sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Two Thoughts for Tuesday

Thoughts on NATO

Mr. Stoltenberg
Jens Stoltenberg is Secretary General of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and an old friend of our fellow blogger, and my colleague from Norway, who comments under the name, "Valuesim". I've been following Sec. Gen. Stoltenberg's reaction to President Trump's and Vice President Pence's comments about NATO, and the need to modernize, to fight Islamic terrorism (which the Pope doesn't believe in - but the Pope may also believe that the Earth is flat the way Popes did 1000 years ago).

On the issue of terrorism, Stoltenberg noted that NATO is helping train security forces in Afghanistan and Iraq and is contributing surveillance planes to the fight against the Islamic State. Then he added what VP Pence wanted to hear: "But we agree that the alliance can, and should do more, in the fight against terrorism."

During the election cycle there was near-hysteria among NATO membership when candidate Trump announced that NATO was obsolete and that member states were not paying their fair share. That hysteria turned to panic when he won the election. But the fact is, burden sharing is an old idea, and a non-controversial one. Modernizing NATO's approach in the age of the Islamic State is also eminently reasonable. And now NATO, facing the reality of a Trump presidency, has little choice but to go along.

Donald Trump moved the NATO debate. After much fretting, and complaining, and denouncing, NATO did the simplest thing: It went along.

China, North Korea and President Trump

China’s Commerce Ministry announced on 18 February that it will suspend all imports of coal from North Korea.
"In order to implement the NSC Resolution No. 2321, according to the Foreign Trade Law of the PRC, MOFCOM Announcement No. 81 of 2016, China suspends coal imports from North Korea for the rest of the year (including shipments that have been reported to customs yet granted permission for release). This announcement shall be implemented from Feb 19, 2017, to December 31, 2017."
China is North Korea’s largest export market, accounting for over 85% of its total exports in 2015, according to the UN. More than half of the exports, or $1.1 billion, was comprised of coal. Coal is North Korea’s primary export commodity. 

A survey of commentaries on this Chinese action revealed three theories about why the Chinese acted now. The progressive, elite, smug mainstream media judged that this action was in response to the assassination of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother in Malaysia. The Chinese are angry because Kim Jong Nam was under their protection, living in Macao, and North Korea’s leaders knew it.

Academics judged that it was an administrative action taken in response to changes in domestic demand for coal. The timing was arranged to reinforce the perception that China is cracking down harder on North Korea.

The third view - that the corrupt, elite, progressive, smug mainstream media rejects, but is likely closer to the truth is that the coal crackdown is a gambit in Chinese dealings with the new US administration. This judgment is that China has shifted to the US the burden of making progress in relations.The message is that China has responded to a key policy concern of the US – that China can and must exert more pressure on North Korea. It is now incumbent on the US to reciprocate on a key Chinese policy concern, such as the installation of advanced missile defenses in South Korea.

Any action involving China, coal and North Korea is complex because the Chinese cannot be trusted to enforce a suspension, in this instance, as strictly as it was announced. There always are loopholes.

China Understand the Norks

China sends blunt messages to North Korea because they don't understand anything else. We note that the first Chinese statement of opposition to North Korea’s 12 February missile test was followed by a public announcement of tightened sanctions. The suspension of coal imports was announced within a week of the assassination of Kim Jong Nam on the 13th. Correlation is not causation, but close timing often is evidence of causation. The Chinese are displeased with Kim Jong Un, but they also want some form of reciprocation from the US.