Time for the daily diplo document dump, which should be a 5 p.m. staple for at least the next week. Most of you will go looking for the Times’s write-up but the Guardian’s is better in this case. Here’s what I meant yesterday when I said that, for an ostensibly anti-war organization, Wikileaks sure is cavalier about the sort of escalation between rivals that some of these documents might ignite. At a moment when U.S./ROK wargames are going on in the Yellow Sea, with four South Koreans dead within the past week from North Korean shelling, how’s crazy Kim going to react upon learning that his chief benefactor might soon be ready to pull the plug on foreign aid and let North Korea disintegrate? Anyone excited to toss that particular match into the powder keg and see if anything pops?
The leaked North Korea dispatches detail how:
• South Korea’s vice-foreign minister said he was told by two named senior Chinese officials that they believed Korea should be reunified under Seoul’s control, and that this view was gaining ground with the leadership in Beijing…
In highly sensitive discussions in February this year, the-then South Korean vice-foreign minister, Chun Yung-woo, told a US ambassador, Kathleen Stephens, that younger generation Chinese Communist party leaders no longer regarded North Korea as a useful or reliable ally and would not risk renewed armed conflict on the peninsula, according to a secret cable to Washington…
“The two officials, Chun said, were ready to ‘face the new reality’ that the DPRK [North Korea] now had little value to China as a buffer state – a view that, since North Korea’s first nuclear test in 2006, had reportedly gained traction among senior PRC [People’s Republic of China] leaders. Chun argued that in the event of a North Korean collapse, China would clearly ‘not welcome’ any US military presence north of the DMZ [demilitarised zone]. Again citing his conversations with [the officials], Chun said the PRC would be comfortable with a reunified Korea controlled by Seoul and anchored to the US in a ‘benign alliance’ – as long as Korea was not hostile towards China. Tremendous trade and labour-export opportunities for Chinese companies, Chun said, would also help ‘salve’ PRC concerns about … a reunified Korea.
China ran the numbers and concluded they could absorb up to 300,000 North Korean refugees, so clearly they’re taking this possibility seriously. More ominously, a Chinese diplomat also allegedly told his American counterpart that China has “much less influence than most people believe” over the North Korean leadership. Maybe that’s self-serving spin aimed at creating plausible deniability for China the next time Kim does something nutty, but officials in the White House told Marc Ambinder last week that China was as surprised as we were by the revelation of North Korea’s new uranium enrichment facility. That jibes with a bunch of cables highlighted in the NYT’s story tonight claiming that Chinese knowledge of — and control over — the NorKs’ activities isn’t as robust as we’d like to think.
On May 13, 2009, as American satellites showed unusual activity at North Korea’s nuclear test site, officials in Beijing said they were “unsure” that North Korean “threats of another nuclear test were serious.” As it turns out, the North Koreans detonated a test bomb just days later.
Soon after, Chinese officials predicted that negotiations intended to pressure the North to disarm would be “shelved for a few months.” They have never resumed…
In June 2009, at a lunch in Beijing shortly after the North Korean nuclear test, two senior Chinese Foreign Ministry officials reported that China’s experts believed “the enrichment was only in its initial phases.” In fact, based on what the North Koreans revealed this month, an industrial-scale enrichment plant was already under construction. It was apparently missed by both American and Chinese intelligence services.
The Chinese also allegedly believed that Kim would hand power to a military junta and not the young, untested Kim Jong-un. Wrong again. Could be that they’re simply playing dumb, but if they’re not then (a) the situation right now on the Korean peninsula is even more precarious than thought and (b) it’s unclear whether China could bring about reunification even if it wanted to. This takes us back to yesterday’s post about McCain’s comments: What reason is there to believe that, faced with a Chinese embargo and total social collapse, the North Korean military would opt to reunify instead of to go out fighting? Some soldiers might agree to lay down their arms for survival’s sake, but others will be so rabidly nationalistic that they’ll prefer death to absorption by South Korea. (Wouldn’t be the first time that cult members have opted for suicide.) All it would take to touch off a war on the peninsula is for a few well-placed NorK officers to give the orders to shell Seoul. What then?
Another question: To what extent have Chinese and South Korean actions over the past week been guided by the looming release of these documents? Remember that the State Department has been warning allies about what was coming, so today’s news won’t be a surprise to Beijing or Seoul (but it probably will to Pyongyang). Does this explain why South Korea’s president is suddenly talking very tough about responding to provocations while quietly canceling artillery drills that might escalate the situation further? He needs to put on a brave face for South Korean voters who are turning increasingly hawkish towards the NorKs, but he may be worried that the news about China favoring reunification has North Korea in an unusually desperate position. The solution: Speak loudly and carry a conspicuously small stick.
There’s more Wikileaks stuff out tonight, but I’m going to post this much now. Stand by for updates below.
Update: Are Khamenei’s days numbered? Huge news if it’s true, but it probably isn’t.
The US consulate in Istanbul reported in August, 2009 that a businessman close to Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former Iranian president, that the Supreme Leader had been diagnosed with a fatal form of Leukaemia. The source said Ayatollah Rafsanjani believed his great rival would be dead in a “matter of months”…
“As a result, Rafsanjani decided to stop challenging Khamenei, and instead is preparing the ground to have himself appointed Khamenei’s successor,” the report said. “If he is successful – though clearly he would face stiff opposition from Ahmadinejad allies in that Assembly – he would then invite Ahmadinejad to resign and call a new election.”
Fifteen months later and the old bastard is still alive and kicking. The Khamenei’s dead/dying rumors have been around for ages, but there was an uptick of them late last year. Remember this post from last October citing rumors that he was in a coma? It was probably just propaganda being spread by regime opponents to make security forces think the regime was about to split open, and therefore they’d better ally themselves with the people ASAP.
If it’s true and Khamenei is secretly on his last legs, then things in Iran are about to get very interesting very quickly. Ahmadinejad is under fire himself from the Iranian parliament over the economy and for moving to eliminate various state subsidies; they reportedly were prepared to impeach him until Khamenei personally intervened and asked them to stand down. If Khamenei dies then suddenly Ahmadinejad lacks a patron, which would raise the possibility of either a new “pragmatist” supreme leader being appointed and summarily dumping him or Ahmadinejad rallying the Revolutionary Guard to his side and trying to seize power in a coup. Chaos, either way.
Update: Tonight’s other “big revelation”? Turns out the feds are very eager to have foreign countries take prisoners being held at Gitmo and foreign countries are very reluctant to take them. Among the sweeteners offered to induce them: Money and meetings with Obama. Oh, and the king of Saudi Arabia had the idea of embedding microchips in detainees after they’re released so that we can find them quickly if they cause trouble again. He compared it to microchipping animals like horses. John Brennan’s response: “Horses don’t have good lawyers.”
Update: An interesting tidbit from the WSJ: Both the Journal and CNN were offered the Wikileaks documents — and turned them down.
In a strategy aimed at raising its profile, WikiLeaks has been teaming up with news organizations on its leaks. Last week it offered The Wall Street Journal access to a portion of the documents it possesses if the Journal signed a confidentiality agreement. The Journal declined.
“We didn’t want to agree to a set of pre-conditions related to the disclosure of the Wikileaks documents without even being given a broad understanding of what these documents contained,” a spokeswoman for the paper said.
CNN also declined to make an agreement with WikiLeaks. It declined to comment further.
The only precondition Wikileaks has imposed that I’ve heard of has to do with the timing of publication. No reporting on documents about North Korea until November 29, no reporting on documents about U.S. banks until November 30, etc. If the Journal and CNN resisted that because they don’t want to jump through a source’s arbitrary hoops, good for them, but in practice they’re jumping through them anyway by reporting on what they’ve learned about the documents from other news outlets.
Speaking of news standards, any theories as to why the Times refused to publish stolen documents in the case of the Climategate e-mails, which raised skepticism about climate change modeling, but eagerly published the ones obtained by Wikileaks? (Actually, it was only one Times author who refused to publish the e-mails. Others did link to them and discuss them.)
Update: CBS thinks it’s found a bombshell, but I’m not so sure.
Nuclear weapons residing in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium in late 2009 were a crucial chess piece in international disarmament negotiations, according to leaked U.S. diplomatic cables from the website Wikileaks.
In a conversation between U.S. Ambassador Philip D. Murphy and German National Security Advisor Christoph Heusgen reprinted in one cable, the two statesmen discussed German concerns about taking nuclear weapons out of the country.
“Heusgen said that from his perspective, it made no sense to unilaterally withdraw ‘the 20’ tactical nuclear weapons still in Germany while Russia maintains ‘thousands’ of them. It would only be worth it if both sides drew down,” the cable states.
The precise number of weapons currently in Germany may be news, but the fact that tactical nuclear weapons are housed in those countries isn’t. See, for instance, this 2005 arms control report naming all three as part of NATO’s weapons-sharing agreement. At the time, Germany was alleged to have 150 U.S. nukes, 60 of which were under its own command. Evidently we’ve cut back quite a bit.