Since the US media doesn’t do much these days but report on the political clown parade that is leading up to the general election in November, I thought I’d share a few thoughts of what is going on outside of that.
NORTH KOREA – STARVING AGAIN
|Kim Jong Un
On March 28, the North Korean party daily, Rodong Sinmun, published an article that warned the people that North Korea is facing tough times and that the country may have to endure another “Arduous March” of economic hardship.
The article counseled that while the country may experience hardship, its people must not waver in their allegiance to leader Kim Jong Un. It also said that the road to revolution is long and difficult. “Even if we give up our lives, we should continue to show our loyalty to our leader Kim Jong Un until the end of our lives,” it said, stressing the need for North Koreans to work hard in the “70-day campaign of loyalty.”
The “Arduous March”, also called the March with Hardship, refers to 1994 and subsequent years, after Kim Il-sung died, when North Korea suffered from severe famine, historic floods and deadly economic hardship. Food shortages were so severe that an estimated 3 million North Koreans died of starvation and nutrition-related diseases in four years.
The government published recipes for preparing dishes using edible tree bark. The old and infirm would leave the family home to die, so that the children could eat. This period was the first time North Korea appealed to the World Food Program for food aid. North Korea experienced no population growth for almost ten years. It was the only time since the end of the Korean war that North Korea experienced food riots in major cities that required regular army units to suppress.
The Rodong Sinmun warning indicates that the new March could last three years.
Kim Jong Un has added 70 pounds in the last year, according to South Korean reports, and now weighs 300 pounds. I don’t think that the “March with Hardship” means that Dear Leader will miss a meal.
CHINA ENTERS SYRIAN SITUATION
The Chinese government recently appointed Xie Xiaoyan as the Chinese government’s special envoy for the Syrian issue. China rarely has appointed special envoys for past crises. The way ahead in Syria is now important to China, which is trying to step into the political void created by anemic dithering by the United States. Isn’t that just special?
“The purpose of the Chinese side’s appointing the special envoy for the Syrian issue is to give play to the role of peace talks in an even better way; contribute China’s wisdom and plans in an even more positive way; enhance communication and coordination between relevant parties in an even more effective manner; and play a constructive role in promoting the final and proper resolution of the Syrian issue.
In his new year’s day speech, President Xi Jinping was explicit that China intended to play a larger role in the settlement of international crises in 2016. This appointment carries that intention into action for the first time in Syria.
SOUTH CHINA SEA
On March 30, the US announced that it would not recognize any Chinese claim to any kind of air or sea exclusionary zone for the South China Sea. The context to the US announcement has two elements. First is China’s declaration of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea and hints that it would do the same over the South China Sea.
China’s rapid construction of air defense detection and attack capabilities in the Paracel and the Spratly Islands leaves little doubt that China intends eventually to declare an exclusive air defense zone over most of the South China Sea. The activities of the Chinese coast guard demonstrate that China intends to declare the South China Sea as territorial waters, which is much more restrictive than an exclusive economic zone.
The second element in the context is the Philippine court action before the international tribunal under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea at The Hague. The Philippines challenged China’s claims before the tribunal. China refused to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the tribunal. A decision is expected soon, but China might pre-empt with its own declaration of an exclusive zone.
Eventually somebody will need to blink. China assesses the US as weak, indecisive and unwilling to confront their expansionism. I leave it to you, the reader to assess the situation further.
RUSSIA vs NATO
The confrontation with NATO and the US is gradually escalating. Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Alexander Grushko, said, “Russia is preparing an asymmetric response to the increase in NATO’s, and in particular the United States’, military presence near Russian borders.
“Of course, our response will be completely asymmetrical, it will be calibrated to match our ideas about the degree of military threat, to be most efficient and not overly expensive,” he told a Russian TV station.
“We can see that the US continues to increase its military presence in Europe with an emphasis on ‘the Eastern front.’ We are not passive observers, and consistently implement all those military measures that are necessary in order to offset this totally unjustified increased military presence,” Grushko said.
On Wednesday, various news services reported that the US is planning to increase its military presence in Eastern Europe and start rotating armored brigades in 2017. Thus, the U.S. will increase its military presence in Europe to three, fully equipped combat brigades, according to the US Forces command in Europe.
To the Russian leadership, US and NATO force adjustments must look like a reinforced battle line to try to defend territories that once begged for Russian help to protect them from the Germans. It must seem surreal that modern Russia could again face a new cold war with NATO. That perspective is worth more study before great powers make more force commitments and military adjustments that harden hostility in national viewpoints.
RUSSIA vs ISLAM
Russian authorities announced that they arrested 20 or so Islamic state recruiters in Moscow. Among all the news reports on counter-terror operations since January first, this is the only report to demonstrate that a state’s security leadership understands the significance of the “recruiters.” The Russians have their own style, but that style includes “neutering” the Islamist infestation.
Recruiters are the agents of reproduction in the Islamic State’s living system. No country but Russia that has forces fighting the Islamic State has announced a crackdown on Islamist recruiting. US constitutional protection of free speech inhibits making disloyal proselytization a crime, but it is the mechanism by which the Islamic State replaces its losses. Imams in Belgium preached the overthrow of the Belgian system of government.
The Russians are the only non-Islamic state that understands the threat that subversive preachers pose to a secular state. The Russians understand subversion. The Belgians and French do not. The Germans, Swedes, and Danes are about to get a lesson and the Brits are not far behind.
A June 23 referendum will decide whether the UK remains inside the European Union or whether they leave. At the moment, England favors leaving the EU, while Scotland, Wales and Ulster (N. Ireland) favor remaining in the EU.
Whatever the feelings of English voters on the emotive issue of Europe, there is no escaping the fact that the outcome of the forthcoming EU referendum will be decided by the total vote of the United Kingdom. That is the price England pays for being British.
The stakes are very high for the EU. If the British leave, the French are likely next, and then the Germans, because they are the ‘donor states’. The Islamic issue is also going to play a key role in whether individual nations in Europe continue their policy of open borders or whether they will become more restrictive to stop the flow of Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East who bring their violent conduct along with them.