Sunday, September 28, 2008

Beijing Imposes Car Ban

China Daily reported that the government in Beijing will be imposing restrictions on car use, similar to what was used during the Olympic Games. The effort to clean the skies up is likely directly related to the clean skies that we were able to enjoy during the games. Word had it that people in Beijing were a tad disgruntled that the skies could be so clean and weren't too thrilled about the weather going back to what it was. although, since this restriction includes private vehicles, those same Beijing-ren* will likely not enjoy not being able to use their cars when they wan't.

i understand the need to clean up the skies, but i don't understand the car bans. first, the cars are only part of the problem, with the amount of idustry in the surounding regions also taking its toll on air quality. those same factories were also restricted (ie. shut down completely) during the games. but most importantly, this seems like a cosmetic and not a surgical solution to the problem. the fact that China still lacks emission standards and that cars still don't (unless every car owner in china i know was lying to me) have catalytic converters. those were two of the big influences on the progress made in reducing smog in areas like Los Angeles. Smog checks and c-convertors. Part of the problem is that the car companies that sell cars to China don't require catalytic convertors if they don't have to. while one can blame such companies for being "ecologically insensitive," you can't blame them for not wanting to spend money they don't have to on the production of their vehicles. dealing with this problem would be more forward looking, but again, i don't believe this set of restrictions has anything to do with being forward looking.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Assessing the North korean Threat: Conclusions

One thing we can say for certain is that North Korea likely does not have the capacity to wage a prolonged war of any kind. The nation seems to exist on near subsistence level (or, likely far below subsistence levels) rations, and it isn’t much different for the 1.1 million soldiers that they have in their army. The rations necessary to maintain the North Korean army in the field, at any distance from their own territory, and with US air forces pounding on their supply lines, would be far more than the country could provide for. Beyond that, the North Korean army may simply lack the petrol they would need to operate their military vehicles. We already know that their air force is limited in terms of cockpit time because it simply uses too much fuel (which means they have no hope of fending off the well trained, well equipped, and experienced American pilots). This raises one question that I have yet to see anyone address: was the short launch of all seven missiles, including what was thought to be the Taepodong 2, not a malfunction and not a conscious maneuver, but rather simply just the result of not putting enough fuel in them? Is it not perfectly likely that the North Koreans, know that the launch was a test, were not willing to use the fuel necessary to send ballistic missiles far enough to show their full potential? If so, this simply speaks to the general lack of supplies in North Korea and underscores their inability to project their forces beyond their immediate border.

The last remaining danger is China. China remains the only ally of North Korea that wields any tangible power and influence. However, it is unclear how much China actually cares about the regime. It seems more that China simply doesn’t want to shoulder the burden of what a toppled North Korean regime would mean for their economy. The number of refugees that would likely pour across the border could be over ten million and they would bring with them their starvation, their disease, and their lack of any valuable resources whatsoever. They would also represent unemployed mouths that would simply be competing with the vast numbers of unemployed in China who already feel the pinch of an economy going through dramatic change. There would simply be no way for China to handle the burden. They lack the infrastructure and economic capacity to handle it. However, it seems highly unlikely that China would court conflict with the US, especially if it gave the Japanese a reason to rearm and gave the South Koreans a reason to finally and fully turn against China. The growth of the Chinese economy is too important for the PRC to be willing to risk everything for an ally that has been nothing but trouble and a drain on their resources.

Thus, in order to answer the question we started with, we are left with Kim Jong-Il himself. As the single person who, it seems, controls the direction of the nation, it is Kim who we must seek to understand in order to predict how he might act. Any reasonable leader would hesitate to commit his nation to destruction. No matter the cost, that is a terribly unpopular move. Neither Stalin, nor Khrushchev; neither Mao, nor Brezhnev, nor any substantial communist leader or crazy dictator was willing to throw everything away. The doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction did its job to stymie any action that would mark the annihilation that loomed over the participants of the Cold War. However, Kim sometimes seems to be less…rational than any leader before him.

In an effort to get a sense of who might best reflect the mindset of Kim Jong-Il, I landed on the character from a rather recent and popular movie. In the movie Gladiator, the character of Commodus is at once childish, aggressive, defensive, insufferably proud, and infinitely excitable. When forgotten, he did all that he could to court favor and gain attention. When threatened, he did all he could to maintain his power and his pride. In some ways, Kim embodies this immature, volatile and violent character. What that means is we are dealing with someone who is predictable in his unpredictability. He will likely do anything to gain and keep attention. He will string along foreign nations and attempt to extort them for all they are worth. And, He will not give in easily. Ultimately, the threat that North Korea poses rests in the threatening nature of its leader whose sense of reality is severely underdeveloped. We thus must guard against the chance that his desire for survival may reach that of the trapped rat who will strike out against a predator of any size. Kim can never win, but in some sense he doesn’t have to.