My major theme today was the foreign policy mission of congress. With the recent China tariff bill that passed the House yesterday, it is clear that Congress is trying to show the American people that they mean business before the midterm elections. If the senate passes the START Treaty that could also mean something similar.
Should congress be playing with foreign policy in a time of unstable tensions? My answer would normally be no, but here I will make an exception. This new tariff bill shows that the U.S. is ready to get tough about China undervaluing its currency. It signals that if China does not start fixing its currency policy there will be more consequences to come. START also indicates that Democrats want to push the Obama foreign policy agenda before the midterm elections, a good strategy in this contentious election year. Both seem like bad things initially, but they could both be good in the long run.
To sum up my posts today:
1. I did not have theme today
2. Meet North Korea’s newest leader
3. The tariff bill on China
4. A possible bribe by the U.S. to keep the Israel/Palestine talks going
5. START ratification could be on the senate calendar
Thanks for reading my posts. See you tomorrow!
The big talk in the foreign policy community has been that the new START Treaty might be one of the biggest senate moves before the midterm elections. START is a treaty that replaces an old agreement on arms reduction with Russia. What will START do? It will force countries who signed the treaty to reduce their nuclear weapons stockpiles by 1,550. This is not that big of reduction since it was 2,200 before. The treaty was signed in the spring of this year as one of the largest foreign dignitary gatherings in Washington since the founding of the U.N. It is part of Obama’s plan to hit the reset button on U.S.-Russia relations. Now that the treaty exists, it must be ratified by the senate. It needs a 67 senators to pass the bill. Currently, on 58 senators are on board for it.
What are the arguments against START? For one thing, it does reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles which people will always claim will hurt national defense. The big argument being pushed now is that there is nothing in the treaty or any individual promises from Obama that the U.S. will improve the nuclear stockpile it already has. Meaning, they will agree to reduce nuclear weapons if the current ones are in good technological shape. The other argument is that the treaty does not go far enough. What liberals really want is the Comprehensive Test Ban Treat (CTBT) signed, which would stop nuclear testing completely. It failed under Clinton and Obama has talked about reviving the debate, but so far it is a no go. So, he is stuck with START.
Will the treaty pass? My guess is yes. Democrats will find ways to rally the votes and some Republicans, Richard Lugar being one of them, is very much on board with it. Also, Russian relations and the START treaty is one of Obama’s biggest achievements so far. If he fails to pass it, then he will definitely hurt in the midterm elections. Not that foreign policy is the biggest issue by now, or ever really is, but it will be added to the voter list of complaints. If the Democrats cannot pass the bill now, then they will wait until the lameduck session after the midterm elections to pass it when the pressure is off. Either way, the START Treaty will probably pass.
The Israel and Palestine talks are on a bit of break right now until the U.S. can find a way for Israel to extend the settlement freeze for at least 60 days. Does this mean that the U.S. is maybe trying to do all it can to keep the talks together. The New York Times thinks so when it says:
Details of what the Americans were offering the Israelis to return to a settlement freeze were hard to obtain. David Makovsky, who works at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and follows these negotiations with great care, wrote in an online essay on Wednesday that a letter had been sent from President Obama to Mr. Netanyahu laying out American efforts to meet Israeli security needs, including more F-35 aircraft and other equipment in exchange for a one-time 60-day extension of the building freeze.
On Thursday, the White House denied that any letter had been sent. Other American officials made clear that the negotiation process was still under way. They said the offers that Washington would make to Israel would be commensurate with what Israel offered back — a longer freeze would produce more, a shorter one less.
This is not uncommon in diplomatic negotiations, but it does make the White House look desperate if this what they are trying to do to keep the talks together. As I have mentioned before, this is Obama strongest foreign policy achievement right now, so doing anything to keep the talks going during this election season would be to his advantage.
The House passed a resolution yesterday that would give the president authority to raise tariffs on China because the U.S. feels threatened because of China’s undervalued currency. The vote was 348-79 with 99 Republicans supporting the bill. Some have noted that this is an interesting bipartisan actions. Others, like myself, see this as a last ditch effort to gain support before the midterm elections. To be clear, the bill must go to the senate to be passed, which has been gridlocked for the last few weeks and will not tackle this legislation until after the midterms. President Obama does support the bill because he does think that China’s currency is undervalued.
The undervalue of China’s currency is a very serious problem. First because it allows for their exports to be really cheap, giving them an unfair advantage in the global economy. Second, it does not give them any leverage over the U.S. (not that I am saying they should). The argument is usually made that they could dump U.S. debt if they wanted to, this is false. If they dumped U.S. debt their economy would also collapse because their currency is not appreciated enough. The final and most relevant problem for today, is that their undervalued currency (the remnbi) causes protectionist action by the U.S. Meaning, if the U.S. feels that they are being cheated by China because of undervalued currency they will try and keep jobs and goods in the U.S. or raise tariffs on Chinese imports, like they did today.
Now, China did announce this summer that they were going to start raising the value of their currency very slowly, but the U.S. does not feel it goes far enough. This bill is a bad idea. It could start a trade war with China. Not to mention that it is probably not legal under the World Trade Organization (WTO). I see this bill as more of a political message, or a warning shot, to get China to start being serious about their currency problem.
Will it work? It will at least start the conversation about the problem. As you can tell from the graph below, something definitely needs to be done about this.
North Korea is a regime that most people find to be strange and bizzare in how it conducts its business, but now this strange society has appointed a new successor to Kim Jong-IL, his son Kim Jong Un (seen in the picture above). His son was appointed as the Vice Chairman of the Workers Party of North Korea. This came after only one day of being appointed a general. Kim Jong Un is a bit of an enigma in the international community. He is around the age of 26 or 27, but we are not sure. He was also educated in Switzerland. This appointment comes about because they believe that his father is in very fragile shape, not surprising since he supposedly suffered a stroke in 2008. This photo was just released today of Kim Jong Un, some speculate because they want to make sure that he is healthy.
As far as personality traits are concerned, this is also up for debate. Reports have shown that he might have a bit of temper and is not very nice to servants. On the other hand, I have also read, from a CNN interview that came out a few days ago about a friend of his, that said he is a very quiet individual and is a nice person. My bets would be on the former personality traits because it makes more sense for a father to appoint someone with similar personality traits as your own. North Korea has also begun the propaganda show by having the people learn songs about this newly groomed leader.
It is believed that Kim Jong Un will take over for his father, but when that would be no one is for certain. There are two others in the family who have some collective powers in the government. For one, the generals below Mr. Kim would probably have some power. Mr. Kim’s other family would also have some power. Kim Jong-IL has a sister who he is apparently very close to by the name of Kim Kyong-Hui, who is Kim Jong-IL’s younger sister. She was appointed as a four star general,without ever serving a day in the army. The other person in North Korea family circle is Jang Song-Taek, Hui’s husband and the number 2 leader in North Korea. Most likely, if Kim Jong-IL died either tomorrow or sometime in the near future he would take over until Kim Jong-Un was ready to lead. I think that there will probably be a power struggle somewhere in this, it would not be a change of power without one.
Why is this announcement so important you might ask? A few reasons: First, the most obvious is that there have only been two major leaders in North Korea’s modern history. Kim Jong-Il’s father, who is still the technical leader of North Korea despite being deceased, and Kim Jong-Il himself this means that North Korea could be in a very fragile state if a leadership change is being made now. Second, the country is still in economic ruins. If there is a power vacuum, and they must sense one since they made this appointment, they are probably trying to prevent an uprising. This past year, North Korea put forth a diseasterous currency exchange program that almost destroyed the country, they definitely want to be careful what they do as far as policies and not take any chances. Finally, this will be very interesting diplomatically. There has been some talk that North Korea might come back to the Six-Party Nuclear Talks with the U.S. The recent sinking of the South Korean ship the Cheonan also has made the country on edge with South Korea and others. Some say that the sinking was orchestrated by Kim Jong-Un himself to show North Korea’s military might, I am not completely convinced.
Whatever this means, we must keep an eye on it because with all the speculation something drastic is about to happen in North Korea sometime soon.