But why do our government always have to act in secret?
Intelligence agencies, navies and air forces from at least 13 nations are quietly co-operating in a “secret war” against Pyongyang and Tehran.We are champions of Democracy, right?
It has so far involved interceptions of North Korean ships at sea, US agents prowling the waterfronts in Taiwan, multinational naval and air surveillance missions out of Singapore, investigators poring over the books of dubious banks in the former Portuguese colony of Macau and a fleet of planes and ships eavesdropping on the “hermit kingdom” in the waters north of Japan.
Few details filter out from western officials about the programme, which has operated since 2003, or about the American financial sanctions that accompany it...
According to John Bolton, the US ambassador to the United Nations and the man who originally devised the programme, it has made a serious dent in North Korea’s revenues from ballistic missile sales.
But the success of Bolton’s brainchild, the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), whose stated aim is to stop the traffic in weapons of mass destruction, might also push North Korea into extreme reactions.
Britain is a core member of the initiative, which was announced by President George W Bush in Krakow, Poland, on May 31, 2003. British officials have since joined meetings of “operational experts” in Australia, Europe and the US, while the Royal Navy has contributed ships to PSI exercises. The participants include Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Italy, Spain and Singapore, among others.
There has been almost no public debate in the countries committed to military involvement. A report for the US Congress said it had “no international secretariat, no offices in federal agencies established to support it, no database or reports of successes and failures and no established funding”.
To Bolton and senior British officials, those vague qualities make it politically attractive.
This is really a MUST-READ piece of journalism, one of the best article I have seen in years. It covers lots of important angles and explains a lot of what you are seeing on the TV these days.
Divisions within the Bush administration — which even sympathisers concede have paralysed its nuclear diplomacy towards the North — also served to undermine Japanese confidence in America, as have the well-documented failings of American intelligence...
Last week Bush was working the phones to the leaders of China and Russia. But British officials think it unlikely that either will support a Japanese proposal for UN sanctions on the North Koreans.
That leaves the Bush administration with the same unpalatable choices that existed a week, a month or a year ago...
Like former president Bill Clinton’s team, the Bush administration has therefore realised that a diplomatic answer is the only one available.
But years of inattention, division and mixed messages robbed the US of diplomatic influence. One observer tells of watching the US envoy Christopher Hill sit mutely in an important negotiation because policy arguments in Washington had tied his hands.