Word arrives from across the wide Pacific that the Chinese military conducted a bridge placement exercise at a Yalu River crossing, a hand grenade's throw from North Korea.
This article speculates that this is a move that signals that the Chinese are worried about refugee flows should Lil Kim's regime collapse. They'd need to bridge to insert troops to create a buffer zone along the border. And maybe also quietly collect those nukes (which is a mission I would support -- better they have them than some nut in NoKo).
Speaking of NoKo, a friend asks how FP can rank it 21st on the list of most failing states. He thinks it should be much higher. I suspect he is correct.
War is never desirable, but I confess to wondering: Exactly how would the two countries confront each other as they escalated? Boycott each other's films? Neil Young banned from performing in Copenhagen?
I didn't realize that the Chinese government might see possible advantages in the melting of the northern icecap. But apparently it does, and the foreign ministers of some of the colder nations are discussing what to do about the panda bear's interest in going polar.
For all you national security law junkies, here's a firsthand report from my CNAS colleague Jennifer Bernal on the American Bar Association's two-day long annual hoedown on National Security Law. (I know, what was second prize?):
There was one panel that I made not sure not to miss: 'Narco-violence Along the Border,' correctly -- in my opinion -- flagged as 'an emerging issue in national security law.'
I work on issues related to this narco-violence at CNAS, so I found the fact that this issue was prominently featured at the ABA conference both striking and encouraging. Now, as with most unsettling geopolitical phenomena, one can argue at different levels whether and how the situation in Mexico poses a national security threat to the United States. (The 'failed state' argument that an unstable southern neighbor is inherently detrimental to U.S. security versus the view that only considers direct attacks on the U.S. homeland, and so on.) What is certain is that the drug war in Mexico now routinely spills across the border. (It's why cities in places like Arizona are now tremendously unsafe, with drug-related kidnapping rates that have tripled in the past eight years.)
As the panel moderator put it: To what extent should we deal with drug-trafficking groups with the same methods we use with terrorist ones? How should the U.S. government handle the line between law-enforcement and intelligence- and military-oriented responses? Given a national legal framework that depends on formal categories (citizen vs. non-citizen, state vs. non-state) and the ways in which drug violence and associated problems repeatedly defy them, the answers are complicated indeed.
Unfortunately, the panel fell flat of my expectations by omitting to address these questions completely. The preceding discussion, 'Legislative Update on Developments in National Security Law,' was as jargon-y as you would expect from its title, setting my expectations for the upcoming one. Yet -- and as ironic as this sounds -- what was missing from the panel on narco-violence was a discussion of, well, law. What we got instead was a very thorough run-down of the situation in Mexico. The panelists discussed mounting death tolls (more than 5,600 casualties in 2008 alone), the alarming amount of manpower and firepower wielded by cartels, the chaotic nature of the confrontations between them, as well as the ways in which the U.S. exacerbates the conflict (drug demand and gun supply). Most of this information was on point, but it never evolved into a policy discussion.
Fact: most people don't know as much as they should about Mexico. (This became painfully obvious during a low moment in the panel when the speaker asked the audience a number of very basic questions about the country, to astounding general silence.) There's value to informing people. Yet I would have hoped for more from a discussion hosted by the ABA. Even what is arguably the biggest and most obvious legal question when it comes to policies to curb U.S. drug demand, the de-criminalization of marijuana, emerged as an afterthought in the very last question of the Q&A. Really?
Certainly, even just getting the facts right is important. It's also why I'll take this chance briefly to discuss two particular items of misinformation that I hear cited at just about every turn. I don't mean to claim that they're the most important, only that they keep coming up and require clarification.(Read on)
. . . between the United States and Canada? What up with that? Is there some new hockey-fied version of the FATA up there? I thought most of the American Taliban were down south. Or in Mill Valley, California. At any rate, I remain confident we have nothing to fear from our little Canadian amigos.
As Mexican troops drove by in Humvees in downtown Juarez, Mexico, a textile salesman told a reporter, "The drug hitmen are in control here. Things are out of control, there's so much death. At six o'clock I go home and I don't go out at all after that. There are so many killings."
What will the U.S. military do? The last time that the U.S. Army invaded Mexico, according to a study by Army historian Matt Matthews, was June 12, 1919, when "soldiers under the command of US Brigadier General James Erwin attacked [Pancho] Villa's base and drove him out of Juarez."
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.