Archive

Tag Archives: South Korea


Tense times for South Korea, the shrimp surrounded by whales

Protest against President Park Geun-hye in South Korea

The Interpreter, 11 March, 2017

The decision by South Korea’s Constitutional Court to uphold the National Assembly’s impeachment of beleaguered President Park Geun-hye is the starting gun in a 60-day race to the Blue House.

The Constitution requires that an election be held within that time period, which means a new leader will be elected by 9 May at the latest. According to most polls, the next leader of South Korea is expected to be Moon Jae-in, the leader of the Minjoo Party, who came a close second to Park in the 2012 presidential election. While much can happen in two months in Korean politics, if Moon does become the next President, it will likely complicate South Korean politics and security policy even further in what has already become an incredibly tense period.

In recent weeks tensions on the Korean peninsula have been ratcheted up to their highest level in some years, following a North Korean assassination in Malaysia and a series of missile tests into the Sea of Japan, that were supposedly in response to this year’s Foul Eagle US-ROK exercise. As if that were not enough, China-ROK relations have also plummeted over the decision of the Park government to deploy the American Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) ballistic missile defence system in South Korea. As the system was deployed in Seoul, Beijing vented its fury by cancelling tour groups to South Korea and by sanctioning certain South Korean businesses in China. Adding a new South Korean leader to the mix could go in a number of ways.

First of all, what is Moon’s policy platform? Many of his views that first emerged during the 2012 election have come into sharper focus in the past few months. Like many Korean politicians from the left, he has an antagonistic relationship with South Korea’s security agencies. Like his mentor, Roh Moo-hyun, president from 2003-2008, Moon has been arrested for his views. Consequently, he has pledged to reform government organisations, saying earlier this week: ‘The authorities, such as Cheong Wa Dae, the prosecution, and the Intelligence Service, have been the main culprits undermining democracy’. Faced with a slowing economy and high unemployment – particularly among the young – Moon has promised ‘a revolution to create more and better jobs’. With a slogan of ‘people first’, he has also stated that he intends to reform the chaebol system, in which large conglomerates dominate the Korean economy and are said to have contributed to a widening between haves and have-nots.

In terms of the relationship with the United States, Moon has a mixed record. On the one hand, has called the US the ‘most important country’ for Seoul, while at the same time stated that he’s against the deployment of the THAAD system inside the country. The system was hastily deployed earlier this month, perhaps in anticipation of Friday’s ruling. Moon asserted, ‘Reconsidering THAAD would have to be proceeded with diplomatic efforts, including diplomatic efforts with the US. I don’t think…[it] would harm the South Korea-US alliance. Given the transactional nature of the Trump administration, removing a system which gives early warning of a North Korean missile launch to US forces in Japan or the continental United States, this assertion is dubious. The fact that Moon Jae-in is also known to favour an engagement-heavy approach toward North Korea may also push the relationship into crisis, since the Trump administration has signalled that it favours a hard line on the regime.

On the other hand, Moon’s approach will please Pyongyang and Beijing, which have have both resented the Park government’s close ties with Washington. Beijing will be particularly pleased if Moon withdraws the American radar system from the peninsula, since it worries about the system’s ability to gather data on its nuclear deterrent. Warning both about ‘consequences’, China has already begun sanctioning South Korean companies and blocking Chinese tour groups from visiting the country. With regards to Moon’s approach toward Pyongyang, Chad O’Carroll from NK Watch states, ‘Moon Jae-in’s election could result in the largest ever shift from one administration to another of North Korea policy in South Korea’s history. As this will likely cause issues between Seoul and its allies, O’Carroll asserts that ‘the North will exploit any policy confusion as soon as it begins to arise’.

Former-President Park Geun-hye has spent her last night in the Blue House presidential palace. Her isolation now is in many ways a striking metaphor for South Korea’s own position. Historically, Koreans have referred to their state as a ‘shrimp surrounded by whales’. The pressures, internal and external, on the Korean polity from Beijing and Washington, from Tokyo and Pyongyang, reveal a kernel of truth in this odd saying. Whoever becomes the next President of South Korea will have many issues to navigate, and many choices to make. Let’s hope they bring calm and some security.


China’s fear of the US prevents any defusing of the North Korean Threat

The Telegraph, 6 March, 2017

Isometric Corean crisis

In the wake of widespread criticism of its assassination of Kim Jong-nam in Kuala Lumpur last month, North Korea has defiantly fired four intermediate ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan. Tracked by US, Korean, and Japanese forces, the four missiles were fired 730 on a Monday morning, from Tongchang-ri province, with three landing in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The timing was of course carefully chosen. Coinciding with the annual military exercise Foal Eagle, in which US and South Korean forces train for a future North Korean invasion, the missile test was a threatening reminder to Washington that Pyongyang’s nuclear reach is growing and may soon be able to hit the continental United States. This threat, North Korea’s leaders may reason, might deter the United States from defending South Korea in any future contingency.

The launch was not, however, good timing from Beijing’s perspective. It has been opposed to Seoul’s decision in 2016 to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), an anti-ballistic missile defence system within its territory.

Citing China’s “national security concerns” in February 2016, Foreign Minister Wang Yi worried that the X-band radar could peer far beyond North Korea’s territory, deep into Chinese territory. Its concern was that the system could be used offensively and also to gain strategic early-warning in any US-related contingency.

The deployment has revealed a number of security dilemmas on the peninsula that diplomats are struggling to de-conflict. In the first instance, South Korea remains a favourite target of North Korea and has suffered a number of minor attacks and provocations over the years. In 2010, the North even sank one of its corvettes, the ROKS Cheonan in the Yellow Sea, killing 46 Korean sailors.

 It also bombarded a South Korean island later that year with artillery, killing two civilians and wounding 19. Seoul’s search for security is thus only reasonable. However, by deploying the American THAAD system, its search for security is thought to undermined Chinese security.

The past year has seen a strong Chinese campaign to pressure Seoul into stopping the deployment, with the government banning Chinese tour groups to the country, and boycotting a retail company after it agreed to supply land for the THAAD deployment. In many ways, Beijing is the victim of its own ally in all this.

Unable or unwilling to pressure North Korea where it might truly hurt – on energy and food supplies – Beijing focuses its ire on South Korea alone, using economic and political pressure, and offering only platitudes about restarting peace talks.

In a sense, this pattern of prioritizing its own security preferences – at the expense of its regional neighbours – is becoming a hallmark of Chinese security policy in the region.

It is quite ironic, given the fact that its trade relationship with Seoul far outstrips that with Pyongyang. Dr. Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a senior lecturer in international relations at King’s College London says, “China is focusing on the wrong potential threat. If there were going to be a conflict in Northeast Asia, it would be the result of North Korea’s actions, rather than South Korea’s or anything related to THAAD.”

In reaction to Chinese displeasure, both Washington and Seoul have sought to remind Beijing ultimately, whether or not THAAD is deployed rests on China’s own actions. Before her downfall in a corruption scandal, South Korea’s strong-minded President Park Geun-hye stated that the South would not need THAAD if China dealt with the North Korean missile threat.

Admiral Harry Harris, the current Commander of the Pacific Command (PACOM), in charge of US forces in Asia Pacific, reiterated that, saying, “If China wanted to exert a lot of influence on somebody to prevent THAAD from being considered going into Korea, then they should exert that influence on North Korea.”

Naturally, American statements have little effect in China right now, as Sino-US relations dip to their lowest point in decades. Furthermore, as Jim Schoff, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, asserts, “the US-China relationship has essentially become the fulcrum for the regional security environment, and a misalignment of that point risks serious instability and possible conflict.”

While many warn of the “Thucydides Trap” that China’s rise might provoke, both have made serious efforts to accommodate each other and avoid conflict. America’s support for China’s inclusion into the World Trade Organization in 2000, its support for a Chinese-hosted Six Party Talks, and its promotion of a US-China bilateral Strategic and Economic Dialogue in 2009, reveal the sincerity with which both states have sought to institutionalize the relationship. The Trump administration has seemed to question whether those efforts were in America’s best interests.

While Beijing has argued – often correctly – that it has little leverage over the regime in Pyongyang, the truth is that China holds the keys to resolving the issue. Every day, hundreds of trucks, carrying fuel and coal enter into North Korea from the Chinese border. If China were to stop these, North Korea’s economy would cease to function in short order.

China continues to supply the North partly because it does not really want a unified Korea on its doorstep. This is especially true of any future state based on the South Korean model, with its strong security alliance with Washington. Talking with Chinese diplomats and scholars on the issue, one is struck by the fear of containment that runs through Chinese policy circles; the possibility of American troops on the Yalu River exerts a stronger grip on them than North Koreans weapon systems – systems that are after all, aimed at Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington, rather than Beijing.

In all this, few have asked what Seoul wants. This is where the second security dilemma becomes evident, the intra-alliance security dilemma between Washington and Seoul. Critics in Seoul have argued that the system does not really protect South Korea from many of the North’s deployable missile systems, and that it merely serves to protect US forces in the Pacific and on the US continental mainland.

These criticisms miss the point of how South Korea’s military views the system. First, it does provide early-warning on North Korean launches, second, and perhaps more importantly, it further binds the US to South Korea.

In an age of Trump, when US defence guarantees to allies have been re-examined for their utility, the institutional defence system, worked by both militaries, has helped bind the two allies closer together. By agreeing to host the system, Seoul offers the US a form of security – that of early warning for any US-bound missile launches. Furthermore, as the relationship between Washington and Beijing becomes increasingly marked by competitive elements – perhaps even trade war – the US will welcome anything that brings its regional allies closer in line with its regional objectives.

Today’s four missile tests will have annoyed Beijing to no end, since they effectively justify Seoul’s decision to deploy the American system. To some extent, China’s criticism of THAAD focuses on the radar system and ignores the cause: that of North Korean missiles.

Arguably, Beijing has forced Seoul into this position by pursuing its narrow security preferences over those of Seoul. It might want to reconsider its support of Pyongyang and further cut its dealings with the disagreeable regime.


Is North Korea’s use of chemical weapons in Malaysia a step too far?

The Telegraph, 24 February, 2017

The murder of Kim Jong-nam in Kuala Lumpur International Airport looked like it might be no more than an odd-ball story, destined for the various crank stories that typify reporting about North Korea.

True, the regime had orchestrated an assassination in another country (and at an airport, no less!) but he was a North Korean after all, and a member of the ruling family.

It swiftly became clear, after the heavy-handed bullying of Malaysia’s legal authorities by North Korea’s ambassador Kang Chol, that this was not going to blow over.

js121200849_afp_kang-chol-medium_trans_nvbqzqnjv4bqa7n2cxnjwnyi3tcbvbgu9us7djv_ztr2aeuv10dgoqm

The regime insisted on treating Malaysia – previously, one of its few diplomatic allies – as it treats everyone, lying, bullying, and making bizarre and insulting accusations, causing the relationship to nosedive.

The revelation that the nerve agent VX was used in a crowded international airport now threatens to tip the event into a regional crisis. It also raises the question of why Malaysia allowed itself to get so close to the pariah regime?

After all, North Korea is the only state that actively employs concentration camps to deal with its political prisoners. And yet, states like Malaysia continue to try and do business with the regime.

They even accept North Korean labourers – contracted out by the regime – to carry out difficult and dangerous mining operations.

In 2014, after a North Korean labourer was killed in a Malaysian mine, authorities defended the practice, with Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi, saying: “When it comes to industries such as coal mines, the jobs are very dangerous and tough. No local or Sarawakian will dare take up such jobs.”

He neglected to mention that North Koreans did the job because they had no choice. They are, in effect, slave labour.

Malaysia has already withdrawn its envoy to Pyongyang, but now with the news that North Korea used a chemical considered a weapon of mass destruction in their national airport, pressure is growing on the government to cut ties with the Stalinist regime.


Brad Glosserman and Scott Snyder as the dinner speakers.

Monday, 18 May, at 19:00 – 21:309780231171700

The Army & Navy Club, Farragut Square, Washington DC

 

The Policy Dinner Club is proud to announce that its next speakers will be Brad Glosserman (Pacific Forum CSIS) and Scott Snyder (CFR), who will speak about the identity and cultural issues in the Japan – South Korea bilateral relationship, with regard to US alliance dynamics. A dinner discussion will then ensue on the topic offered.

Their remarks will draw from their research of their book, which examines the ideational and identity-identity-related causes of discord between these two strong US allies. In their remarks at dinner, Glosserman and Snyder will examine some of the underlying notions of national identity and offer concrete policy prescriptions for US alliance managers.

Who:     Brad Glosserman (Pacific Forum CSIS), Scott Snyder (CFR)
.
When:   19:00 to 21:30, 18 May, 2015
.
Where:  The Army and Navy Club, Farragut Square, Washington DC
.
.
.
Speakers Biographies

Brad Glosserman is executive director of the Pacific Forum CSIS in Honolulu, an independent program of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). The Pacific Forum has provided policy-oriented analysis and promoted dialogue on regional security, political, economic, and environmental issues in the Asia-Pacific region since 1975. Mr. Glosserman oversees all aspects of Pacific Forum activities, including conferences, fellowships, publications, and administration. He is coeditor of Comparative Connections, the Pacific Forum’s triannual journal and writes, along with Pacific Forum president Ralph Cossa, the regional review. He is also the coauthor, with Scott Synder, of The Japan-South Korea Identity Clash (Columbia University Press, 2015), a study of national identity in Japan and South Korea and its impact on U.S. alliances. He recently completed a three-year study with Pacific Forum director of programs Carl Baker on the future of U.S. alliances in Asia and is finalizing a study on the impact of the March 11, 2011, “triple catastrophe” on Japan.

Scott Snyder is senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), where he had served as an adjunct fellow from 2008 to 2011. Snyder’s program examines South Korea’s efforts to contribute on the international stage; its potential influence and contributions as a middle power in East Asia; and the peninsular, regional, and global implications of North Korean instability. Snyder is co-author of The Japan-South Korea Identity Clash: East Asian Security and the United States (Columbia University Press, 2015). He also the co-editor of North Korea in Transition: Politics, Economy, and Society (Rowman and Littlefield, October 2012), and the editor of Global Korea: South Korea’s Contributions to International Security (Council on Foreign Relations, October 2012) and The U.S.-South Korea Alliance: Meeting New Security Challenges (Lynne Rienner Publishers, March 2012). He served as the project director for CFR’s Independent Task Force on policy toward the Korean Peninsula. He currently writes for the blog, “Asia Unbound.”


Obama’s Pivot to Asia: 2014 and Beyond

4 June, 2014

obama-kl-L1-650x350

Leaving on a Jet Plane

It was late at night as Air Force One taxied to a halt at Narita Airport in Tokyo to kick off an extended Presidential visit to the region. Emerging from the aircraft, President Obama seemed determined to impress upon the region and Japan his personal commitment to the Asia Pacific. Deemed a ‘reassurance tour’, the President’s trip to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines was meant to ‘underscore a continued focus on the Asia Pacific region and commitment to his vision of rebalancing to the world’s largest emerging region,’ in the somewhat wooden phrasing of the White House.

Despite the President’s many statements to the contrary, over the next few days, it was clear to many analysts and journalists that the trip was meant to reassure US allies over growing Chinese assertiveness. Chinese media like the Xinhua railed against the trip and the wider policy of ‘containment’. The US “rebalancing strategy”, the Xinhua wrote hours after Obama’s plane touched down at Narita, “smacks of a carefully calculated scheme to cage the rapidly developing Asian giant by rallying US allies”.  The Global Times quoted the Chinese Ambassador to Washington as saying the “rebalancing to Asia policy may need some ‘rebalancing’ so that the United States can maintain a good relationship to every nation in the region,” a not-so-subtle warning.

Missing the Point

Unfortunately, Chinese pundits missed the greater point in their haste to see rebalancing as simple containment and only a small number of analysts reported on the US rebalancing as a response to Chinese behavior. One such pundit, Yang Hengjun, a former diplomat and Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council posed the question, ‘why are China’s neighbor’s so afraid of her’ in a regional forum, and though his efforts are laudable, he fails to connect Beijing’s problems with its policies, and instead blames the China’s media for hubristic statements that offend and scare neighbors. This neatly moves responsibility away from the military, CNOOC, and the Chinese leadership who have been promoting expansionism in the East and South China Sea maritime disputes. This attempt to forge a ‘CNN effect with Chinese characteristics’ rather reveals the constraints under which political analysts must be written in Beijing.

Japan and ROK

Despite the claims of the Global Times and others to the contrary, the trip was a success. And it was a success for one simple reason. It did what it said on the label. The president had gone to personify and symbolize US commitment to its allies in their various disputes with China and this was done. The United States’ reiterated its political and military support for the current status quo, and stated firmly that changes could only come peacefully and through diplomacy. Obama’s visit to Japan gave Prime Minister what he had long wanted, a presidential assurance that the Senkaku Islands (disputed with China) fell within the remit of the US-Japan security alliance. In return, Obama emphasized that Japan’s role as a regional force for stability would be enhanced by ‘collective self-defense’, a point that shows that the defence commitments of the alliance now cut both ways.

While some pundits have argued that Abe had done little more than take the President to a great sushi bar, giving little on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) front, this overlooks the primary reason for the trip and overstates the need for the TPP to be negotiated within its present time-table. Others – such as Kent Calder, a noted scholar on Japan – have argued that behind the diplomatic niceties between Obama and Abe, the chasm between Washington and Tokyo has become incredibly wide, particularly on history and nationalism issues. Whatever the case, it is clear that Abe and Obama shared a single agenda for this trip: to consolidate the alliance in the face of regional insecurity, and avoid open bickering. This they managed to do, though it is a small victory.

Obama’s pressure on Abe to deal with the ‘comfort women’ issue was rewarded in Seoul as President Park Guen-Hye presented a warm welcome to the President. Days before his visit, the reputable Asan Institute published a survey saying that 93% of South Koreans saw the alliance with the US in a positive light. High strung North Korean media attempts to brand the visit as one by a ‘pimp’ to his ‘crafty prostitute’,[6] only seemed to reaffirm Pyongyang’s isolation and inability to be taken seriously. Despite or perhaps because of warnings from Obama and Park, the awaited 4th nuclear test failed to materialize in the days up to and after the summit. Truly, the visit was marred by the Sewol ferry disaster, which was then boiling over into a cabinet reshuffle; events around the Russian annexation of the Crimea also took precedence. As expected, the latter event caused ripples of disquiet among US allies, concerned about Washington’s military commitments. If anything, however, Russian behavior only served to reinforce the need for the US alliance system.

Malaysia: Symbolically Substantive

Arguably, Obama’s trip to Malaysia was the smoothest as the US rebalance was openly welcomed by Malaysia’s leadership. In a press conference hosted by Prime Minister Najib, the two men agreed to elevate the bilateral relationship to a Comprehensive Partnership, agreeing on the interdiction principles of the PSI, and continuing to work on increased military interoperability. As with Japan, Malaysia has begun to edge closer to the US as Beijing’s claims have hardened in the maritime sphere. On the other hand, as with Japan, this has yet to bring home the TPP bacon and the President was again disappointed on the TPP front. However, his mood must have been lifted during the ‘town hall meeting’ with a number of Malaysia’s young people as he was greeted with screams of “We love you, Obama”, a reminder of his potent charisma and links to the region. In an East West paper, Elina Noor at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) argues that this was where the real power of Obama’s visit to Malaysia lay – his ability to connect with people. For those who remember the criticism endured by the Bush administration in the region, his ability to connect has been a welcome one.

Last but not least

The final visit of the reassurance tour was to the Philippines, perhaps the place most in need of reassuring. Long-suffering at the hands of Chinese encroachment in the South China Sea, Manila was relieved that Obama’s statement that “…nations and peoples have the right to live in security and peace, to have their sovereignty and territorial integrity respected”, was supported by a new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. The new defence pact gave US forces greater access to patrol Philippine waters, and though US forces have eschewed basing rights, it is likely that both Japan and the United States will work to increase coast guard and naval Philippine capabilities.

The real question of course, is how did Obama’s reassurance trip affect China? What has the balance does to deter China from seeking to forcefully change the status quo? The answer to that is unfortunately ‘not much’, as can be seen by Beijing’s establishment of an oil rig in Vietnamese waters in the days following Obama’s return to Washington. There is very little self-awareness amongst the Chinese leadership and that in itself is most worrying. Relying on ‘the century of humiliation’ narrative, China’s media continues to defend expansionism from US ‘bullying’. If rebalancing to Asia does not deter China, what policy should replace rebalancing? “How do we deal toughly with our banker”, as Hilary Clinton once asked. What policies should the US adapt after a future Sino-Vietnamese naval conflict. The US and other regional states have oft told themselves that China cannot be contained, and that is probably true, but it can be restrained. It is really a question of making Beijing pay an economic and political price for its aggressive actions towards US allies. What comes after ‘rebalancing’? What indeed.


Arguing Against a Peace Treaty on the Korean Peninsula

East Asia Forum

August 10th, 2013

Sixty years after the end of the Korean War, it has become an article of faith among some policy-makers that a peace treaty between the United States and North Korea would help ease tensions on the Peninsula.

Often, reflecting North Korean propaganda statements, these policy makers explicitly link US troop withdrawals on the Korean Peninsula to a treaty ending the war. Such narratives generally state that a peace regime would assuage North Korea’s security concerns and get the Six-Party Talks back on track. A recent article in China’s Global Timesmakes this very argument, and though convincing it ultimately rests on faulty assumptions.

First, a US peace treaty at this stage would implicitly act as a symbol of recognition that the United States accepts North Korea’s status as a nuclear power. While some may argue that that horse has already left this particular barn, the United States simply cannot explicitly or implicitly accept a nuclear North Korea. It would undermine the non-proliferation treaty even further than it has already been and could shatter South Korean/Japanese confidence in the US nuclear umbrella. While this may not disturb regional powers like Russia and China, it should. Such a loss in confidence would undermine the current balance in deterrence and could ultimately lead to Seoul and Tokyo seeking nuclear weapons for themselves. In April this year, while on a visit to Washington, M.J Chung, a South Korean politician, claimed that the South might have to develop its own deterrent. Finally, accepting the North’s nuclear status may well encourage North Korea’s provocation-in-exchange-for-aid strategy.

Second, the peace regime argument assumes that North Korea’s decision to develop nuclear weapons derives purely from ‘insecurity’. Dig deeper, and there is the further assumption that North Korea’s insecurity derives from external forces — the result of pressure from the combined forces of the United States and South Korea. While it is true that North Korea’s decayed military forces are outmatched by the forces arrayed south of the Demilitarized Zone, the simple fact is that the North already has a weapon of deterrence: artillery. Seoul’s proximity to North Korean artillery has always meant that the North could obliterate the city within five minutes, a danger that has stayed the hand of US–ROK forces many a time during previous periods of hostility. Furthermore, the US has offered a number of written and spoken guarantees – long demanded by the North – as a part of its efforts in the Six Party Talks process, including seven by President Obama since 2009.

But are external factors the only reason for Northern insecurity? One could argue that all totalitarian states are inherently unstable and suffer from massive internal insecurity. After all, they require large amounts of capital for internal security forces, propaganda and ideological social training. Some argue that the percentage of secret police and their informers to population is larger than the Stasi to population in East Germany during the height of the Cold War.  Totalitarian regimes are expensive to run, after all. In other words, North Korea’s insecurity is also self-created and stems from the regime type of the country as much as it does the regional geopolitical situation. The case of Vietnam shows that other choices are possible for the North: Hanoi has successfully managed to adopt economic reforms, while forging a new relationship with the United States, all while remaining a nominally communist-run state.

If Pyongyang’s insecurity is derived from the unaffordability of its system, why does it not enact economic reforms to ease the lives of its citizens and pay off the bureaucracy? While it has tried small incremental reforms over the years, and there are signs of a small middle class in Pyongyang, it has always rolled these back because of the fear that reforms would create a strong entrenched merchant class, which would call for political rights. Economic opening would lead to political opening, and the general population would become aware of the economic and political success of South Korea, surely a regime-killer in any scenario. Despite proclamations of systematic superiority, North Koreans would learn that their fellow Koreans in the South live a life which is nearly 18 times wealthier. This fear  of the effects of economic reform, explain the 2009 currency reform, which destroyed the savings of the   emerging merchant class in the country. Pyongyang is systematically unable to fully reform its economy in the way that Beijing and Hanoi have managed. Thus, North Korea is impelled to rely on external support to prop itself up.

While North Korea’s rulers realise that they cannot accept economic reform, they also know that the economy is in critical condition. Without a strong economy, internal security and the military become weaker and private markets sap the regime of its legitimacy as the sole provider of resources to the population. Despite the development of special economic zones with China, these have had limited success. Indeed, the relationship between the two is increasingly characterised by extractive policies by Beijing on the North’s resource base. Naturally, Pyongyang also realises this, and knows that without nuclear weapons it has a strong chance of simply becoming a Chinese resource–client state.

It must be clear to the ‘Dear Successor’: Nuclear weapons are more than just providing security from ‘foreign forces’ for the North. They also provide the only way for the North to squeeze aid from China, the United States and its allies while avoiding economic reform. The most recent nuclear test and bellicose rhetoric show that Pyongyang is becoming increasingly desperate for that aid. The silence from Washington must be puzzling. But with its hand slapped away, the Obama administration has played it cool, deciding it would ‘not buy the same horse twice’. Chinese patience with Pyongyang now also appears to be slipping. On a visit to the North to mark the 60th anniversary of the Armistice, Chinese Vice-President Li stressed regional stability in his remarks to Kim Jong-un. Financial figures published before his visit underscored China’s testiness: PRC–DPRK trade has plummeted 13.6 per cent between June and January.

A Peace Treaty sounds like the right thing to do. It sounds like the sane and humane thing to do. However, unless a peace treaty were explicitly tied to denuclearisation, it would only act as a means of legitimising the regime’s nuclear status. It would also enable the North to continue pressuring the region to bankroll what is the world’s least efficient form of government. And it would continue the suffering of a great many North Koreans.

Surely, that’s a price too high to pay?


A Cold War Response to North Korea’s Latest Challenge

CNN, 13 Feb, 2013

As the dust settles from a third – more effective and miniaturized – North Korean nuclear test, the question rings out: what do they want? What are the intentions of Kim Jung-un, the newest, and youngest version of the Dear Leader?

The timing is of course, everything. Setting the test for the day of President Obama’s State of the Union is not random luck. It puts pressure exactly where pressure is wanted: in Washington. As the Obama Whitehouse doubtless received the news in the early hours of the morning, they will have been scrambling to find out what ‘we do we know?’ They will also have been fending off calls from the Post, the New York Times, countless news agencies, along with more than a few concerned Senators and Congressmen. The message from the latter will no doubt have sounded something like the following, ‘what are you doing about this?’ The call will be to act, but how, what, and where? Doubtless the Obama team will be as stumped as the rest of the agitated diplomats rushing around the United Nations Security Council.

Hemmings says U.S. should work overtime to bring impartial news to N. Koreans. (Image: Border town of Sinuiju on Feb. 13)Of course, the Chinese diplomats in the UNSC will be concerned, but unlike their Japanese, South Korean, and American colleagues, they’ll probably remain seated. They’ll have firm orders from Beijing to keeping emotions from boiling over. They may even water the sanctions down. As if they needed to. Any sanctions imposed, would doubtless lose meaning, as the mornings trains began their daily shipment of goods and fuel across the DPRK/PRC border. Xi Jingping, China’s new leader, may want a ‘new relationship’ with the United States, but that doesn’t mean that Washington’s strategic concerns are China’s.

And if we didn’t already know what Pyongyang wants, the Obama team will no doubt call on DPRK-watchers from the CIA, the State Department, and the DOD, all of whom will say what they’ve been saying for years. North Korea wants (in order of importance): (1) regime survival (2) acceptance as a nuclear power by the US (3) a peace treaty between the US and North, (4) trade and economic growth on their terms, and hey, if we can (5) Korean unification under Pyongyang’s benign rule. Of course, Obama’s team will have been told about the ‘provocation cycle’, that unfortunate fact that the US and its allies will sit down to the table with North Korea within six months of any provocation. Why will they do it? Because of the heat generated within Washington, the demands to ‘do something’, and to allay regional fears that Uncle Sam’s security guarantees are fraying.

So what can the Obama team do, if sanctions are ineffective and if a military response is out of question? Well, they can learn the art of pressure from their opponents in this. But, of course, the question is what makes Pyongyang squirm? It clearly isn’t sanctions on luxury goods, as these have failed to deter endless missile tests. The answer to that riddle lies in the recent histories of the Cold War, in which we learnt the impact of free information on Soviet citizens behind the Iron Curtain.  Information is the greatest weapon at the disposal of the Obama team and they should apply it liberally. The North Korean people are their greatest ally, and should be messaged accordingly. According to a 2011 Intermedia report on North Korean susceptibility to outside media, radio and DVDs are the most common way for normal North Koreans to hear media from the outside world.  The Obama team should not look to its diplomats in New York for salvation, but rather to Langley, and to USFK’s best and brightest.

Each time Pyongyang ratchets up the pressure, Washington should reply in kind by smuggling in 150,000 DVDs about the free world outside North Korea’s humble borders. Radio stations should work overtime to bring impartial news about the world to the hapless citizens, who still live in the Cold War, while the rest of us move on. Let’s not let the pressure be one-way. American newspapers and senators may tremble about a North Korean nuclear-tipped bomb, but certainly young Kim must tremble too at the prospect of his citizens awash in the streets, their eyes open to the nature of their lot.

Jeremy S. Maxie

Energy & Political Risk Consultant

In Pace

Peace in Korea and beyond

southseaconversations 讨论南海

China comments on the South (China) Sea disputes

Christopher Phillips

Academic, Writer, Commentator

tokyocooney

(does america)

Philosophical Politics

political philosophy of current events

Minh Thi's blog

pieces of me

North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Quartz

Quartz is a digitally native news outlet for the new global economy.

TIME

Current & Breaking News | National & World Updates

Moscow-on-Thames

Sam Greene - London & Moscow

kirstyevidence

Musings on research, international development and other stuff

The Rights Angle

Francesca Pizzutelli's blog on human rights and human beings

Bayard & Holmes

If you're in a fair fight, you're using poor tactics

Grand Blog Tarkin

A roundtable of strategists from across all space and time.

Sky Dancing

a place to discuss real issues

Oscar Relentos

Welcome to my catharsis

mkseparatistreport

A Blog Focused on Bringing Policy and Chinese language Translations Relating to Separatists and Terrorism

playwithlifeorg

4 out of 5 dentists recommend this WordPress.com site

HarsH ReaLiTy

A Good Blog is Hard to Find

Variety as Life Spice

Words by a post-90s in Hong Kong

kurtbrindley.wordpress.com/

KURTBRINDLEY★COM

Foreign Policy

the Global Magazine of News and Ideas

Top 10 of Anything and Everything!!!

Animals, Gift Ideas, Travel, Books, Recycling Ideas and Many, Many More

Eleanor Robinson-Yamaguchi

Specialist in Japanese History and Culture

ABDALLAH ATTALLAH

Futurist | Disruptor | Coach | Reformer

Anglo-Japan Alliance

A new type of alliance

Small House Bliss

Small house designs with big impact

Europe Asia Security Forum

European perspectives on Asian security, and vice-versa

Shashank Joshi

Royal United Services Institute | Harvard University

secretaryclinton.wordpress.com/

A PRIVATE BLOG DEVOTED TO FOREIGN POLICY & THE SECRETARY OF STATE

Adventures in (Post) Gradland

Thoughts on life after the PhD

springdaycomedy

Just another WordPress.com site

James Strong

Junior academic working on British foreign policy

Justice in Conflict

On the challenges of pursuing justice

Politics: Middle East

an analysis of the contemporary middle east

Sino-NK

Sino-NK is a research website for Sinologists and Koreanists.

Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

China Daily Mail

News and Opinions From Inside China