What's new

Russil Wvong

April 24, 2009

Yahoo is shutting down GeoCities later this year. I've finally set up my own domain and moved my website to Dreamhost, which was surprisingly painless.

August 28, 2006

Global warming: the one-page version. A short e-mail I sent to the Canadian environment minister, Rona Ambrose, after reading a profile of Tim Ball in the Globe and Mail.

March 18, 2005

George F. Kennan, who formulated the strategy of containment which prevented a third world war, and whose writings did so much to illuminate the complexities of the Cold War and diplomacy in general, has died, at 101. Here's the New York Times story.

October 25, 2004

The New Yorker reviews Bush's record and endorses Kerry.

The Washington Monthly discusses the likely consequences if Bush wins. The articles I found most interesting were Sebastian Mallaby's on the deficit and Gideon Rose's on foreign policy. Rose's analysis is based on the questionable assumption that Bush recognizes the failure of his current strategy.

October 4, 2004

Wrote up my thoughts on the upcoming election in the US, in the form of a brief guide for undecided voters.

July 20, 2004

Wrote up a page on Canadian tax facts. How much do we pay in taxes?

June 20, 2004

Wrote up a guide to the 2004 federal election for first-time voters.

May 11, 2004

Added a 1950 report on Latin America to George F. Kennan on the Web.

February 7, 2004

Articles I've been reading lately:

Kirk Victor, Alexis Simendinger, and John Maggs, "A Kerry Top 10," National Journal, January 30, 2004. Profile of the front-runner for the Democrats' presidential nomination in 2004. The National Journal reports political news from Washington; it appears to be non-partisan.

Ron Suskind, author of The Price of Loyalty, has set up a public archive of some of the source documents for the book, given to him by former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill: every document that passed across his desk was archived as a TIFF file. It's fascinating to see what the daily life of a top Cabinet official and NSC principal is like, as revealed by his daily briefing papers.

"Pakistan's proliferator-in-chief," The Economist Global Agenda, February 5, 2004. Recent confession by Abdul Qadeer Khan, Pakistan's top nuclear scientist, that he sold nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea, and Libya.

Catherine Mann, "Globalization of IT Services and White Collar Jobs: The Next Wave of Productivity Growth," Institute for International Economics, International Economics Policy Briefs PB03-11, December 2003. Argues that globalization of software development and IT will benefit the US economy as a whole: by making software cheaper, businesses will be able to invest more in IT and thereby improve their productivity, as they did in the 1990s when PC hardware became cheaper. Via Brad DeLong. The Institute for International Economics is a non-partisan economic think-tank with a good reputation among economists.

Kenneth Pollack, "Spies, Lies, and Weapons: What Went Wrong," The Atlantic, January/February 2004. Why did intelligence services believe that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons, and was working towards nuclear weapons?

September 20, 2003

Added PPS/39, a 1948 paper on US policy towards China, to George F. Kennan on the Web. The principal author was John Paton Davies, Jr.

August 11, 2003

Added Louis St. Laurent's 1947 Gray Lecture on the foundations of Canadian foreign policy.

February 14, 2003

Hans Blix's February 14 briefing.

In my earlier briefings, I have noted that significant outstanding issues of substance were listed in two Security Council documents from early 1999 (S/1999/94 and S/1999/356) and should be well known to Iraq. I referred, as examples, to the issues of anthrax, the nerve agent VX and long-range missiles, and said that such issues "deserve to be taken seriously by Iraq rather than being brushed aside...". The declaration submitted by Iraq on 7 December last year, despite its large volume, missed the opportunity to provide the fresh material and evidence needed to respond to the open questions. This is perhaps the most important problem we are facing. Although I can understand that it may not be easy for Iraq in all cases to provide the evidence needed, it is not the task of the inspectors to find it. Iraq itself must squarely tackle this task and avoid belittling the questions.
At the meeting in Baghdad on 8 and 9 February, the Iraqi side addressed some of the important outstanding disarmament issues and gave us a number of papers, e.g. regarding anthrax and growth material, the nerve agent VX and missile production. Experts who were present from our side studied the papers during the evening of 8 February and met with Iraqi experts in the morning of 9 February for further clarifications. Although no new evidence was provided in the papers and no open issues were closed through them or the expert discussions, the presentation of the papers could be indicative of a more active attitude focusing on important open issues.

The Iraqi side suggested that the problem of verifying the quantities of anthrax and two VX-precursors, which had been declared unilaterally destroyed, might be tackled through certain technical and analytical methods. Although our experts are still assessing the suggestions, they are not very hopeful that it could prove possible to assess the quantities of material poured into the ground years ago. Documentary evidence and testimony by staff that dealt with the items still appears to be needed.

Not least against this background, a letter of 12 February from Iraq's National Monitoring Directorate may be of relevance. It presents a list of 83 names of participants "in the unilateral destruction in the chemical field, which took place in the summer of 1991". As the absence of adequate evidence of that destruction has been and remains an important reason why quantities of chemicals have been deemed "unaccounted for", the presentation of a list of persons who can be interviewed about the actions appears useful and pertains to cooperation on substance. I trust that the Iraqi side will put together a similar list of names of persons who participated in the unilateral destruction of other proscribed items, notably in the biological field.

The Iraqi side also informed us that the commission, which had been appointed in the wake of our finding 12 empty chemical weapons warheads, had had its mandate expanded to look for any still existing proscribed items. This was welcomed.

A second commission, we learnt, has now been appointed with the task of searching all over Iraq for more documents relevant to the elimination of proscribed items and programmes. It is headed by the former Minister of Oil, General Amer Rashid, and is to have very extensive powers of search in industry, administration and even private houses.

The two commissions could be useful tools to come up with proscribed items to be destroyed and with new documentary evidence. They evidently need to work fast and effectively to convince us, and the world, that it is a serious effort.

The matter of private interviews was discussed at length during our meeting in Baghdad. The Iraqi side confirmed the commitment, which it made to us on 20 January, to encourage persons asked to accept such interviews, whether in or out of Iraq. So far, we have only had interviews in Baghdad. A number of persons have declined to be interviewed, unless they were allowed to have an official present or were allowed to tape the interview. Three persons that had previously refused interviews on UNMOVIC's terms, subsequently accepted such interviews just prior to our talks in Baghdad on 8 and 9 February. These interviews proved informative. No further interviews have since been accepted on our terms. I hope this will change. We feel that interviews conducted without any third party present and without tape recording would provide the greatest credibility.

To me it looks as though there's some concessions from the Iraqi side -- some movement back from the brink. But not very much. I think Saddam Hussein is demonstrating admirable political skills. Total intransigence would lead to war; total capitulation would be a political defeat. Instead, he's giving just enough ground to keep the Security Council divided. France will point to his concessions; the US won't be convinced. He's maximizing the political cost to the US of going to war.

At this point I think the only hope for a peaceful resolution is if Saddam Hussein goes into exile or is overthrown.

February 5, 2003

Transcript of Powell's presentation to the UN.

I wrote earlier:

As a Canadian, with a strong interest in international law, I have to say that I'm disturbed by Iraq's defiance of the UN Security Council for the last 12 years, and the success of its diplomatic and propaganda efforts to isolate the US and Britain (see "From the Ashes" or "The Threatening Storm" for a review of the history). Hans Blix's January 27 update made it pretty clear that even with a gun to its head, Iraq has decided not to disarm. The Security Council can't pretend that Iraq is complying. It has to either accept Iraq's defiance and say that it won't do anything about it, or authorize war.

Of course, it could be that not doing anything would be wiser than authorizing war. But I'm afraid I don't think so. At this point the US and its allies have to decide which of these three choices is the least bad: (1) war, (2) deterrence, (3) withdrawal from the region.

The problem is that if the US and its allies aren't willing to go to war now, they'll be even less likely to do so once Iraq has nuclear weapons. In other words, I don't see how deterrence can work if the US isn't willing to go to war now.

It simply isn't credible for the US to say, "Well, okay, we're not going to go to war with you now, when you don't have nuclear weapons, even though you're defying the UN Security Council. But, but, once you do have nuclear weapons, if you invade your neighbors, we're definitely going to go to war!" I imagine Saddam Hussein would be thinking, yeah, right. The US is going to go to war, in the face of nuclear weapons, to save Saudi Arabia?

Deterrence, when it comes down to it, means credible threats. During the Cold War, the US and its allies successfully deterred a Soviet takeover of West Berlin because the US was willing to go to war, even if this meant the nuclear annihilation of Western Europe and the US homeland.

We're in another such eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation. If the US and its allies back down now, deterrence isn't going to work, because threats won't be credible.

That's why I'm reluctantly supporting war, if Saddam Hussein doesn't cave. I suppose there's still an outside chance that he might. But frankly, I doubt it.

There's another counter-argument: isn't the "war now or nuclear war later" argument simply an updated version of the Austrian reasoning on the eve of World War I--namely, that the chance of winning a war sooner was better than later? (Bismarck's sardonic comment: preventive war is "suicide for fear of death.") Wouldn't it be better to avoid war altogether by accepting political defeat -- in this case, withdrawing from the Middle East, and letting Saddam Hussein develop nuclear weapons and dominate the region?

Unfortunately, I don't see how it's possible to do this without having the region go up in flames. Israel's not going to stand by as Iraq's power grows. Neither is Iran. Israel already has nuclear weapons, and I'd guess that Iran is pursuing them.

I think all the choices are terrible, but of the three--(1) war, (2) deterrence, (3) withdrawal--I think going to war is the least bad.

Note that George Kennan, whose opinion I respect a great deal, disagrees; he thinks it ought to be possible for the US to withdraw and leave it to the other countries in the region to deal with Saddam Hussein. He doesn't go into a lot of detail, so I don't know how he foresees dealing with the resulting power vacuum.

February 1, 2003

Put together a long article attempting to explain September 11 and the Middle East.

November 13, 2002

In his latest broadcast, Osama bin Laden threatens Canada directly:

What do your governments want from their alliance with America in attacking us in Afghanistan?

I mention in particular Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Germany and Australia.

... Why should fear, killing, destruction, displacement, orphaning and widowing continue to be our lot, while security, stability and happiness be your lot?

My response: Canadians aren't blind and stupid. We see that a great many people in the world suffer under the existing status quo, and we do what we can to help them, through aid and peacekeeping. There's nothing we'd like better than for all the peoples of the world to enjoy peace, order, and good government, not just ourselves.

But we also support peace, stability, and international law, and oppose the destructiveness of those who seek to overthrow the status quo through violence. And this includes Osama bin Laden and his followers. Osama bin Laden shows no more respect for justice than those he opposes. He's killed thousands of civilians in New York and in Washington, including Muslims; he's condemned East Timor's independence from the brutality of Indonesian rule. He's fighting the United States, but he's not fighting for justice.

No doubt bin Laden believes that Canadians don't have the stomach for a fight. He's wrong; one of every ten Canadians fought against Hitler and Nazi Germany in World War II. We all die, sooner or later. Does he think Canadians will run away and hide because he threatens to bring death and destruction to Canada?

November 11, 2002

Added PPS/1, regarding the Marshall Plan, and PPS/28, regarding the rebuilding of Japan, to George F. Kennan on the Web.

November 6, 2002

If you live in Vancouver, BC, municipal elections are coming up this Saturday. How are you supposed to decide who to vote for?

October 22, 2002

Posted an article on Canadian foreign policy.

June 9, 2002

George F. Kennan is an American diplomat and historian who played a major role in American foreign policy during the early Cold War. I think his writings are invaluable for anyone who's concerned with the major problems facing the world today. I've set up a web page with links to all of Kennan's writings that are available on the Internet.

March 6, 2002

There's talk.politics.misc and talk.politics.mideast, but why isn't there a newsgroup for international politics? There is now: alt.politics.international.

From the FAQ:

International politics is primarily about power.

International politics differs from domestic politics because it's anarchic. Within a country, the state has a monopoly on the use of force; the state defines the laws, and imprisons or kills anyone who breaks them. But there's no such monopoly on violence at the international level. Disputes which cannot be resolved through negotiation are often resolved through force, i.e. war. If the world is a global village, it's like a village with no governing authority, great disparities in wealth and power, and individuals who are heavily armed and willing to use violence.

Historically, states have been able to maintain their independence under these conditions through the balance of power. Each state attempts to protect itself against a perceived threat by allying itself with other states which face the same threat; if one state becomes powerful enough to threaten everyone, it will face a formidable alliance of opposing states.

Power does not mean military power alone. The exercise of power is primarily psychological, rather than physical: it refers to the ability to impose one's will on someone else, to convince someone to change their mind, whether this is through threats, promises, or authority.

December 12, 2001

Since the September 11 attack I've spent a lot of time arguing with followers of Noam Chomsky. I suppose the popularity of Chomsky's propaganda is just a symptom: the real problem is that we don't know enough about history to be able to tell when Chomsky is hiding or distorting the evidence.

Here's an example.

Since Chomsky is evidently a brilliant man, and since he evidently has strong moral beliefs, how can he believe such obvious propaganda?

The Soviet leaders, like most fanatics, have taken so many liberties with objective truth, over so long a period, that it is entirely possible their capacity for objective judgment has been dulled and they have become the victims of their own propaganda. (George F. Kennan, 1947)

June 28, 2001

Added Global Issues FAQ. If you want to save the world, where do you start?

July 6, 1999

Are we doomed? A look at some of the big issues.

July 2, 1998

So you want to be a millionaire?

July 1, 1997

Added link to an article by John Richards on language policy.

May 30, 1997

This has nothing to do with history, politics, or the future, but the Video CD FAQ is the single most popular page on my website. It gets four or five hundred hits every day.

April 2, 1997

Posted an article on the costs and benefits of immigration.

March 16, 1997

Inspired by Philip Greenspun, I set up a website on GeoCities. Why?

I included a 1996 essay on the deficit problem, one of three major issues in Canadian politics. (The other two are Quebec nationalism and US/Canadian relations.)