Entries from October 2006

Mutually Assured Disruption

David Frum October 10th, 2006 at 12:00 am Comments Off

The North Korean nuclear test–if that indeed is what it was–signals the catastrophic collapse of a dozen years of American policy. Over that period, two of the world’s most dangerous regimes, Pakistan and North Korea, have developed nuclear weapons and the missiles to launch them. Iran, arguably the most dangerous of them all, will surely follow, unless some dramatic action is soon taken.

It is, alas, an iron law of modern diplomacy that the failure of any diplomatic process only proves the need for more of the process that has just failed. Thus those who have long supported negotiating with North Korea are now calling for the Bush administration to begin direct talks with the Kim Jong-il regime. Sorry, but all this would accomplish would be to reward an actual proliferator in order to preserve the illusion that the world still has a meaningful nonproliferation regime.

Some even suggest, in worried tones, that the North Korean test might provoke Japan to go nuclear, as if the worst possible consequence of nuclear weapons in the hands of one of America’s direst enemies would be the acquisition of nuclear weapons by one of America’s best friends.

A new approach is needed. America has three key strategic goals in the wake of the North Korean nuclear test. The first is to enhance the security of those American allies most directly threatened by North Korean nuclear weapons: Japan and South Korea.

The second is to exact a price from North Korea for its nuclear program severe enough to frighten Iran and any other rogue regimes considering following the North Korean path.

The last is to punish China. North Korea could not have completed its bomb if China, which provides the country an immense amount of food and energy aid, had strongly opposed it. Apparently, Beijing sees some potential gain in the uncertainty that North Korea’s status brings. If China can engage in such conduct cost-free, what will deter Russia from aiding the Iranian nuclear program, or Pakistan someday aiding a Saudi or Egyptian one?

To meet these three goals, the United States should adopt four swift policy responses:

Step up the development and deployment of existing missile defense systems.

The United States has already fielded 11 missile interceptors, nine in Alaska and two in California. The Navy has designed ship-based interceptors as well. As we well know, they are not perfect–but they are something.

Until now this lack of perfection has been allowed to block full deployment of the technology. But missile defenses do not need to be perfect to complicate any aggressive action by a comparatively weak power like North Korea against the United States or its allies.

And deploying a missile defense of growing effectiveness also helps achieve another goal–it would indirectly punish China by corroding the power of the missiles China uses to intimidate Taiwan.

End humanitarian aid to North Korea and pressure South Korea to do the same.

Since 1995, the United States has provided more than two million tons of food aid to North Korea, plus considerable energy assistance. Officially, Washington says it has ”delinked” its humanitarian aid from strategic concerns. Many United States officials believe that continuing this aid will sustain hopes for a better American-North Korean relationship in the future. Yet if the United States continues to send such aid even after an illicit nuclear test, North Korean leaders may well conclude that their aggressive actions have won them almost absolute impunity.

An end to humanitarian aid would not only exact a considerable direct price from North Korea, but it would also hurt China. Chinese leaders often justify their refusal to pressure North Korea by citing the risk of an economic collapse that would send millions of refugees northward into China. We could call that bluff: if a North Korean economic collapse is a thing China fears, why should the United States and South Korea shoulder the cost of helping to avert it? Let China pay the full cost of underwriting its aggressive client state.

Invite Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore to join NATO–and even invite Taiwan to send observers to NATO meetings.

Perhaps North Korea and China imagine that the nuclear test has tilted the strategic balance in the Pacific in their favors. Now would be a good time to disabuse each of them of any such illusion. We need a tighter and stronger security arrangement in the Pacific region, one from which rogue states and those who support them are pointedly excluded. The NATO allies have agreed to expand the organization well beyond Western Europe; now we need to persuade them to make it global.

Encourage Japan to renounce the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and create its own nuclear deterrent.

World War II ended long ago, and it’s time to put an end to the silly pretense that today’s democratic Japan owes a burden of guilt to today’s rising China. A nuclear Japan is the thing China and North Korea dread most (after, perhaps, a nuclear South Korea or Taiwan).

Not only would the nuclearization of Japan be a punishment of China and North Korea, but it would go far to meet our goal of dissuading Iran–it would show Tehran that the United States and its friends will aggressively seek to correct any attempt by rogue states to unsettle any regional nuclear balance. The analogue for Iran, of course, would be the threat of American aid to improve Israel’s capacity to hit targets with nuclear weapons.

Countries like North Korea and Iran seek nuclear weapons because they imagine that those weapons will enhance their security and power. The way to contain them is to convince them otherwise. When nonproliferation can be prevented by negotiation, that is always preferred. But when negotiation fails, as it has failed in North Korea and is failing in Iran, rogue regimes must be made to suffer for their dangerous nuclear ambitions.

Britain’s Empty Conservatism

David Frum October 7th, 2006 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Guess whose political platform this is:

- Tax cuts? No.

- More public money for government-monopoly health care? Yes.

- Same-sex marriage? Enthusiastically yes.

- Big supermarkets? Offenders against the environment.

- Kyoto Accord. Absolutely.

- Terrorism? Close Guantanamo.

- Illegal immigration? Don’t talk about it.

- Israel’s response to Hezbollah’s rocket attacks? Disproportionate.

- George W. Bush? No friend of ours.

Believe it or not, these are the views of the newly remodeled British Conservative party, as unveiled at their annual conference in Bournemouth last week. Party leaders justify these new positions as the necessary price of power. Aghast friends of Britain may wonder whether power bought at such a price is worth having at all.

The British Conservative party is a deeply troubled organization. It has lost three national elections in a row — its worst performance since the days of Lord Palmerston — each time gaining less than 35% of the national vote. In the last election, Labour’s share of the vote slumped by 5.5 percentage points. Only 0.6 points of that lost vote went to the Conservatives. The other 90% went to minor parties.

How disliked are the British Conservatives? A pollster friend tells this story. He identified the three or four most popular ideas in the last Conservative manifesto. He convened a focus group and asked them what they thought of these ideas. The focus group murmured their approval. Then he told them the Conservative party advocated these ideas. Did that change their minds? Yes, it did. They decided they did not like the ideas after all.

In desperation, British Conservatives have now decided to remake their party from top to bottom. They have jettisoned their economic Thatcherism. They have ceased to talk about British sovereignty and the European Union. They have turned sharply leftward on issues from terrorism to the environment. And they have chosen a new leader who repudiates the past two decades of party policy: the handsome, articulate, youthful Cameron.

Cameron has replaced the party logo: a green tree instead of Mrs. Thatcher’s blue-and-red torch of liberty. He bicycles to work and has installed a wind turbine on the roof of his London house. He cheerfully submits to the demands of tabloids for personal information about his disabled child and his own past drug experimentation.

All this is supposed to remind the public of pop-cultural icons: Princess Di above all.

Ironically, the figure David Cameron most closely resembles is one few British voters feel much affection for: the Governor George W. Bush of 1999-2000, who excited Clinton-battered Republicans with promises of a new “compassionate conservatism.”

Like the early Bush’s, Cameron’s big ideas come concealed in a thick haze of evasive verbiage. One of Cameron’s special advisors published an article in the September issue of the British magazine Prospect to explain his boss’s “big idea”:

“David Cameron’s stress on social justice … is not, as unsophisticated critics imagine, a leftwards shift from liberty to equality. Cameron is not proposing an extension of state power. He is proposing an extension of social power, a move in favour of the voluntary institutions–the ‘social enterprises’–that exist in neighbourhoods themselves.”

What does this mean? Who knows. Its incomprehensibility is its point.

Margaret Thatcher always regarded political power as a public trust. Those who sought the public’s trust had an obligation to tell the public in advance and in detail how they proposed to use it.

David Cameron takes a more skeptical view of the public mind. As he seems to see it, voters are deeply emotional and seriously uninformed. They make their decision in favour of this leader or that, not based on what the leader might do, but on the basis of a warm emotional association. The first job of the politician is to win the voter’s affection and, after that, to improvise.

This was exactly George W. Bush’s method in 2000, and it worked for him, or close enough. Unfortunately, a politician who campaigns without a platform risks arriving in office without a mandate. Then again, that risk may not much bother the stylish young Conservative. As Cameron observed in his Bournemouth speech:
“Twelve years ago, there was an energetic young party leader. He stood before his party conference for the first time. He said he’d change his party. He made promises about changing the country.

“Remember him?

“I do. And look what happened. People voted for him, but he let them down.”
The party leader Cameron is referring to here is of course Tony Blair. And he has learned a lesson from the current prime minister’s experience. You cannot let people down, if you offer them nothing.