We try to follow the events in the world’s hot spots, but situations often change faster than our stories can be revised. There are three main issues of concern as we go to press in late March: the security of Mali; the nuclear activities of North Korea; and Russia’s anxiety about American BMD plans.
Mali. Martin Klein offers us a fine account of the events leading up to the Islamist assaults is Mali. France’s sending of 4,000 troops may actually be a justifiable case of “humanitarian intervention,” for most Malians were grateful for this protection. Now the French will be leaving, but the realistic prospect is that insurgents will remain active in the Sahara for several years anyway.
North Korea. When the UN (including China) recently scolded them for their third test of nuclear bombs, the prickly North Koreans abrogated the ceasefire agreement ending the Korean War and warned that they may attack South Korea and the United States. Evidently the military now dominate. The US had offered concessions contingent on North Korea’s giving up the pursuit of nuclear weapons. Instead, they want a real peace treaty, but without giving up those weapons. This looks like an impasse. What can be done? No agreement looks likely, but we are publishing short pieces by René Wadlow and Jonathan Granoff, both of which suggest reviving work toward a proper peace treaty and continuing to talk with North Koreans instead of rejecting further discussions as a way of punishing them.
BMD plans. On March 15, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the reconfiguration of ballistic missile defences, ostensibly in reaction to the new nuclear threats from North Korea. The final phase of a Europe-based system is canceled-the aspect to which the Russians had the most serious objections. Instead, additional missiles will be deployed to counter potential North Korean missiles. Pentagon officials said that the changes were based on the North Korean threat, the technological difficulties in the missile system itself, and the budget concerns about it. To be sure, the system does not work; it has not intercepted a test target since 2008. However, the change probably was designed in part to persuade the Russians to join another round of negotiations for US-Russian nuclear weapons reductions. Nevertheless, the core part of the European BMD system will proceed, so it is uncertain whether the Russians will be mollified enough to give up their own Cold War-like preparations, which may include (see my article, page 15) putting longrange missiles on railway tracks and moving them around the Russian countryside. Their reaction will be announced soon.