For the Night of 4 June 2018
Comment: In the past few days, commentators have mocked the prospect that a North Korean agreement to host a McDonald’s fast food outlet or chain of outlets might be one of the outcomes of a US-North Korean summit. Actually, it could be an important outcome.
For those who have stayed anytime in Pyongyang, a McDonald’s outlet would be a refreshing change, particularly if it met the standards of McDonald’s. Knowing that edible, worm-free food was available every day without special arrangements would be unusual for people who were not among the regime’s elite, although many could not afford a burger.
It would be a curiosity. As such it could be subversive of socialist principles of discipline, hostility to capitalism and self-sacrifice by the workers and soldiers. The young adult and teen children of the elite are certain to be patrons. Some could be a pool of potential workers, eventually. The government would ensure that McDonald’s only hired Party loyalists who paid most of their salary to the government, until the idea caught on.
The presence of a functioning fast food outlet would have other implications. It would imply the existence of a market large enough to turn an acceptable profit or of a guaranteed government subsidy.
Working backwards, an acceptable profit would imply that a subset of the population of Pyongyang had disposable income to spend on fast food and leisure time to seek it out. An American fast food joint would confirm the existence of a North Korean middle class.
Developing a middle-class consumption market has been a high priority for China and has been talked about in North Korea since Kim Chong-il’s tenure as leader.
The Chinese have had some success in developing a consuming class. Under Kim Jong Un, North Korea has developed a new elite subset, called the donju – the masters of money. They are a small merchant class that wants more stuff of the modern world, such as cell phones, automobiles, color TVs, comfort and convenience.
Development of a middle class has been talked about since the Kim Chong-il era, but only has begun to emerge under Kim Jong UN. The communists tolerate the donju, because they earn hard currency.
An agreement for a fast food franchise would be a risk for Kim and an achievement for the US. In the recent past, other American entrepreneurs have offered similar services on a trial basis and been turned down, after initially encouraging prospects. Most often the reasons were security concerns, including frequent contact with outside logistics delivery services, and the risks from open communications that are essential to modern business.
A North Korea that was “open for business” would be a major achievement at a US-North Korean summit.
Special comment: An article in the New York Times compared the present discussions about denuclearization between the US and North Korea to what were described as failed efforts under the Clinton administration. The implication is that the present effort will fail also.
The article is wrong in its judgment and its comparison is false. Some of us lived through, were involved in and supported those earlier arrangements. The North Korean nuclear and long-range missile programs were frozen for eight years under the Agreed Framework. American engineers from the US Department of Energy and translators from the State Department lived at the Yongbyon complex. The graphite-moderated nuclear reactor was shut down and its core removed.
The reactor core was in the cooling pond under 24/7 camera surveillance by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). IAEA monitors were regular visitors to the Yongbyon complex.
US Secretary of State Albright visited North Korea and met Kim Il-sung. President Clinton made preparations to visit.
The Agreed Framework, under which these actions and many others were taken by the US, North Korea, South Korea and Japan, was not expected to last more than a few months. It was conceived as a short-term mechanism to prevent an escalating crisis. It was not conceived as a permanent solution, and yet it lasted eight years.
The US election of 2004 changed the US administration and new policies were implemented. The new US administration opposed the Agreed Framework. The new US administration accused North Korea of cheating in areas not covered by the terms of the Agreed Framework, and thereby justified US termination of the arrangement.
To describe it as a failed policy is misguided and ill informed. To compare North Korea in 1994 to North Korea in 2018 is a deliberate distortion. In 1994, North Korea had reprocessed some plutonium but had no warheads. It had conducted no nuclear tests. At one point the Yongbyon reactor itself was in danger of exploding. North Korea lacked any long range ballistic missiles.
During the Agreed Framework, South and North Korea agreed to cooperate in the Kaesong Joint Industrial Complex that hired thousands of North Korean works.
As for 2018, North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests and launched dozens of ballistic missiles with varying ranges. It claims to have completed its work to build a strategic deterrent. Kim Jong Un closed the Kaesong complex and expropriated the equipment of some 130 South Korean firms.
The article warns against the dangers of following the Clinton administration. Our view is that a US administration could do a lot worse and ought to achieve at least as much as the US administration achieved 24 years ago.
During the life of the Agreed Framework, northeast Asia experienced no North Korean nuclear detonations or long-range missile tests for eight years. Those are two measures of successful negotiations and are the record to be beaten.
Pakistan wants Kashmir to remain quiet in the runup to general elections. Last week, Indian and Pakistani forces in Kashmir broke the renewed ceasefire within 24 hours of reaching an agreement. On 3 June, officers of the India’s Border Security Force and the Pakistan Rangers held an unscheduled flag meeting and agreed to restore peace “by holding fire.”
Comment: Pakistani leaders seek to maintain a stable security environment in the runup to general elections. Last week, parliament appointed former Chief Justice of Pakistan Nasir-ul-Mulk as the prime minister of the caretaker government until general elections are held. They have been set for 25 July.
The caretaker prime minister is an administrator whose primary tasks are to arrange the elections, to ensure they are held on time and to ensure that government operations continue. He has no authority to initiate new polices or programs.
Assuming elections are held without incident, this would be only the second time in Pakistan’s history that a civilian government will complete its term and hand over power to a succeeding civilian government.
Indian leaders hope that new elections will result in a more stable and predictable political leadership and environment in Pakistan.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Kabul bombing. On 4 June, a suicide bomber attacked a large gathering of Afghan Islamic scholars in Kabul. He killed 14 people.
Some 2,000 religious scholars from across the country – the Afghan Ulema Council — had gathered in a large, tented compound in Kabul to debate the war. The Council decreed that the Taliban had no religious basis for their fight and it issued a ‘fatwa’ – a religious finding by an expert in Islamic law – that suicide attacks are haram, that is, un-Islamic.
“The gathering had just finished, and the clerics were coming out of the tent when that suicide bomber went off,” one eyewitness said. “They had just come to an agreement saying that suicide bombing was un-Islamic.”
The Islamic State franchise for South Asia posted its claim of responsibility to the web.
“Approximately 70 of the Tyrant’s Scholars and Apostate Afghan Security Personnel Dead or Wounded in a Martyrdom-Seeking Operation in Kabul”
“Seeking the assistance of God alone and placing trust in Him, the Almighty, the martyrdom-seeking brother Siddiq al-Farisi, may God accept him, set out wrapped in his explosive vest toward a gathering of the tyrant’s scholars regarding the combat of what they call ‘terrorism.’ “
“There, he detonated his explosive vest amid their gathering, leaving approximately 70 among them and the apostate Afghan security forces dead or wounded.”
Comment: Fatwas are Islamic findings, not edicts. They are subject to dispute by other scholars or groups of scholars. Groups of scholars in Pakistan and other Islamic states have issued similar findings. None of them have mattered to the Islamic State or to the Haqqani ant-government group that is responsible for many suicide bombings in Kabul.
The key value of Ulema fatwas is that they provide guidance to imams for their Fridaysermons to the faithful and help counter extremist teachings and recruitment efforts to persuade young Muslims to become suicide bombers.
The US and Turkey have agreed on a Road Map for Manbij. In a joint statement issued after a meeting in Washington on 4 June, the US Secretary of State and Turkish Foreign Minister Çavusoglu said they considered the recommendations made by the Turkey-U.S. Working Group on Syria over their bilateral cooperation in Syria.
They particularly focused on the steps to ensure security and stability in Manbij. In this regard, they endorsed a Road Map and underlined their mutual commitment to its implementation “reflecting [an] agreement to closely follow developments on the ground.”
Comment: The Syrian Kurds in Manbij will withdraw east of the Euphrates River, just as the Turks have boasted all week. The Turks did not fight the Islamic State for Manbij, but they will reap the benefit of the Syrian Kurdish counter-terror operations and sacrifices.
The Syrian civil war is so complex there are no good guys, just relative shades of bad. The Syrian government in Damascus is the lawful government of Manbij, not the Turks, the US or the Syrian Kurds.
Administrative note: We want to spread the message of NightWatch that there is order and structure in events that news outlets present as chaotic. During June, we encourage Readers to forward NightWatch editions to those who might appreciate this message.
End of NightWatch for 4 June.