Doug Bandow

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The empty streets near the Pyongyang Railway Station are seen as people stay away due to a lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Pyongyang, North Korea, on May 27. Kim Won Jin/AFP via Getty Images

As a COVID-19 wave engulfs North Korea, the question of reunification is moving to the fore. Tragically divided in the aftermath of World War II, the peninsula essentially suffered through a low-grade civil war in the decades since the Korean War ended.

Stitching together the two very different Koreas long looked improbable. However, North Korea is ill-prepared for a viral tsunami. Although it is premature to predict the Kim Jong Un dynasty’s doom, it would be foolish not to prepare for the possibility.

North Korea is one of only two countries that made no effort to vaccinate its people. (Eritrea, oft called the North Korea of Africa, is the other.)…  Seguir leyendo »

North Korea doesn’t belong on state terrorism list

North Korea acts like an incorrigible child, only with nuclear weapons. Whenever hopes begin to build that Pyongyang is ready to try a new approach, it engages in some new mischief or malice.

So it is with the apparent assassination of Kim Jong Nam, half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as North Korea is officially known, likely used the deadly nerve agent VX at a busy airport filled with bustling travelers.

So what to do about Pyongyang?

No one has any particularly good ideas. Some propose putting the North back on the United States’ official list of state sponsors of terrorism.…  Seguir leyendo »

Another move in the North Korean chess game

Kim Jong Nam, older half-brother of North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, died at Kuala Lumpur International Airport while preparing to fly to Macau. He reportedly was injected or sprayed with poison by two unidentified women, presumed to be North Korean agents. If true, it seems Kim Jong Un is tying up loose ends, eliminating a family heir who might have been used to legitimize a successor regime.

North Korea always has looked a bit like the Ottoman Empire with the plethora of “royal” children and other close relatives competing for power. Until Kim Jong Un, however, family members might lose authority and disappear from public view, but they were not murdered — a practice embraced by Ottoman sultans.…  Seguir leyendo »

Anti-Christian religious persecution on the rise

Religious differences run deep in our pluralistic world. It may come as no surprise that such disagreements sometimes end up in violence.

Yet that rarely is the case in what might be called Christendom. Indeed, in large part there is little discrimination let alone persecution against spiritual minorities in majority Christian nations. The exceptions tend to be countries that suffered under communism or other authoritarian forms of rule.

In contrast, brutal mistreatment of religious minorities of all faiths is the norm in majority Muslim countries. The degree of harm varies—Christians live better in the small Gulf States than in Saudi Arabia, for instance, where not a single church is allowed to exist.…  Seguir leyendo »

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel recently was anointed as the last defender of liberal Western values. But that vision died with her announcement that she supported prohibiting Muslim women from wearing a “full veil” face covering. Even Merkel could not ignore illiberal currents buffeting Germany as well as the rest of Europe.

The European Union began with economic cooperation among Belgium, France and Germany. The expanded Common Market promoted growth and prosperity, offering an example of freer trade that even U.S. President-elect Donald Trump might have supported. The early version of the EU appeared determined to eliminate more economic barriers than it created.…  Seguir leyendo »

Does the U.S. really need an ally like Saudi Arabia?

Despite recently expressing doubts about America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, U.S. President Barack Obama again flew to Riyadh and sought to “reassure” the Saudi royals about U.S. support.

In fact, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia raises the question: what are allies for? If the president wants to leave his mark on American foreign policy, he should have started moving Washington and Riyadh toward a more normal relationship.

Most important, the United States should drop any security guarantee, whether explicit or implicit. If Saudi Arabia is worth defending, its own people should do so. At the same time, the U.S. should take a more even-handed approach in the Iranian-Saudi cold war, looking for opportunities to draw Tehran away from Islamic extremism.…  Seguir leyendo »

Should U.S. fold its nuclear umbrella in Asia?

Donald Trump again is causing international consternation. His remarks about South Korea and Japan developing nuclear weapons set off a minor firestorm.

“It would be catastrophic were the United States to shift its position and indicate that we support somehow the proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional countries,” argued deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes.

Actually, what would be catastrophic is American involvement in a nuclear war as a result of its defense commitment to another nation, especially one able to defend itself.

Indeed, Rhodes praised the fact that “Japan and the Republic of Korea benefit from our very rock-solid security assurances that we will come to their defense in any event.”…  Seguir leyendo »

The United States plans on filling Eastern Europe with thousands of troops, along with vehicles and weapons, to equip an armored combat brigade. That will require a special budget request of $3.4 billion for next year.

An unnamed administration official told The New York Times that the step “fulfills promises we’ve made to NATO” and “also shows our commitment and resolve.” Moreover, said another anonymous aide: “This reflects a new situation, where Russia has become a more difficult actor.” However, the basic question remains unanswered: Why is the U.S. defending Europe? The need for America to play an overwhelming role disappeared as the continent recovered and the Cold War ended.…  Seguir leyendo »

Saudi Arabia is a far worse threat than Iran

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently traveled to Riyadh to reassure the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states that the U.S. stood with them. “Nothing has changed” as a result of the nuclear pact with Iran, he insisted.

Washington’s long relationship with Riyadh was built on oil. There never was any nonsense about sharing values with Saudi Arabia, which operates as a slightly more civilized variant of the Islamic State group.

The royals run a totalitarian system that prohibits political dissent, free speech, religious liberty and social autonomy. The State Department has devoted an astonishing 57 pages detailing the Saudi monarchy’s human rights abuses.…  Seguir leyendo »

More American military personnel are heading to Iraq and Syria. The administration continues its slow progression to renewed ground combat.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter informed Congress that a “specialized expeditionary targeting force” would be sent to Iraq on top of the 3,500 personnel already there, with the authority to operate in Syria too. This mix of Special Forces “will over time be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence, and capture ISIL [Islamic State] leaders,” explained Carter. Where greater opportunities appear to work with local forces, he added, “We are prepared to expand it.”

Unfortunately, no matter how effective these forces, they won’t turn around a 16-month deadlock.…  Seguir leyendo »

The European Project, as it is known, has been treated as an almost sacred process by the continent’s elite. Nothing — certainly neither fiscal responsibility nor popular sovereignty — should be allowed to stand in the way of creating a united Europe like the dominating American republic across the pond.

No doubt European cooperation has had beneficial effects. However, the negatives have become ever more evident.

Brussels has aped Washington by hosting a growing bureaucracy dedicated to micromanagement and social engineering. An Eurocratic elite, made up of the usual gaggle of politicians, academics, journalists, businessmen, bureaucrats and related folk, is determined to create a continental consolidated government irrespective of the desires of European peoples.…  Seguir leyendo »

The slaughter at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo brought hundreds of thousands of marchers and scores of world leaders onto the streets of Paris. The killings demonstrated the destructive core of religious persecution and how its influence is spreading from Third World dictatorships to First World democracies.

Religious minorities long have faced murder and prison around the world. Now the freedom not to believe by majorities in Western democracies is under attack.

Free expression goes to the very essence of the human person. While good judgment tells us not to express every thought we have, as moral agents responsible for our actions we must be free to assess the world and express ourselves in vibrant public debate.…  Seguir leyendo »

Syria’s civil war has washed over Turkey’s border, flooding the latter with hundreds of thousands of refugees. Washington’s efforts to solve the crisis so far have yielded few positive results.

U.S. President George W. Bush’s grandest foreign policy “success,” the ouster of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, is turning into an even more dramatic debacle. Egypt is racing back into Mubarak-style authoritarianism. The outcome of U.S. President Barack Obama’s “splendid little war” in Libya continues to unravel.

The region is aflame and U.S. policy bears much of the blame. Washington’s relentless attempt to reorder and reshape complex peoples, distant places, and volatile disputes has backfired spectacularly.…  Seguir leyendo »

It doesn’t pay to be number two in North Korea. In December the young dictator Kim Jong Un executed his uncle, Jang Song Taek, supposedly Kim’s top adviser. Now Vice Marshal Choe Ryong Hae, who climbed atop Jang’s corpse, has been relieved of his important positions.

Choe’s fall is particularly important because, though he was an aide to Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, he rose rapidly under the younger Kim. Dumping Choe reshapes the political environment of Kim’s making.

While Kim’s dominance in Pyongyang does not guarantee the regime’s survival, it dampens hope for any change outside of Kim. Today’s Korean Winter isn’t likely to give way to a Korean Spring.…  Seguir leyendo »

Europe is slowly disarming. Yet the continent no longer can rely on America to fill the gap. That realization has given France pause. Other European states also may start taking their security responsibilities more seriously.

The Europeans have been cutting military spending for years. EU leaders still might talk about creating a continental foreign policy and military, but European peoples exhibit little interest in paying the resulting bill.

Earlier this year NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen declared that “There is a lower limit on how little we can spend on defense.” But what is it?

Europe may be moving toward eventual disarmament, but a slight sign of hope is flickering in France.…  Seguir leyendo »

Josef Stalin died 60 years ago. Few people marked the passing of one of history’s greatest mass murderers.

Stalin was born in 1878 in Georgia, a province of Imperial Russia. Although he attended Orthodox seminary he did not inherit his mother’s religious faith. By his early 20s he was a Bolshevik agitator.

In 1922 he was chosen party General Secretary, originally a position of little power. Vladimir Lenin’s death in 1924 triggered a complicated power struggle. Stalin demonstrated political genius and by 1928 was in full control.

The following decade he inaugurated the Great Terror, imprisoning and killing millions. Several leading Bolsheviks were executed after infamous show trials.…  Seguir leyendo »

Cancer is a terrible way to die, even for someone as unattractive as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Still, Venezuela is better off with Chavez gone.

However, the country will prosper only if Chavismo disappears as well. Which requires the opposition to offer a vision of opportunity and prosperity for Venezuela’s dispossessed.

Chavez was elected in 1998, a populist who challenged the country’s profoundly corrupt political establishment. People desperate for change voted for change.

And he brought it. But not a positive variety. Roger Noriega of the American Enterprise Institute assessed “Chavez’s destructive legacy: deep political polarization, authoritarian manipulation, hateful rhetoric, disastrous economic policies, and the devastation of Venezuela’s petroleum industry.”…  Seguir leyendo »