- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 (UPI) — The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks. This is the first of two wrap-ups for Feb. 25.


The Independent Institute

(II is an independent public policy research organization whose goal is to transcend the political and partisan interests that influence debate about public policy. II aims to redefine the debate over public issues and foster new and effective directions for government reform by adhering to the highest standards of independent scholarly inquiry, without regard to political or social biases.)

OAKLAND, Calif. — Poking the hornets' nest: sanctions against North Korea

By Ivan Eland

The Bush administration is developing plans to ratchet up its sanctions on North Korea — including the possible imposition of an air and naval blockade — if that nation takes new steps in advancing its nuclear weapons program. The North Koreans have already withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and restarted, then temporarily shut down, a dormant facility that can produce weapons-grade nuclear fuel.

According to a press report, many administration officials predict the inevitability of North Korean resumption of long-range missile testing and the reprocessing of nuclear fuel to make weapons — especially if the United States attacks Iraq and world attention is diverted.

Yet initiating sanctions or a blockade is a dangerous course and could ultimately involve the United States in a simultaneous war with North Korea.

Bush administration officials are said to be mulling sanctions against banned activities like smuggling drugs or proliferating materials to build nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. Also being considered are banning remittances of funds to North Korea from Koreans living in Japan.

Short of a provocative blockade, stopping drugs or materials for weapons of mass destruction, or WMDs, would require the unlikely cooperation of the recipient parties. Stopping remittances would only make the already starving nation even more desperate, which could cause aggressive behavior overseas to deflect domestic attention from the economic woes.

The United States should refrain from aggressive efforts to counter nuclear proliferation — which ultimately, and counterintuitively, accelerate it — including the use of punitive sanctions or blockades.

The North Koreans have ominously warned that the imposition of new sanctions would be an act of war. And they have potent means to retaliate.

Their million-man army is poised on the Demilitarized Zone and could be used to invade Seoul, a city home to almost 50 percent of the South Korean population. But with Seoul less than 30 miles from the DMZ, the North Koreans don't even have to invade to devastate South Korea's capital city. The north's massive force of artillery and short-range missiles could rain fire on the city — perhaps with existing nuclear weapons.

Japan is also vulnerable to longer-range North Korean missiles. That reality explains why South Korea and Japan are less enthusiastic than the Bush administration about a hard-line policy toward the north, including the imposition of new sanctions.

And if new sanctions didn't cause a war on the Korean peninsula, U.S. air and naval interdiction of North Korean shipments of missiles and nuclear materials certainly would. In the international community, a blockade is considered an act of war. So if the U.S. government begins such interdiction, it should assume the worst.

In addition to being dangerous, sanctions or a blockade will not be effective in getting North Korea to end its nuclear and long-range missile programs and scrap the weapons. According to the CIA, North Korea probably already has one or two nuclear weapons and the long-range missiles to deliver them to the West Coast of the United States.

When Secretary of State Colin Powell was trying to justify a softer U.S. policy toward North Korea than the harder line approach taken toward Iraq, he correctly noted that once North Korea had nuclear weapons, a few more was just icing on the cake.

The United States must recognize that its actions have consequences and that a major reason that Kim Jong Il wants nuclear weapons and long-range missiles is to keep the Bush administration from attacking North Korea.

During the Clinton administration the North Koreans told former Defense Secretary Bill Perry as much. Perry was sent to Pyongyang to negotiate a freeze on North Korean tests of long-range missiles. The North Koreans had observed that the United States was bombing a non-nuclear Serbia for its human rights violations in Kosovo. The North Koreans told Perry they feared being labeled "human rights abusers" and having the same fate befall them.

Then after seeing the Bush administration threaten to invade Iraq — another non-nuclear power — and lump Iraq, Iran and North Korea into the cartoonish "axis of evil," the already paranoid Kim Jong Il has apparently concluded that he must continue and accelerate his nuclear and missile programs to forestall a U.S. invasion.

Generally, senior military officers need to empathize (rather than sympathize) with their adversaries — even ones as authoritarian and brutal as the regime in North Korea. The United States needs to appreciate that even despotic regimes have legitimate security concerns.

The United States wants to stop or at least slow down the proliferation of nuclear weapons but continues a muscular global foreign policy (even after the Cold War has long gone) that causes nations to redouble their efforts to get such armaments. According to the Department of Defense, 12 nations have nuclear programs that are extant or emerging threats to U.S. and allied security.

Most of those nations, after seeing the fate of non-nuclear states such as Serbia and Iraq, have every incentive to accelerate their nuclear programs and cloak them in secrecy.

The United States is going to have to face up to the sobering reality that despotic regimes will get nuclear weapons. Although autocratic, those regimes' principal goal is to survive. The dominant U.S. nuclear arsenal, with thousands of warheads, can deter weak "rogue" nations like North Korea that possess only a few warheads — much as it did the greater threat from a rival superpower for more than 40 years.

Imposing sanctions or blockades will only poke a hornets' nest that is better left alone.

(Ivan Eland is senior fellow and director of the Center on Peace and Freedom at the Independent Institute, and author of the book, "Putting 'Defense' Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World.")


The Cato Institute

WASHINGTON — Fiscal restraint in the states

by Michael New

The current fiscal crisis has clearly demonstrated the importance of fiscal restraint at the state level. During the economic expansion of the late 1990s, many states behaved as if their coffers would remain perpetually flush with revenue.

However, that spending surge, coupled with the economic slowdown, has resulted in budgetary shortfalls across the nation.

It should be noted that the fiscal situation is better in states that were able to limit budgetary growth. However, the question remains: Why were some states more disciplined than others?

The lessons have little to do with partisanship and more to do with the amount of fiscal discipline that was imposed on state legislators.

Indeed, one fiscal-discipline measure that enjoyed some success in limiting the growth of government during the 1990s is that of the Tax and Expenditure Limitation, or TEL. TELs restrain government growth by limiting the amount that expenditures or revenues can increase in any given fiscal year.

Many studies argue that TELs are fairly ineffective. However, during the 1990s, two states, Washington and Colorado, enacted TELs that set especially low limits for budgetary growth. The experiences of these two states are instructive.

First, in both cases, state spending was restrained. According to data from the National Association of State Budget Officers, Washington ranked 46th in per capita state expenditure growth during the 1990s. Similarly, between 1993 and 2000, Colorado ranked 41st in per capita state and local expenditure growth, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Second, residents in both states enjoyed a considerable amount of tax relief. Colorado's TEL was unique because it mandated immediate refunds of surplus revenues. As a result, between 1997 and 2002, Colorado residents received tax rebates every year, totaling over $3.2 billion. In Washington, the situation was similar.

Since spending was kept in check, surpluses began to materialize. These surpluses were used to first lower and then abolish the car tax, saving residents more than $1.3 billion. Not surprisingly, Colorado and Washington ranked first and second in terms of aggregate tax reductions during the late 1990s.

Now these fiscal limitations have not been able to prevent deficits altogether. Washington's current deficit is due partly to the fact that the state legislature suspended the TEL in 2000 and spent in excess of the limit. Still, many other states, such as California, New Jersey and Massachusetts provided far less in the way of tax relief and are experiencing much larger deficits. This is largely because these states were unable to keep spending in check during the 1990s.

Effective fiscal discipline measures are important because electing fiscally conservative candidates guarantees little in the way of actual fiscal rectitude. Lessons from the federal level are instructive.

In fiscal years 2002 and 2003, with Republicans in control of the White House and the House of Representatives, non-defense discretionary expenditures increased annually by a whopping 10 percent. In comparison, between 1997 and 2000 — when President Bill Clinton occupied the White House — non-defense discretionary spending increased by a comparatively paltry 5.4 percent.

What is even more embarrassing for Republicans is that budgets passed by Democratic congressional majorities and signed by Clinton for fiscal years 1994 and 1995 increased non-defense discretionary spending by only 4.6 percent. Now to their credit, congressional Republicans did enact some spending reductions after taking control of Congress in 1994. However, after their ideological fervor subsided, they increased spending at a faster rate than their Democratic counterparts.

Even worse, they re-instituted funding for many programs that they previously abolished. Sadly, this trend has continued well into the Bush administration.

Now, enforcing fiscal restraint at the federal level remains a daunting task. However, in many states, activists have the option of using ballot initiatives to impose fiscal discipline on their state legislators. Indeed, it should come as no surprise that the effective TELs in Colorado and Washington were enacted through the initiative process.

Furthermore, the current fiscal crisis provides advocates of limited government with a unique opportunity. Since many states will resort to unpopular tax increases to balance their budgets, voters might be especially receptive to the idea of tax and spending limitations. Conservatives and libertarians should take advantage of this and hopefully prevent similar fiscal crises from happening in the future.

(Michael J. New, a post-doctoral fellow at the Harvard-MIT data center, is an adjunct scholar with the Cato Institute.)

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