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North Korea

Tag Archives | North Korea

Washington’s Asia Pivot

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Over the next four years the U.S. will face a number of foreign policy problems, most of them regional, some of them global. Washington’s Asia pivot will prove critical to how America is able to maneuvers this region.

Japanese destroyer Kurama leads destroyer Hyuga as a Japanese naval flag flutters during a naval fleet review at Sagami Bay, off Yokosuka, south of Tokyo. Yuriko Nakao/Reuters

In March 1990, Time Magazine titled an article “Ripples in The American Lake.” It was not about small waves in that body of water just north of Fort Lewis, Washington. It was talking about the Pacific Ocean, the largest on the planet, embracing over half of humanity and the three largest economies in the world. Time did not invent the term—it is generally attributed to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, U.S. Pacific commander during WW II—but its casual use by the publication was a reflection of more than 100 years of American policy in this immense area.

The Asia-Pacific region has hosted four American conflicts—the Spanish American War, the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War—and is today the focus of a “strategic pivot,” although that is a bit of a misnomer, by the Obama administration. The Pacific basin has long been the U.S.’s number one trade partner, and Washington deploys more than 320,000 military personnel in the region, including 60 percent of its navy. The American flag flies over bases in Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, the Marshall Islands, Guam and Wake.

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The Merkel Doctrine: Exporting Arms to Questionable Regimes

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“It’s generally not enough to send other countries and organizations words of encouragement. We must also provide the necessary means to those nations that are prepared to get involved. I’ll say it clearly: This includes arms exports.” – Angela Merkel

President Barack Obama with Angela Merkel in Washington. Denzel/Bundesregierung

The German armaments industry has a good reputation for doing what it does best – exporting high grade and stylistic means of killing well. But during the Merkel years, a trend has emerged in what has come to be called the Merkel Doctrine. Der Spiegel took note of this in July last year. The case in question involved Saudi Arabia, and the relevant sale of 270 modern Leopard (Model 2A7) tanks. No reasons were given for the policy shift, and none have been forthcoming.

“This would be the first time Germany supplied heavy arms to an Arab government that has declared its intentions to fight its opponents ‘with an iron fist’, a country that deployed tanks against demonstrators in a neighbouring country and ranks 160th on the Economist’s Democracy Index, just a few spots above North Korea, which holds the very bottom spot,” Holger Stark writes in Der Spiegel.

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Rockets and Pyongyang

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There is a lot of noise at the moment on the Korean Peninsula. One might argue that there always is, but on this occasion, interest is centered on whether the DPRK will test a new disguised ballistic missile, ostensibly to launch a satellite into space sometime this month.

North Korea’s Unha-3 rocket pictured here on its launchpad. Source: ABC News

Officially, the test has been pushed back to December 29th. South Korean sources claim that the delay was occasioned by a faulty component in the Unha-3 rocket. What a busy month this is proving to be. The first anniversary of the death of Kim Jong Il, to be marked on December 17th; the South Korean presidential elections, slated for December 19th; and the Japanese elections on December 16th. Add to this the arrival of China’s new leader Xi Jinping, and we have a considerable fruit salad of variables.

Washington and its allies insist that the launch will violate UN resolutions connected with Pyongyang’s nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009. The reason is not the interest in the satellite, but fears that putting such a rocket into space successfully suggests that the North Korean regime will be able to send the rocket to more terrestrial targets. The Japanese government, precisely on this point, has threatened action against the rocket, should it be fired and veer its way through Japanese airspace. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, in early December, spoke of issuing orders on the part of his defence minister “to prepare for the interception and defence against ballistic missiles.”

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Tensions Mount over the Liancourt Rocks

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South Korea and Japan have never been the most amicable neighbors. Ill-feelings resulting from Japan’s treatment of Korean’s during the Second World War still haunts many South Koreans.

The Senkakus Islands. Source: Fox News

A fresh diplomatic row between South Korea and Japan over The Liancourt Rocks, that dates back several centuries, may permanently damaged relations between these two Asian powers. South Korea refers to the islets as “Dokdo” while Japan refers to them as “Takeshima”. With the surprise visit of South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak to the group of islets has forced a publicly annoyed Japan to recall its ambassador in protest. The islets are spread over a relatively small area consisting of two main islets with dozens of smaller rocks that aren’t suitable for any human settlments and are surrounded by rich fishing grounds with large-scale deposits of natural gas. In total the land area for the islets is roughly 46.32 acres. Although South Korea has maintained its claim over the islets since 1954, Japan has raised international attention to the dispute by protesting South Korean claims over the islets.

Further, according to The Boston Globe, “Although the dispute is centuries old, it has heated up recently due to several incidents” which included, “a flip-flop last year by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names where they briefly labeled the rocks as having ‘Undesignated Sovereignty’ (undone by executive order within days), and the public observations in Japan of ‘Takeshima Day’ on February 22nd.”

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How to Enhance Obama’s Limited Progress on Arms Control

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“So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” – President Barack Obama, April 5, 2009, Prague, Czech Republic

President Barack Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia in Arlington, Va., June 24, 2010. Pete Souza/White House

Upon assuming office, President Obama outlined his vision of a world free from nuclear weapons, calling the existing arsenals of nuclear weapons a dangerous legacy of the Cold War. Obama’s call for a nuclear weapons free world - what is also known as “Global Zero” - will be impossible to achieve in a world where nuclear proliferation is rampant, and where the benefits of Mutually Assured Destruction have been very effective in keeping the peace between nuclear armed states.

So, how far has Obama come towards achieving this goal during his first term in office? A notable success towards this goal was the signing in 2010 of the New START treaty, which binds Russia and the U.S. to a limit of 1,550 warheads each. Both nations also agreed to limit the number of launchers available to be used for these weapons. While this was clearly a step in the right direction, by itself, it is only enough to claim to have embarked on the path of a nuclear weapons free world, and it was achieved with some degree of difficulty between the two nations.

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Chinese Domestic Policy and Sino-North Korean Relations

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A key element in the debate over the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (North Korea or DPRK) nuclear weapons program that has evaded attention is the complex relationship between Chinese foreign and domestic policy.

Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge spanning the Yalu River. Source: xanawu

A historical trend exists in the Communist Chinese Party (CCP) that foreign policy decisions are made in regards to pursuing domestic objectives. The CCP’s purging of Bo Xilai, Party Chief of Chongqing province and potential Politburo Standing Committee member, happens to coincide with North Korea’s renewed testing of a ballistic missile after United States officials claimed that a breakthrough moment had occurred in negotiations. The latter issue received more media and international attention than the first, especially when China announced that they were going to take a harder stance on the Pyongyang regime. The CCP has always regarded foreign policy as a secondary issue or — more simply — a tool to manipulate in pursuing domestic policy. The purging of such a high-profile official reveals division among the top leadership of the Party, which in Beijing’s view threatens domestic stability.

The most important aim of the Communist Chinese Party is to uphold Chinese nationalism, which means that any threat to Party leadership is a threat to China. Therefore, Beijing’s manipulation of foreign policy towards North Korea’s weapons program allows the Communist Chinese Party to pursue its most important national interest by diverting attention away from domestic upheavals. Historically, the purging of high-ranking Party officials has not significantly threatened China’s domestic stability. However, its rapid economic growth over the past three decades has placed a more important emphasis on domestic stability.

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A New Great Game in Asia-Pacific

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India tested its first inter-continental ballistic missile, named Agni-V, this month and joined the select group of nations possessing both nuclear weapons and a delivery system capable of hitting targets across continents. Only a few days before, nuclear capable North Korea had test fired a rocket, supposedly to place a satellite in the orbit, but it failed.

A Chinese soldier gestures as he stands near an Indian soldier on the ancient Nathu La border crossing between India and China. Diptendu Dutta/AFP/Getty

Within days, India’s long-time adversary, Pakistan, tested a more advanced version of its Shaheen-1 missile. Named Shaheen-1A, it is capable of hitting targets between 2000 and 3000 miles––a substantially upgraded intermediate-range ballistic missile. Before the latest launch, Pakistan’s longest-range missile, Shaheen II, was thought to have a range of less than 1500 miles.

The North Korean attempt brought strong condemnation from the United States and its allies in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. The Obama administration announced a ban on food aid to Communist North Korea, an ally of China. Pyongyang immediately said that it was no longer bound by the agreement to refrain from its nuclear program. The expectation in Washington is that North Korea will now conduct another rocket or even a nuclear test, its third since October 2006.

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The U.S. Presidential Candidates on Cybersecurity

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In January 2012, the U.S. Department of Defense released its new strategic guidance outlining plans for a “leaner” U.S. military. The plans envision budget reductions of $487 billion over 10 years.

Pictured: President Obama, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich

Cybersecurity, however, continues to rise as a priority: the strategy calls for increased investment in cyber capabilities. How to adapt the U.S. military to a technology-driven future will be an important question for any U.S. president. Below, a look at what the leading candidates in the 2012 election—President Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich—are saying about cybersecurity and how they are planning to address what they see as growing cyber threats.

Obama has identified cybersecurity as one of the most serious economic and national security challenges facing the United States. Shortly after taking office, he directed a 60-day “clean-slate” review to assess U.S. policies and structures for cybersecurity, resulting in a 2009 report titled “Cyberspace Policy Review.” To implement the recommendations in this report, Obama appointed Howard A. Schmidt to serve as White House Cybersecurity Coordinator. The strategy is twofold: first, it aims to improve the country’s resilience when confronted with cyber incidents; second, it seeks to reduce the cyber threat.

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Disengagement the Best Engagement for North Korea

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It took a record one month for U.S.-North Korean talks over a food for nuclear freeze swap to fall into the all too common war of words where Pyongyang threatens with war against the U.S. and South Korea. And while admittedly this game of hot and cold isn’t anything new, what’s different this time is the record speed in which it happened.

President Barack Obama with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak at the White House. Pete Souza/White House

On Wednesday, February 9th, U.S. officials announced a breakthrough in talks with the DPRK. In exchange for food aid, North Korea would freeze its Yongbyong nuclear facility and all missile tests. Fast-forward nearly forty days later, as the U.S. and its allies head to Seoul for the 2012 Nuclear Summit, Pyongyang is calling any criticism of its nuclear weapons program as an act of war. Furthermore, the regime scheduled an April satellite test, widely seen as a cover for a long-range missile test, a clear violation of the food aid agreement.

While the former North Korean strongman, Kim Jong-il, would have stringed the international community along for a few months or even a year, this sudden about face is uncharacteristic of Pyongyang. There wasn’t enough time to extract aid, such as oil shipments in 2002, or political concessions, such as the removal of the regime from the list of state sponsors of terrorism in 2008. There was no direct benefit to the regime aside from reassurance that the U.S. was, as it has always been, willing to negotiate with the DPRK.

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Seoul’s “New” Political Parties

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With the April National Assembly elections just a few months off, the two main South Korean political parties have undergone major face-lifts, or at least they’ve been trying to and for good reason.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House. Pete Souza/White House

Just this past week, the ruling conservative Grand National Party (GNP), under the chairmanship of one of South Korea’s most influential female politician, Park Geun-hye, reemerged as the Saenuri Party (meaning the “New World” Party). The new Saenuri Party brand comes after months of very public internal fighting and a string of embarrassing leadership meltdowns for the ruling conservative party. Late last year, the GNP stood by helplessly as members of the party’s five-person Supreme Council resigned one by one. The saga reached its climax in December when then-Chairman, Hong Joon-pyo, weighed down by allegations of incompetence and corruption from inside and outside his party, announced he would be stepping down from his post.

In addition to the conservative party’s hemorrhaging leadership, a growing number of younger members of the GNP, disillusioned by party elders, made public calls for comprehensive internal reform. Representative Hong Jung-wook, a leading member of 21-person freshman class group, called Minbon 21, announced he would not be seeking reelection, stating: “The past four years has been a series of disappointments and frustration for me. I could neither bridge the gap between the national vision and people’s vision nor shed off people’s cynicism and distrust toward politics.” And in addition to inter-party gridlock, the GNP suffered from a number of election interfering and bribery scandals. One particular embarrassment to the GNP involved Representative Lee Song-deuk, the brother of the current President, whose aide was charged with accepting $619,000 in bribes. Consequently, Representative Lee announced that he would not be running for reelection.

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Cyber War: Hype or Reality?

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During his confirmation hearings this past June, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned the Senate, “The next Pearl Harbor we confront could very well be a cyber attack that cripples our grid, our security systems, our financial systems, our governmental systems.”

Leon E. Panetta appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee during confirmation hearings on June 9, 2011

It was powerful imagery: a mighty fleet reduced to smoking ruin, an expansionist Asian power at the nation’s doorstep. But is “cyber war” really a threat? Can cyber war actually “cripple” the U.S., and who might these computer terrorists be? Or is the language just sturm und drang spun up by a coalition of major arms manufacturers, the Pentagon, and Internet security firms, allied with China bashers aimed at launching a new Cold War in Asia?

The language is sobering. Former White House Security Aide Richard Clarke, author of Cyberwar, conjures up an apocalyptic future of paralyzed U.S. cities, subways crashing, planes “literally falling out of the sky,” and thousands dead. Retired Admiral and Bush administration National Intelligence Director, Mike McConnell grimly warns “The United States is fighting a cyber war today and we are losing.”

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North Korea’s Show of Stability

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There’s been much talk about how North Korea has arrived at a turning point in its history. However, Pyongyang’s behavior before and after the official announcement of the death of its “Beloved Leader,” Kim Jong-Il, indicates that change may not come as quickly as many may hope.

Military parade in Pyongyang, North Korea. Source: NOS Nieuws

If there’s one thing Pyongyang has managed to handle well in the aftermath of the death of its nation’s strongman is keeping a secret. Kim Jong-Il passed away on Saturday December 17th and for nearly two days until the official announcement on December 19th, the North Korean military and political elite kept a secret for what could be a catalyst for monumental changes within North Korea and for the entire East Asia region.

Externally, the death of North Korea’s strongman jolted Asia’s stock markets while Japanese and South Korean political and military leaders assembled in emergency national security meetings to assess possible threats and future actions. However for a country, whose national and political center revolved around a single individual, Pyongyang has remained relatively tight lipped and stable. The expected procedures after the death of the leader were quickly underway just as they had been after the 1994 death of Kim Il-sung. A state funeral and public displays of mourning have been arranged. The DPRK media has all but affirmed the succession of Kim Jong-Il’s son, Kim Jong-Un, as the next leader of the country.

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What Next for North Korea?

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It comes as no surprise that Kim Jong-Il died at a relatively young age of a heart attack over the weekend.

Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il. Source: Kremlin Press Office

Having suffered from ill health for a number of years (cancer and, more recently, a stroke), he was well known for his pleasurable excesses, and his father, Kim Il-Sung, also died of a heart attack. Kim Jong-Il knew his end was near, which prompted him to catapult his youngest son — Kim Jong-Un — believed to be just 28 years old, as his named successor. Assuming that a behind-the-scenes battle for succession does not occur, Kim Jong-Un should become the leader of the world’s most secretive and dangerous nuclear state.

It should be remembered that even when Kim Jong-Il assumed power as the named successor to his father in 1994, with all his grooming, it took him three years to fully consolidate his power. Like many other countries, the North Korean political landscape is fraught with competing interests between the elite and military. Whether young Mr. Kim has the skill to ultimately become the leader of North Korea must of course be determined. It has previously been reported that Kim Jong-Un will be mentored by his uncle, Chang Sung-Taek, until he is deemed experienced enough to take the reins of power himself.

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What Will Become of the Next North Korea?

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There are parts of the planet that are hopelessly poor.

Attendant in Pyongyang, North Korea. Photo: Ethan Wilkes

North Korea should not be one of them. Sitting at the crossroads of one of the most economically dynamic regions of the world, the dismal state of decay that this country currently finds itself is not a product of poor geography, but of decades of maligned politics and policies.

When stepping off the Tupolev Tu-154 and onto the tarmac at Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang, the impression is an immediate and profound “it doesn’t have to be this way.”

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Kim Jong-Il Dead, Now What?

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Following the news that Kim Jong-Il has died at the age of 69 of a heart attack while traveling by train, international reaction from American and European policymakers and government officials has ranged from reserved calm to almost gleefulness.

One of the many military parades in Pyongyang, North Korea. babeltravel/Flickr

William Hague, Britain’s foreign secretary, said, “This could be a turning point for North Korea. We hope that their new leadership will recognise that engagement with the international community offers the best prospect of improving the lives of ordinary North Korean people.” Rep. Don Manzullo, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia & the Pacific, remarked, “Kim Jong-Il was the epitome of evil, a dictator of the worst kind who ruled his country with an iron fist and dished out constant pain and misery to his people.” The White House issued a statement suggesting that the United States is “closely monitoring reports,” and the U.S. is “in close touch with our allies in South Korea and Japan.”

Underlying any anxiety going through world capitals is concern that Kim Jong-Il’s death could lead to further instability, as Kim Jong-Un, Kim Jong-Il’s successor attempts to assert his bona fides in the wake of his father’s death. “We remain committed to stability on the Korean peninsula, and to the freedom and security of our allies,” the White House statement continued. Some North Korean analysts have suggested that the shelling of Yeonpyeong island in November of last year by the North Korean military and the sinking of the South Korean warship, the Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors was likely the result of Kim Jong-Un’s attempts to prove his mettle in the eyes of the North Korean military.

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