Category Archives: International Relations

If you think the Snowden revelations are only about the US and Germany, you don’t understand what’s happening.

The revelations about US intelligence gathering that Edward Snowden made public have had repercussions around the world, and not just between the US and Germany. The bugging of Angela Merkel’s phone has received a lot of press coverage in the US, but other countries now have problems.

SnowdenOne of the revelations to emerge was that in 2009, Australia attempted to bug the phone conversations of the president of Indonesia, his wife and his inner circle. As a result, Indonesia has suspended cooperation with Australia on intelligence sharing, and has stopped any cooperation in relation to people smuggling. (Boatloads of refugees often travel from Indonesia or through Indonesian waters to get to Christmas Island, a tiny chunk of Australia , 300 miles from Indonesia and 1600 miles from Australia. Numerous people have drowned when their boats smash on rocks near Christmas Island.)  At the time of writing, Indonesia has said that if boats are passing through its waters, towards Australia, they can do so. Indonesia won’t interfere. Australia will just have to handle the problem when the boats appear off Christmas Island.

The Indonesians are understandably offended, since we are supposed to be allies. Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country on earth, and one of Australia’s only three near neighbors. The truth is we have to be able to get along with them, because unless there is a religious miracle that rearranges geography, neither country is going anywhere any time soon.

Jakarta has said that before cooperation resumes, Australia will have to sign some formal agreement about intelligence gathering between the two countries. In a nutshell, Australia will have to eat humble pie, suck it up and promise to be good boys in future. The Indonesian reaction is totally understandable. Most of us know the Asian concept of “loss of face.” Apart from the offense caused by spying on friends, the revelations involve a loss of face. Indonesia has to recover ‘face” and to do this, Australia will have to lose some.

In addition, there is an internet cable called SEA-ME-WE-3 that runs from Japan, across Southeast Asia, through Singapore, across the Indian ocean, up through the Suez, through the Mediterranean, and round the coast of Europe to end in Germany. As the cable passes through Singapore, the Singaporean government has been tapping into it and giving the US and Australia the goodies. Jakarta has asked Singapore to “please explain.” So this massive intrusion, and its  exposure is not just a problem for the US.

The most recent revelations are that the NSA has been monitoring charities. From the Guardian newspaper:

The papers show GCHQ, in collaboration with America’s National Security Agency (NSA), was targeting organisations such as the United Nations development programme, the UN’s children’s charity Unicef andMédecins du Monde, a French organisation that provides doctors and medical volunteers to conflict zones.

So how is the average American taxpayer going to feel about that use of their taxes? The most recent extensive article about Snowden is here.   It contains this interesting quote:

“For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished,” he said. “I already won. As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated. Because, remember, I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.  All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed,” he said.

How will history judge Snowden? My guess is that as more revelations come out, the public will feel more incensed at the NSA’s  actions, foreign allies will be more incensed at being treated like enemies, US lawmakers will be forced to act on what the NSA is doing, and public sentiment will turn more in Snowden’s  favor. History may look on Snowden as it now looks on Woodward and Bernstein, the two journalists who broke the Watergate story, and Mark Felt, the Assistant FBI Director who for years was only known as “deep throat.”

It’s only an educated guess, but I think it’s a fair guess. What do you think? Anyone who wishes to re-blog this may.


Would North Korea really fire a missile at the US?

This week North Korea had a mental spasm. They decided to test anther long-range missile, and said it was aimed at the United States. Some Americans I know got very concerned. Could the North Koreans really attack the US?

How North Korea behaves

Map of North Korea from CIA Fact BookNorth Korea spends about 40 per cent of its GDP on military expenditure, while the common people are impoverished. It has enriched uranium, and conducted underground nuclear tests. Every time the North Koreans chuck a mental, a six-country conference meets to hammer out the problem: the US, China, Russia, North Korea, South Korea and Japan.  Often they provide food aid and oil to North Korea, in exchange for them scaling back their nuclear programs. The US has frozen and unfrozen various assets of North Korea abroad, as North Korea has cooperated or not with international pressure to cease their nuclear program.

North Korea, China, and the US

I’m speaking now as an ex-economist  of 25 years, who is now studying politics part-time. It’s a current belief among economist and people involved in political science that major trading partners don’t tend to go to war with each other, since the outcome is bad for both of them. It’s like cutting of you own nose to teach your face a lesson. Both parties lose. This was part of the principle between the integration of the French and German coal, iron and steel industries at the end of WWII, which ultimately lead to the free trade zone in Europe.

China is North Korea’s major financial benefactor.  Although the US is concerned about China’s build-up of fleet, (e.g., a Chinese aircraft carrier on the way), China and the US are becoming more economically linked to each other and are developing a “Siamese twin” relationship. The US imports a lot from China, and the Chinese hold about one and a half trillion dollars’ worth of US government bonds (about 11 per cent of the total.) The Chinese don’t want the value of their US government bonds to be degraded, (which seemed possible during the debt ceiling debate of 2012,) and which would happen in a new US war, since any new war  would lead to even bigger budget deficits than the US already has, and lower the value of their bonds. Strange as it may sound, the Chinese want the Americans to fix their budget problems, and said so during the debt-ceiling crisis. At the same time, the US needs to keep importing manufactured goods from China, since they would be more costly if made in the US. China doesn’t want an armed conflict with the US over Korea.

But what happens if the North Koreans really were to make a strike at the US? If the North Koreans provoked the US to the point where the US took some type of military action against them say— airstrikes on their military facilities—this might destabilize the regime, and the results could be anybody’s guess.

It’s not in China’s interest for there to be a major armed conflict between the US and North Korea. If there were major destruction in N. Korea, China would probably get a major influx of North Korean refugees, which they presumably wouldn’t want.

If the North Korean state collapsed, the re-unified Korea would probably be allied with the US, which China also wouldn’t want.

At the same time, South Korea wouldn’t want a disorderly disintegration of North Korea, since some sectors of the North Korean Military may not be under anyone’s direct control while that happens.


Some refugees may end up in South Korea, or Japan. The Japanese sure as hell don’t want North Korean refugees. In the 1980s and 90s, there was a major political tension between North Korea and Japan. The North Koreans had been kidnapping Japanese citizens off isolated beaches, and taking them to North Korea to teach Japanese language and customs to North Korean spies. North Korea denied it. The issue helped destroy the career of Takako Doi, the first female head of a Japanese political party, (the Socialists). Doi nailed her colors to mast in defending the North Koreans and supporting their denials of these accusations. When North Korea finally confessed it did have kidnapped Japanese in North Korea, Doi’s career was severely damaged. Japan doesn’t really like the Chinese and Korean minorities they already have, and they wouldn’t want any more.


Last I heard, Russia was building a railway line from Khasan in Siberia to the North Korean port of Rajin, to export more easily to counties around Korea. Therefore, the Russians wouldn’t want a conflict between the US and North Korea, or the disintegration of the North Korean state, since it would mess up their nice new trade corridor.

So what’s stopping a war?

The North Koreans know that if they behave provocatively every so often, then promise to be good, other countries give them oil and food for a while. Then they go back on their promises and do it all again.  But there are powerful forces around them who are likely to hold them back from committing suicide by attacking the US. No one wants the chaos the refugees and the possible military realignment that would follow if North Korea collapsed. I suspect that North Korea knows this, which probably gives them some feeling of safety: while their government is reprehensible, too many people have a stake in it not collapsing. This kind of gives the North Korean leadership a licence to behave provocatively up to a point, without fear of consequences.

All up, I think North Korea may talk crazy from time to time, but there are powerful forces that would keep their behavior in check. I doubt they are really going to fire a missile at the US. It might be the end of their food and oil aid.

So, have any of you got any impressions of North Korea? Has anyone lived in South Korea or China and heard this topic discussed? Did you hear about their threat to fire a missile at the US? What do you think?