All posts by Thomas L. Knapp

It’s Time to End America’s Longest War

English: Republic of Korea (ROK) and United St...
English: Republic of Korea (ROK) and United States (U.S.) soldiers monitor the Korean Demilitarized Zone from atop Observation Post (OP) Ouellette. View looking north from south. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the latest round of saber-rattling between the US and North Korean governments, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid down the well-worn line. “All options,” he said during a visit to South Korea, “are on the table.”

If he’s serious, here’s an option that never seems to get much discussion lately:

US president Donald Trump should send Tillerson to tell Yun Byung-se, his counterpart in Seoul, that the US is withdrawing its troops from the Korean peninsula by a specific date, and that after that date the US will cease to guarantee, or accept responsibility for, the South’s security.

If the Korean War was a person, it would be old enough to collect Social Security benefits. It began on  June 25, 1950 when the armed forces of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (“North Korea”) invaded the Republic of Korea (“South Korea”).

Coming up on 67 years later, it continues. The two Korean regimes still consider themselves at war, the US government still keeps nearly 30,000 US troops deployed along the ironically named “Demilitarized Zone” separating the two countries, and the situation remains as tense and sporadically violent as ever since 1953 when a temporary ceasefire was signed.

Today, South Korea is twice as populous and 35 times as wealthy (in terms of Gross Domestic Product) as the North, boasting the 11th largest economy in the world (North Korea ranks 113th).

In what universe does it make sense for American taxpayers to continue picking up a substantial portion of the check for South Korea’s defense from its smaller, poorer, less industrially advanced neighbor?

Once upon a time, at least briefly, this was a Republican talking point. In 2004, president George W. Bush announced his intent to withdraw thousands of US troops from South Korea over several years.

He did so in a campaign speech in New Mexico — a state he lost in 2000 by fewer votes than Libertarian Harry Browne received, during a visit intended to prevent a similar performance by 2004 Libertarian candidate Michael Badnarik. For an ever so brief moment, Bush faked a peacenik end run around both Badnarik and Democratic candidate John Kerry on the subject of North and South Korea.

Of course, it was back to business as usual, and to North Korea as all-purpose bogeyman, once Bush managed to get re-elected that November. But at least he was willing to broach the subject. Trump and Tillerson should do likewise — and then follow through.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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Risk, Reward, Regulation and Space Tourism

SpaceShipOne hanging under White Knight
SpaceShipOne hanging under White Knight (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Writing at Quartz, Tim Fernholz notes that early space tourists “won’t benefit from the tight regulation we’ve come to expect in everything from air transport to private automobiles.” Although the Federal Aviation Administration enjoys approval authority over launches, the Commercial Space Act limits government interference in post-launch space flight.

That’s a good thing, for three reasons.

The first reason is that the United States is neither the only country in the world nor the only country capable of hosting launch facilities. If Blue Origin, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and other companies can’t do the things they aim to do in America, they’ll do those things elsewhere, in countries where governments are happy to mind their own business in exchange for an economic boost and more tax revenues.

The second reason is that government regulation tends toward a “one size fits all” approach that stifles innovation, including innovation in safety.  Once a regulatory requirement has been established, the incentive for business is to concentrate on meeting the requirement rather than on developing even better systems that make it irrelevant and hope they can get the rule changed.

The third and final reason is that for space tourists, risk is part of the package. Space travel is dangerous. It will remain dangerous for the foreseeable future. Those considering paying big money to be flung into space know the risks and are okay with them.

To date, 18 US astronauts and Russian cosmonauts have been killed in space flight while a number of astronauts and workers have been killed in non-flight accidents.

As we revisit the moon, then turn our attention to more distant destinations, more will die.  Mars is 46.8 million miles away at its closest point to Earth, with no tow trucks nearby should anything break down, and a not especially hospitable environment at the other end.

Space is the final frontier and frontier life is dangerous. Just ask those who explored Earth’s seas or settled the American west.  Despite the dangers, they did those things. Just as, if one of the private space companies asks for volunteers to man an experimental crew capsule tomorrow, the next day they’ll find a line of eager applicants several miles long outside their door vying for the privilege of getting strapped to a 30-story tube full of explosive fuel and hurled into the heavens. I might be in that line myself.

These companies don’t want their passengers and crew members dead. That would be bad for business. They’re going to do their best to minimize the risks — and they’re going to have no trouble at all finding willing volunteers to face those risks. Government can’t eliminate the risks and shouldn’t get in the way trying to.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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McCain versus Paul: The New Red Scare Masks US Foreign Policy Insanity

English: Map to show current affiliations of E...
Map showing current affiliations of European Countries with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On March 15, US Senator John McCain (R-AZ) revealed just how ridiculous the American political establishment’s reliance on Vladimir Putin as boogeyman has become.

McCain, seeking the Senate’s unanimous consent to advance a bill supporting admission of the small country of Montenegro to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, warned that anyone who dissented would be “carrying out the desires and ambitions of [Russian president Vladimir] Putin.” True to form, when Kentucky Republican Rand Paul objected (meaning only that the matter will actually be debated instead of rubber-stamped), McCain asserted that “the senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin.”

Paul’s having some fun with McCain’s over-the-top theatrics, describing McCain as “past his prime” and “unhinged” on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. But let’s set aside the rivalry aspect and look at what McCain’s hysterical performance says about US foreign policy.

Montenegro is a small country (about 600,000 people) with a small military (less than 2,000 active duty soldiers, sailors and airmen) which is nowhere near the north Atlantic (its only coastline is on the Adriatic Sea).

Lest we forget, the Balkans are known for producing wars both small and large. Montenegro borders Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo and Serbia. Is there any particular reason the US should commit itself by treaty to intervene in the military spats that break out in that region at the drop of a hat (or the assassination of an Archduke)?

The only word I can come up with on short notice to describe the idea of bringing Montenegro into NATO is “nonsensical.”

But even assuming the idea made sense at all, it hardly seems urgent.  The matter has been pending for more than a year now (Montenegro received its initial NATO invitation in December of 2015). Is the world going to end if the US Senate takes time to talk it over instead of just stampeding on John McCain’s command?

McCain seems to think so. He considers any Senate action other than unthinking, reflexive approval of anything he might happen to propose vis a vis US foreign policy to be evidence of a Russian plot to destroy America, and anyone who doesn’t give him exactly what he wants on demand a Russian agent.

The American foreign policy establishment’s use of Vladimir Putin as an all-purpose hobgoblin isn’t just ridiculous, it’s dangerous and insane. Left unchecked it will, sooner or later, drag America into unnecessary wars costing us untold blood and treasure.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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