Tag Archives: political instability

North Korean Propaganda and the Korean Conflict

The North Korean government released a new propaganda video this week. The video, complete with amateurish graphics, threatens the United States with devastation, noting that “The White House has been captured in the view of our long-range missile, and the capital of war is within the range of our atomic bomb.”

The video echoes the trailer for the 2012 remake of the Cold War classic Red Dawn. The 2012 remake positions North Korea as the invading force occupying the Pacific Northwest. (In an interesting aside, the studio spent more than a million dollars in post-production to change the enemy forces after the film had been shot. Originally, the invading army was supposed to be Chinese, but they were recast as North Koreans in an effort to expand box office earnings in China).

But while the parallels between the two are humorous, the increasing bellicosity from the North Korean regime is causing concern among Korea-watchers. The North Korean government last week announced it was invalidating the armistice that ended direct hostilities in the Korean War in 1953. It has also stepped up nuclear testing  and long range missile testing in recent months. Meanwhile, the United States is expanding operations on the Korean peninsula, engaging in joint training operations with the South Korean military this week.

North Korean belligerence seems to come in regular cycles. But the current cycle appears to be more intense that others, leading some spectators to question whether the current leader, Kim Jong Un, is more dangerous and less predictable than his father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather, Kim Il Sung, both of whom led the country previously. Interestingly, North Korea’s closest ally, china, appears to be growing increasingly frustrated with the regime, and has supported expanding sanctions on North Korea in recent months.

What do you think? Does North Korea pose a threat to the United States and South Korea? If so, what measures should be taken to address the North Korean threat. Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

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Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The political situation in Iran continued to evolve over the past week. Last week, a standoff between President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad and Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, culminated in the dismissal of two conservatives from the cabinet and the firing of Vice President (and close ally of Ahmadi-Nejad), Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. The deteriorating relationship between Ahmadi-Nejad and Khamenei further undermines the political stability of Iran, already weakened by June’s disputed presidential elections and the subsequent protests which have rocked the country. Protests have been a regular feature of the Iranian political scene for the past month, including clashes between police and opposition supporters like those that occurred on Thursday.  Although the Iranian government last week released hundreds of people arrested for participating in the post-election protests, the trial of 100 of the most prominent detainees is moving forward. Critics of the regime have condemned the trial as a spectacle.

Meanwhile, three Americans were arrested on Saturday by Iranian security forces for allegedly entering the country illegally.  The three were camping in Kurdistan (near the Iraqi-Iranian border) when they crossed over into Iran. They have been transferred to the capital, Tehran, where they are currently being held.

In news from outside Iran in the last week:

1. Two statements by the Indian government last week dashed hopes of progress in multilateral negotiations. On Wednesday, India’s commerce secretary, Rahul Khullar, dismissed hopes of rekindling World Trade Organization talks as unrealistic in the current global political and economic climate. The current round of talks, referred to as the Doha agenda, has been under negotiation for nine years. The talks have been suspended numerous times, largely as a result of the inability of WTO member states to agree on binding cuts to agricultural subsidies. According to Khullar, progress is unlikely because, in the context of the global economic crisis, political leaders are focused on job losses and the lack of domestic economic growth, a focus which makes it difficult to move forward on a new global trade deal.

In another development, India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, said on Friday that India would not agree to binding emission cuts for at least ten years, potentially throwing climate talks scheduled to take place in Copenhagen in December into disarray. India and China are both dismissive of western pressure to agree to greenhouse gas reductions, believing that such reductions would undermine future economic growth and development in their countries. But without the participation of China and India in climate change negotiations, progress will be far more difficult, particularly given the historical U.S. negotiating position that it will not be bound by any climate change agreement that does not also include reductions for China and India.

2. Over the weekend, Russia concluded negotiations to expand the Russian troop presence in Kyrgyzstan. The expanded Russian presence is part of Russia’s broader effort to reassert itself in its traditional sphere of influence, an effort which included the development of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a counterpart to NATO which includes Russia and six other former Soviet Republics, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Armenia and Belarus. The United States and Russia have been competing for influence in Kyrgyzstan, which occupies an important geo-strategic position, and Kyrgyzstan’s president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, has skillfully negotiated between competing Russian and American interests. In February, after receiving $2 billion in aid from the Russian government, Bakiyev ordered the United States to leave Kyrgyzstani bases by June. The bases are part of the U.S. air transit route to supply forces in Afghanistan. After the United States agreed to triple rent payments for use of the base and to offer additional financial assistance to the Kyrgyzstani government, Bakiyev rescinded his request that the U.S. withdraw.

3. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has once again sparked widespread criticism, this time among human rights groups. At issue is the latest development in the president’s campaign against “media terrorism”—a new law which would punish journalists and their sources with up to four years in jail for “causing panic,” “disturbing social peace” or compromising national security.

In an unrelated development, the government of Venezuela has “frozen” diplomatic and economic relations with its neighbor, Colombia. Relations between the two countries have been poor since March 2008, when Colombia launched a raid into Ecuador, a close ally of Venezuela. The decision to suspend relations came after Colombia accused Venezuela of supplying rocket launchers to Marxist rebels in Colombia.

4. Clashes between security forces and an Islamist sect in three states in Nigeria continued last week despite the death of Islamist leader Mohammed Yusuf in police custody. More than 150 people have died in five days of fighting in Nigeria, where a sharp economic and political divide between the largely Muslim north and the predominately Christian south has been exacerbated by the country’s declining economic situation. The fighting in the northern part of the country complicates efforts to address the longstanding crisis in the southern, oil producing region of the country, where conflicts between militant separatist groups and the government have continued off-and-on for the better part of a decade. Taken together, these conflicts represent the most significant challenge to the Nigerian government since independence.

5. The International Monetary Fund on Friday issued a statement intended to play down the standoff between the Fund and the government of Iceland. At issue are the conditionalities imposed on the government of Iceland as a requirement for the dispersal of $2.1 billion in IMF loans. The government of Iceland has been under immense political pressure regarding the status of foreign savings deposits in Icelandic banks, which collapsed last year as part of the global economic crisis. The IMF is requiring that the government guarantee all foreign savings deposits, but the government of Iceland has so far refused, bowing to domestic political pressure not to compensate account holders.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The biggest story of the week has to be the breakdown of the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.  Since last week, when we discussed the termination of the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, the two sides have increased cross-border attacks.  Civilians on both sides of the border are preparing for an increase in violence, as Hamas threatens a dramatic increase in rocket attacks against Israeli communities bordering the Gaza Strip in response to the dramatic increase in Israeli air strikes over the weekend.  So far, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has refused to launch an all-out ground attack, but many are speculating that Israel is preparing to follow the massive air strikes with some kind of ground assault.  The United States has given tacit approval to the Israeli strikes, calling on Hamas to cease its activities.  The Europeans are calling for a stop in the violence, and Libya has called an emergency session of the UN Security Council to address the crisis.  However, any solution to the crisis must also involve Egypt, which has so far failed to develop an initiative both sides can accept. 

In other news from the last week:

1.  On Friday, Pakistan began shifting large portions of its military forces from its northern border with Afghanistan to its eastern border with India.  Pakistani military officials are downplaying the move, which so far has involved an estimated 20,000 soldiers.  But the Pakistani government has raised concerns that India may launch a strike in response to the Mumbai terrorist attacks.  The United States and the European Union are urging restraint on both sides, noting that Pakistan’s move undermines the ability of coalition forces to wage the war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan.  India and Pakistan have long been at odds over the disputed territory of Kashmir.  Both are also nuclear powers.

2.  Somalia’s President, Abdullahi Yusuf, may be close to resigning.   Earlier this month, a political crisis emerged when Yusuf attempted to force the resignation of the country’s Prime Minister, Nur Hassan Hussein.  Hussein had been appointed as part of a power-sharing agreement supported by the West and by neighboring governments.  Since the attempt, Kenya has announced its intentions to move forward with sanctions against Somalia.  The resignation of Abdullahi Yusuf may increase instability in the embattled country, already home to a number of pirates and warlords.  Alternatively, it may result in greater stability if the Islamic insurgency with close ties to al Qaeda is able to establish control over the country. 

3.  The Russian government is bracing for an increase in unrest as the ruble fell to a four-year low against the euro and the dollar on Friday.  In early December, the Russian government put down protests in Vladivostok as it increased duties on imported cars in an attempt to protect domestic auto manufactures.  The opposition has criticized the government, and the liberal People’s Democratic Union leader Mikhail Kasyanov, has argued that the implicit social contract, under which the Russian people exchanged political freedoms for economic prosperity and consumer goods, had broken down.  The global economic crisis has hit Russia particularly hard, with industrial output falling and unemployment increasing at the same time the price of the country’s most important product, oil, has collapsed. 

4.  The December 23 death of Lansana Conté, left a power vacuum in Guinea  which was filled on Friday by a military junta.  Conté had ruled the West African nation for 24 years, after seizing power in a coup in 1984.  The military group which seized power on Friday is led by Moussa Camara, a captain who served in a logistics unit.  The junta has appealed to the international community for recognition and assistance.  But so far, the international community has been slow to recognize the new government, as the United States, the European Union, the African Union, and France have all condemned the coup.  Guinea is the world’s largest exporter of bauxite, a precoursor in the production of aluminum, and the coup has raised concerns about the stability of world alumunum markets.  It also has a key role to play in ensuring the stability of its neighbors, Sierra Leone and Liberia, which experienced a long civil war in the 1990s fueled by trade in illicit diamonds.

5.  The budget of the United Nations was passed on Tuesday.  The new budget increases spending by $700 million (from $4.17 billion to $4.87 billion), excluding the cost of peacekeeping operations.  Passing the budget of the United Nations has become an increasingly politicized affair, as developing countries push for an expansion of the international institution’s role while the developed countries attempt to limit it.  This year, compromise was reached when the developed countries agreed to fund an additional 92 positions in exchange for increasing UN missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

Over the past week we’ve seen a lot of news from the domestic U.S. political front: Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention, McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin for his Vice Presidential candidate.  What’s been going on in the rest of the world?  Here are five important stories from the past week.

1. The worldwide economic downturn continued last week.  On Friday, the Japanese government announced a new economic stimulus package.  Analysts are holding out little hope that it will make much of a difference.  In the United Kingdom, Chancellor Alistair Darling conceded that the current crisis will likely be “profound and longlasting.”  He forecasted that it might be the worst economic crisis faced by the United Kingdom in the past 60 years.  Similarly, figures released by the Canadian government last week show that the country is on the brink of recession, with gross domestic product growing by  a mere 0.1% in the second quarter.  All of this suggests that the current economic crisis is global in scope and potentially long in duration.

2. Ongoing political violence in Thailand last week culminated in the closure of three major international airports and blockades of the country’s rail, road, and port infrastructure.   Earlier in the week, protestors had laid siege to state buildings.  The protestors—a loose coalition of business, royalists, and activists under the banner of the People’s Alliance for Democracy—are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and his government.  So far, the military has refused to become involved in the political crisis.

3. In an interview on Tuesday, Zwelinazima Vavi, leader of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, declared that South Africa would need to radically change its economic policies to avoid the “ticking bomb” of poverty, unemployment and crime.  Vavi is a close ally of Jacob Zuma, the leader of the African National Congress and the person mostly likely to become president of South Africa after Thabo Mbeki’s term expires next year.  Many analysts believe Vavi’s views reflect the policies favored by Zuma.  Many South Africans believe the economic policies pursued by Mbeki have not improved the quality of life for ordinary people.  His complete interview is available through the Financial Times website.

4. The North Korean government announced on Tuesday that it would suspend the processing of disabling its nuclear facilities and was considering reactivating the Yongbyon reactor.  The announcement, which North Korea maintains is a response to the failure of the United States to make good on promises made during the six party talks, raises new concerns about the effectiveness of the talks and the progress made there.  On Thursday, South Korea announced that it would drop the label “main enemy” when referring to North Korea in its biannual defense white paper.  According to Major Seo Young-suk, the decision to drop the term “does not mean that we have changed our stance.  North Korea is still a substantial and present threat.”

5. In a report issued Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) condemned health inequalities between rich and poor around the world, describing them as “unfair, unjust, and avoidable.”  According to the WHO “a toxic combination of bad policies, economics, and policies [was] killing people on a grand scale.”  The complete report, entitled Social Determinants of Health, is available through the WHO website.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

Beginning Sunday, I’ll be providing a regular feature entitled “Five Stories You Might Have Missed.”  The entry will highlight five important news stories from the previous week which, while important and interesting, may not have received much attention from the media.  But until next Sunday, here’s a short sample of what you can look forward to:

1.  Tensions in France over the status of the country’s Muslim minority and the position of Muslims in French society continue to intensify.  On Friday, the highest court in France rejected citizenship to a Muslim woman from Morocco claiming she was “insufficiently assimilated” into French society (LINK THIS).  She has lived in France since 2000, and her husband and three child children are already French citizens.

2. A report prepared by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) released on Thursday projected global demand for oil will increase by 50% between 2008 and 2030.  The main cause of the increase: lots of new cars, especially in the developing world.  With oil prices hovering around the $135-140 per barrel range, such an increase in demand could drive oil prices much, much higher.

3. On Wednesday, Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was arrested on charges of sodomy.  According to the Ibrahim’s People’s Justice Party, the arrest was retribution for the party’s success in the country’s March elections.  Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi, is under pressure to resign in the face of strong opposition and poor election result.  So far, Badawi has declined to step down, but has promised to leave office in 2010.

4. Talks continue between the government of Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai’s opposition party in Zimbabwe.  After Tsvangirai was forced out of the run-off election for the country’s presidency as a result of political violence last month, South Africa’s leadership has tried to broker a compromise government which would see political power shared between the two rivals.  The one sticking point: Mugabe does not want to share power.  That’s a tough position from which to negotiate a power sharing agreement.

5. And finally, in other news of political instability, Turkey’s government has charged 86 people with plotting to overthrow the government.  Turkey’s historically secular government was replaced by a conservative religious government after the elections last year.  The military, however, remains largely secular and suspicious of the government.