Controlling Arms

The Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright said yesterday that all U.S. military chiefs are behind ratification of New START, an arms pact signed by President Obama and Russian President Medvedev which is held up in Congress. As Cartwright put it, “We need START and we need it badly.” Yesterday, for the first time, the Senate spent a day debating the treaty. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Republican leaders on the Hill, the central opponents of the agreement thus far, are demonstrating a “growing willingness . . . to look at the merits of this treaty.” And Defense Robert Gates commented that though Republicans had “some legitimate concerns . . . frankly, I think they’ve been addressed.”

South Korea has said recently that it plans to hold live-fire drills over the coming days on the island that North Korea bombed a few weeks ago. Pyongyang is not happy about that. The North announced today that if the South conducts the drills, it would strike back harder than it has in the past (when they launched artillery shells southward at the end of November, they killed four South Koreans). State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said the exercises are routine, and “North Korea should not see these South Korean actions as a provocation.” And General Cartwright is worried about what could happen if North Korea reacts to the drills: “What you don't want to have happen out of that is for us to lose control of the escalation.” Meanwhile, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, publicly in North Korea today on a personal visit, said his goal “is to see if we can reduce the tension in the Korean peninsula.”

In the State Department, some officials are starting to worry that the late Richard Holbrooke’s all-star AfPak team is going to break up in the wake of his death. He had assembled a group of experts—from academics like Barnett Rubin of NYU to counterinsurgency expert Vikram Singh (stolen from another arm of the department)—who are not career government officials, and who, without Holbrooke’s leadership and drive to change the status quo, may head home.

The revolving door keeps on turning. Denis McDonough was named deputy national security adviser back in October (stepping into Tom Donilon’s old spot when Donilon took over for departing National Security Adviser James Jones), and the administration has finally chosen someone to fill his old position of chief of staff and counselor of the National Security Council—Brooke Anderson. She has spent her time in the administration serving as alternate representative for special political affairs at the UN.

Echoing statements of other administration officials, Vice President Joe Biden said yesterday in an MSNBC interview that the WikiLeaks situation would cause no “substantive damage.” True, some of the revelations might be embarrassing, but none “goes to the essence of the relationship.” And U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said yesterday that the government of Sudan must stop launching air attacks against the border with southern Sudan. The government said that the three day’s worth of bombings are under investigation, but the south and the head UN peacekeeper in the country say the leaders in Khartoum were responsible. The bombings are taking place in the lead-up to a January 9 referendum in which southern Sudan will vote on independence.