A Nuclear North Korea

Updated September 13, 2021 | Infoplease Staff
—Borgna Brunner

Hamid Karzai, leader of an interim Afghan government after the fall of the Taliban, officially became head of state in June 2002. Karzai's strong international support led to the infusion of both aid ($4.5 billion has been promised) and UN peacekeeping troops to his war-ravaged nation. But Karzai's grasp on power remained tenuous, with warlords maintaining tight regional control, ethnic rivalries volatile, and pockets of al-Qaeda fighters continuing to battle U.S. and allied troops—Karzai himself narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in September. While the foreign military presence has been essential to the stability of the country, it has also been responsible for hundreds of inadvertent civilian casualties. Between Oct. 2001 and March 2002, the U.S. dropped approximately 20,000 bombs on the country. In addition to political fragility, Afghanistan's troubles remain overwhelming: a devastating drought is now in the fourth year, the country's infrastructure requires massive reconstruction, and a greater-than-expected influx of 1.6 million returning refugees has desperately strained the eviscerated economy.

Peace in Africa

Angola's seemingly unquenchable civil war, which began shortly after independence from Portugal in 1975, finally ended when the rebels' ruthless and indefatigable leader, Jonas Savimbi, was killed by government troops in February. The war was little more than a power grab between two rival parties: the MPLA, initially a Marxist group supported by Cuba and the Soviet Union, became the semi-democratic ruling party over time; and Savimbi's UNITA, which fought a proxy cold war on behalf of its supporters, South Africa and the U.S., eventually deteriorated into an international pariah interested only in diamonds and power. The exhausted UNITA rebels quickly surrendered after the death of their leader, and while peace finally seemed secure, more than a third of the population had been displaced by war and a half-million Angolans faced starvation.

Less hopeful were two other African cease-fires. The Democratic Republic of the Congo signed a series of agreements with rebel groups and the governments of Rwanda and Uganda, ending a tangled war that has raged since 1998, involved eight nations, and claimed an astounding 3 million lives. In Sudan, a cease-fire signed in July may lead to a permanent end to the brutal 19-year civil war between the Arab and strongly Islamic North, the seat of the government, and the black African animists and Christians in the South. More than 2 million have died in the conflict, primarily in the South.

India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka

After 19 crippling years of war that left 65,000 dead, a seemingly lasting peace agreement was signed in Feb. 2002 between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tiger guerrillas. The Tamil minority's (18% of the population) mounting resentment toward the Sinhalese majority's monopoly on political and economic power, exacerbated by different religions (Tamils are generally Hindu, Sinhalese Buddhist), had erupted in bloody violence in 1983. In fall peace talks, the Tamil Tigers compromised on earlier demands, asking for autonomy and self-determination rather than independence, and thus improving the chance for a permanent resolution.

India's worst Hindu-Muslim violence in a decade rocked the state of Gujarat in February and March after a Muslim mob fire-bombed a train, killing Hindu activists. Hindus retaliated, and more than 1,000 died in the bloodshed. The ruling Hindu nationalist BJP was criticized for not stemming the attacks, most of which affected Muslims.

After a Dec. 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian parliament that Indian officials blamed on Pakistan-backed Islamic militants, India amassed more than half a million troops along the Pakistan border. Pakistan followed suit with its own buildup. After ten months of steadily escalating tensions that brought the two nuclear-armed countries to the brink of war, both pulled back the majority of their troops in October. But troops stationed along the Line of Control, which divides the contested state of Kashmir, remained unchanged, as did the political stalemate.

Middle East

Palestinians carried out some of the most horrific terrorist attacks in years—Hamas and the al-Aksa Martyr Brigade claimed responsibility for most of them—killing Israeli civilians in cafes, bus stops, and supermarkets. In retaliation, Israeli troops unleashed bombing raids, razed several major Palestinian cities and refugee camps, and stepped up their occupation of Palestinian-controlled territories. Israeli troops twice surrounded Yasir Arafat at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah, and Prime Minister Sharon called for his expulsion from the territories. Arafat, unable or unwilling to prevent the increased wave of suicide bombings, managed to hold onto power despite his growing political irrelevance. U.S. help was not forthcoming, with President Bush declaring that the U.S. will not recognize an independent Palestinian state until Arafat is replaced. By Sept. 2002, the second anniversary of the al-Aksa intifada, more than 1,500 Palestinians and 550 Israelis had been killed.

Economic Calamity in South America

After years of recession, Argentina suffered its worst economic crisis ever, which began in Dec. 2001 when the nation defaulted on its $155 billion foreign debt payments, the largest such default in history. In response, Argentina devalued its peso, which had been pegged to the dollar for a decade. The devaluation plunged the banking industry into crisis and wiped out much of the savings of the middle class. Banking and foreign exchange were suspended. Half of Argentina's 36 million now live in poverty, unemployment has reached 22%, and protests and strikes have multiplied. The IMF has refused to bail out Argentina as it has in past years, insisting that the nation reform its ineffective economic policies first. But the IMF did not present the same tough love policy to Argentina's ailing neighbors: Uruguay received a modest $500 million and Brazil a record $30 billion.

Three nationwide strikes in Venezuela since Dec. 2001 were a massive protest against the increasing authoritarianism of populist president Hugo Chavez and the faltering economy. A strike in April led to a coup that briefly toppled Chavez; he was reinstated two days later. But while unions, business organizations, the Catholic church, and the media have called for his resignation, Chavez remained enormously popular among the poor, who cling to his unrealized promises to end poverty and corruption.

A Nuclear North Korea

A reclusive and secretive North Korea stunned the world in the fall with two shocking admissions. In September, the government unexpectedly acknowledged that it had kidnapped about a dozen Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s for the purposes of training North Korean spies. In October, confronted with U.S. intelligence, North Korea admitted that it had violated a 1994 agreement freezing its nuclear-weapons program and had in fact been developing a nuclear bomb. North Korea's uncharacteristic candor and its mystifying motives left the Bush administration with the daunting task of finding a diplomatic solution to the world's newest nuclear threat.

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