Back to the Future

“The art of statesmanship is to foresee the inevitable and to expedite its occurrence.”.

“What must be done ultimately should be done immediately.”.
–Henry Kissinger

Many years ago, I foolishly challenged an acquaintance of mine, a well-known journalist who was also amateur chess expert (he had even done well against some visiting Russian grandmasters), to a game of chess. Courteous as he was, he agreed.

The game was soon over. Trying to overcome my embarrassment as I surveyed the shambles on the board and, I blurted my regrets at not giving him a tougher fight. His reply came instantly. “No, no, please don’t apologize. At least you play fast. You’d be surprised how many people spend a great deal of time thinking and still making the same mistakes as you!”

I was reminded of the incident when I read there had been a breakthrough in the North Korea talks. The terms, per the BBC report, are along these lines: North Korea will halt its nuclear weapons program and permit international inspections of its sites, in exchange for US food and fuel aid, and a promise by the US never to attack North Korea.

Any defusing of tensions is welcome, of course, but consider this gist of these discussions, also from the same 6 party talks in Beijing: “The United States says North Korea must shut down its nuclear program immediately, while Pyongyang demands guarantees of security and economic aid.” (See North Korea demands Nonaggression Treaty, China Daily). The date was August 27, 2003.

So two years and thousands of cubic-meters of hot air later, both parties have agreed on something both had proposed at the outset. In chess, I believe this is called a draw, or if there are no options left, a stalemate.

Meanwhile, Gen. Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan admitted recently that North Korea had been supplied nuclear technology by his country’s AQ Khan network. Reports of today say nothing about North Korea’s export of its missiles to countries across the world, including Iran. Pakistan, of course, is a close ally in the War on Terror. Soon after, there were reports of North Korea demanding a nuclear reactor from the US for its peaceful pursuits.

On a different aspect, one might also ask why, if the US could sit down to talks with North Korea, could it not sit down with the Iranians, or, to wonder sadly after several thousand lives and billions of dollars, with Iraq?

The problem, of course, is that the US lacks a comprehensive philosophy of nuclear disarmament. The simple question of why only certain countries can own nuclear weapons and others cannot is not one that can be given a politically correct answer. On the equally lethal issue of non-nuclear disarmament, the record is even shabbier. If the US and Britain can sell arms to other countries, people ask, why not China or North Korea or Israel? One does not have to believe in theories of Karma to notice the unintended blowback. To give just two instances, the Stinger missiles given to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980’s are now a threat to US aircraft. Or when India trained the Sri Lankan rebels, only to find them causing turmoil in its own state of Tamilnadu.

Last week, President Ahmedinijad of Iran was in New York to address the UN, and was unrelenting in his stance that Iran would not bow to American and European pressure to abandon its nuclear program. This was similar to the noises being made by North Korea from time to time ever since it was mentioned in President Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil’.

On hearing of the agreement in Beijing today, I wondered whether the Bush administration would follow a similar tack with  Iran as it has with North Korea, eventually settling on a swap of aid for nuclear abnegation. Such a buyoff would carry a huge price tag. Iran is several times the size of North Korea both in area and population. It brings to mind the words on an old Thanksgiving card:, “Thank goodness Columbus didn’t reach India. Imagine having to stuff an Elephant!”

NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN is a writer living on the West Coast. His articles can be found on








We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, (the “Website”).

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005


/>Niranjan Ramakrishnan is a writer living on the West Coast.  His book, “Reading Gandhi In the Twenty-First Century” was published last year by Palgrave.  He may be reached at