Sunday, December 5, 2010

STARTing On The Wrong Foot

The Right Word
By Kelly Sloan

The President’s approach to foreign policy and national security is unique to say the least.

North Korea unleashes an artillery barrage on South Korea, (a week after the revelation of a new, highly advanced uranium enrichment facility), scores of sensitive state secrets are laid naked for the world to see, Iran continues its inexorable march towards nuclear glory, and, by the way, there is the little issue of a shooting war that grows more complicated by the day.

So what, then, is the President’s national security priority these days?

Why, a new START treaty with Russia (a strategic competitor which no longer poses an existential threat), that serves mainly to compromise America’s strategic advantage and potential defense against weapons brandished by nations – such as North Korea and Iran – whose nuclear programs pose a much more credible threat to the United States and American interests.

The specifics of the treaty are bad enough – punctuated by acquiescence to Moscow’s insistence that offensive and defensive systems be undistinguished in the terms of the agreement, therefore inextricably linking arms reductions to corresponding limitations on ballistic missile defenses – but the issue pales in relevance when compared in scope to the real world challenges that America and this President face.

The North Korean situation is an almost impossibly difficult one. The North Korean regime, perhaps the worst on earth, is subsisting on Chinese subsidy, having ruined its own economy. China has not much interest in a status quo change, which would result in a united, pro-U.S., and economically competitive Korea on its border. U.S. policy in the region has been ineffectual, dating back to at least the Clinton Presidency. Therefore the North Korean prison-state remains largely free to continue its nuclear program, starve, torture and enslave its population, and showboat its military power as it sees fit.

But while the Obama administration may have limited options in the peninsula, it does have a few; China is the key – the U.S. must make it clear to Beijing that that the current situation is untenable by examining and strengthening its strategic and economic relations with other pacific rim nations, most notably South Korea and Japan, and yes, Taiwan.

Re-listing North Korea as an official state sponsor of terrorism, and maintaining a permanent naval presence in the region would also be advisable. More conventional diplomatic and economic weapons, including rejection of the futile 6-party talks, are also available.

What cannot be continued is the recurrent theme of giving Kim Jong Il a little slack in the hopes that he and his politburo will magically start behaving like a civilized government, only to be shocked and dismayed when the response is a ballistic missile test, or unprovoked attack on South Korea.

Of course, diplomatic maneuvering and statecraft would be a lot easier if someone were not spilling all of America’s secrets. As puzzling as his odd prioritization of national security concerns, is the President’s silence on the Wikileaks issue. While most of the deluge of leaked documents tend to confirm what was suspected rather than actually reveal much, their release compromises our intelligence gathering capability, our advantage during diplomatic face-offs, and most importantly, the confidence and even lives of those who provided America the information in the first place. Guarding our nation’s secrets, and safeguarding those who provided us those secrets, ought to be, one supposes, among the chief priorities of the chief executive. Even if the proper course of action is best left to agencies such as the Departments of State or Justice, the enormity of the situation demands at least a show of strong leadership.

Lurking omnipresently are the continuing problems of Afghanistan and Iran. Afghanistan continues to show signs of unraveling as we edge closer to Obama’s “done by” date; and like North Korea, the situation with Iran will not be dealt with by adopting a policy of hoping that it will resolve itself.

And yet, with all this, a meaningless at best, damaging at worst, new START is at the top of the President’s foreign policy agenda. It is difficult to deduce just what it is the President seeks to accomplish with this curious prioritization. A world where the only possessors of nuclear arms are nations with little regard for rule of law, and unrestrained by any sense of responsibility? One where we are left at the tender mercies of regimes such as those running the show in Pyongyang and Tehran, with no capacity to defend ourselves?

If President Obama’s concern is America’s safety from nuclear attack, he would be better advised to enhance America’s defenses against such weapons, while simultaneously addressing in a serious manner the weaponization and aggression of the likes of North Korea and Iran.

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