Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Wikileaks Sensation

The latest releases this week from wikileaks has caused quite a stir internationally, particularly in the intelligence and diplomatic communities. For me, the two stories which most caught my attention concerned Iran and Korea. The news that the Saudi king privately urged the US to attack Iran would not have come as much of a surprise to people in the know. Saudi Arabia is the leader of the Arab Sunni Muslim world. Iran leads the Persian Shia Muslim world. Since the Iranian revolution in 1979 the fundamentalists in Tehran have sought to spread their form of revolutionary theocracy to the Arab world. They have done this by fomenting dissent in the nations with Shia minorities, most notably in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Lebanon. Since the turbulent years following the US led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Shia majority have found themselves dominating the political scene there. This is proving to be an encroachment too far for the Saudis. And the thought of them obtaining a nuclear capability, making them the most powerful Muslim nation in the process, appears to be something which the ruling elite in Riyadh are not prepared to tolerate. As I said, this simple fact of geopolitics is not shocking in itself. But for it to become so public is undoubtedly embarrassing and highly awkward for all concerned. I have a feeling that not many Saudi citizens will hear about this particular controversy. It would not sit well with the citizens of the kingdom to know that the authorities in Riyadh who are constantly trying to promote the concept of Islamic solidarity do in fact want to see the infidels take down the Iranian regime.

However it was a leak regarding US, South Korean and Chinese relations that I found most fascinating. Apparently South Korean diplomats have told the US State Department that officials in Beijing have informed Seoul that they no longer value their relationship with the communist regime in Pyongyang. This is particularly interesting given the events on the Korean peninsula in the last week. Basically, it appears there is a generational divide among the leadership in China. Younger officials in the Chinese Communist Party see the relationship with North Korea as a nuisance referring to the Stalinist regime as a "spoilt child".

The leaked document states that

A new, younger generation of Chinese leaders "would be comfortable with a reunited Korea controlled by Seoul and anchored to the United States in a benign alliance," the diplomat, Chun Yung-woo, predicted.

But if Seoul was destined to control the entire Korean Peninsula for the first time since the end of World War II, China — the powerful ally that keeps the North alive with food and fuel — would have to be placated. So South Korea was already planning to assure Chinese companies they would have ample commercial opportunities in the mineral-rich northern part of the peninsula.

This, if accurate is a stunning development. It would represent a fundamental change in the national interest of the most important player when it comes to North Korea. Sixty years ago this month the Chinese Red Army entered the Korean War on the side of the North Koreans, driving American and UN forces South from the Yalu river on the Chinese North Korean border back below the 38th Parallel. Today it seems that only the older Chinese view the Korean war with sentimentality and that many in fact would be happy to see a united capitalist Korea. In the context of recent events and the diplomatic approach the west needs to take to confront the threat, this if true would completely change the game.

As for the wikileaks thing itself. I think the Americans should concern themselves more with uncovering the many employees at the State Department involved in these leaks rather than obsessing with this Assange character. I'm not even sure if he has technically done anything wrong even though Republican Congressman Peter King saw fit to call him a terrorist today. And in one of the strangest examples of raw partisanship I have ever seen the New York representative claimed that the reason the Obama administration was not taking action against Assange and wikileaks was because Obama and those in his administration grew up worshipping Daniel Ellsberg, the man who famously leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, which exposed that the White House had lied about the conduct and course of the Vietnam War.

Speaking of Ellsberg, here he is appearing on the Larry King show this week to discuss the wikileaks phenomenon.

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