Posts Tagged ‘security’


North Korea’s young and unknown dictator, Kim Jong-un, used a controversial rocket launch to assert leadership over his impoverished and isolated state. Defying sanctions and condemnations from around the world, Pyongyang promised that the rocket would allow North Korea to place its own satellite into space, “the Bright Shining Star,” affirming the success and strength of the country. The rocket launch also coincided with the 100th birthday celebrations for the founder of North Korea, Kim Il-sung. His grandson would prove his worthiness for power with a showing of how he could further the greatness of the nation in space.

This effort at symbolic assertion failed as the North Korean rocket exploded a minute after take-off, fragmented, and fell in pieces into the Yellow Sea. The new North Korean dictator had invested his prestige and about $1 billion of his cash-strapped country’s capital in this project. He had also paid a high price in lost foreign aid for defying international requests to refrain from provocation. He promised that his poor country could compete with the world’s strongest and most technologically advanced states. Now, however, he had proven just the opposite: North Korea is a degenerate regime, suffering from a dead-end economy and a disastrous dictatorship.

As all the promises about the rocket launch blew apart, the regime’s profound inadequacies became evident to everyone, especially its own citizens. Facts matter, and this failure was undeniable. North Koreans learned of it on television, as did much of the rest of the world. One must wonder how North Korean citizens can now retain a belief in their dictator’s infallibility. One must wonder how other North Korean elites, especially in the military, can justify continued subservience to the obviously naive and flawed Kim Jung-un.



North Korea’s failed rocket test has an ironic quality that echoes Percy Bysshe Shelley’s reflections on the ruins of another bombastic dictator who over-reached:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert….
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

Kim Jung-un is Shelley’s Ozymandias. He inherited an apparent instinct for domination from his dictator dad and granddad, but he lacks the tools to keep this game going. North Korean technology, economy, and society suffer from the suffocating effects of prolonged repression. The country cannot compete internationally, it cannot feed its own citizens, and it is rapidly losing its ability to scare its neighbors with flamboyant shows of defiance.

North Korea has transitioned from a rogue state to a pathetic wasteland. It still has a capacity to do damage to nearby countries, especially South Korea and Japan. It still has some claim on world attention because of its small nuclear arsenal. Nonetheless, this regime is on a rapid path to collapse under the weight of its own self-defeating leadership.


U.S. Policy

The best policy for the United States and its allies is to prepare for this collapse by keeping a distance from this regime, ignoring it as much as possible. The United States, South Korea, Japan, and China should also begin preparations to contain the violence and migration that will surely accompany the last days. Political distance and physical containment are the most strategic ways to handle a fizzling nuisance.

How long will this process take? The historical record should warn against firm timetables. Failing regimes tend to linger longer than expected, and then collapse very quickly. The same pattern is likely in North Korea. My guess is that the lingering is almost over. We must contain the present regime and prepare for its imminent demise. We must not do anything that will give it a longer lease on life through excessive aid or unwise military provocations. With patience and preparation, time is indeed on the side of ending this terrible nightmare.


This post originally appeared at


Nuclear issues are back in the news. Despite all the attention to the Republican sweep in the American midterm elections and the Federal Reserve’s recent controversial stimulus policies, traditional security concerns took center stage again. The stubborn evidence of nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran – and new evidence of dangerous projects in both countries – reminded policy-makers of the continued threats. The emergence of new, unpredictable nuclear states is a reality that can no longer be ignored.

Instability and uncertainty in the global economy have reinforced a desire among policy-makers to avoid arms races and military conflicts. If anything, the leaders of the largest states want to find new budget savings through military cutbacks, not new commitments. Increased nuclear instability and stronger incentives for nuclear peace have motivated renewed attention to the problems of proliferation. That is good news, even if the challenges remain difficult, to say the least.

Last week’s NATO summit produced agreement on three important initiatives. These initiatives deserve attention for their long-term implications, beyond immediate security problems. These initiatives also open new possibilities for creative partnerships. They might seed more cooperative leadership, and even some collective risk-taking.

First, the NATO countries reaffirmed the importance of U.S.-European military cooperation for mutual security against a diverse range of asymmetric threats. Despite the serious differences over counterinsurgency doctrine, the War in Afghanistan, and the nature of the terrorist threat, the alliance remains strongly committed to joint planning, policy, and operations. There is no real divergence between the “old” and “new” members; they are all in the same strategic boat. If anything, recent difficulties have highlighted the need for more cooperation, not less. Most notable, the European members of NATO have not invested in an alternative continent-wide military force. They continue to depend on security in cooperation with the United States. That is the Cold War strategic architecture carried into the post-Cold War world. There has been no divergence from the inherited assumption that European security is transatlantic security. That is the “North Atlantic” core in what has become a much more globally active alliance.

Second, the NATO countries agreed to cooperate in creating a modest continent-wide missile defense system. The alliance will not rely on nuclear deterrence alone, as it has since its founding. The new NATO strategic doctrine assumes that there are some threats – from North Korea, Iran, and terrorist groups – that are not subject to intimidation by a the promise of overwhelming retaliation. The instigators of new asymmetric threats might, in fact, see political value in provoking disproportionate military reactions. In this context, large nuclear arsenals with assured second-strike capabilities – the cornerstone of Cold War strategic doctrine – serve limited purposes. A modest ground-based missile defense promises to expand NATO options, providing some territorial protection against undeterred adversaries with small but dangerous arsenals. Missile defense expands the alliance’s strategic depth, it allows it to absorb limited strikes with less damage, and it expands its strategic options.

Most impressive, the alliance has apparently convinced Russian President Dmitry Medvedev of the potential value in a missile defense system. Russia showed unprecedented willingness to cooperate on this project at the NATO summit. That is a major step with very positive possibilities. That is a true sign of strategic progress from the NATO-Russia recriminations of prior years.

Third, and perhaps most significant, NATO strongly supported deep nuclear weapons reductions – particularly the recent treaty negotiated between Russia and the United States, pending a difficult ratification in the U.S. Senate. NATO members did not only support the treaty, but the broader goal of de-nuclearizing foreign policy. Leaders and scholars debate the possibilities of a truly free nuclear world, but almost everyone agrees that the large nuclear arsenals maintained by the United States and Russia, in particular, do not contribute to safety and stability. They create risks of accidental misuse. They waste money and resources. They encourage other countries to develop their own arsenals. Most of all, they undermine efforts to convince smaller states that these weapons are illegitimate. How can we condemn the very weapons that we stockpile in such large numbers?

A world with fewer nuclear weapons would be more secure for everyone. NATO has now definitively embraced that position. This position might not influence policy in the most dangerous regions, but it will reduce the strategic incentives for American, British, French, Russian, Chinese, and other planners to develop more of these weapons. The emphasis is now clearly on nuclear reduction, and that is a good thing for day-to-day policy and long-term non-proliferation goals.

The recent NATO summit highlights the promise and the peril in our contemporary world. As never before, some of the most powerful states are committed to reducing nuclear weapons and creating cooperative mechanisms for global stability. No one wants to see more nuclear weapons deployed. No one wants to see more arms races.

At the same time, the obstacles to these goals remain large. Differences over conflicts in Afghanistan, the Arab-Israeli territories, and other areas continue to divide NATO countries. Concerns about economic sustenance exacerbate the tendency to expect someone else to pay the bills. If the promising initiatives from the summit are to reach fruition, then the leaders of the most powerful NATO states, as well as Russia and China, must make credible commitments to cooperation and mutual sacrifice. They must re-commit to alliance partnerships that are enduring. That is always how new international relationships are forged, as necessary responses to pressing problems in tough times.

This blog post originally appeared at

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About Jeremi Suri
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Jeremi Suri holds the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a professor in the University's Department of History and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. Professor Suri is the author and editor of nine books on contemporary politics and foreign policy. Professor Suri's research and teaching have received numerous prizes. In 2007 Smithsonian Magazine named him one of America's "Top Young Innovators" in the Arts and Sciences. His writings appear widely in blogs and print media. Professor Suri is also a frequent public lecturer and guest on radio and television programs.