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Archive for November, 2010

A Modest Proposal for Shifting the Strategic Calculus in the Korean Peninsula

[ 53 ] November 24, 2010 |

Robert Kelly, who teaches at Pusan National University, explains why South Korea’s threats of “enormous retaliation” against the North are, for now at least, probably empty rhetoric – despite the fact that as Dan Nexon points out, South Korea has DPRK outmatched in terms of firepower.

Kelly argues:

This probably won’t escalate, because the South Koreans have little appetite for war against NK. The sinking of the Cheonan was a far worse provocation (46 sailors died), but the SK military did nothing, because most South Koreans just want to forget about NK. They don’t want their wealthy comfortable democracy trashed in a war with a ruler they consider a quack. So South Koreans just put up with this stuff.

In an earlier post well worth revisiting, Kelly expanded on precisely why war is so frightening to South Koreans, despite the fact that they would win it:

SK’s hands are tied by the extreme vulnerability of its major population centers to NK retaliation. Specifically, following the above map of Korea’s provinces and cities, Seoul has 10.464 million; Gyeonggi province around it, filled with Seoul’s suburbs, has 11.549 million, and Incheon has 2.767 million. Busan by contrast has just 3.566 million. Korea’s total population is 48.875 million. (Those numbers come from a colleague at PNU’s Department of Public Policy and Management.) Worse yet, Busan’s population is shrinking, and Incheon’s is growing. So this means that 50% of Korea’s population lives within 50 miles of the DMZ, and 30% lives within just 35 miles.

NK knows this, and in order to hold SK hostage against any Southern retaliation for incidents like the Cheonan, it has stationed something like 10-20k artillery and rockets at the DMZ closest to this massive urban agglomeration in northwest SK. In effect then, half of the SK population is a massive city-hostage to NK, and it is only worsening because of Incheon’s rapid new growth. Given that Koreans mostly live in high-rise apartment buildings, some with 60+ stories, the result would be hundreds of World Trade Center collapses. I live in such a high-rise; I can’t imagine that it could realistically withstand a Scud missile or two. 2500 live in my building alone. Consider that all across Gyeonggi, and you have a holocaust.

Now this begs the obvious question: why is South Korea so willing to maintain and even exacerbate this status quo in the long term? Centralizing its population in the northwest not only puts its civilians at tremendous risk but also hobbles the governments’ ability to deter military threats. In other words, it compromises both state security and human security. And in the end it may simply not work, leading to massive civilian casualties.

One answer is that South Korea lacks viable options, but Kelly has a proposal worth contemplating: Read more…


How not to help your cause

[ 17 ] November 24, 2010 |

Turns out one of Goldstein’s brood took exception to my previous post and attempted to refute it by making a series of patently idiotic claims.  For example:

But Scott could at least have had the sense to not admit profound ignorance on what Beck ever says. I’m not surprised, though, because I know that for Serious People like SEK, admitting that he pays attention to the likes of Glenn Beck would collapse any credibility he may have among those whose good graces he desires to be in.

Your eyes don’t deceive you: the argument is, in fact, that criticizing Glenn Beck would “collapse any credibility [I] may have among those whose good graces [I] desire to be in.”  Because we all know left-leaning academics who criticize far-right lunatics are shunned by their colleagues.  Further depressing my credibility is my intellectual honesty, which here takes the form of my admission, up front, that I’m not a regular viewer of the show.  Note, though, that the claim is that I admitted a “profound ignorance on what Beck ever says,” which is strange because I did no such thing.  I wrote:

I try not to pay attention to Glenn Beck, but even when I have, I never really paid attention to him.

That’s “passing familiarity,” not “profound ignorance,” and the difference between the two should be obvious, and is, unless your refutation of my post continues thus:

You see, all of the topics that Glenn addresses–the dots that Scott attempts to connect–are topics that Glenn has has talked about at length in the past, so when he mentions this or that, he’s harking back to discussions he’s already had, discussions that most of the people watching have already heard.

Translation: “All the dots Scott connected have been connected in the past, and this refutes his argument somehow.”  How exactly?  Like so:
Read more…

Little Optimism for Negotiations with North Korea

[ 2 ] November 24, 2010 |

I have an article up at TAP on the prospect for negotiations with North Korea:

An agreement with North Korea could happen in two ways. First, the United States and its allies could pursue a “grand bargain” to resolve the major issues of dispute and effectively normalize relations in Northeast Asia. Second, the U.S. and its allies could pursue an incremental strategy designed to produce trust and to resolve immediate issues of crisis. Both approaches have their merits; the former recognizes the linkage between problems and attempts to shorten the period in which the parties can sabotage an agreement, while the latter aims at modest, realizable short-term gains.

Sadly, neither of these approaches is likely to bear fruit.

Obviously, I’m not optimistic about the future. Whether or not better management in 2002 and before could have put us on a different course, I don’t see that the current relationship between the US and North Korea as a good greenhouse for even incremental diplomatic progress.   Carter’s op-ed reveals one of the major problems; North Korea’s initial position is that South Korea should be excluded from negotiations.  While I think that US ineptitude contributed to the collapse of the Agreed Framework, I have also come to believe that factors internal to North Korea made successful negotiation a very low probability event.

The best we can do now is hope for change internal to North Korea, which need not necessarily take the form of full-scale regime change. I suspect that Kim Jong Il needs to be dead before any meaningful change can happen, not necessarily because he’s particularly crazy or irrational, but rather because the impending succession crisis makes any diplomatic maneuver more difficult for North Korea. I should hasten to add that I don’t support military action in the service of regime change; the costs are virtually incalculable. I do think that military response is one necessary managerial tool for the relationship, but it is critically important that any response to specific provocations is measured, limited, and spearheaded by South Korea.

Becoming a Habit…

[ 2 ] November 24, 2010 |

I was on the Alyona Show again yesterday, representing the Queen City:

Subject was the Taliban negotiator impostor incident in Afghanistan.

Hack of the Day

[ 0 ] November 24, 2010 |

Matt Bai.

Bai is a sucker for Villager conventional wisdom, so his preoccupations vary. But one consistent theme in his work is a belief in the principled anti-government stance of the American population completely unsupported by any evidence.

I Guarantee that Ross Douthat Would Write a Better Column on Texting

[ 25 ] November 24, 2010 |

Good Christ, it’s like some horrible mashup of Lee Siegal and… well, Tom Friedman.

For me, the most frightening news in The Times on Sunday was not about North Korea’s stepping up its nuclear program, but an article about how American kids are stepping up their use of digital devices….

We need better parents ready to hold their kids to higher standards of academic achievement. We need better students who come to school ready to learn, not to text. And to support all of this, we need an all-society effort — from the White House to the classroom to the living room — to nurture a culture of achievement and excellence.

If you want to know who’s doing the parenting part right, start with immigrants, who know that learning is the way up. Last week, the 32 winners of Rhodes Scholarships for 2011 were announced — America’s top college grads. Here are half the names on that list: Mark Jia, Aakash Shah, Zujaja Tauqeer, Tracy Yang, William Zeng, Daniel Lage, Ye Jin Kang, Baltazar Zavala, Esther Uduehi, Prerna Nadathur, Priya Sury, Anna Alekeyeva, Fatima Sabar, Renugan Raidoo, Jennifer Lai, Varun Sivaram.

Do you see a pattern?

I lack the words in either English or text to describe everything that’s wrong with this. Borrowed from Drezner, who manages a few musings but frankly doesn’t really tackle the true Lovecraftian horror of the above passages.

Seems About Right

[ 5 ] November 24, 2010 |

Your new Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, ladies and gentlemen:

The most important thing to remember, if you want to be taken seriously, is that she and Ezra Klein are precise equivalents. No, scratch that: the Post would have to hire 20 Rubins as bloggers to go along with the innumerable Rubins on their op-ed page to balance out one Klein.

Also, this blog is serious in its threat to deploy images of Kip Winger until the Editors start blogging again.

Future of Nagorno-Karabakh

[ 3 ] November 24, 2010 |

The Patterson School just finished a negotiation exercise based on the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. Set ten years in the future, the simulation involves teams representing Russia, the United States, Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijian, Armenia, and Nagorno-Karabakh. The key points:

The point of the exercise, however, is to highlight the importance of process. Principally, the problems result from asymmetries in interest, information, and commitment. Negotiators have a strong incentive to withhold information about the intensity and nature of their interests, in large part because others might take advantage of that information. The incentive to deceive animates all sides, narrowing the space in which agreement can be achieved. While outsiders can imagine a variety of potential settlements to the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, the dynamics of negotiation make arriving at any of those outcomes difficult. Players have an incentive to kill acceptable agreements because the distribution of goods isn’t optimal — “we could get more” — and because accepting an agreement attached with conditions or terms signals weakness.

Problems of trust and commitment mean that certain outcomes that are acceptable as an end state cannot be reached because they require impossible intermediate steps. Multilateral negotiations create multiple veto points in which any player can scuttle an agreement. In this case, the outside powers — the United States, Russia, Turkey, and Iran — were often able to arrive at agreements on potential solutions, only to be stymied by opposition from Armenia, Azerbaijan, or Nagorno-Karabakh. Entrenched animosities and domestic politics in both Armenia and Azerbaijan, combined with the unwillingness of leaders to prepare their citizens to accept the compromises that must come with an agreement, proved to be the main impediments to a successful peace agreement. What the local players lacked in economic and military power, they more than made up for in commitment to their bargaining positions.

Korea Crisis Quotes of the Day

[ 0 ] November 23, 2010 |

Global Times:

Dialogue through artillery fire is rarely an effective means to settle a dispute.

Robert Gates:

I don’t know the answer to any question about North Korea that begins with the word ‘why.’

Justaguy, in the comment thread below:

The desire to put one’s life on the line beating American Imperialists back from the Yalu river has diminished significantly in the past 50 years.

Via Blake Hounshell.

“We’ll Pay For Your Intangibles With Intangible Money.”

[ 16 ] November 23, 2010 |

Shorter Brian Cashman: “Dear Derek: if you don’t like being only significantly overpaid rather than grossly overpaid, feel free to go out and see if Michael Kay has been made the general manager of another wealthy major league team and I haven’t noticed.”

My question: where does Jeter play once the Yanks figure out that he’s no longer even playable as a major league shortstop? The Yanks taking a relatively hard line makes sense, especially on contract length. And it’s hard to imagine a mainstream columnist being willing to say this even two years ago.

Update [Paul]: This is a pretty interesting situation in terms of straight economic analysis and game theory. As Scott notes it’s likely that the Yankees’ offer (reportedly $45 million over three years) is probably much more than what Jeter could expect to get as a free agent. Why would the team do that, and even more mysteriously, why would Jeter’s agent react by going into hurt-confused-offended mode? As to why the NYY would pay considerably more than any other team would for Jeter’s services at this point, the argument can be made (and no doubt his agent is making it at length) that Jeter is worth a lot more to the Yankees than any other team, because he’s an integral part of their current “branding,” to put it in MBA-speak. But how good is the evidence for this argument? The alternative for New York is to pay something like $15 million over the next three years for a shortstop of similar likely quality to Jeter over that time, or perhaps $30 million for a significantly better player (not necessarily a shortstop). In the former case they save $30 million, and have the same odds of having successful seasons in terms of actually winning games. In the latter case they save a lot less money but marginally increase their chances of winning big (and even a couple of wins at the margin are especially valuable to a team that’s very likely to be in championship contention anyway).

Are the economic benefits that the Yankees get from having Jeter in their lineup likely to outweigh the benefits of either of these alternative approaches? It seems at least questionable that they would . . . Which leads to the real possibility that Brian Cashman is playing a subtle game of chicken in game theory terms, where what he’s hoping for is precisely that Jeter rejects his final offer in an operatic huff, thus allowing the Yankees to play the “egotistical zillionaire athlete with no gratitude for the team and fans who made him what he is today” etc etc.

My guess is that Jeter and Casey Close understand this well enough, and that after a little bit more huffing and puffing they’ll take something very much like the offer on the table.

The Daily Tucker

[ 9 ] November 23, 2010 |

Obviously, Carlson was upset that his ranking on the Hack 30 was too low. Point conceded!

He may want his Very Serious Publication to stick to “scoops” about how liberal journalists say liberal things when they’re on liberal listservs.

UPDATE: Paul beat me to it.

Lesbians are actually kinda hot and make good soldiers too

[ 11 ] November 23, 2010 |

van alden

So sign ’em up for Team America: World Police.

There’s a lot to savor here: The time machine that takes you back to 1953; the just-so evolutionary biology; the characteristically creepy mixture of obsession with and attraction/repulsion toward the subject matter; the sexualization of the work place. It’s a heady brew, as Agent Van Alden might say.

Update: I read this after The Daily Caller had removed the original final sentence, which per the Amanda Hess piece Scott links above, read “My solution would get the distaff part of our homosexual population off our collective ‘Broke Back,’ thus giving straight male GIs a fair shot at converting lesbians and bringing them into the mainstream.”

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