competitive.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 09 12:45 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 June 02 Monday
On The Fallacy Of Enormous American Power

Columnist for The New York Times Thomas Friedman repeats a conventional wisdom fallacy.

During the 1990's, America became exponentially more powerful — economically, militarily and technologically — than any other country in the world, if not in history. Broadly speaking, this was because the collapse of the Soviet empire, and the alternative to free-market capitalism, coincided with the Internet-technology revolution in America. The net effect was that U.S. power, culture and economic ideas about how society should be organized became so dominant (a dominance magnified through globalization) that America began to touch people's lives around the planet — "more than their own governments," as a Pakistani diplomat once said to me. Yes, we began to touch people's lives — directly or indirectly — more than their own governments.

Let us examine why this is a fallacy and then why the fallacy is damaging to American interests in the world.

First of all, US military superiority is not so great that it can intervene anywhere and change any regime at little cost to itself. Recent US interventions exaggerate the ease with which the United States can intervene. Any government of Afghanistan is inherently unstable due to ethnic and tribal divisions. Given the circumstances in Afghanistan it was not hard for a combination of JDAMs and bribery to bring down the Taliban fairly quickly. The United States also faced a weak opponent in Iraq and had many years in which to gradually weaken the Iraqi military. However, while Iraq was easy to invade it is turning out to be more difficult to govern and the US has had to send more troops in to govern it than it took to invade it.

A look at some of the remaining enemies that the United States faces makes it clear that the US has tackled the easiest targets first.

North Korea is a big problem. We do not know where all of North Korea's nuclear facilities are located and so we can not just conduct a surgical air strike to knock them out. Also, for all its supposed enormous power and influence America has been unable to convince China to apply economic sanctions to North Korea. Therefore in order to stop continued North Korean development of nuclear weapons and missiles ground action would be needed to bring down the Pyongyang regime. But South Korea's government is firmly opposed to military action against North Korea. Even if the US could convince the South Koreans to go along with a military strike to overthrow the regime in Pyongyang the US would be faced with the prospect of casualties that would be 2 or 3 orders of magnitude higher than it experienced in Iraq. South Korea would be faced with casualties that would run into the hundreds of thousands or even millions killed. Well, if the United States was as incredibly powerful as so many imagine it to be the US would be able to attack North Korea without South Korean help and to do so in a way that prevented the North Korean regime from killing hundreds of thousands or millions before it was overthrown. In reality America faces tough choices with North Korea that demonstrate the limits of American power.

Iran poses a similar problem for the United States. Iran, with a much larger population and land area, would be more difficult to invade and to occupy than Iraq. The US already has 160,000 troops tied down in Iraq and has only 2 out of 10 US Army divisions uncommitted and available for operations against a regime such as Iran's. The US is not so incredibly powerful that it can easily invade and occupy Iran. Also, the international reaction to such an invasion would be much more unfavorable.

As for Friedman's approval of the contention that America touches the lives of ordinary Pakistanis more than their own government does: how is that? Do we build their roads or show up as police when someone reports a crime? Do US employees show up when someone calls for an ambulance? Of course not. Does the US write the criminal or civil laws of Pakistan or collect taxes there? No again. Most of what happens in Pakistan happens because Pakistanis choose to make it happen. The US was not able to prevent Pakistan from developing nuclear weapons and US policy makers see that an attempt to take away Pakistan's nukes has too much in the way of downsides to make it worthwhile. Is this the sign of an incredibly powerful nation?

Sometimes when people refer to American influence they are referring to the influence of global capitalism. But when Pakistanis (to use Friedman's example) buy Japanese cars or Japanese radios are they being touched by Americans or Japanese? When they trade weapons technology with North Korea are they experiencing the effects of American power? No and No. If they buy fashions are all the fashions American? No, they can get Italian or French fashions as well. America can not control people by producing and selling lots of goods. People can take those goods and use them for their own purposes. They can also choose to buy competing goods from many other countries.

Some argue that US cultural products make the US more powerful and influential. But those cultural products such as movies and music do not translate by themselves into incredible power over the lives of people in other countries. Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-il are both enthusiastic fans of Hollywood movies. Yet watching thousands of Hollywood movies has not caused Saddam or Kim to become more compliant to American wishes. The availability of American culture has not made Muslim fundamentalists more tolerant either.

American influence and power does not extend so far as giving America control over whether local officials of other goverments are corrupt. America can not control whether the Pakistani government is cruel or fair to the Pakistani people. America has not been able to prevent Muslim preachers from teaching hatred of non-Muslims in general and of America in particular. The US government has not been able to stop all the aspiring nuclear powers from attempting to develop nuclear weapons. The US government faces real limits every day as it tries to prevent terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

To the extent that American commentators echo back the contention that America is all powerful they feed a paranoia and a feeling of grievance in Muslim countries. This helps the Muslims to focus their anger toward America. If people believe America is so incredibly powerful and more powerful in their own lives than their own governments then the logic becomes inescapable: if they are misgoverned it must be America's fault. Sloppy thinking from the likes of Tom Friedman helps to feed this perception. Yet in reality America's influence over the government of Pakistan or of other governments of Muslim countries is very limited.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 02 12:51 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2003 May 23 Friday
State Department Hid North Korean Nuclear Announcement?

If the editors of the Washington Times are correct the US State Department attempted to keep the White House from learning that the North Korean government said it had started reprocessing plutonium.

On March 31, representatives of the North Korean government told State Department officials, for the first time, that they were reprocessing plutonium, a key step in developing nuclear weapons. The Pentagon and the White House did not learn of this stunning announcement until Pyongyang told them during previously scheduled talks with North Korea in China on April 18.

Is this story true? Writing in the National Review on May 7, 2003 Joel Mowbray made the same claim.

When State Department officials learned — and subsequently hid from the rest of the administration — that North Korea had started reprocessing plutonium, Haass was one of the select few with the inside scoop. In a March 31 meeting with two State Department officials in New York City, North Korean officials told the U.S. for the first time that they had begun reprocessing — yet that information was not given to the Department of Defense or even the White House. It wasn't until almost three weeks later, on April 18, when North Korea announced this publicly that the Pentagon and the White House learned of the startling revelation. Although it is not clear what role Haass played in shielding this vital information, an administration official notes that the policy-planning director knew of North Korea's admission.

Many in the State Department favor negotiations and a less confrontational approach toward North Korea and so the argument goes that the State Department is holding back any information that would be used by more hawkish elements in the Bush Administation to support their arguments for hard line toward North Korea.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 23 01:10 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 May 11 Sunday
On Bush Administration Policy Debates About North Korea

The New York Times has an article on the Bush Administation debate about North Korea policy and the thinking in the Japanese and South Korean governments about North Korea. While North Korea has tried to drive a wedge between the United States and Japan with missile testing the Japanese are reacting by taking a harder line toward North Korea.

But rather than dividing Japan from the United States, the missiles appear to have had the reverse effect. The combination of the missile threat and North Korea's admission that it kidnapped Japanese citizens for intelligence training has opened a discussion in Japan about whether to join any American effort to strangle North Korea economically, and even to deploy its own version of an American-designed missile defense.

The Japanese reaction to North Korea's missile development efforts is driving it closer to the US position on North Korea. The US does not have a clear fixed position but it seems clear that appeasement is not part of the US strategy and the Bush Administration is not inclined to find a way to live with a growing threat from North Korea. The Japanese share that general view. What is being debated within the US and Japanese governments is more something along the line of how best to prevent the North Korean threat from growing and even to roll back the extent of North Korea's current ability to threaten Japan and other countries.

The Bush Administration may seem divided over whether to pursue diplomatic negotiations, economic sanctions, or military action against North Korea. But my guess is that the US government will pursue another round of negotiations as part of a larger sequence. The US will attempt to let the North Korean behavior in the negotiating sessions demonstrate to the Chinese and other governments that North Korea's leaders can not be bargained with. The US goal will be to get support for economic sanctions. The real debate in the Bush Administration is going to be over how best to create support for sanctions. If support for sanctions can be achieved then the debate in the Bush Administration will move on to whether, when, and how to move beyond sanctions to military action.

In parallel with the diplomatic activity the US government is going to look for ways to reduce the North Korean regime's revenues in advance of the enactment of formal sanctions by going after illegal North Korean income sources such as illicit drug sales. The US, Japan and other allied governments will put a lot of conventional criminal investigators on the job of trying to reduce North Korean illicit drug trafficking. As an indication of how informal sanctions will be implemented see how the Japanese government is working on a number of ways to reduce North Korean revenue sources.

The North Korean regime regularly threatens to treat sanctions as an act of war. But there are ways that the US can orchestrate a reduction of North Korean revenues without the enactment of formal sanctions. How will the North Korean regime respond if only China is shipping it supplies and trading with it in spite of the absence of formal sanctions? Will the North Koreans launch limited military strikes or does Kim Jong-il realize that if he strikes the first military blow then he just gives the US the justification to hit back much harder?

The Bush Administration game may well find ways to put so much economic pressure on North Korea that the regime in Pyongyang miscalculates and does something despicable (e.g. shelling of a South Korean residential neighborhood) that shifts opinion in many East Asian countries in the direction of supporting a US-led attack. However, South Korea may continue to trade with the North and provide it with aid. But the big wild card in this game continues to be China. Will China increase aid to North Korea enough to compensate for the loss of other revenue sources that the US and allies manage to cut off? Or will China join in to enforce sanctions?

The Bush Administration needs to be able to put enough economic pressure on North Korea so that the regime in Pyongyang either collapses or launches a military strike that justifies a huge US counterattack to bring it down. Japan stands a good chance of supporting economic sanctions. But China, which has a UN Security Council seat and long border with North Korea, still seems unlikely to join the US in supporting sanctions. Also, South Korea seems unlikely to do as well. If the US can not line up enough support for sanctions then the only US option left at that point may well be a large scale military strike designed to bring down the regime.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 11 01:23 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 May 06 Tuesday
What Is Bush Administration Strategy Toward North Korea?

There are a lot of different reports and analyses coming out about what US policy is and should be toward North Korea's nuclear weapons development efforts. I think this reflects a reaction to the end of the war in Iraq. A lot of people in both government and the larger community of commentators and analysts had placed North Korea into a mental box labelled "do not deal with seriously until the Iraq war is finished". Well, the war is finished and it is finally sinking in to a lot of people just how bad all of our options are on North Korea. Here's a tour thru the recent reports and US options for dealing with North Korea.

The most interesting recent report came from The New York Times where top Bush Administration insiders are quoted anonymously claiming that Bush has accepted that the US is unable to learn much about the state of North Korea's nuclear weapons development program and has therefore shifted focus to concentrate on preventing North Korea from exporting nuclear materials and bombs.

"The president said that the central worry is not what they've got, but where it goes," said an official familiar with the talks between Mr. Bush and Mr. Howard. "He's very pragmatic about it, and the reality is that we probably won't know the extent of what they are producing. So the whole focus is to keep the plutonium from going further."

US Secretary of State Colin Powell has firmly denied this report.

There is of course one huge obvious problem with this strategy: it is beyond the capability of the United States to monitor every ship and truck and aircraft that leaves North Korea to see if it is carrying weapons grade uranium or plutonium. What makes this prospect even more frightening is the fact that North Korea has already threatened to export nuclear materials. Plus, if the US is seen to have publically resigned itself to the existence of a nuclear bomb building North Korea this will encourage Iran and other countries to follow suit. As a way to protect the US from nukes in the hands of terrorists this strategy is, at least if taken at face value, seemingly so flawed that one has to wonder whether there is something more to it.

Writing in Slate Fred Kaplan argues that Bush may in fact be playing a high stakes gambler's game with Kim Jong Il. See his interesting essay entitled Plutonium Poker.

Now, though, Bush is telling Kim: You want to build nukes? Fine. As long as you don't sell them, we don't care, we're not scared. It's as if a gunman takes a hostage and the cop responds by shooting the hostage; the gunman is suddenly vulnerable. Kim's the gunman, his nuclear program is the hostage, Bush is the cop.

Kaplan says that if we assume, as some argue, that Kim is using his nuclear program to win more concessions (cash, supplies, security guarantees, etc) at the negotiating table then effectively what Bush is doing is say that the United States does not see a need to offer North Korea anything to prevent it from developing nukes. Therefore Bush's response effectively renders Kim's complete nuclear gambit useless (at least if we assume South Korea and Japan will also refrain from offering any additional aid).

Bush strikes me as having the sort of personality that finds it natural to play bluffs and games of nerves with his opponents. A rational calculation approach to international relations that does not assign enough weight to head games and bluffs may miss options that would appeal to Bush. Therefore I think Kaplan's analysis is worth pondering.

The US position as argued by Kaplan, however, only makes sense if the North Koreans really are not intent upon developing nuclear weapons. One would have to argue, then, that North Korea embarked on a covert uranium enrichment program over 5 years ago in order to win economic aid from the United States and other countries now. Does this seem plausible? Wouldn't it be more reasonable to argue that the North Koreans really want to develop nuclear weapons as an end in itself for a variety of reasons? Mightn't the North Koreans have concluded that they can extort more aid as a nuclear power than as a country that agrees not to go nuclear while also enhancing the security of their regime? Looked at from a historical perspective it does not make sense to see North Korea's nuclear weapons program as created primarily to serve as a bargaining chip.

Still, if one accepts (I think incorrectly) the argument that the North Koreans are just trying to get more aid in exchange for not making more nukes then one can see why Bush would take the position that the US will accept North Korea as a nuclear power. Doing so basically takes a desired reward away from the North Koreans and, if you accept the underlying assumption, makes North Korea's development of nukes pointless. That is the theory anyway. The argument (again, assuming that the assumption about North Korean motives is correct) becomes more compelling when one examines America's other options. The other options are also unattractive. Let us go thru them.

Try to negotiate a deal where North Korea gets paid to not develop nukes. This was done by Bill Clinton in 1994. The failure of North Korea to stick by that deal has created the current crisis. Some time in the 1990s (probably in 1997 or 1998 in a secret deal with Pakistan to gain uranium enrichment technology. for more on Pakistan's role see here) North Korea started to secretly violate the spirit of this deal even while it accepted the extortion payments. In a nutshell the problem with this approach is that North Korea won't accept extortion payments and then honor the deal by holding off on nuclear weapons development. Since North Korea's regime can not be trusted North Korea would have to accept a very invasive inspections regime in order to make a deal worth doing. But it is very unlikely that North Korea would accept an inspections regime of sufficient invasiveness.

Premptive air strikes against North Korean nuclear facilities. Yongbyon is (was?) the major storage facility for plutonium that is enrichable into weapons grade material. But North Korea is also working on uranium bombs. The biggest problem with the preemptive strike idea is that US intelligence (at least according numerous news reports in major publications) does not know where the North Korean uranium enrichment facilities are located. Therefore a narrowly focused preemptive air strike can not take them out. Also, the US has no way of knowing whether North Korea may have already removed plutonium from Yongbyon.

A sustained air campaign to bring down the North Korean regime. The only purely air option that the US has at this point would be to start carrying out air strikes on North Korean military and leadership sites until the regime's leaders agree to go into exile and surrender the country. The international reaction to such an air campaign of course would be sharply critical and it is not clear that such a pure air power approach would work. Also, while it was on-going the regime might start shelling Seoul or shooting chemical warhead missiles at Seoul in order to get the United States to stop.

A full ground invasion to bring down the North Korean regime. The next big military option is a full invasion to take out the North Korean regime with a large ground force. Such an invasion would be a massively more difficult undertaking than the invasion of Iraq and would involve hundreds of thousands of troops. US and any allied military casualties would run into the tens or hundreds of thousands. But South Korean and American interests over North Korea have diverged so drastically that the South Korean government will not allow South Korea to be used as a jumping off point for an invasion. The main reason for this reluctance is very simple: South Korea does not want to lose several hundred thousand or a few million civilians from North Korean artillery and missile barrages. South Korea puts the lives of South Koreans who would die in North Korean barrages ahead of the lives of Americans who would be killed if terrorists purchased nukes from North Korea and smuggled the nukes into the United States.

Amphibious assault to do ground invasion to bring down North Korean regime. Many analysts assume that absent South Korean support the US can not launch an attack to completely overthrow the North Korean regime. That is true unless the US Navy is expanded enough to be capable of carrying out an amphibious assault directly into North Korea without South Korean cooperation. The US certainly has historical experience with massive amphibious landings across the Pacific during World War II and also the Inchon landing in Korea during the Korean War. This could be done today as well.

My guess is that the cost of the amphibious landing attack into North Korea would be run to several hundreds of billions of dollars and perhaps even a trillion or two. The US would have to launch a crash program to build landing craft, refurbish old carriers for one last trip, bring B-1B bombers out of mothballs (a dozen dropped half the tonnage of bombs in the recent Iraq war - imagine what 70 of them could do), make large numbers of cruise missiles and JDAMs, and otherwise scale up for a really big operation. As a prelude to the launch of such an operation it would make sense to withdraw US forces from South Korea to deny the North the ability to hit at US forces in advance of the US attack, to decrease the chances that the North would retaliate against the South, and to make the US less susceptible to pressure from the government in the South. The US could use Guam and other Pacific island possessions as bases from which to build up forces for the assault. It is not clear whether Japan would cooperate because they would fear North Korean chemical missile attacks. The answer to that question will depend in part on what we learn from a detailed analysis of the performance of the Patriot missile batteries used in Kuwait against Iraqi missiles.

It might take two or three years (assuming serious WWII-like dedication) to build the needed ships and equipment. This is not an operation that could be done quickly. In addition to the economic cost there would be the cost of a large number of American lives. In the meantime while the US prepared to launch such an attack North Korea would be able to pursue nuclear weapons development and possibly sell nukes to terrorists. Still, even in the face of South Korean opposition the US could have a military option against North Korea if it was willing to spend the money and blood.

US preparations for an amphibious assault against North Korea would give the US considerable negotiating leverage. Once it became clear to Kim Jong-il and the Chinese that the US was going to show up off the North Korean coast with a dozen carriers and a few thousand other ships along with a couple of thousand aircraft and a large ground force we'd have a good chance of convincing Kim to go into exile in China.

Play the trade card with China to compel Chinese cooperation for an embargo against North Korea. It may be possible to bring on a collapse of the North Korean regime if it was cut off from absolutely all aid and trade. But China's cooperation is key because China is North Korea's biggest source of aid and biggest trading partner. The United States might be able to use economic levers to compel the Chinese to cut all flows of goods between China and North Korea. The United States runs a trade deficit with China of over $100 billion. The $24 billion per year that the US sells to China is chump change for the $10 trillion dollar per year US economy. The over $140 billion per year that China sells to the US represents slightly more than 2 percent of the $6 trillion per year Chinese economy. The US could afford a trade embargo with China more easily than China could afford a trade embargo with the US. Still, the Chinese regime could probably survive a cut-off of trade with the US, especially since it could sell at least some of its exports elsewhere. Therefore it is not clear that the United States could economically compel China to end all aid and trade with North Korea.

All diplomatic indications that the US gets from China are that China is unwilling to play economic hardball against North Korea. This is consistent with previous reports of Chinese unwillingness to put the screws to North Korea. Some Chinese academics specialising in national security argue that China has to do something to stop North Korea's nuclear program. But they do not appear to have the ear of the Chinese leadership.

If China and South Korea are effectively going to block off some options, if policing of North Korea's borders to prevent nuclear smuggling is impossible, and if other options will not work due to motivations of the North Korean regime then is the unilateral amphibious landing military option the only option that might prevent North Korean nukes from some day destroying American cities? Let us look once again at the unilateral military option. The military option has other potential costs aside from blood and money. As Stanley Kurtz has pointed out the deaths that might result from a US attack on North Korea might cause the US to be treated as a dangerous pariah.

The policy that best saves Washington and New York most risks Seoul. And this is because South Korea (like Europe) is gradually being transformed from a frontline Cold War tripwire into potential collateral damage in a direct battle between the United States and terrorists and rogue regimes armed with weapons of mass destruction. After a Korean conflict in which both the North and the South are devastated, the world would shun America as a dangerous pariah — and from the perspective of the world's interests, this would not be entirely without justification.

Well, that's unappealing. If we do something that is necessary and if much of the world doesn't see it as necessary we can get away with it as long as the consequences are not too horrifying. But the consequences of an invasion of North Korea, no matter how done, would be pretty horrifying to a large portion of the world's population. As long as the world does not believe the reality of the threat of smuggled nukes (or is cynical and thinks the nukes will not blow up their cities - since American cities will be the top targets of Islamic terrorists) any costs of the war will be blamed on America as being totally unnecessary. That's a problem. For this reason Kurtz thinks that it is most likely that the US will wait till it has lost at least one city before it summons the will to deal with the proliferation of nuclear weapons. I am inclined to agree.

The fundamental problem with the strategy of preemption is that it has high costs and too few people understand the necessity of the strategy to be willing to pay those costs. One reason for the lack of understanding is that it is hard for many to imagine just how evil some people are capable of being. I am reminded of George Kennan's comments about why FDR failed to appreciate the nature of Stalin.

President Franklin Roosevelt rarely betrayed all of his reasons for doing anything to other people. I think that his hopes about Russia were largely unrealistic during the wartime period. I don't think FDR was capable of conceiving of a man of such profound iniquity, coupled with enormous strategic cleverness, as Stalin. He had never met such a creature. And Stalin was an excellent actor, and when he did meet with leading people at these various conferences, he was magnificent: quiet, affable, reasonable. He sent them all away thinking, "This really is a great leader." And yes, but behind that there lay something entirely different.

This is the problem we have today with North Korea and nuclear terrorism. Many people can not imagine what the North Korean regime is capable of.. Some who can do not want to think that the spread of technological advances combined with the worst regimes and the worst ideologies are making catastrophic terrorist acts of unspeakable horror more likely. Therefore the options that might make the most sense will probably not get enough support to be acted upon.

So is there any other option worthy of consideration that is low enough in costs to be possible to implement with current levels of support for preemption? Yes, there is still one last long odds approach that is worth a try:

Covert operations to bring down the North Korean regime. Instead of a direct ground assault on North Korea could the CIA and other agencies find ways to cause the regime in North Korea to lose control and collapse? One potential component of such an approach which I've argued for repeatedly is a concerted attempt to break the information monopoly that the North Korean regime has over its people (see the bottom half of that post). But other things could be tried as well. The North is incredibly poor. Small amounts of money could be repeatedly offered to all North Korean government personnel living in other countries as a way to start trying to recruit them. If a large enough number of North Koreans could be compromised in this manner (and other means such as sex and recreational drugs could be used) then it might be possible to speed the corruption of the North Korean government. Eventually it might be possible to offer well placed North Koreans enormous sums of money in exchange for assassinations of top leaders.

Even if covert operations do not bring down the regime they may either weaken it or provide useful information about it. The CIA needs to make much bigger efforts to recruit agents of influence in North Korea and CIA agents need to be given a lot more latitude and encouragement to get out into the field and work on recruitment. The CIA needs to become the agency it used to be before covert operations became politically incorrect.

Joe Katzman has a nice collection of links about the North Korea nuclear proliferation problem if you want to read more news and views on the subject.

Also see my archives Weapons Proliferation Control, Preemption, Deterrence, and Containment, Axis of Evil, and Grand Strategy.

Update: Parenthetical aside to bloggers knowledgeable about military matters: A great topic for an article or series of posts would be the question of what capabilities is the United States missing to be able to do an amphibious invasion of North Korea. How many aircraft carriers, landing craft, armoured divisions, supply ships, bombers, UAVs, JDAMs. and assorted other equipment would be needed to do an amphibious assault on North Korea? Also, would Guam by itself provide enough space for air fields? Could US bombers operate from other US possessions in the Pacific? If so, which possessions and with what sorts of round-trip times? Longer round-trip times increase the number of bombers needed to do the job. Also, how quickly could the USAF bring mothballed B-1B bombers back into operational readiness?

Given the enormous lead time on some weapons systems (e.g. about 9 years for a Nimitz class carrier such as the Reagan) what could be done to build up the needed force in a shorter length of time? For instance, could the capability of each carrier be amplified by pairing it with large cargo ships that can carry but not launch aircraft? Picture a cargo ship that has huge cranes capable of transferring fighter aircraft from the hold of the cargo ship onto the deck of a carrier. Could this be done?

Update II: The Bush Administration is gradually moving toward finding more ways to cut off sources of revenue for the North Korean regime.

The Bush administration plans to adjust its policy toward North Korea by adopting a two-track approach that would combine new talks with pressure on the communist state by targeting its illegal drug and counterfeiting trade and possibly its missile sales, U.S. and Asian officials said yesterday.

Unwilling as yet to commit to a direct attack on North Korea the Bush Administration is looking for any way it can find to increase economic pressure. Eventually it may pursue UN sanctions. But it is by no means clear that China will go along with that step.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 06 07:33 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (20)
2003 May 04 Sunday
Energy Policy, Islamic Terrorism, And Grand Strategy

The topic of the discussion: Could a wiser government science policy in the area of energy research help reduce the danger from militant Islam and terrorism? The public debate about what to do about terrorists from the Middle East rarely addresses a fundamental point: if we had a substitute for fossil fuels that cost less than fossil fuels then the demand for fossil fuels would plummet and the various governments and private groups in the Middle East that directly or indirectly provide the funding for terrorism would have very little money to do so.

The problem we have is not with just the direct funding of terrorist organizations. The spread of militant Islamist religious ideology creates the conditions in which terrorist organizations can recruit, raise funds, and operate. The money which the Saudi government and other Middle Eastern sources provide to fund madrassah schools produces generations of youths brainwashed in a fundamentalist variety of Islam which is hostile to the West. Saudi and other Persian Gulf sources fund the export of Wahhabi Islam to other Muslim countries, and to mosques in the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world.

To radically reduce the revenue from Middle Eastern oil sales requires more than just the reduction of US demand for oil. To replace fossil fuels worldwide (the US uses 26% worldwide oil production and 25% of total world energy production in all forms) a new technology must produce energy that is cheaper than fossil fuels. While a single nation might conceivably gradually restrict and eventually ban the use of fossil fuels it is very unlikely that many nations will do this. Therefore a competing technology that costs more just isn't going to get very far. A replacement technology really has to be cheaper if it is to reduce and eventually put an end to the purchase of Middle Eastern oil.

Some oil fields in the Middle East have oil that is so easily reachable that they have production costs of just a few dollars per barrel. This is far below current and likely market prices for many years to come. Therefore to totally eliminate the use of oil requires the alternative to be far cheaper than current market prices for oil. But, on the bright side, an oil replacement that was the equivalent of, say, $10 per barrel oil would greatly reduce the amount of revenue flowing to the Middle East because it would put an upper limit on the price of oil that would be far lower than would otherwise be the case. Since the regimes in the Middle East have fixed costs for operating themselves and can spend only surplus money on funding madrassahs and exporting Wahhabism a competing energy technology that caused a reduction in the price of oil would dramatically reduce their more problematic uses of oil revenue.

Various Benefits Of Cheaper Alternatives To Fossil Fuels

The development of fossil fuel replacements which are lower in cost than oil would of course have numerous benefits beyond reducing the risk from terrorism. Here are some of them:

  • cleaner and therefore healthier air to breathe.
  • less production of hot house gases that may be leading to global warming (though I'm a doubter on the seriousness of the problem).
  • lower cost of imports due to a reduced need to buy oil.
  • lower defense costs and less strategic vulnerability as there would no longer be a need to keep the Persian Gulf open to shipping and the regimes there stable enough to protect their oil fields.
  • A cheaper alternative would, by definition, cost less!
The Cost Of Oil Now And In The Future

Before we get into the current US government expenditures on energy research it is valuable to get a sense of how much the United States currently spends importing oil. We currently import 11 million barrels of oil per day.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the United States imports 58 percent of its oil - or over 11 million barrels per day (with total consumption approaching 20 million barrels per day). The reliance on imports is necessary and carries benefits as well as some risks.

Oil prices fluctuate quite a bit. See here and here for historical oil pricing data. But let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that oil prices will decline to about $20/barrel on average in the coming years as a result of Iraqi oil fields coming back on line. Well, at that price we will spend $220 million dollars per day to import oil. That is over $80 billion per year. As US demand rises and output of US fields declines the amount of oil imported by the US can be expected to rise. Over the period of the next decade alone it is quite plausible that the United States will spend over $1 trillion dollars to import oil.

In the longer run US oil imports will grow as domestic oil production declines and total demand rises.

Total energy consumption is expected to increase more rapidly than domestic energy production through 2025. As a result, net imports of energy are projected to meet a growing share of energy demand (Figure 5). Projected U.S. crude oil production declines to 5.3 million barrels per day by 2025 in AEO2003, an average annual rate of 0.4 percent between 2001 and 2025. Production is 0.2 million barrels per day lower in 2020 than in AEO2002 due to projected reduced production from the lower-48 onshore by 2020, particularly from enhanced oil recovery (EOR) operations. The lower level of lower 48 production in AEO2003 relative to AEO2002 is partially offset by projected increased production from Alaska and higher levels of production from the lower 48 offshore. Total domestic petroleum production (crude oil plus natural gas plant liquids) increases from 7.7 million barrels per day in 2001 to 8.0 million by 2025 due to an increase in the production of natural gas plant liquids (Figure 6).

Okay, so we have some perspective on the economics of oil for the US. Keep in mind that this leaves aside natural gas imports, domestic oil and natural gas production, and coal production (go read the various links for more details than you ever wanted to know). There is also the amount of money that the rest of the world spends on buying oil and other fossil fuels. But in an analysis of energy research funding one piece of the puzzle is the question of how much could be saved in oil import costs if a cheaper domestic energy source was available. Hence the high and growing cost of US imports must be kept in mind as a factor in the total analysis.

In terms of how the future business prospects of Middle Eastern oil states look the world demand for oil and natural gas promises to grow dramatically in the next 25 years.

In the International Energy Outlook 2003 (IEO2003) reference case, world energy consumption is projected to increase by 58 percent over a 24-year forecast horizon, from 2001 to 2025. Worldwide, total energy use is projected to grow from 404 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in 2001 to 640 quadrillion Btu in 2025 (Figure 2).

As in past editions of this report, the IEO2003 reference case outlook continues to show robust growth in energy consumption among the developing nations of the world (Figure 3). The strongest growth is projected for developing Asia, where demand for energy is expected to more than double over the forecast period. An average annual growth rate of 3 percent is projected for energy use in developing Asia, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the total projected increment in world energy consumption and 69 percent of the increment for the developing world alone.

What does this mean? More money for madrassahs. More money to pay the salaries of Wahhabi clerics in Indonesia, Pakistan, Europe, the United States and in other locales around the world. More money for wealthy citizens of oil sheikdoms to donate to the cause of jihad.

Photovoltaic Research Funding Examined

While there are a number of possible technologies whose development might eventually result in cost competitive replacements for fossil fuels I'm going to look at solar energy in the form of photovoltaics because I happen to think that photovoltaics have the greatest potential in the next few decades. Perhaps in the 2030s or 2040s fusion energy will become competitive. But in the foreseeable future the huge scientific problems with fusion pretty much make it irrelevant in a political policy discussion about whether a wiser science policy could help fight against terrorism and the spread of militant Islam.

US government Solar energy programs currently get a total of $95 million in yearly funding.

Solar Energy-The conference agreement includes $95,000,000 for solar energy programs. As in fiscal year 2002, the conferees have combined the concentrating solar power, photovoltaic energy systems, and solar building technology subprograms into a single program for solar energy, with the control level at the solar energy program account level. The conference agreement includes funding for continuation of the Million Solar Roofs program at the prior year level; $2,500,000 for the Southeast and Southwest photovoltaic experiment stations; $2,500,000 for the Navajo electrification project; $1,500,000 to continue development of advanced integrated power modules for photovoltaic applications; $1,500,000 for the Palo Alto photovoltaic demonstration project in California; and $115,000 for a renewable energy demonstration at the Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center in Maryland. The conference agreement also provides $4,000,000 for the National Center for Energy Management and Building Technology. Within available funds, the conferees direct the Department to spend not less than $5,500,000 for the continuation of work on concentrating solar power.

Note that the demonstration projects do not accelerate the development of newer and lower cost photovoltaic energy technologies. Some of these projects are probably there as pork for particular Congressional districts. Also, that $95 million is split between many areas besides photovoltaics. Compared to the billions spent per year on cancer research, the tens of billions spent importing oil, the hundreds of billion spend on national defense, the $2.2 trillion dollar US national budget, or the $10 trillion US national economy the $95 million on solar energy is chump change

While I couldn't find a more detailed breakdown of the solar energy programs for FY 2003 the FY 2002 spending levels suggest that only about one tenth of the photovoltaics budget of the US Department of Energy goes to basic research. Some budget language for FY 2002 from the House Energy and Water Appropriations Committee on July 05,2001 shows the approximate amounts for FY 2002 photovoltaic energy funding.

The Committee recommends $7,932,000 for concentrating solar power, an increase of $6,000,000 over the budget request and $5,868,000 less than fiscal year 2001. Both solar troughs and solar dish/Stirling engine technologies have the potential to be more efficient than solar tower technology. Therefore, $6,000,000 is provided to the Department for field testing of these technologies, and $1,932,000 is provided to the national laboratories for materials research, reliability testing, and support.

Photovoltaic energy systems are funded at $81,775,000, an increase of $6,000,000 over fiscal year 2001 and $42,775,000 over the budget request. The recommendation includes $8,700,000 for basic research/university programs and $18,500,000 for the thin film partnership program. The Committee supports cooperation with universities and industry to develop the science and engineering base required to move photovoltaic technology from the laboratory bench to the assembly line.

The Committee recommends $4,950,000 for solar building technology research, an increase of $1,000,000 over fiscal year 2001 and $2,950,000 over the budget request.

What they refer to as "basic research/university programs" is real basic research on photovoltaics. This amount is even smaller chump change. We need advances in basic research in photovoltaic materials to come up with materials that are inherently cheaper to fabricate. Well, that part of the budget is slightly more than a tenth of the total budget for solar energy. Then the thin film program is probably also for basic research. The manufacture of photovoltaic thin films (using future cheap nanotechnology fabrication techiques) is one potential way to make cheap photovoltaics.

The Solar Energy Industry Association says that the real amount of money going to solar research is actually declining.

Upon requesting funding regarding the Fiscal Year (FY) 2003 Budget, Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) Executive Director Glenn Hamer noted that "although Congress appropriated $95 million for solar in FY 2002, after funding reductions and earmarks are accounted for, the available funding is considerably less. In other words, the solar program got cut last year." Funding that was expected to be available in 2004 from drilling in ANWR is already looking like it, too, will suffer from insufficiently prioritized budget cuts (US DOE 2002).

Where they speak of "earmarks" they are probably referring to pork barrel projects to build facilities that include solar panels. This does not advance the state of the art in how to make cheaper photovoltaic panels. Also, keep in mind that the $95 million was for all of solar energy whereas in the previous year the $81 million was for photovoltaics only.

What Could Accelerated Photovoltaics Research Accomplish?

What to make of all this from a public policy perspective? We are going to spend $75 billion on the Iraq war. That is over a few orders of magnitude more than we are spending on photovoltaics research. The questions you have to ask yourself are these:

  • Would the elimination of the world demand for fossil fuels enhance US national security?
  • Is it possible to develop technologies that could displace the need for fossil fuels as energy sources?
  • What is it worth to develop such technologies?
  • How long would it take to do so?

The first question seems pretty easy to answer for the reasons previously discussed (madrassahs, Wahabbism, other forms of militant political Islam, terrorist funding). Cut the money flows and there will be less money available to cause mischief.

The second question of whether it is possible to develop cheaper substitutes for fossil fuels is harder to answer. But I fail to see why the answer will not inevitably be Yes. There are many kinds of materials known to be able to convert light to electricity. Most likely there are a far larger number of designs to do it are waiting to be found. Surely out of all of those combinations of materials that have photovoltaic qualities ways will be eventually be found to cheaply manufacture some of them.

The economic value for developing cheap photovoltaics is hard to calculate with any precision because many of the benefits do not show up directly in market prices. What would be the economic value of cities which have no fossil fuel air pollution? How valuable is it to stop the release of CO2 into the atmosphere? What does it cost the US in defense spending to deal with the problems of the Middle East? Also, how much of the threat of terrorism will be solved in other ways before cheap photovoltaics become available and how much will be solved by reducing the flow of oil revenue to the Middle East? The benefit that is easiest to calculate is the one that will come from lower energy prices. As cheap photovoltaics begin to displace fossil fuels the savings per year will be in the tens of billions of dollars per year.

Then there is the question of how long it would take for a well funded research effort to develop a cheap replacement energy source. It is hard to know. My guess is that it could be done in 15 or 20 years. Then it would take some more years to gradually displace fossil fuels as capital equipment would be replaced with new equipment designed for the new energy technologies.

Energy Research As A National Security Policy Tool

The problem with increased photovoltaics research as a potential tool of national security policy is that it is hard to guess how long it will take to develop cost effective photovoltaics. The same is true for the other energy sources that potentially could some day become cost competitive with fossil fuels. Contrast the money spent on energy research with the money spent to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan. The outcome in Afghanistan was more predictable and very quick. The Iraq war cost a lot more than the overthrow of the Taliban but the outcome was similarly not in doubt and took a fairly short period of time. However, the longer term post-war US involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq is of indefinite length with many uncertainties associated with it.

Policy makers prefer to take action that will yield tangible results now. However, this myopia has not always been the case. In the late 1940s the United States began the policy of containment of the Soviet Union (see George Kennan's "Long Telegram" and his famous Foreign Affairs document the "X" Article for how it all began) and pursued this policy for decades (and Kennan's comments in 1996 after the Cold War was all over are very worth a read). The reason containment was adopted and pursued for a long period of time was that policy makers could find no short term actions to take to solve the problems posed by the USSR and communism. Granted, Cold War era foreign policy makers made many quick moves for immediate outcomes as part of the containment strategy. But the sum total of all those quick moves by themselves could never bring an end to the threat posed by the Soviet Union. What was important was that US policy makers believed that they had to no choice but to pursue long term policies whose duration could not be predicted with any precision.

The United States lacks a policy motivated by national security concerns to create technologies to effectively decrease and eventually eliminate the world demand for fossil fuels. The chump change spent on solar energy research demonstrates the lack of an ambitious goal for US federal government energy policy. Why is this? The pursuit of cheap replacement technologies would be a long term policy to achieve a long term goal. But to justify the pursuit of a long term policy the policy makers have to believe that we are facing a problem that can not be solved in the short or medium term using existing policy tools. The heart of the US problem with energy policy as a national security issue is that policy makers do not believe that they face a long term problem with Islamic terrorism. Does our reliance on Middle Eastern oil seriously aggravate a problem that can not be solved with other policy tools 10 or 15 years? One has to accept that the answer is Yes before one can even begin to see the national security value of a long term major effort to technologically obsolesce fossil fuels.

A Question Worth Debating

The debate on the relevance of energy policy to the most pressing national security problems is a debate about the time line of the war on terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Would the US derive a national security benefit if it could defund the Middle Eastern oil sheikdoms 10, 15, or 20 years from now? Would the ability to do that reduce the spread of militant Islam and the threat of terrorism and WMD in the hands of terrorists? If it would then energy policy should be placed at the heart of national security policy planning. It is a question worth debating.


I realize that photovoltaic power is not the only possible way to replace fossil fuels. But since it is so promising the small amount of money spent on basic photovoltaics research serves as a good example of the lack of seriousness in current US energy policy. Also, I am aware of the problems with photovoltaics in terms of energy storage, short winter days, and clouds. But make it cheap enough and there will be plenty of economic motive to develop ways to better store the electrical energy that photovoltaics could produce when the sun shines (e.g. convert it to hydrogen, develop better battery technologies, or use it to make hydrocarbons). Also, high energy industries could gradually relocate to the sunnier climates and some production processes could be shaped to run more rapidly when cheaper power is available. It is also worth noting that air conditioner usage peaks when the sun is shining brightly.

I normally post on energy technologies on FuturePundit and you can find the past postings in the Energy Tech archive. This posting is on ParaPundit because it has more to do with national security policy, politics, and terrorism.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 04 02:42 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2003 April 26 Saturday
China Shocked By North Korean Nuclear Threats

The position that North Korea took in recent negotiations with the United States and China in Beijing may drive China to take a harder line toward North Korea.

Shi and other experts have argued that China needs to consider modifying its strong support for North Korea. "A lot of us are telling the government that we, too, need to support regime change," said a Chinese analyst who has advised the government. "But the government is afraid to change."

North Korea claimed it has nuclear weapons and that it may either test them or sell them. The indication that it would even sell nuclear weapons, even if it is just a bluff at this point, is serving as a wake-up call for the Chinese.

Chinese academics think the North Koreans are in over their heads.

In academic circles the feeling of frustration with Pyongyang was clear. "They miscalculate the nature of their main opponent [the US]," said Jin Canrong, a professor at Renmin University in Beijing.

"They also miscalculate the nature of their main ally, China. They still feel that whatever they do China will follow," Prof Jin added.

Many diplomats believe that China will now join the US, South Korea, and Japan in a united diplomatic front opposing North Korean nuclear weapons development efforts.

"This is a major slap in the face to China, which had really stuck its neck out to make these talks happen," said Shi Yinhong, a leading expert on international relations at Beijing's People's University. "China will certainly consider whether it needs to take a new approach to the North Korean problem, including the possibility of stepping up the pressure."

The Chinese leaders are now going to ask themselves much harder questions about how to deal with North Korea. The Chinese reaction is encouraging.

Bush Administration hawks are convinced that negotiations with North Korea are a waste of time.

Hawks, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, argue that the outcome of the Beijing talks "show this whole approach is futile," said a senior U.S. official involved in the discussions. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

I'm not so sure about this. This latest meeting had salutary effects on the thinking of China's foreign policy thinkers. Perhaps in another 3-way meeting between the United States, China and North Korea the North Koreans will act so insane that the Chinese will become convinced that regime change in Pyongyang is necessary.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 26 02:42 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2003 April 24 Thursday
Mickey Kaus On The Unified Rumsfeld Critique

Mickey Kaus distills down the core argument for what was wrong with the way the United States fought the war in Iraq. (additional arguments in Mickey's Tuesday post)

​​P.P.S.: There'a Unified Rumsfeld Critique emerging, which is that he waged the war well, as a war, but made mistakes when it came to winning the war in a way that would allow us to win the peace. Count #1 in this indictment is his failure to provide enough boots on the ground to provide order immediately following a military victory. Count #2 is his failure to read the memo from Garner's office and give priority to protecting Islamic cultural treasures. ... In Rumsfeld's defense, it can be said that a) he clearly tried to wage the war as humanely as possible, precisely for these long-range political and strategic reasons, and b) he made nine right decisions for every wrong decision. On the other hand, if you advocate a war policy that requires you to get 10 out of 10 things right if it's going to work -- i.e. if it's not going to produce more terrorism than it stops -- than you can properly be faulted if you only bat a brilliant .900. ... Rumsfeld should admit the mistakes instead of continuing to make weak don't-look-at-me-I'm-not-responsible excuses ("Think what's happened in our cities when we've had riots, and problems, and looting. Stuff happens!"). ...​​​​​

I've made this argument at greater length (note to self: learn to be more pithy like Mickey). The type of society we find in Iraq requires that we do a great many things right in order to be able to successfully transform it in ways that will benefit US and Western security in the long run. We didn't just need to defeat Saddam with a minimum of casualties all around. We needed to avoid unnecessary causes of bitterness among the Iraqis so that they will be more receptive to amount of changes needed to make their society capable of supporting a liberal democracy. As war goals we needed to:

  • get all the intelligence files intact (hard to do when buildings were looted and burned and bombed)
  • find all the WMD stuff (which meant capturing as many regime members and files as possible).
  • capture as many regime members as possible (needed more troops near the border with Syria before closing on Baghdad).
  • Protect from destruction of anything that would give Islamists propaganda to argue that the US invasion was an attack on Islam (like protecting thousand year old Korans from being turned into ashes would have been a good idea)
  • Establish order quickly so that all parts of the Iraqi public felt protected by Americans and at the same time didn't feel a need to turn toward the local mosque for ad hoc government with an Islamic tinge.

Mickey is right in arguing that the symbolic losses like the burned up Islamic documents will be remembered for a long time. Islamists will be citing these losses for decades and even centuries. A bigger force in Baghdad tasked with protecting a list of symbolically important buildings would have reaped big dividends during the occupation and post-occupation periods. There is something short-sighted in the Pentagon's war plans.

In wars there can be unavoidable and yet highly undesireable outcomes. Deaths from friendly fire incidents and accidents were unavoidable. Also, deaths of some number of civilians were unavoidable. But what happened with the looting, burning, and loss of highly symbolic and valued artifacts were avoidable for the most part and at the same time it was highly desireable to avoid these losses. So the conduct of the war really does deserve to be criticised by hawks who supported the war.

There were people telling the Pentagon what they ought to do. Whose decision was it to ignore this advice?

Senior U.S. officials with responsibility over postwar Iraq were highly critical of the delay in securing those facilities. One official interviewed in Kuwait described it as "the barn-door phenomenon." He said retired Lt. Gen. Jay M. Garner, the occupation governor of Iraq, sought special protection for 10 Iraqi ministries, identifying them as potential repositories of weapons data, but that only the Oil Ministry remained intact after U.S. ground forces took possession of Baghdad. Combat commanders, the official said, gave "insufficient priority to getting into these places," and "there wasn't enough force to accomplish that initial sequestering of buildings and records."

I see these mistakes as the result of failures in the formulation of grand strategy. The war goals were too narrowly defined because the challenges that we face are not well articulated. The important question is why? Do the Bush Administration's leading members underestimate the obstacles in the way of transforming an Arab society into a liberal democracy? Do they underestimate the size of the "Hearts and Minds" battle that the US is fighting in the Arab and larger Muslim world? It certainly seems that way. A naive belief in the universal appeal of democratic liberalism appears to lie at the base of the strategic miscalculation which the conduct of the war in Iraq has revealed. This naive belief is not a misconception that the leaders of the United States government can afford at this point in time.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 24 02:19 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2003 April 22 Tuesday
Rumsfeld Memo Argues For Regime Change In North Korea

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has circulated a memorandum within the Bush Administration arguing for a joint diplomatic effort with China to somehow pressure North Korea's leaders to give up their control of their country.

WASHINGTON, April 20 — Just days before President Bush approved the opening of negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear program, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld circulated to key members of the administration a Pentagon memorandum proposing a radically different approach: the United States, the memo argued, should team up with China to press for the ouster of North Korea's leadership.

Any diplomatic attempt is probably destined to fail unless it is backed up with a credible threat to use force. Could Kim Jong-il and his top assistants be convinced to give up power and go into exile in exchange for large amounts of cash and immunity from prosecution? It seems unlikely. Still, given the unappealing alternatives perhaps it is an approach worth trying at least.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 22 01:33 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 April 16 Wednesday
China, North Korea, United States To Meet In Beijing

Three way talks between China, North Korea, and the United States will take place in Beijing.

WASHINGTON, April 15 — President Bush has approved a plan for the United States to begin negotiations with North Korea in Beijing next week, the first talks between the countries since the government of Kim Jong Il threw out international inspectors and restarted its main nuclear weapons plant, United States and Asian officials said today.

China has accepted the need to play a direct negotiating role.

"What's new here is that there is an active, bold participatory role for the Chinese," the official was quoted as saying. That echoed the North's condition for accepting such talks -- that Washington make a "bold switchover" in its policy.

The Mainichi Daily News says it is still possible that Japan might be involved in the talks.

Japan might participate in discussions by top U.S., North Korean and Chinese officials of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons development issue in Beijing next week, government officials said Wednesday.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda says Japan favors the multinational forum format.

“We have made it clear that we think that the best way to deal with their proliferation is through a multinational forum. It looks like that might be coming to fruition, that’s very good news,” he said.

China, afraid that the United States will strike militarily against North Korea, is moving to use its own influence over the North Korean regime.

According to Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at People's University in Beijing, the Chinese foreign ministry is for the first time considering economic sanctions against North Korea.

Another motive for China to reign in North Korea is that doing so protects China's economy. If the United States pulls its forces in South Korea away from the DMZ and then launches a preemptive strike against North Korean nuclear facilities any counter strike by North Korea at Seoul South Korea will deal a big blow to China's economy due to the amount of South Korean trade and investment in China.

South Korean investment is particularly critical in China’s rust bucket northeast, where few others care to invest. That means any North Korean attack on Seoul with all the resulting economic consequences would also have a severe impact on the economy of China, a quasi-ally that is currently still resisting American pressure to get tough on North Korea.

China's leaders have to increasingly be asking themselves how they can get more control over North Korea. Sure, they want it as a buffer. Sure, they do not want a popular overthrow of the North Korean regime or a US military strike to bring down the regime. But they also have strong motive to prevent North Korea from continuing to be a source of trouble for them. China needs a more permanent solution to the problem posed by North Korea. Could China sponsor its own coup? Would China make Kim Jong-il an offer with lots of teeth where he can give up power and move to China to live in a plush retirement? Even if China did that they'd need a way to put in a figurehead that the military and other parts of the North Korean elite would accept.

The problem is that any step short of regime change is not going to provide a permanent reliable solution to the North Korean regime's nuclear ambitions. It is not possible to verify an arms control agreement in a totalitarian country.

Verification that the country is not developing nuclear weapons is crucial to any resolution.

But analysts believe that will be difficult to prove as long as North Korea remains a secretive, totalitarian state.

This viewpoint may be about to get a big boost as a result of searches currently underway in Iraq to find weapons development labs and hidden weapons. If, as I expect, previously hidden labs, equipment and partially or fully developed weapons of mass destruction are discovered then this will demonstrate that verification can be done only by complete capture of a country's territory, scientists, and officals. However, even this effort may turn out to very difficult if, in its dying days, the Iraqi regime managed to transfer many of its scientists, enriched nuclear material, and equipment to other countries.

Update: The United States made a number of key concessions to cause this meeting to happen.

Washington has dropped its original demand that North Korea promise to dismantle its nuclear materials programs before any talks begin. The United States also has willingly shunted aside two allies in the region who had expected to be part of the talks.

It seems unlikely that this meeting will accomplish anything. The only way to prevent North Korea from continuing to develop nuclear weapons is to cause a regime change. The question becomes who will cause the regime change and how? The United States needs to convince China that the United States absolutely will act if China fails to do so.

At this point the United States ought to start working to ugrade air bases in Japan and on Guam to support a larger contingent of bombers. It is time to start building up JDAMs, fuel, and other supplies need to operate a large air war against North Korea. Doing this will sending a continuingly increasing signal to China that China has to act or the United States will.

Update II: The Bush Administration has promised Japan and South Korea that they will not be kept out of the negotiations if the negotiations proceed for any length of time.

"Washington has pledged not to proceed with the three-way dialogue if we are not allowed to take part in substantial discussions," Yonhap quoted an unnamed official as saying.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 16 09:14 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2003 April 15 Tuesday
North Korea And China Want Only Four Party Talks

If this report is correct then what China and North Korea have in mind for multilateral talks is basically two sides with North Korea and China on one side and the United States and South Korea on the other. It is sort of a form of paired bilateralism.

North Korea and China do not want Japan and Russia to take part in multilateral talks on the North's suspected nuclear arms plans, the Korea Herald newspaper reported yesterday.

What they want is talks where two major powers would bring their client states to the table. The problem is that North Korea is as much of a threat to Japan as it is to the United States and Japan is very worried about North Korea's nuclear, chemical, and missile development programs. Also, the US should insist on a Japanese presence because the threat of a Japanese military build-up is one of the cards that should be displayed prominently to the Chinese. The Chinese know that the South Korea government favors appeasement and so a meeting of just the US, China, North Korea and South Korea would put the US in the position of being the odd man out.

This report is not a good sign. The intent appears to be to reduce the pressure on North Korea. The United States should reject this formula for negotiations.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 15 11:15 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
Chinese Generals Push For More Arms To North Korea

CNN Senior China Analyst Willy Wo-Lap Lam has written an interesting column about Chinese leadership reactions to the war in Iraq. Hardliner generals in China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) are pushing for additional arms to be sent to defend North Korea.

To prevent such weapons from being misused by the Kim Jong Il regime, the PLA officers suggested the hardware be put under Chinese control all the time.

For example, Beijing would send military and technical staff -- including personnel with ethnic-Korean backgrounds -- to man the weapons, which would be taken back to China as soon as the crisis is over.

This sums up Chinese elite sentiment about North Korea. They don't trust the North Korean regime and at the same time they do not want the regime to fall.

Not surprisingly, Lam reports that the PLA is studying the performance of US equipment and will make different weapons development and acquisition decisions based on their findings. Curiously, the Chinese watched the progress of the war in part with their spy satellites. Also, China sent observers to neighboring countries in order to monitor the progress of the war.

Update: Former Reagan Administration Secretary of State George Schultz thinks the US should encourage Japan to build up its military forces as a way to pressure China to pressure North Korea. He also thinks North Korea can't be bought off because it won't honor their agreements.

"We know they violate their agreements," he said. "So their agreements are not worth paying for."

If China responds by providing arms to North Korea then there will be no way to resolve the stand-off with North Korea peacefully. It will be interesting to see how influential the generals of the PLA are in top Chinese leadership circles. Can the civilian leadership ignore them? If the civilians go along with the military pressure to arm North Korea and even send in Chinese nationals to man the weapons then North Korea will see even less reason to refrain from building nuclear weapons as Kim Jong-il will feel protected by China. On one hand China doesn't trust North Korea to operate the weapons on its own. On the other hand, if China sends its own soldiers to operate the weapons then China is taking a much greater responsibilty for North Korea's defense and for North Korea's future behavior. The implications of a Chinese move to strengthen North Korean defenses would be immense.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 15 10:11 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2003 April 03 Thursday
China Pressuring North Korea For Multilateral Talks

While China is publically calling on the United States to engage in direct bilateral negotiations with North Korea Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says China is pressuring North Korea to engage in multilateral negotiations over North Korea's nuclear weapons development program.

China is now making a substantial effort to press North Korea to accept a US demand for multi-nation regional talks on a tense nuclear crisis, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said in Washington on Wednesday.

The "greater degree of restraint" phrase stated by Downer surely refers to Chinese pressure on North Korea to hold back from developing nuclear weapons.

Mr Downer said there seemed to be a "clear sign that China is making a substantial effort". Beijing was trying to persuade North Korea to "exercise a much greater degree of restraint", and to take part in multilateral talks.

Downer thinks a multilateral security agreement between countries in the region could be part of a deal with North Korea.

"There could be some scope for countries in southeast Asia and the United States to put together some sort of security guarantees for each other which would therefore address the professed concerns of North Korea," he said.

It is hard to tell what he has in mind for that.

China has also dropped its opposition to a UN Security Council meeting to discuss the North Korea nuclear crisis.

NEW YORK - The UN Security Council will meet next week for an initial round of closed-door discussions on the North Korea nuclear crisis.

Note the extent to which the negotiations on this matter are taking place behind close doors.

Members of the 15-strong body hammered out the decision at a four-hour closed session in New York.

A much larger fraction of the debate over North Korea appears to be occurring behind closed doors. China does not want to be seen as publically challenging North Korea. Other interested principals similarly want to keep their elbow-twisting and deal-making private on this issue. This is in part a reflection of their views of the North Korean regime as paranoid and easily offended. But it also represents a desire to save face by not seeming to be knuckling under to US pressure.

The United States is starting to make headway in getting assorted interested countries to agree to a diplomatic approach that is multilateral for confronting North Korea over its nuclear weapons development program.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 03 03:23 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 April 02 Wednesday
US To Keep Training Mission Troops, Aircraft In South Korea

At the completion of an annual military exercise that the United States conducts with South Korea the US has decided to keep much of the forces shipped in for the exercise in South Korea for an indefinite period of time.

The U.S. command said that the reason for increasing U.S. forces in Korea was "maximization of training." They said that Stealth F-117A fighter planes, F-15 fighter planes and what was described as a "small army task force" would not return to the United States after a month of military exercises. A spokesman refused to say how long they would stay in Korea.

Kim Jong-il still believes the United States is coming for him next after the war in Iraq is finished.

North Korea is convinced the Bush administration plans to wage war on it after the Iraq conflict and yesterday accused the US of conducting last month more than 220 spy flights over its territory as a prelude to an attack.

By contrast, CNN Senior China Analyst Willy Wo-Lap Lam says the Chinese believe the United States has become so bogged down in Iraq that the US will not attack North Korea this year.

With forces apparently overextended in Iraq -- and with anti-war voices rising in the U.S. and Europe -- Washington seems less prone for the time being to target other rogue regimes with weapons of mass destruction.

It has become less likely that Washington will take on North Korea this year, a scenario that will plunge Sino-U.S. relations into crisis.

If the United States had a bigger military the Chinese wouldn't currently be doubting US intentions toward North Korea.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 02 11:54 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 April 01 Tuesday
Japan Debates Increased Offensive Military Capability

Japanese Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, in questioning before a Japanese Parliament committee, said Japan should consider the development of an offensive military capability.

"It is worth considering it," he said.

"It is necessary to examine (the issue) from various points of view. If we stop considering it, we will be unable to take responsibility for the peace and independence of our country," Mr Ishiba said.

The threat of a nuclear North Korea is driving Japan toward development of a much stronger military. Statements by Ishiba and other figures in Japanese politics must be getting noticed in Beijing.

Another prominent Japanese cabinet member, Shinzo Abe, provided some support for Ishiba's comments.

The comments, hinting at Japan acquiring an offensive military capability, echo comments he made last month that Tokyo might consider a pre-emptive strike on North Korea. Mr. Ishiba quickly backed away from those comments, but Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said a more assertive military posture is worth looking at.

While on a visit to Seoul South Korea Ishiba appeared to argue that the nature of the threat can make offensive capability necessary for defensive purposes.

“The Japanese government said in parliament in 1958 that when there is no other means, it is not the intention of the constitution to just sit and wait to die,” said Mr Shigeru Ishiba, director general of Japan’s defence agency, interviewed live from Seoul on a Fuji Television talk show. “While we don’t have ballistic missiles, that response from the government was given,” he said, adding: “So it is definitely not against the intent of the constitution.”

There are even right-wing Japanese politicians calling for the development of a Japanese nuclear weapons capability.

In addition, a few right-wing politicians here are suggesting that Japan build nuclear weapons to counter North Korea’s aggressive moves. That idea has almost no public support in the only country ever to have been struck with nuclear weapons. But the topic is no longer taboo.

Update: The Japanese government suspects North Korea has test-fired another missile.

According to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, the Japanese government received information from intelligence sources that shortly after 10 a.m. North Korea fired a short-range missile into the Yellow Sea from its northwestern coast.

The Japanese do not think the type of missile tested has the range to reach Japan. Still, this sort of move in North Korea's part is just going to increase the determination of the Japanese to further develop their military capabilities.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 01 03:09 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 March 28 Friday
China Temporarily Cut Oil Pipeline To North Korea

China underlined a private message to North Korea to discourage its development of nuclear weapons by cutting off an oil pipeline for a few days.

The pipeline shutdown, officially ascribed to a technical problem, followed an unusually blunt message delivered by China to its longtime ally in a high-level meeting in Beijing last month, the sources said. Stop your provocations about the possible development of nuclear weapons, China warned its neighbor, or face Chinese support for economic sanctions against the regime.

Get this: The Chinese are using the Iraq war to argue to North Korea that the United States is not just a paper tiger and that North Korea had better stop provoking the United States. Read the article. There are a number of interesting comments in it.

While there is a hardline old school faction in China's military that favors siding with North Korea against the United States the comments that come from some Beijing foreign policy thinkers are a lot more hopeful. They are taking a broader view of China's interests and they increasingly see North Korea as a liability and a dangerous throwback to a previous era.

Update: Until the signals from China about North Korea become a lot clearer we shouldn't become too optimistic that the Chinese will help us reign in the North Korean regime. See my previous posts on the thinking of the Chinese leaders on the US and North Korea.

Reuters has more details.

"It was cut for three days after the second missile," the diplomat quoted Chinese sources as saying, referring to North Korea firing a cruise missile into the Sea of Japan on March 10, Pyongyang's second missile test in two weeks.

Another link for the same article is here.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 28 05:30 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
Why Turkey Rejected US Troop Deployment Request

The Washington Post has an article by Glenn Kessler and Philip P. Pan tracing the twists and turns and negotiating mistakes made on the part of both Turkish and US officials on the issue of US troop deployments to Turkey to open a northern front on the attack on Iraq. The Turkish military was happy to see the negotiations fail.

At the same time, Turkey's military and political elite is not as powerful as it once was. In November's elections, voters threw out all of the previous governing parties and allowed the fledgling, anti-establishment Justice and Development Party to form a government on its own. The military, which has long viewed itself as the guardian of a secular Turkish state, viewed the result with alarm because the party has roots in political Islam. The military therefore had its own reasons for wanting the country's new leaders to fail in their first major test with Washington.

The Turkish rejection may provide the US with a net benefit in the long run. The US will not have to give Turkey billions of dollars in aid. More importantly, the US will have a freer hand in trying to determine how much autonomy the Kurdish region will have in Iraq. The big US mistake was to hang on so long with the 4th Infantry Division waiting to see if the Turks would change their minds. The article attributes that decision to Tommy Franks. It would also have been prudent to have a substitute for the 4th I.D. well on its way to Kuwait in case the deal with Turkey didn't pan out.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 28 01:11 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 March 25 Tuesday
China To Take Hard Line Against United States

CNN Senior China Analyst Willy Wo-Lap Lam says China will cut back on political and economic reform and move to a more confrontational posture toward the United States.

Until late last year, Beijing believed a confrontation with the U.S. could be delayed -- and China could through hewing to the late Deng Xiaoping's "keep a low profile" theory afford to concentrate almost exclusively on economic development.

"Now, many cadres and think-tank members think Beijing should adopt a more pro-active if not aggressive policy to thwart U.S. aggression," said a Chinese source close to the diplomatic establishment.

The Chinese govenment may place more sectors of the economy under greater government control and it will shift economic development in directions that will strengthen Chinese military power. There will be greater crackdowns on political dissent and the press will encourage anti-U.S. sentiments in the Chinese populace.

In light of Lam's report it seems less likely that China will try to rein in North Korea as the North Korean regime pursues its nuclear ambitions. It sounds like the Chinese leadership is more interested in challenging US attempts to pressure North Korea than to remove the cause of so much US concern.

Also see my previous post on Willy Wo-Lap Lam's views of Chinese thinking on North Korea.

Update: It case this isn't obvious: If Lam is correct about the direction of Chinese government thinking then that makes a war to take down the North Korean regime more necessary. It is still possible that China will act to reign in North Korea. But it seems unlikely at this point.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 25 02:17 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 March 19 Wednesday
Jonathan Rauch on Bush Administration North Korea Policy

Writing for the National Journal Jonathan Rauch reports on a talk with a senior Bush Administration official involved in setting North Korea policy. The Bush Administration official says bilateral negotiations are destined to fail.

OK, so where's the diplomacy? Contrary to much of what is assumed, replied the official, the administration's refusal to deal bilaterally with Pyongyang does not stem from Bush's dislike of President Kim Jong Il or from a dogmatic refusal to submit to blackmail. "It's really based more on our experience dealing with North Korea. We think that in a bilateral negotiation or dialogue with North Korea, we've learned that the other countries run for the hills. That's what happened in 1994."

(True, says Ivo Daalder, a Brookings Institution foreign-policy expert who worked on President Clinton's National Security Council staff -- and who is no fan of Bush's North Korea policy. Recalling the 1994 effort to cope with North Korea's nuclear threat, he said, "It was awful. Every time we got tough, they" -- other countries in the region -- "walked away, and every time we got weak, they got tough.")

The Bush Administration is making progress in convincing other countries in the region that multilateral negotiations is the best approach to dealing with North Korea. The article has a number of other interesting points and is worth reading.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 19 01:44 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 March 18 Tuesday
Chinese Leaders Concentrating On North Korea

Willy Wo-Lap Lam of CNN has written a revealing analysis of the thinking of China's top leadership over the building North Korea crisis. The Chinese leaders have formed a Leading Group on the North Korean Crisis (LGNKC) which is studying the crisis and attempting to formulate a Chinese strategy for how to respond.

"Beijing has told Pyongyang it will invite a stupendous retaliation from Washington -- in addition to losing all international sympathy -- if it were to launch a pre-emptive strike against the U.S., South Korea or Japan," said the source.

The source said, however, that Beijing was not sure if it could sway Kim.

The Chinese leaders feel they will be put in a bind if the US demands UN Security Council action against North Korea. On one hand they would want to oppose such a move for a variety of reasons. On the other hand, the Chinese want to build up their reputation as serious responsible players on the international stage and don't want to be the sole opponents to Security Council resolutions on North Korea.

This article reports that the Chinese leaders believe the US is not going to wait much longer to confront North Korea. One has to wonder whether they believe this as a result of diplomatic exchanges with the US or because they have well placed intelligence sources in the US government.

Chinese generals are pressuring the civilian leadership of China to supply weapons to help North Korea to defend itself.

Jiang and Hu's difficulties are compounded by the fact that a number of People's Liberation Army (PLA) generals are urging the leadership to accede to Kim's demands for help against possible U.S. attacks.

The Iraq crisis is small stuff compared to what is coming with North Korea. China's position on North Korea is key to determining how the crisis will be resolved. This article very much worth reading in full.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 18 04:47 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 March 17 Monday
Fritz W. Ermarth on Bush Administration North Korea Strategy

Fritz W. Ermarth is Director of National Security Programs at the Nixon Center, argues that North Korea is trying to rush the United States into bilaterial negotiations in order to wring concessions out of the United States before the United States can negotiate a consensus between the relevant powers (e.g. South Korea, China, Japan) over a position to take toward North Korea. Therefore calls demanding the Bush Administration to engage in direct negotiations play into the North Korean strategy.

Paradoxically, North Korea is also playing for time, or rather against it. One might think that time is on the side of the DPRK. But this is not so, except in the longer run and only if we (and others) are passive. As Kim appears to see it, he must try his utmost to extract a critical “win” in terms of political recognition, security assurances, and economic tribute while Washington and half of America’s Army divisions are focused on Iraq and our needed partners are divided by the Iraq issue. After Iraq, Kim’s window of opportunity is likely to be closed by the U.S. military recovery faster than it is opened by his nuclear buildup.

Ermarth argues that the negotiations between the relevant powers take time and that only the negotiation of a united front of major relevant powers toward North Korea has any chance of producing a peaceful resolution of the crisis caused by North Korea's nuclear weapons development program. He isn't arguing that it is certain that a united front can be negotiated or that once the united front is negotiated it is certain to be successful. He's only arguing that a united front of the relevant players is the only possibility for a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

This argument makes sense to me. The unstated assumption of his short essay is that North Korea as a nuclear power constitutes an unacceptable risk to the United States as well as to South Korea and Japan and to other states as well. This assumption with regard to the United States rests on two sources of threat: First, North Korea's development of ICBMs capable of hitting combined with their paranoia could result in their attacking the United States. Second, the regime has shown a willingness to sell all manner of weapons and weapons technology and can be expected to be willing to sell nuclear weapons technology, enriched radioactive material, and even nuclear weapons.

The only other possible peaceful resolution to the crisis would be an internal overthrow of the North Korean regime. That is a low probability event because the regime still maintains a very powerful system of repression and has greatly limited the knowledge that North Koreans have of the outside world. Even if, as I've repeatedly advocated, a major covert operation was made to smuggle books and radios into North Korea to break the North Korean regime's information monopoly the fall of the North Korean regime as a result of internal opposition could take many years. Still, its all the more reason to get started now with a major effort to reach the North Korean people with information about the rest of the world.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 17 10:22 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 March 14 Friday
Japan, United States Plan Sanctions Against North Korea

Japan is threatening economic sanctions against North Korea in response to any additional North Korean missile tests.

TOKYO — Japan will impose economic sanctions on North Korea jointly with the United States and other willing nations if it test-launches a ballistic missile, Japanese government sources said Thursday.

There are a number of ways in which North Korea gets money from Japan. One source is legal trade. Also, the North Korean regime is heavily involved in production and smuggling of black market amphetamines into Japan. Ethnic Koreans living in Japan (who came there basically as slave laborers during WWII) send money to relatives in North Korea. The ethnic Koreans dominate the Pachinko game industry and a portion of that money flows to Japan as well. At least a portion of the legal trade would be easiest to cut off. Also, a cut-off of the legal trade would make the illegal trade more difficult. Plus, restrictions could be placed on money carried by ethnic Koreans in Japan when they make trips to North Korea to visit relatives.

Japan previously threatened to ban fund transfers in 1999. Japan has a lot of ways to reduce cash flows to North Korea. For instance, simply banning charter flights to North Korea (as Japan has done previously) would eliminate one method by which ethnic Koreans living in Japan can take money to North Korea. These sorts of threats certainly get the attention of the rulers in Pyongyang and may well cause the North Koreans to put off further missile tests. However, it is unlikely that North Korea will stop developing nuclear weapons as a result of Japanese economic sanctions alone.

The North Korean economy has a GDP of about $20 billion dollars (estimates vary). Therefore North Korean sales of legal goods to Japan amount to about one percent of North Korean GDP.

North Korea shipped $225.62 million worth of goods to Japan in 2001, according to figures compiled by the Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency in South Korea. Its next biggest markets were South Korea itself, which imported $176.17 million, and China, $166.73 million.

Japan's sales to North Korea are smaller than North Korea's sales to Japan.

Japan's exports to North Korea totalled about $135m in 1999, while cash transfers from Japan's sizeable Korean community are also thought to be significant.

Ethnic Korean domination of the Pachinko game industry in Japan is probably a bigger source of funds for North Korea than is legal trade.

Lawmakers in Japan, which is second only to China as Pyongyang’s biggest trading partner, say that much of the half-billion dollars that they estimate crosses the Sea of Japan annually is pachinko-related. But others say the sum is far greater, exceeding $1 billion a year, and contributes mightily to Pyongyang’s otherwise buckling economy.

These estimates cited by MSNBC run to the high side of current estimates of Pachinko-related revenue currently flowing to North Korea.

Pachinko revenue used to run into the high hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

Much of this money, reportedly around £375m, made its way to North Korea due to the fact that many of these arcades are owned by Japanese Koreans originally from the North.

But many analysts believe the amount flowing from ethnic Korean pachinko operators to North Korea has dropped dramatically.

It is also believed that the amount of money now going to North Korea, which has been made by the Pachinko machines, has decreased substantially to around a level £60m per year. The reasons reported for this drastically smaller number are that the Japanese economy itself has suffered over recent years and that Japanese Koreans may not have the same loyalty as once existed.

The decline in pachinko income from its peak may be by a whole order of magnitude.

No one knows exactly how much profit there is in the shady, mob-connected world of pachinko, or how much of the game's proceeds wind up in North Korea. In 1994, Japanese police testified in parliament that $600 million or more was being sent to the world's last Stalinist state, much of it derived from pachinko. Japanese media and economists also have placed the number in that range, though some say it may have fallen by more than 80 percent.

A claim from 1999 of a huge decline in North Korean income from pachinko:

By the early 1990s, as much as $2 billion a year in remittances, cash gifts and investment was flowing from Japan to North Korea, says then-Foreign Minister Tsutomu Hata. The flow has fallen off sharply amid Japan's economic slump and growing disenchantment with Pyongyang.

Nicholas Eberstadt traces the decline of transfers of money from ethnic Koreans in Japan to North Korea as far back as 1989.

Cash flows out of Japan began drying up in 1989, Eberstadt said. He attributed the decline to a number of factors including the collapse of Japan's "bubble" economy, negative revelations about life under Communist regimes elsewhere in the world, and a reduction in younger ethnic Koreans' loyalty to the Pyongyang regime.

The collapse of the Japanese bubble economy had at least one beneficial effect.

Here is yet another claim of reduced remittances to North Korea of ethnic Koreans living in Japan.

$600 million per annum during the eighties. Present amount of Chochongryun remittance unknown, but a substantial decrease appears likely due to decrease in money from pachinko gambling and real estate.

The decline in other sources of revenue increase the incentive for the North Korean regime to sell all manner of weapons.

The North Koreans certainly don't have a record of self-restraint. Ballistic missiles are its top foreign-exchange earner; according to U.S. government estimates, that trade pulls in between $150 million and $300 million a year—a tidy sum, given that the country's legitimate exports amount to about $600 million.

In a New York Times article about US plans for sanctions against North Korea former ambassador to China and South Korea James R. Lilley says it may be possible to convince China to apply economic pressure to North Korea.

"The Chinese are coming on board," Mr. Lilley said. "But you've got to get high-level summitry to kick start it."

Such high-level diplomacy could begin in April, when Vice President Dick Cheney is scheduled to visit Beijing to discuss North Korea, administration officials said.

Will the Chinese come on board? Don't count on it.

He also reveals that China has twice in the last decade cut economic aid to North Korea in order to pressure it to stop doing weapons development (if anyone finds confirming reports on this I'd love to hear from you - my own Googling on this has not turned up anything yet). That is not as encouraging as it sounds. China did not intend to bring down the North Korean regime and surely will not want to add to the economic pressures on North Korea if Japan and the United States decide to cooperate to impose tough economic sanctions on North Korea.

It would be hard to cut off trade between North Korea and other countries without Chinese cooperation.Shipping North Korean goods thru China already serves as a way to hide their origins:

Much of the trade would be difficult to stop anyway, because South Korean entrepreneurs — anticipating such a move — have routed much of their business through ports in other countries, principally in China.


North Korean textiles are trucked into China, then shipped to Japan and sold with ‘Made in China’ labels, Western diplomats said.

This suggests that part of what the United States buys from China is really coming from North Korea. Imagine a high level delegation from the United States telling Chinese leaders that the US is going to have to put up tariffs or entirely ban some Chinese imports in order to end US trade with North Korea.

Suppose trade sanctions could bring North Korea to agree to an end to its nuclear weapons development efforts. Even a successful sanctions regime that caused North Korea to agree to stop its nuclear weapons development work would not work unless the North Korean regime was to allow total freedom of movement of inspectors around North Korea. Even under those circumstances the inspectors might not be able to find all of North Korea's weapons development labs.

The John Diamond has written a fairly extensive summary of limits of US intelligence knowledge about North Korea.

Where is the enrichment plant that could soon be capable of producing weapons-grade uranium? North Korea's admission last fall that it had a uranium-enrichment program is what touched off the current crisis. Expert tunnelers, the North Koreans have likely built the plant underground. Spy satellite imagery specialists are looking for a large — and unexplained — electricity supply, essential for the uranium-enrichment process.

Uranium enrichment facilities can not be inspected if their locations remain secret. The United States also can not conduct a preemptive strike against the uranium enrichment facilities as long as their location remains secret. Therefore, as long as their location remains secret a preemptive strike limited to only North Korean nuclear facilities can not knock out all of the North Korean nuclear program.

George W. Bush is inclined to go with the sticks of sanctions rather than the carrots of aid as bribery.

Mr. Bush has warmed to this option because, in his words, it avoids "rewarding bad behavior." The North has said sanctions would mean war, but it could be bluffing. The administration's problem is that tightening the noose requires the help of North Korea's neighbors — as Mr. Bush said at his news conference Thursday. None of them wants to see a nuclear North Korea, he said. That is right, but those nations' interests are not America's.

The problem of course is that the US by itself can not cut off North Korea and force it to the wall economically. The United States clearly needs a lot of leverage in East Asia and especially with China if it is to bring enough economic weight to bear on North Korea. Fortunately, it has that leverage if it is willing to use it. Even the parties that resent US presence rely upon it for both security and financial reasons. Take South Korea for example. Many South Koreans resent the US troop presence and the important role the United States plays in maintaining South Korean security. However, talk by US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld about US troop withdrawals from South Korea brought this response from newly appointed South Korean defense minister Cho Young Kil:

Indeed, said Mr. Cho, talking to members of South Korea's fractious National Assembly, American and South Korean officials "will not discuss any possibility of movement of U.S. troops before the nuclear issue is resolved."

The South Koreans are afraid the US will withdraw its troops in order to get its troops out of range of North Korean artillery. A US withdrawal would prevent North Korean retaliation against US troops if the US launches a preemptive attack on North Korean nuclear weapons development facilities. South Korea wants US protection and US restraint. South Korea does not want the US to make moves to protect US cities from nuclear terrorism if those moves will put South Korea at risk. This desire on the part of the South Koreans actually strengthens US ability to apply pressure to South Korea to in turn apply economic sanctions to North Korea. The US can essentially argue to South Korea that if it can't organize sanctions against North Korean then the US will be left with no other option than to launch a preemptive strike.

Understand what this says about the South Koreans. They want us to defend them. They do not want us to defend ourselves if that puts them at risk. This illustrates a larger problem that the spread of weapons of mass destruction is causing: Other countries do not want to support American efforts to defend itself if doing so makes them targets. This affects everything from UN votes to participation in military operations. The US is the number one target and everyone else wants to keep their country either off the target list or at least far down the list.

In the Asian Times Francesco Sisci and Lu Xiang argue that many countries in East Asia are reliant on US presence to prevent developments that each country fears.

Without US protection, would Taiwan resist the temptation to declare independence and thus provoke Beijing into a war? Would China resist the temptation to pressure Taiwan more? In both cases, whatever the outcome, Japan would feel threatened, and Japan is the single largest economy of Asia, making up alone most of the dollar value of the regional production and trade. Japan therefore is not like Britain, which is a large economy but does not make up the largest part of the welfare of Europe. Differences of political regimes in different countries hamper further trust and political integration. The resolution of political systems and the soothing of wariness could take at least 20 years. In the meantime the US is the only huge buffer among the many potential conflicts of the continent.

In other words, differently from Europe, there is an economic and strategic integration across the Pacific far larger than across the Atlantic. Moreover, whereas in Europe there are objective interests to decrease the US presence, none of these interests are present in Asia, nor will be for the next two decades.

There is another way that US leverage is about to increase. There is a connection between the coming war in Iraq and the North Korean crisis that goes unappreciated in most writing: a dramatic US demonstration of a wllingness to use force to take out the regime in Baghdad increases US bargaining power with other regimes. If the US was to allow itself to be restrained by the United Nations then effectively the US would be seen as a far less powerful country, and accurately so. If the US goes ahead in the face of UN opposition then the Iraq war will strengthen the credibility of any US claims of willingness to use force. A United States willing to deploy a couple of hundred thousand troops and its massive air power to bring down the Iraqi regime is a country that will have a stronger position from which to deal with the crisis over North Korea. As an added bonus elimination of Saddam's regime effectively frees up bombers and carrier task forces for other jobs.

Another underappreciated factor is China's economic vulnerability. China needs trade with South Korea, Japan, and the United States. The Beijing regime would face the very real possibility of overthrow if its foreign trade was dramatically cut back at this point. This is the biggest lever the US has over China with regard to North Korea.

After the US, Japan is going to be most willing to pursue the sanctions route. Japan feels threatened by North Korean missiles and does not want to face the prospect of nuclear warheads on those missiles. South Korea and China are going to be harder to convince. But the Bush Administration, by threatening to pull US troops out of South Korea, has already sent a big shocker into South Korean politics. The South Koreans are starting to realize that their "Sunshine" policy with North Korea is going to lead to an outcome that the Bush Administration considers to be an unacceptable threat to US security. South Korea is going to have to decide whether it prefers economic sanctions or a US preemptive attack on North Korean facilities.

While many Democrats are insisting that the Bush Administration is ignoring North Korea to concentrate on Iraq it would be more accurate to say that the Bush Administration is ignoring their advice on what to do about North Korea. It is hard to take seriously the carping of the Democrats. Their policy was failing badly while Clinton was in office as the North Korean regime secretly pursued uranium enrichment as the path to the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

The planned trip of Dick Cheney to China, leaks to the press about sanctions plans, reports in the press about possible troop withdrawals from South Korea, build-ups of air power in Guam and other military build-ups in the region, Colin Powell's mention of secret diplomatic initiatives, and assorted other signs all point to an active and increasing effort to deal with the threat from North Korea. Whether these efforts will be sufficient to end the threat without a resort to military action remains to be seen. But at least the Bush Administration approach is realistic.

As the events unfold in East Asia keep in mind several possible outcomes to the current crisis:

  • North Korea manages to become a nuclear power with many nuclear weapons. The weapons will be a deterrence against attack and a tool for extortion of aid. But the worst possibility is that the North Korean regime will sell nuclear weapons or highly radioactive materials for the purpose of making radiation bombs. Some US cities end up getting nuked by terrorists.
  • The US and other countries cut off North Korea's economy so thoroughly that it collapses and the regime falls in an internal revolt. There is a danger that plutonium or uranium might be sold right before its collapse but its possible this outcome would result in no deaths or dangers outside of North Korea. Then again, it might lash out as it collapses and South Korea especially could suffer a lot of casualties.
  • The US and other countries cut off North Korea's economy and the North Korean regime gets so desperate that it becomes willing to allow in weapons inspectors and it claims it will abandon WMD development (this seems extremely unlikely). The danger with this outcome is that the North Korean regime might manage to hide a facility and continue manufacture of nukes albeit at a slower rate. Eventually some of the nukes end up in the hands of terrorists and some US cities get nuked.
  • The US can't get enough cooperation from China and South Korea on applying economic sanctions to North Korea. The US opts to pull its troops back from the DMZ in Korea and then launches air strikes at North Korean nuclear facilities. The problem with this option is that the US may not know where all the facilities are located. It might fail to knock them all out. Plus, North Korea's engineers would still have the knowledge needed to rebuild. Also, the North Koreans could have transported some plutonium to hidden locations in advance of the air strike and they sell some of it to terrorists who then attack some American cities with radiological bombs. Plus, the North Korean regime may respond with a massive artillery barrage on populated areas of South Korea.
  • North Korea starts a war. It might be in response to a preemptive US air strike against North Korean nuclear facilities. Or it could be in response to economic sanctions. Or it could be just a miscalculation by its paranoid regime. Lots of South Koreans (hundreds of thousand and perhaps even millions) die. But the North Korean regime is defeated and the threat it poses is ended.

The North Korean crisis is notable for the fact that most of the plausible outcomes are very unattractive. I would like to repeat my favorite option for dealing with North Korea: Break the North Korean regime information monopoly over its own people. Doing this it not guaranteed to cause an internal revolt. It may turn out to be extremely difficult to do and even if we could convince the majority of North Koreans that they are unnecessarily living in extreme poverty caused by their government's policies they still may be unwilling or unable to overthrow their government. But a huge attempt to break the information monopoly seems worth a try. Books could be sealed in plastic with enough air to make them bouyant and then the books could be released by ships and even by submarines that could get much closer to the North Korean shoreline. Also. radios could be delivered by similar means and by means of smugglers. A massive covert operation using many methods of reaching into North Korean might succeed. It is certainly worth a try.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 14 03:14 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2003 March 13 Thursday
China Blocks UN Security Council Resolution On North Korea

China is blocking a UN Security Council statement condemning North Korea for its nuclear weapons development program.

UNITED NATIONS: China on Thursday acknowledged blocking major powers from discussing the North Korea crisis at the United Nations, saying it was pushing instead for a dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang.

A slightly shorter version of the story is here.

The UN Security Council will not force Iraq to disarm or act to prevent North Korea from becoming a nuclear power. This is to be expected. China is a member and China's regime sees the North Korean regime as both helpful in the maintenance of the stability of the Beijing regime and as a proxy for challenging the United States. The UN is once again demonstrating that it is irrelevant to the national security needs of the United States because various of its members see increasing threats to the national security of the United States as in their own best interest.

The biggest lever the United States has with China is trade. China needs to sell to the United States a lot more than the United States needs to buy what China makes. There are other suppliers after all. Will the US play the trade card with China to get China to use its own economic levers against the North Korean regime?

How much does China need US trade? As Christopher Horton points out China has a large population of unemployed workers who are already a threat to the Beijing government.

Wang also estimated that there was a floating population of 150 million rural laborers in the countryside who drifted in search of work. It doesn't take a political scientist or historian to realize out how volatile these immense numbers of unemployed urbanites and poor migrant laborers could become. Indeed, Zhu asserted that "agricultural, village and farmers' problems relate to the overall situation of China's reform, opening and modernization. We cannot neglect them or relax at any time."

Barriers to trade with the United States would increase unemployment to a level that could bring down the Beijing regime. Therefore the United States has a very powerful card to play if Bush decides to play it.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 13 06:49 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2003 March 11 Tuesday
Why the US Should Go It Alone Into Iraq

There are worried reports that Britain and Turkey may both not support the US attack on Iraq. The US seems unlikely to win a second UN Security Council resolution on Iraq and on a diplomatic level trends are moving against the US. These developments are all considered to be bad news in some circles. The White House says UN failure to support the coming war on Iraq will encourage Iran and North Korea. Thomas Friedman says the coming Iraq war is not a war of necessity and foolishly claims it is possible to postpone it until conditions are more favorable. International support for an attack on Saddam will not build with time. The motives of the opponents assure that. All the Gulf states that have stuck their necks out to allow US basing on their territory to support an attack on Iraq will be absolutely furious if the US does not follow thru and leaves them facing a vengeful Iraq.

The biggest downside for US to fight a war under less favorable conditions of less support is military, not diplomatic. The loss of British forces or an inability to open up a large northern front using Turkish bases would increase US casualties, prolong the war, and increase the chances that Saddam can blow up oil fields and kill civilians on his way down.

For the US to go alone without UN support will be an advantage in the long run. As soon as Iraq is conquered the Iraqi weapons development programs will revealed for the world to see. US claims (and the claims of assorted former UNSCOM inspectors) will be shown to have been fully justified. The UN will be seen as an obstacle standing in the way of a US effort to prevent WMD proliferation, reduce terrorism (interrogation of Saddam's intelligence agents will turn up all sorts of information about Iraqi support for terrorist organisations), and to give the Iraqi people relief from a vicious tyranny.

If the US can't win UN support for action against Iraq where the case is so strong then the chances of winning UN support against Iran or North Korean is effectively nil. The US will have to operate either alone or with coalitions of the willing. An attack on Iraq in the face of so much diplomatic resistance will demonstrate to the US leadership that UN support is not only not necessary but undesireable to even pursue.

While Colin Powell and many in the US State Department may see a diplomatic debacle unfolding this debacle will have the effect of convincing the Bush Administration and a significant portion of the American people that the US can't look to the UN and associated agencies for recourse to deal with the threat of nuclear proliferation combined with terrorism. This transformation in attitudes of the American electorate is absolutely necessary for the next chapter of the war against the Axis Of Evil states and international terrorist organizations.

France's organization of obstruction in the UN Security Council and the diplomatic opposition of so many other countries is already having a salubrious effect on the American body politic. That so many nations have decided to oppose the case for war against Iraq when that case is so strong is certainly an error in tactics for the opponents. They are losing the ability to influence American action in future rounds. A recent New York Times/CBS News Poll on the coming Iraq war finds Americans are coming to view the United Nations in an unfavorable light.

The poll found that 58 percent of Americans said the United Nations was doing a poor job in managing the Iraqi crisis, a jump of 10 points from a month ago. And 55 percent of respondents in the latest poll would support an American invasion of Iraq, even if it was in defiance of a vote of the Security Council.

Those of us who think the United Nations is a net detriment to US security have got to applaud French President Jacques Chirac for the fine job he's doing in changing American attitudes toward large international organisations. Bravo! Keep up the good work Jacques. Do not waver. Do not have second thoughts. Come what may be sure to exercise the French veto on the UN Security Council.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 11 12:45 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 March 05 Wednesday
Stanley Kurtz On The Strategic Dilemma Posed By North Korea

North Korea has shown a willingness to sell any weapons technology they can develop. Therefore Kurtz argues that the current course of events will eventually lead to nuclear terrorism against the United States.

Continuation of this situation will be catastrophic for the United States. In the short term, North Korean sales of plutonium would lead to dirty bombs in American cities, rendering sections of Washington or New York uninhabitable for generations. In the medium term, plutonium sales will doubtless lead to full-scale nuclear blasts, set off by terrorists, in American cities. These will kill hundreds of thousands, even millions of Americans. Full-scale nuclear arms proliferation to rogue nations will also lead to yet more nuclear blackmail, of the type being practiced by Korea right now.

The problem is that the best course of action to save American cities places Seoul South Korea in danger of destruction and loss of millions of lives. Kurtz argues that other nations have a strong incentive to disassociate themselves from the US war on terror and rogue regimes.

The policy that best saves Washington and New York most risks Seoul. And this is because South Korea (like Europe) is gradually being transformed from a frontline Cold War tripwire into potential collateral damage in a direct battle between the United States and terrorists and rogue regimes armed with weapons of mass destruction. After a Korean conflict in which both the North and the South are devastated, the world would shun America as a dangerous pariah — and from the perspective of the world's interests, this would not be entirely without justification.

If the US moves against North Korea then it risks becoming a pariah. If the US doesn't move against North Korea then eventually the US will lose some American cities to nuclear terrorism. Throughout the world it is widely believed that the United States can't possibly be threatened because it is enormously more powerful than any other nation. Yet in spite of this power the growing abilities of American adversaries to conduct asymmetric warfare leaves the United States facing a terrible strategic dilemma.

Some argue for a preemptive strike against Yongbyon. While it is impossible to predict what the North Korean response would be let us suppose the North Korean regime would decide not to respond by attacking South Korea. Then would such a preemptive strike be sufficient to remove the threat posed by North Korea? Probably not. The reactivation of the Yongbyon facility is just one step toward current crisis and Yongbyon is not the only source of weapons grade material that the North Koreans have. The detection of North Korean uranium enrichment efforts (that last link has a great collection of information on what is publically know about the North Korean uranium enrichment efforts) which started back in the 1990s and the North Korean acknowledgement of that program are what led to the current crisis.

While US intelligence has identified a few sites that might be doing uranium enrichment it is not clear that the US can be certain that an air strike would knock out all uranium enrichment facilities. How big is the uranium enrichment equipment? Could North Korea move it rapidly and hide some of it in advance of signs of a preemptive strike? Might the North Koreans already have moved some of the plutonium from Yongbyon to a facility that is unknown to US intelligence? It is not clear that a preemptive strike against North Korea's nuclear faciliities would remove the threat that North Korea poses to the US.

Is a diplomatic solution possible? Given that China is clearly unwilling to help this seems unlikely. Even if China was willing any solution would have to involve an extremely powerful inspections regime. See the Inspections and Sanction archive for information about why inspections won't work against a regime determined to do WMD development.

If a preemptive strike limited to North Korean nuclear facilities may not work and if a diplomatic solution seems unlikely and unworkable where does that leave us? The only sure way to end the threat posed by North Korea is regime overthrow. That will come in one of three ways. The first way would be a war this year possibly as an outgrowth of a preemptive strike that North Korea responded to with an attack on South Korea or possibly as a result of a North Korean provocation that was too great to ignore. The second way a war could start would be some years from now as a response to a radiological or nuclear attack on US cities by terrorists. The third way would be an internal revolt against the regime in North Korea.

The Bush Administration may turn out to be unwilling to attack North Korea this year. In spite of a Bush Administration decision to exercise restraint the North Korean regime might still accidentally or intentionally do something that provides a pretext for a retaliatory strike and so the decision is not entirely in the hands of the Bush Administration. However, if war doesn't happen then the crisis will stretch out and build up for years to come. In that case war might still be avoided if the United States was to weaken the control of the North Korean regime enough to cause its downfall. The most powerful policy the US could adopt to increase the odds of that happening would be to make a large effort to break the information monopoly that the North Korean regime holds over its people. An effort to break the information monopoly would include much more extensive Korean language broadcasts into North Korea, smuggling in of books and small radios, and attempts to deliver radios and books onto beaches using ships and even submarines to release plastic-sealed bouyant books and radios near the North Korean coastline. Also, a very active effort to reach North Korean diplomats and other elite regime members living abroad to provide them with information and to turn them into agents coiuld be pursued.

A massive attempt to break the information monopoly in North Korea is not guaranteed to lead to the downfall of the North Korean regime. But in light of the strategic dilemma that North Korea poses for the United States it seems irresponsible not to make a massive attempt to reach the North Korean people with information about the rest of the world.

Update: The North Korean regime is basically holding South Korea hostage so that it can develop and eventually sell weapons of mass destruction. By this estimate the North Koreans could kill four and a half million South Koreans rather quickly at the outbreak of war.

• Use chemical weapons. One estimate, cited by, says North Korea could kill 38 percent of Seoul's 12 million people by hitting the city with 50 missiles carrying nerve gas.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 05 10:34 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 March 04 Tuesday
US Reverting To Maritime Power Role?

Writing for the Financial Times of London William Richard Smyser argues the US is returning to its historical role as a maritime power.

Sea powers behave in predictable ways. Strategically, they try to dominate the oceans (and now the skies). They abhor large and fixed land deployments, preferring to use local auxiliaries. They like to control or at least to neutralise the opposite shores of contiguous seas and oceans.

Diplomatically, they have no fixed alliances but only fixed interests.

According to this view the US no longer needs to be a land power in Europe. Europe is, in the foreseeable future, facing no conventional military threat. The US needs to be able to project power across oceans in far less plannable and predictable ways. NATO is chiefly useful as a staging area. Therefore NATO is less important but not obsolete.

US actions in the Middle East are partly explainable by this interpretation. The capture of Iraq will decrease the US need for aircraft carriers in conditions where carrier operation is risky (i.e. in the Persian Gulf) and will free up carriers for other theaters (notably the Pacific). The US does not need to become a major land power in the Middle East because the Middle Eastern regimes all have weak militaries. The Middle East will pose a threat to the US only thru terrorism and the development of weapons of mass destruction. Firm control of bases in Iraq places US air and ground forces on the border of the two countries that pose the greatest threats from WMD and terrororism: Iran and Saudi Arabia.

After the Iraq war it then seems reasonable to expect a build-up of US naval and air forces in the Pacific. Bases in Hawaii, Guam, and Japan might be expected to see upgrading.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 04 03:41 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 February 27 Thursday
Nuclear Proliferation, International Order, and Empires

Anglosphere columnist James C. Bennett believes failure to control nuclear proliferation will lead to a shattering of the international order.

Ironically, many of those who profess to hate war, empire and poverty, and who strive for a just international order, accuse Bush and Blair of promoting those things. In reality, a failure of the Bush-Blair coalition would sooner or later (probably sooner) give rise to a world in which a number of regional tyrannies who gradually, under the cover of their weapons of mass destruction, would annex first the states that are sovereign by convention, such as Kuwait, and eventually many that have been sovereign by circumstance.

The existence of such states would force other nations in the region to calculate that their own sovereignty depended on their acquisition of nuclear weapons. Given that most nuclear tyrannies would be happy to sell weapons to out-of-area states with ready cash, such proliferation could proceed more rapidly than many imagine.

Most people overestimate the stability of the current international system. Force holds it together. The United Nations has no power of its own and states routinely ignore its resolutions. Should more states get nuclear weapons then they will become immune to attempts to restrain their most savage actions. Widespread nuclear proliferation would cause such a huge shift in the relative ability of states to exercise force that many buried ambitions would become manifest in bold power grabs.

In ways that are deeply reminiscent of the conditions before WWI and WWII few are aware that the international system stands at a precipice and its foundation is weak and easily shattered.

What should one think about European popular sentiment opposing the war against Iraq? How accurate an indicator is popular sentiment as a guide in foreign policy? Jim Miller quotes historian A.J.P. Taylor on the widespread popularity of the Munich Agreement which Neville Chamberlain negotiated with Hitler.

Nor is it true that the "appeasers" were a narrow circle, widely opposed at the time. To judge by what is said now, one would suppose that practically all Conservatives were for strenuous resistance to Germany in alliance with Soviet Russia and that all the Labour party were clamouring for great armaments. On the contrary, few causes have been more popular. Every newspaper in the country applauded it with the exception of Reynolds' News. Yet so powerful are the legends that even when I write this sentence I can hardly believe it. (p. 292, The Origins of the Second World War, 2nd edition)

Miller argues that the beliefs of the majority are not always an accurate guide to the wisest course of action.

There is a general lesson in the reaction to Munich. Among the logical fallacies so common as to have acquired a Latin name is "ad populum", an appeal to popular sentiment. It is illogical to conclude that a policy is correct just because it is popular.

Any political order is maintained by force. By failing to use force ourselves we do not eliminate the use of force. We just allow its use to shift to those with other intentions for its use.

There are smaller countries in more dangerous regions of the world whose leaders can not afford to make foreign policy decisions based on a sentimental appraisal about the nature of the world order. Martin Walker, in a Walker's World column entitled "Watch what they do" reports on the gap between the public statements sometimes made by Malaysia's leaders and the reality of Malaysia's strong military relations with America.

At the Butterworth Air Force Base outside Penang, the integrated air defense commander is an Australian, under the five-power agreement among Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore. U.S. Special Forces troops train at the Malaysian Army's Jungle Warfare school (founded by the British). "Our military-to-military links with the U.S. are excellent, the pillar of our bilateral relations," says the defense minister, whose status as deputy leader of the ruling UMNO party and a son of a former prime minister gives him unusual political influence.

Walker points out that the leaders of Malaysia realize that maintaining a high level of security for their country is essential to ensure Western corporations will be comfortable with making large capital investments in Malaysia.

In a column describing what he thinks a real empire would look like James C. Bennett argues for prevention of the development of the threat of nuclear terrorism because the failure to prevent nuclear terrorism will set in motion a series of events that will lead to a real American empire.

To look at such empire both tells us how far America still is from yet being one, and what the stakes are in preventing the kind of stresses on America's existing civil society than would bring on such an emergency state. The alternative to strong action by a constitutional, democratic state against nuclear-armed terrorism is not life as before; it is something most people who grew up with today's America wouldn't care for.

See previous posts on the need for a containment strategy and the threat of proliferation.

Update: Also see James C. Bennett's article Anglosphere: What a real empire is like

Many people would be surprised by the liberal and progressive nature of the empire's domestic policy. Multiculturalism would be retained and enhanced, and the country would probably be declared officially bilingual in English and Spanish, the better to annex Latin American states. Again, the more divided the citizenry, the easier it is for a strong executive to manipulate them. Surprisingly to some, the neo-Confederate movement in the South would be quietly encouraged as a cultural movement, within limits, again to divide sentiments.

By Randall Parker    2003 February 27 12:10 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2003 February 09 Sunday
John Boyd: American Warrior

Robert Coram has recently written a book entitled Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War. Boyd was a USAF fighter pilot who has had a huge effect on aircraft fighter design, pilot training, and more broadly how the US military fights wars. His is a classical story of someone who made many enemies while battling resistance by narrow-minded bureaucrats, higher level officers wedded to older doctrines, and contractors trying to peddle flawed weapons systems.

On C-Span's Booknotes Brian Lamb interviewed Robert Coram about John Boyd.

LAMB: ... show you a little bit of that later, when he does talk about Mike Wiley (ph). He`s sitting next to Gary Hart, and there are also some others in the room at that particular hearing. You also mention in this book his connections to Senator Grassley, Senator Kassebaum`s top aide, Senator Gary Hart`s top aide, the Reform Caucus in the House of Representatives, and the vice president of the United States, now -- then secretary of defense, Dick Cheney. What -- how did that work?

CORAM: Boyd met all of the above when he was the leader, the spiritual leader, if you will, of the reform movement. Dick Cheney, then a young congressman from Wyoming, heard his briefing, then had a number of one-on-one sessions with Boyd. When Cheney became secretary of defense, he was rare in that he knew more about strategy than most of his generals did. He called Boyd out of retirement in the early days of the Gulf war, and from him got an updating, if you will. And it was Boyd`s strategy, not Schwarzkopf`s, that led to our swift and decisive victory in the Gulf war.

The vice president, Cheney, gave me about 30 minutes to talk about Boyd. And on television, he seems very reserved and controlled, but when he talked to me about John Boyd, he was enthusiastic, and I could tell he had great respect for this man.

LAMB: What part of the Gulf war in 1991 plan did John Boyd have some responsibility for?

CORAM: All of it. The multiple thrust, the feints, the ambiguity, the Marine feint, the...

LAMB: You mean the landing in Kuwait, the early landing?

CORAM: Yes. Yes.

LAMB: That was his idea?

CORAM: It was his idea. He was behind every bit of it.

One of Boyd's allies thinks Rumsfeld is going about transformation without enough understanding of what needs to change.

The saga demonstrates that radical change is possible, even in the world's most notoriously hidebound institution, but suggests it must bubble up from deep within the ranks.

``Rumsfeld is trying . . . to impose change from the top down,'' complained Franklin ``Chuck'' Spinney, one of the few members of the Fighter Mafia still working in the Pentagon. ``And what that means is that they have to have an answer they're trying to impose. . . . The problem is, they haven't done the research to see if that answer is actually workable.''

In contrast, Boyd, the Mafia's godfather and the central figure in the broader military reform movement it spawned, was a cigar-chomping, free-cursing dynamo, notorious for challenging convention and questioning authority at every level. He was endlessly revising projects he'd spent years developing.

Some of Boyd's Mafia also worry that Rumsfeld's vision of transformation relies too heavily on gadgets and not enough on human intellect. has an excellent review of Coram's book written by Bill Swanson.

Boyd's major contribution to military theory is what he called "the OODA Loop," a.k.a. the Boyd cycle. OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act, and despite its apparent simplicity it turns out to be a fairly complex analysis of military decision-making before and during battle. It is revolutionary because for the first time it introduced the concept of time, and it has moral and psychological dimensions. Rather than being a book, paper, report or manual, the OODA Loop exists in its main form as a 185-slide Pentagon-style briefing, and depending on the level of audience participation and question-and-answer, it can take a full day or two just to explain. The crux of it is that the side that proceeds through the cycle fastest is the winner. If you can figure out what your enemy's cycle is likely to be (in other words, if you can figure out what he's going to do), you have "gotten inside his decision cycle." You don't want him inside yours, and that's what happened on 9/11.

Here's a great excerpt from Coram's book.

An essay by Major Jeffrey L. Cowan, U.S. Air Force on John Boyd's influence on US Marines warfighting doctrine.

What finally turned years of struggle into something concrete was General Gray's publication of FMFM (Fleet Marine Force Manual)-1, Warfighting, a document that would be the cornerstone for all other Marine Corps doctrinal publications. A small group, including retired Colonel Boyd, was instrumental in producing this seminal publication. For many, it offered a radical departure from the ideas of attrition. FMFM-1, now MCDP-1, offered all Marines a common purpose and direction. "Maneuver warfare is a warfighting philosophy that seeks to shatter the enemy's cohesion through a variety of rapid, focused, and unexpected actions which create a turbulent and rapidly deteriorating situation with which the enemy cannot cope."24

Colonel Boyd should be considered one of the most important military theorists of the United States. Though his ideas permeate disparate disciplines such as business and the military art, only a few now know his name. He would want it that way. His ideas had no proprietorship. This dedication to ideas—from publishing Aerial Attack Study, to inventing Energy Maneuverability Theory, to being a Pentagon reformer, to, finally, writing The Green Book—was the thread of his life.

A longer version of Cowan's article can be found here.

According to Boyd, "Patterns of Conflict represents a compendium of ideas and actions for winning and losing in a highly competitive world." This statement suggests why Boyd's work has equal applicability in warfare as it does in business and inter-personal relationships. Boyd's first work on conflict and warfare was wholly derived from both historical research and his combat experiences in Korea. In a generalization of his work, on page four, Boyd states: "[We] need a fighter that can both lose energy and gain energy more quickly while out-turning an adversary. In other words, suggest a fighter that can pick and choose engagement opportunities-yet has fast transients ('button hook') characteristics that can be used to either force an overshoot by an attacker or stay inside a hard turning defender." Boyd further derives this need into what has become the enduring classic, the OODA Loop. "Idea of fast transients suggests that, in order to win, we should operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than our adversaries-or, better yet, get inside the adversary's Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action time cycle or loop." This is the first mention of the OODA Loop in the discourse.

The OODA Loop has been used to describe the very human process of decision-making and can run the gamut from business negotiations to combat. Aside from its humble beginnings in air-to-air combat, it has been used to describe or quantify the minute differences in tempo that can be discerned between two adversaries in any endeavor. However, it is particularly germane to warfare. Why is there a concern with operating at a tempo faster than an adversary? As Boyd commented, "Such activity will make us appear ambiguous (unpredictable) thereby generate confusion and disorder among our adversaries-since our adversaries will be unable to generate mental images or pictures that agree with the menacing as well as faster transient rhythm or patterns they are competing against."

David Hackworth in March 1997 on the occasion of John Boyd's death:

Future generations will learn that John Boyd, a legendary fighter pilot, was America's greatest military thinker. He's remembered now by all those he touched over the last 52 years of service to our country as not only the original Top Gun, but as one smart hombre who always had the guts to stand tall and to tell it like it is.

He didn't just drive Chinese fighter pilots nuts while flying his F-86 over the Yalu River during the Korean War, he spent decades causing the top brass to climb the walls and the cost-plus defense contractor racketeers to run for cover.

A collection of his works is available for download mostly in PDF format. His presentation Destruction and Creation can be read in HTML with a link to Chuck Spinney's commentary. The site has writings of Boyd and focuses on their application to business. Belisarius has a collection of links to articles about Robert Coram's book on Boyd.

Grant Tedrick Hammond has also written a biography of John Boyd entitled The Mind of War: John Boyd and American Security. Lt Col Eric Ash, USAF says Hammond's book is an examination of Boyd's thought processes.

But how Boyd went about all this both led to his success and became his tragic flaw. He was the quintessential intellectual maverick—a man who thrived on bending the rules and violating the regulations. Whether stealing computer time, jumping the chain of command, or risking his reputation and career, he did what he thought was necessary, regardless of who or what got in the way. Such proclivities made Boyd both famous and infamous. He was loved or hated, revered as a genius or despised as a loose cannon. In a way, he lacked common sense but at the same time had uncommon sense—which made him the ideal subject for Hammond, who has a passion for challenging orthodoxy. True to form, Hammond uses this biography to upbraid the Air Force for not granting Boyd the recognition he deserved and to criticize the service’s systemic detractors who reward company people over critical thinkers. Very likely, this biography would have pleased Boyd.

In his assessment of Boyd’s thinking process, Hammond engages in extensive psychoanalysis—perhaps to excess. But Boyd was a very deep thinker, and his cognitive process affected people just as profoundly as did the product of his mind. Certainly, the OODA loop is just such an example. Hammond’s study, therefore, is more a biographical case study of how someone thought than it is a chronology of a person’s life.

Robert Coram, writing to criticise a reviewer of Grant Hammond’s biography of Colonel John Boyd [The Mind of War: John Boyd and American Security reveals a favorable view of Hammond's book.

Boyd is the reason the F-15 and F-16 have such maneuverability today (although “missionizing” the aircraft degraded their performance far below what it was originally). The Air Force was on the way to producing a ponderous aircraft with a variable-geometry wing—an updated F-111—that, in turn, Congress would almost surely have refused to authorize. Had Boyd not given America the F-15, the Air Force would have been forced to buy the Navy F-14.

Grant Hammond wrote a good, solid book, and it deserves more serious treatment than that afforded by Whiting.

David Goyne reviews Hammond's book on Boyd.

The Mind of War is above all else a story about a man of character--at times ‘a 24-karat pain in the ass’ [ 9], but always independent, worth listening to and all too often right. He was a man whose opinions were arrived at by a process of deep and wide ranging thought, and then tenaciously upheld against all without fear or favour and certainly regardless of rank. This single minded approach to doing what was right, not what was expedient in a large part contributed to the fact that Boyd left the USAF as a Colonel, but he lived it on the basis he wanted, one where he could retain his independence and self respect. Boyd’s attitude of doing the hard right, rather than the easy wrong, is best summed up by a quote from another of his disciples, USAF Colonel James Burton: ‘... you have to make a choice about what kind of person you are going to be. There are two career paths in front of you, and you have to choose which path you will follow. One path leads to promotion, titles and positions of distinction. To achieve success down that path, you have to conduct yourself a certain way. You must go along with the system and show that you are a better team player than your competitors. The other path leads to doing things that are truly significant for the Air Force, but the rewards will often be a kick in the stomach because you may have to cross swords with the party line on occasion. You can’t go down both paths, you have to choose. So, do you want to be a man of distinction or do you want to do things that really influence the shape of the Air Force? To be or to do, that is the question.’ [ 10]

Intellectual debates that occur within the defense establishment are too often ignored by political commentators and policy analysts who are outside those circles. This is partly due to a snobbery that holds that military men are by definition not intellectual. Yet the United States is pursuing strategies which are causing so much debate because of arguments by national security intellectuals that can be traced back to the 1970s.

This fused with a political analysis. As long as ago as the 1970s, Wolfowitz was warning (in a document still classified today) of the international threat posed by Saddam Hussein. He saw the Middle East as a crucible in which were commingled the hatred of America and Britain, the resentments of an Arab world whose politics prevented both democracy and economic progress, the loathing of Israel and the adaptation of Islam for extreme political ends.

The hawks - and remember that the hawk is a bird that can see things from a long way off - thought that the threat of "asymmetric warfare" (ie terrorism, often by "non-state actors") was serious. They thought that fast-growing Muslim populations, whose proportion of young men both in Europe and in the Arab world far outweighs that of European Christians, would be drawn towards extremists.

In the era between WWI and WWII Percy Hobart of the British Army was probably his era's military thinker equivalent of John Boyd.

Liddell Hart's "Mongolian" concept of strategic mobility became the focus of Hobart's considerable intellectual resources. Development of these concepts and their adjustment to the mechanical twentieth century dominated Hobart's life from the time they were put forward. His creative imagination had been fired by the military revolution he could visualize, but his creativity was combined with a rock-hard realism. "Wars cannot be fought with dream stuff," he used to say, as he poured his life's energies into the development of practical machines for armored warfare, and the effective methods of directing these new mobile weapons. His goal was to break military science out of the straitjacket of trench warfare by updating the Mongol methods.

Where the Mongols lived off the country through which they ranged, Hobart planned to carry sustaining rations in the tanks. Refueling would be from lightly-protected dumps in the enemy rear, where the far-ranging armored columns would penetrate and strike. He worked with relentless zeal to cut "the tail" of non-fighting service vehicles which hobbled and almost immobilized conventional army units. Tank forces of the future were to be self-contained for the maximum possible range.

Down-to-earth problems such as these did not prevent Hobart from taking a prescient look up at the sky. He planned for the time when the increasing power and versatility of aircraft would permit mobile armored columns to be completely supplied by airdrop. Standard practice today, this concept was in those times often the subject of mockery. Hobart planned to send his hard-hitting columns ripping into enemy supply lines and nerve centers in the rear, paralyzing command and demoralizing troops in the front lines. Less than twenty years later, America's General George S. Patton was to carry out these tactics on a vast scale and with historic success.

Resistance to these radical ideas began to stiffen. The old order found its neurotic and professional security threatened by the progress of strategic mobility. "Hobo," as he was affectionately called by his intimates, viewed the old order and its resistance to the new ways with direct and unconcealed contempt. "Why piddle about making porridge with artillery," he said, "and then send men to drown themselves in it for a hundred yards of No Man's Land? Tanks mean advances of miles at a time, not yards!'

Update: Be sure to follow Joe Katzman's links to writings about Fourth Generation warfare. 4th generation warfare (or more commonly 4GW) is a logical extension of John Boyd's ideas.

DOD weapons analyst Franklin Spinney argues we are not ready to fight 4th Generation Warfare against terrorist groups.

The inheritor of Boyd's mantle is a Pentagon weapons analyst named Franklin C. "Chuck" Spinney, who has spent the past two decades arguing that static thinking, poor financial oversight, weapons-procurement bloat, and a personnel system that accentuates careerism over training have undermined America's war-fighting readiness. (For anyone interested in these topics, Spinney's Web site, Defense and the National Interest is indispensable.) As Spinney sees it, the September 11 attacks call attention to something that a number of military reformers have been warning about for years: the advent of "fourth-generation warfare," and the fact that the U.S. military isn't ready for it. As Spinney observed on his Web site recently, the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center have "dispelled forever the notion that 4GW is just 'terrorism' or something that happens only in poverty-stricken Third World countries."

Spinney's web site has a lot of great relevant articles. Here's an article from the October 1989 Marines Corps Gazette by William S. Lind (an influential civilian defense theorist who worked with Boyd), Colonel Keith Nightengale (USA), Captain John F. Schmitt (USMC), Colonel Joseph W. Sutton (USA), and Lieutenant Colonel Gary I. Wilson (USMCR). Its entitled "The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation".

Some elements in terrorism appear to reflect the previously noted "carryovers" from third generation war fare. The more successful terrorists appear to operate on broad mission orders that carry down to the level of the individual terrorist. The 'battlefield" is highly dispersed and includes the whole of the enemy's society. The terrorist lives almost completely off the land and the enemy. Terrorism is very much a matter of maneuver: the terrorist's firepower is small, and where and when he applies it is critical.

Two additional carryovers must be noted as they may be useful "signposts" pointing toward the fourth generation. The first is a component of collapsing the enemy. It is a shift in focus from the enemy's front to his rear. Terrorism must seek to collapse the enemy from within as it has little capability (at least at present) to inflict widespread destruction. First generation warfare focused tactically and operationally (when operational art was practiced) on the enemy's front, his combat forces. Second generation warfare remained frontal tactically, but at least in Prussian practice it focused operationally on the enemy's rear through the emphasis on encirclement The third generation shifted the tactical as well as the operational focus to the enemy's rear. Terrorism takes this a major step further. It attempts to bypass the enemy's military entirely and strike directly at his homeland at civilian targets. Ideally, the enemy's military is simply irrelevant to the terrorist.

The second signpost is the way terrorism seeks to use the enemy's strength against him This "judo" concept of warfare begins to manifest itself in the second generation, in the campaign and battle of encirclement. The enemy's fortresses, such as Metz and Sedan, became fatal traps. It was pushed further in the third generation where, on the defensive, one side often tries to let the other penetrate so his own momentum makes him less able to turn and deal with a counterstroke.

Terrorists use a free society's freedom and openness, its greatest strengths, against it. They can move freely within our society while actively working to subvert it. They use our democratic rights not only to penetrate but also to defend themselves. If we treat them within our laws, they gain many protections; if we simply shoot them down, the television news can easily make them appear to be the victims. Terrorists can effectively wage their form of warfare while being protected by the society they are attacking. If we are forced to set aside our own system of legal protections to deal with terrorists, the terrorists win another sort of victory.

The 4th generation then is a logical extension of the 3rd generation with the fighting shifted so thoroughly to the enemy's rear that its in his own society and the combatants are blended into that society. Maneuver then consists of efforts to live among the enemy and move around unrecognized. The combatants can not easily be recognized as combatants and even their weapons are often components of the civilian society (e.g. hijacked aircraft). Conventional military firepower is useless against an enemy that may be living in an apartment building in one's own society. This is the great challenge of 4GW and why its often called asymmetric warfare. Technological trends are moving in a direction that will increase the power of small numbers of people to do enormous damage by launching attacks from within a society.

The problem is that even if the US military learns to use 3rd and 4th generation warfare tactics such proficiency is helpful for offensive warfare by our military but it doesn't address the question of how to fight 4th generation warfare on the homefront. The types of initiatives that the US military makes along the lines of home defense that might actually be effective (e.g. the proposed database project to look for data patterns to identify concealed terrorist warriors living among us) inevitably lead to objections from civil libertarians. But as Heather Mac Donald argues we need a way to find the hidden warriors living among us.

EVERY WEEK brings new evidence of al Qaeda's continuing plots against the United States and the West. Yet the 108th Congress may well shut down one of the most promising efforts to preempt future attacks, thanks to a media misinformation blitz playing to Americans' outsized Big Brother paranoia.

The Pentagon's prestigious research unit, the same Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that helped invent the Internet, is exploring whether computers could detect terrorist planning activity by searching government and commercial databases across the globe. The program, dubbed Total Information Awareness (TIA), embodies the recognition that before an attack can take place, certain critical activities--casing targets, rehearsing, and procuring financing, supplies, and weapons--must occur, and that those activities will leave computer signatures.

The Spinney web site Defense and the National Interest has a nice collection of links to 4GW articles.

Update: Al Qaeda military thinkers have published an article on an Al Qaeda web site which refers to the 1989 Marine Corps Gazette article linked to above.

"Fourth-generation warfare, the experts said, is a new type of war in which fighting will be mostly scattered. The battle will not be limited to destroying military targets and regular forces, but will include societies, and will [seek to] destroy popular support for the fighters within the enemy's society. In these wars, the experts stated in their article,(6) 'television news may become a more powerful operational weapon than armored divisions.' They also noted that [in forth-generation wars] 'the distinction between war and peace will be blurred to the vanishing point…'"

"Other Western strategists(7) disagreed with these analyses, claiming that the new warfare would be strategically based on psychological influence and on the minds of the enemy's planners - not only on military means as in the past, but also on the use of all the media and information networks… in order to influence public opinion and, through it, the ruling elite. They claimed that the fourth-generation wars would, tactically, be small-scale, emerging in various regions across the planet against an enemy that, like a ghost, appears and disappears. The focus would be political, social, economic, and military. [It will be] international, national, tribal, and even organizations would participate (even though tactics and technology from previous generations would be used)."

By Randall Parker    2003 February 09 12:35 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2003 February 04 Tuesday
China Debate On What To Do About North Korea

China's top leaders see no reason to intervene with North Korea. China has stepped up efforts to cut off the flow of refugees from North Korea into China. China sees international terrorism as not its problem. The only hopeful sign from China so far is that some of its foreign policy thinkers are arguing that a nuclear North Korea would lead to a general nuclearisation that would shift the strategic balance away from China.

Shi Yinhong, an international relations expert at People's University, argued in an essay published last week that China must reassess its strategic priorities. The problem, he said, is that even if the Americans negotiate in earnest, North Korea may have no incentive to abandon its development of nuclear weapons. It could develop an arsenal of warheads, possibly forcing Japan and South Korea to go nuclear, too. That would upend the strategic balance in Asia, which currently favors China.

Will this selfish reason for intervention gain much support in China's elite? If it doesn't then the US is either going to have to find some way to bring down the North Korean regime.

By Randall Parker    2003 February 04 11:49 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2002 December 21 Saturday
US and Japan Cooperating on Missile Defense Tech

See the following excerpts of the joint statement of the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee released December 16, 2002. The bullet point on North Korea is followed immediately by an affirmation of continued cooperation in the development of ballistic missile defense technologies.

1. United States Secretary of State Colin Powell and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz hosted Japan's Minister for Foreign Affairs Yoriko Kawaguchi and Minister of State for Defense and Director-General of the Defense Agency Shigeru Ishiba in a meeting of the Security Consultative Committee (SCC) in Washington, DC, on December 16, 2002. They addressed security and alliance issues facing the U.S. and Japan in the new security environment after the terrorist attacks in the U.S. on September 11, 2001, as well as other aspects of the relationship.


6. The Ministers expressed grave concern about the threat North Korea continues to pose to regional security and stability. The Ministers expressed great regret over North Korea's recent letter to the IAEA and public statement that it plans to resume the operation and construction of nuclear facilities, and agreed the North Korean decision flagrantly disregards the international consensus that the North Korean regime must fulfill all its commitments and, in particular, dismantle its nuclear weapons program. The Ministers also agreed that North Korea's pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability violates the Agreed Framework, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, its IAEA Safeguards Agreement, and the South-North Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The Ministers stressed that the international community has made it clear that North Korea’s relations with the outside world will hinge on its willingness to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. The Ministers urged North Korea to give up any nuclear weapons program in a prompt and verifiable fashion in order to be in compliance with all of its international obligations. They also expressed serious concern over North Korea's ballistic missile programs and urged North Korea to cease all ballistic missile-related activities, including the development, testing, exportation, and deployment of ballistic missiles and related technology and know-how. The Ministers also urged North Korea's full compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention and adherence to the Chemical Weapons Convention. The Ministers stressed that North Korean use of weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, would have the gravest consequences.

Reaffirming their commitments under the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, they reiterated their strong interest in a peaceful resolution of security issues associated with North Korea. The U.S. side reaffirmed that the U. S. has always been open to dialogue in principle. The Ministers also reaffirmed that the Japan-North Korea normalization talks and the Japan-North Korea security talks, based on the Pyongyang Declaration between Japan and North Korea, serve as important channels to resolve security issues and the abduction issue. The Ministers called for the expeditious resolution of such issues.

7. Based on the shared recognition of the growing threat posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles, the two sides emphasized the need for a comprehensive strategy to address such proliferation, including both defense systems and diplomatic initiatives.

The Japanese side reaffirmed that a ballistic missile defense system is an important consideration in Japan’s defense policy, which is exclusively defense-oriented. The Japanese side noted that a ballistic missile defense system would be an inherently defensive capability to which there would be no alternative, with the purpose of protecting lives and property in Japan. The Japanese side also expressed its intention to address this subject on its own initiative during review of its defense posture, based on the rapidly evolving state of technological developments relating to all elements of the ballistic missile defense program.

The Ministers acknowledged the need to continue current U.S.-Japan cooperative research on ballistic missile defense technologies and to intensify consultation and cooperation on missile defense.

There are on-going developments and cooperation between nations that do not get much attention in the press but which speak volumes about the consensus of the leaders of various nations. The Japanese leaders do not want to be vulnerable to a nuclear ballistic missile attack by North Korea. In light of recent developments in North Korea it seems reasonable to expect Japan to increase its funding for ballistic missile defense research and development.

By Randall Parker    2002 December 21 09:37 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 November 25 Monday
On the Bush Administration, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea

Glenn Reynolds and Vinod are both discussing the latest column by Michael Ledeen on growing internal opposition in Iran to the Mullahs' regime. Glenn wonders why the Bush Administration and the press have so little so say about the domestic opposition to the Iranian regime. I think there are several reasons for this but that the chief reason is very simple: The US government does not want the Iranian regime to actively oppose the presence of a large US naval force in the Persian Gulf.

Think about it. As part of the attack on Iraq Bush is going to be ordering up to 5 or even 7 aircraft carriers up into the Persian Gulf. Iran has a long stretch of coastline and if the Iranian regime became convinced that the US was going to follow up an attack on Iraq with an attack on Iran then the Iranian regime would have a strong motive to make common cause with the Iraqi regime.

So why borrow trouble? The US military and US diplomats have enough on their plates as it is. Saudi Arabia may not allow the US to use Saudi bases and the US is going to be stretched to bring enough air power to bear on Iraq without those bases. At the same time Turkey is skittish and the Gulf emirates do not want to take the risk that the Saudis or the Iranians will try to create problems in the emirates in order to make US uses of them more difficult.

Too many warbloggers make demands on US policy makers (speak out more loudly on the Iranian regime, put the screws to Saudi Arabia, etc) without considering the necessitiies that compel many of the decisions of the Bush Administration. Now, once the US is in firm control of Iraq and once the US has converted Iraqi air bases to use by the USAF many constraints on US action will be lifted. At that point Bush may very well decide it is time to lean on Iran or Syria or Saudi Arabia (even then better one at a time so that they do not seek to ally with each other). In control of a strategic location with lots of military supplies in Iraqi bases controlled by American troops the US will be in a far stronger position from which to make demands. It will have fewer vulnerabilities and more assets whose use does not depend on the acquiesence of other governments. At that point if the US fails to either lean on the Saudis or to put pressure on the Iranian regime then it will be appropriate to complain and to complain loudly.

But let the Bushies deal with Saddam first. There are limits to how how much can prudently be attempted at the same time. The challenge of taking out the Iraqi regime is not trivial. It must be done in a way that A) prevents WMD attacks by Saddam's regime against neighbors, B) minimizes Iraqi civilian casualties, C) minimizes damage to Iraqi infrastructure (both by US weapons and by sabotage by Saddam's regime) and D) minimizes US casualties. Under the circumstances, this is a tall order. The Bushies are right to try to placate the Saudi and Iranian rulers while they try to organize and carry out this attack.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 25 07:31 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
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