Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Benefits of Being Out of the Country (IV): Historical Perspective in Journalism

In this week’s issue of Carta Capital, there is an outstanding article on the North Korean nuclear test.

The article both looks at the alleged exploding of the bomb (pointing out that some people, particularly in the U.S., think the test was faked, though the article also provides the voices of those who find this view unlikely) and the political events leading up to it. Receiving particular attention is the U.S. nuclear policy in the late-1990s. The article does an outstanding job of demonstrating how possible antecedents for North Korea’s actions last week could have their roots at least as far back as the second half of the Clinton administration. Bill Clinton tried to get legislation passed that would bring an end to nuclear testing in all locations. Nearly all the nuclear powers of the time had approved such a proposal, and many non-nuclear powers also expressed their approval and were prepared to pass such a bill in their own countries, contingent upon the U.S. passing it in Congress. However, when it hit the floor of the Republican-led Congress, the bill was killed. Republicans refused to pass it because, as the article lucidly points out, the prevention of such tests would naturally have to include the U.S., and they were opposed to the possibility that they couldn’t test new nuclear weapons the U.S. was developing (such as the new bomb which goes underground and then explodes, which the military alleges reduces “collateral damage” but says nothing about the effects on the environment).

Would the passing of such an amendment prevented North Korea’s development of the bomb? Perhaps not. iven that since 2001, the U.S. has completed said-subterranean-missle and President Bush has declared that the U.S. has a right to drop nuclear weapons on countries that are “a threat” to the U.S. (and really, who isn’t anymore?) at any given moment, in addition to specifically naming North Korea in the State of the Union Address in 2002 as part of the alleged “Axis of Evil” with Iran and Iraq, is it very surprising that North Korea tested a nuclear device last week? (No more surprising than Iran working on a similar program, I’d suggest).

The government could have taken a stand. The Republicans and Democrats together could have said, “Yes – there are enough nuclear weapons that threaten the world already. Let’s try to take the lead in creating an atmosphere of diplomacy, in which nuclear tests are internationally condemned and we do all we can to discourage them.” But the U.S. had to make sure that anybody anywhere could test nuclear bombs, just so it could complete its short-sighted goal of developing a subterranean “bunker-buster” bomb. And now, North Korea has a nuclear bomb, and nobody on either side seems to be interested in a rhetoric of diplomacy and interaction, instead fanning the flames with words all they can. A poor decision, from start to finish.

As for the journalistic approach, it’s outstanding too see efforts to actually diagnose, without party partisanship, exactly what went wrong where. Additionally, it is nice to see a journal provide analysis that pre-dates 2001. In an era in which U.S. mainstream news media tends to look only at the last year, or, if one is fortunate, the current administration (and never past administrations), it is extremely refreshing to see journalists in parts of the world actually moving beyond fiery rhetoric of he-said/she-said blame that solves nothing, and instead looking for possible explanations. Particularly refreshing is Carta Capital’s familiarity with the Senate’s decisions, from (at least) 1995 onwards. If only the U.S. press could abandon the "only now matters" approach and at least try to appear as familiar with the recent history of our government’s decisions and their consequences as others are.