- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A philharmonic in N. Korea

On Feb. 19, the New York Philharmonic made an announcement: The “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” will permit the broadcast of the philharmonic’s concert live on national (state — what else is there?) television.

This welcome development comes just four days after we noted in the Feb. 15 edition of The Washington Times (“Despot serenade,” Commentary) the most lamentable lack of a broadcast accessible to North Koreans.

It would be nice to think there is causation to this correlation, but it still begs the question: How truly public can a state TV broadcast be in North Korea?

There are an estimated quarter- to half-million TV sets in North Korea, with the privileged, party-line-toeing upper bureaucratic echelons likely the favored to have access to TV. To truly reach as many North Koreans as possible, the New York Philharmonic concert would have to be broadcast on North Korean national radio, which reaches anywhere up to 4 million people.

The TV broadcast changes this concert from a cultural diplomatic bunt to a base hit. A radio broadcast might take it to third base — though a home run would still require music (Fidelio Overture, for example) that speaks more strongly the language of freedom.

JENS F. LAURSON

Editor in chief

International Affairs Forum

Classical critic at large

Classical WETA-FM 90.9

Arlington

GEORGE A. PIELER

Senior fellow

Institute for Policy Innovation

Falls Church

Defense spending

I agreed with many parts of James Jay Carafano’s thoughtful assessment of U.S. defense spending (“In defense of defense spending,” Commentary, Thursday), but I must respectfully disagree with his conclusion that tying U.S. defense spending to gross domestic product (GDP) is an appropriate way to measure our national commitment to security.

First, GDP is an arbitrary metric. Mr. Carafano often mentions 4 percent as a reasonable level, but if the U.S. economy were to suffer a deep recession, chances are that he would come back and say that 5 percent or 6 percent or 7 percent is the more appropriate level. What if the United States were forced into a World War III situation and had to fight for its survival? Shouldn’t we then spend 50 percent of GDP? One hundred percent? The point is that you pay what you must, when you must, and any artificial floor is just that artificial.

Second, tying defense spending to GDP is the purest manifestation of flawed strategic thinking I can imagine. Strategy is all about matching limited resources to achieve carefully scrutinized and prioritized objectives. When there are more threats, you spend more. When there are fewer, you spend less. Smart strategy is about making choices, and keeping defense budgets arbitrarily high avoids the hard choices that must be made in this age of dangerous threats.

Agreeing upon what represents a true threat to the United States is an exhaustive process that too often becomes ensnared in political posturing, but it’s the best we’ve got. Throwing our hands in the air in resignation and tying defense spending to GDP seems eerily similar to setting up the type of entitlement program that conservatives abhor. Why not determine defense spending through budgetary survival of the fittest? If the Pentagon can make the case that the threats we face justify larger budgets, then so be it. But pegging defense spending to GDP gives the Pentagon and defense contractors a free pass and curtails a lively, transparent national debate. I believe this hinders our national defense.

Finally, Mr. Carafano’s analysis focuses solely on defense spending, but I would suggest that spending more on different U.S. national security tools might increase our security just as effectively. As Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates outlined in his call last year for bolstering America’s “soft power,” investing in better intelligence, diplomacy, humanitarian assistance and nonproliferation programs would go a long way to achieving the goal of a stronger, more secure America.

TRAVIS SHARP

Military policy analyst

Center for Arms Control and

Non-Proliferation

Washington

Guns, laws and logic

In his Thursday column, “D.C. handgun-ban backers oblivious to reality” (Metropolitan) Tom Knott argues that the District should not have a handgun ban because “criminals do not follow the law.”

By that logic, why pass any law? It’s no use outlawing murder people still will kill each other. Why bother outlawing child abuse? Adults will still beat and maim children. Car theft, identity theft, embezzlement they’re all inevitable, so don’t bother passing laws against them.

Supporters of overturning the handgun ban had better have more compelling arguments at their disposal than Mr. Knott does if they hope to make their case.

CYNTHIA JOHNSON

Washington

The column by Adrienne Washington about gun control contains several questionable statements (“Time to decide: Gun control or out of control?” Metropolitan, Feb. 19). The overarching premise of this piece is that we ought to get rid of guns so crime will go away. For starters, Australia and Great Britain have tried that; in both cases, their crime rates soared after they banned private ownership of guns. A rational person would conclude from this that attempting to ban guns hasn’t worked and probably never will work. An irrational person just keeps saying that guns are bad. The demonstrable fact is that the incidence of the use of guns for self-protection vastly exceeds the use of guns to commit crimes.

Mrs. Washington says that neither states nor the federal government have taken steps for background checks at gun shows. This is incorrect. The federal government requires an instant background check by the FBI for every person who purchases a firearm from a federally licensed firearms dealer, whether at a gun show or elsewhere. The vast majority of guns sold at gun shows are sold by licensed dealers. Background checks are not required for transfer of firearms between non-dealers, whether at gun shows or elsewhere. Were the government to attempt to prevent person-to-person sales or gifts, it would be an impossible task to implement and it would contribute nothing to crime reduction.

Mrs. Washington also states that two of the gun-free-zone killers purchased their guns from a Wisconsin Internet dealer. This is a misstatement, for no one can purchase a firearm from an out-of-state dealer. Any such dealer must transfer the firearm to an in-state dealer, who is then required to conduct an FBI background check before selling the firearm.

Finally, the writer states that “the equally passionate arguments on both sides of the gun-control debate do little to stem the bloodletting.” This is incorrect. Numerous studies comparing crime rates before and after shall-issue concealed carry laws were passed demonstrate that the existence of such a law results in a reduction of violent crime. About 40 states have workable concealed carry laws. Just two states, Wisconsin and Illinois, have no provision for concealed carry licenses. It should surprise no one that the Illinois shooting occurred in a gun-free zone in a no-carry state.

DAVID FELBECK

Ann Arbor, Mich.

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