North Korean Nuclear Program and the Continuing Korean War

7 12 2017

Nuclear Asia ANU CAP 2017My piece ‘North Korean Nuclear Program and the Continuing Korean War’ is included in the new compendium of articles, Nuclear Asia” (ANU CAP 2017)

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Russian and Chinese Stance on North Korea is Consistent with the Old Days Comradeship

7 12 2017

tbs eFMMy interview with Alex Jensen (tbs eFM Radio 101.3 MHz, Seoul) about the Russian and Chinese stance on North Korea.





Have We Underestimated Kim Jong Un?

20 10 2017

Sputnik International - John Harrison(Sputnik International, Level Talk with John Harrison 13.10.2017) Dr. Leonid Petrov, a visiting Fellow in the College of Asia and the Pacific, at The Australian National University in Canberra joins the program and supplies a very different narrative from that of the mainstream media.

Dr. Petrov starts the program by stating that at the present time there seem to be no negotiations taking place. “Even when US Secretary of State Tillerson tried to enter into discussions with Jong Un, President Trump dismissed such attempts as being a waste of time. Attempts at dialogue finished in 2008 when the ‘6 Party Talks’ ended… I never thought that format was going to be a success because there were simply too many parties to come to a sensible agreement.”

The Obama administration did not wish to negotiate with N. Korea, Dr. Petrov says. “Obama refused to negotiate, preferring to wait until N. Korea falls to bits. There was nevertheless an attempt to negotiate, which led to an agreement, in February 2012 between Washington and Pyongyang. They basically agreed to improve bilateral relations, not only in terms of politician and diplomatic channels, but also in sports, academic, and humanitarian channels. But when N. Korea launched a rocket to celebrate the anniversary of Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong Un’s late grandfather, this deal was torpedoed as in firing this missile, N. Korea violated a UN agreement….If the Americans had been more sensitive to the fact that this happened during the first year in power of Kim Jong Un, the present situation would be very different.”

The underlying narrative that the West holds that Kim Jong Un is some kind of psychotic dictator is discussed. As Dr. Petrov points out that there is a real problem, as nobody wants to understand Kim Jong Un’s points of view: “Nobody talks to Kim Jong Un. China doesn’t like him. He was invited to Moscow for the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany. Kim Jong Un agreed initially but then refused after Obama and Merkel indicated that they would visit….Can you imagine the main Korean newspaper showing the Greatest of All Leaders standing next to other Heads of States. He has to constantly bolster his position through launches of ballistic missiles of different ranges. His attitude towards foreigners is that they should come to Pyongyang and kowtow and negotiate. But they refuse to do so.”

Understanding Kim Jong Un’s position, means understanding the legacy of colonialism in the region. Dr. Petrov explains: “N. Korea itself is a remnant of Cold War confrontation, and it is not just North and South Korea which is divided, but the whole of the region. There are no peace treaties, there are territorial disputes about international borders; some countries refuse to recognize each other, even though they have been represented in the UN for the last half century. What happened between North and South Korea is often recognized as a continuing war which started even before N. Korea attacked the South in 1950. Korea did not exist for 35 or 36 years when it was under Japanese colonial rule at the beginning of the 20th century; Japan was not only a problem for the Koreans but for the Chinese as well and there was an intention to unify [by Japan] the region against westerners. Now what North Koreas are doing is an attempt to replicate the Japanese Imperial Culture, when Japan was projecting itself as the leading force against western imperialism in the region. N. Korea is projecting itself as the bulwark of freedom and democracy against [what it perceives] western corrupt militaristic intentions to rule the world. We see that even Marxism-Leninism didn’t survive in N. Korea and was replaced by the so called ‘Juche’ self-reliance ideology which basically insists that N. Korea give up any attempt to integrate into the world economic system. N. Korea survived the collapse of the communist bloc, and did not suffer from the global, financial or Asian financial crises.”

As regards how the problem should be solved, Dr. Petrov suggests that we, the West should stop deceiving itself, and see that a country which has developed a nuclear weapon cannot undo its scientific progress. “Even if N. Korea were to dismantle its weapons it would be impossible to verify that N. Korea doesn’t have hidden away in the mountains somewhere a device or two, or a blueprint of a bomb with a couple of scientists who could recreate it within weeks. The only solution to this is what N. Korea is suggesting — a nuclear free world. This of course is impossible, but what the N. Korean leadership is suggesting is a comprehensive ban on nuclear warhead testing….They learnt the lesson of Libya; they understand that only with strong military deterrence they can ensure the survival of their regime. This is the most important thing for Kim Jong Un and his family and the 10,000 families around him who are loyal and supportive of the regime.”

I believe Kim Jong Un is a gift to President Trump, every time he launches something, people get distracted from what is going on in Washington DC….N. Korea and the US are locked into inter-dependence. The US needs a paper tiger. N. Korea is a small country which has nuclear weapons which cannot yet be mounted on rockets, but which definitely pose a threat to S. Korea, and other allies of the US, including Australia, who now feel the need to buy more sophisticated weapons to protect themselves against N. Korea, and the US is very willing to offer these very expensive and sophisticated anti-missile systems. ”

We appear to have underestimated Kim Jong Sun, probably we have never really tried. “The leaders of the countries that surround N. Korea all need Kim Jong Un for one reason or another; Kim Jong Un is keeping the show going. The region is paranoid, the region is really insecure, the region constantly lives in fear of war, and everyone understands that if there is a major shift in the balance of threat in N. Korea, it would open the gates to a tsunami of changes which may lead to a major shift in the balance of power, not only on the Korean peninsula but between China and Russia and the United States, which might start competing for geopolitical influence in the region.”

Listen to the full interview here…





North Korea: Can South Korea’s Decapitation Unit take out Kim Jong-un?

4 10 2017

Silmido(ABC Radio’s Tell Me Straight’s Yasmin Parry and Will Ockenden, 30 Septemebr 2017) Imagine a squad of thousands of military soldiers flying helicopters and planes through the night towards North Korea with one job — to assassinate the leader, Kim Jong-un.

It sounds like the plot of a film, or a Twitter threat from US President Donald Trump, but it’s a legitimate South Korean defence strategy.

This month, the South Korean Defence Minister, Song Young-moo, announced a special forces squad, called the Decapitation Unit, would be reformed by the end of the year.

Reformed? Yep, this is the second iteration of a Kill Kim assassination squad.

A motley band of misfits were trained back in the 1970s to take out Mr Kim’s grandfather, but why try again when last time everything went horrifically wrong?

Miscreant hit squad

In 1971, the first Decapitation Unit was formed with the intention of marching north to slit the throat of Kim Il-sung, the then North Korean leader.

Like the plot of the Suicide Squad comic book series, the group was made up of former criminals and thugs plucked from the streets of Seoul.

The government gave them an irresistible offer — the promise of a new life and a clean slate if they completed their mission.

According to Leonid Petrov, a Korea expert from the Australian National University, the special unit was isolated for years on an island called Silmido.

The squad of misfits trained in gruelling conditions, some dying along the way.

But when the time grew close for them to complete their task, the South Korean government called the whole thing off.

“The whole mission was aborted because, well, they’re not professionals,” Dr Petrov said.

“They were still criminals, and they had no idea what’s going on in North Korea so they were doomed to failure.”

The government realised there was no way men from the South could infiltrate the North undetected.

“They already speak completely different dialects, they don’t understand each other, they don’t travel, they don’t visit each other,” Dr Petrov said.

“At that time the satellites wouldn’t provide them with maps and Google Earth didn’t exist at that time.

“They would immediately be identified, arrested, and potentially used in the counter-propaganda war against South Korea.”

Weapons who knew too much

But in their years of training, the men had become trained assassins, and the South Korean rulers feared they would turn rogue.

Dr Petrov said the South Korean guards on the island began slaughtering the agents one after another.

“They were shot and eliminated because they knew too much,” Dr Petrov said.

But when the South Korean guerrillas realised their fate, they rebelled.

The men turned on their guards and sailed a boat back to mainland South Korea.

They landed on the peninsula, hijacked a bus and drove towards the capital, but at one of the road blocks they were annihilated.

For many years, South Koreans knew nothing of the assassination plans and the ensuing chaos, which was severely embarrassing for the then South Korean dictatorship.

It was not until South Korea’s democratisation in the 1990s, and the release of the 2003 film Silmido, that people become widely aware of the story.

“Nobody knew that the South Koreans were doing exactly the same thing that North Koreans would do,” Dr Petrov said.

“But they’re Koreans — they’re brothers and sisters — they live in the constant fear of the resumption of the hostilities and it’s a slow motion civil war.”

Getting the gang back together

Despite everything that went wrong with the Decapitation Unit in the 1970s, the South Korean Government now plans to recreate it.

The South Korean Defence Minister said 2,000 to 4,000 soldiers would be assembled by year’s end and the military was already “retooling” helicopters and transport planes to penetrate North Korean airspace at night.

It sounds like a daring plan, but Dr Petrov said it was nothing but propaganda.

“Everyone in South Korea understands that the South Koreans cannot do much or anything successful in terms of deposing or dethroning the regime of Kim Jong-un, simply because they don’t know how it works. It’s a black box,” he said.

“When South Korean parliamentarians were asked why on Earth they decided to come up with this plan, which didn’t work before, they simply said it was the intention to scare the North Korean regime, because North Koreans have nuclear weapons that South Koreans don’t.”

One of the ways South Korea can respond is with a propaganda campaign, setting up a Decapitation Unit so the North Korean leadership would have to live in constant fear.

Assassination doomed to fail

According to Dr Petrov, there are numerous reasons a hit on Mr Kim by the South Koreans would be impossible.

“It is a fantasy, it’s science fiction. Mission impossible,” he said.

He said the first problem was very few people knew where the North Korean leader was at any given moment.

“Kim Jong-un lives like his father and his grandfather — underground in numerous palaces which are linked by underground tunnel highways.

“He periodically pops up on launching pads to oversee the rockets, have a photo session, meet with peasants and workers and then disappear again,” Dr Petrov said.

Second, the North Korean regime is a “perfect dictatorship”, with many layers of defence.

“The system in North Korea is designed to protect the leadership in such a way that even their own security apparatus people don’t know where the leader is,” Dr Petrov said.

“When they drive the car with high-ranking leaders, there’s a system of block posts that stop the car and change the driver, so that every driver doesn’t know where the journey is going to stop.”

The third reason is the South Korean army is unprepared to take on such a task.

“The South Korean army counts 675,000 people, of which most are conscripts, which means they’re mama’s boys, university students who are not prepared to sacrifice their life for some ideological conflict which has been going on in Korea for decades,” Dr Petrov said.

Special units do exist and are well trained, but it is unlikely they would be effective on enemy territory given they know little about the security infrastructure underground, he said.

“Maybe a dozen of highly trained spies can cross the border, can infiltrate, but again it will be some comical situations when they wouldn’t know the reality of North Korean life. They will be immediately identified, embarrassed,” Dr Petrov said.

“They’re like aliens visiting the Earth. Hello Earthlings!”

With an attempt on Mr Kim’s life unlikely, the leader’s lifestyle is likely to kill him first, Dr Petrov said.

“Kim Jong-un is more likely to die of an overdose of expensive Cognac or cheese or obesity or high blood pressure, but not from a South Korean bullet,” he said.

You can listed to the original ABC Radio podcast of this interview here…





Imagining the Catastrophic Consequences of a New War in Korea

27 09 2017

New War in Korea(Leonid Petrov for Daily Telegraph, 23 September 2017) The 1953 Armistice Agreement brought a sustainable halt to the Korean War, but has never ended it. Nor did it transform into a peace regime. During the last sixty four years the North and South Koreans live in the conditions of neither-war-nor-peace, which has certain advantages and downsides for both regimes separated by the Demilitarised Zone.

For the communist government in the North, the continuing war provides legitimacy and consolidates the masses around the Leader, who does not need to justify his power or explain the economic woes. For the export-oriented economy and steadily democratising society of South Korea, the continuing war against communism provides broad international sympathy, which is translated into the staunch security alliance and economic cooperation with the US. Any change (intentional or inadvertent) in the current balance of power or threat on the peninsula would lead to immediate re-adjustment or re-balancing of the equilibrium.

Military provocations of the North, does not matter how grave or audacious (i.e. 1968 guerrilla attack on the Blue House in Seoul, 1968 the USS Pueblo incident, 1976 Axe Murder Incident, 2002 naval clashes in the West Sea, the 2010 ROK corvette Cheonan sinking or Yeonpyeong Island shelling), have never led to the resumption of war. Similarly, peace and reconciliation-oriented initiatives (i.e. the 1972 Joint North-South Korean Communiqué, the 1991 Joint Declaration of South and North Korea on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, or the 2000 North–South Joint Declaration) inevitably end with a bitter disappointment. It seems that both Koreas are destined to live in the perpetual fear of war without really experiencing it.

Regional neighbours find this situation annoying but acceptable because the reunification of Korea can be potentially dangerous for some and advantageous for others. The Cold War mentality persists in Northeast Asia and dictates to its leaders to exercise caution in any decisions related to the Korean peninsula, which is known to be the regional balancer. After the WWII, Korea was divided by the great powers for a good reason – to separate the communist bloc from the capitalist democracies. Seventy years later, Korea still serves as a buffer zone which separates the economic interests of China and Russia-dominated Northeast Asia from the US-dominated Pacific Rim.

Should any of the actors start changing the equilibrium in Korea, the stabilising forces of reasoning and good judgement will inevitably return the situation to the original and steady balance of threat. Neither the UN intervention in Korea nor the Chinese counterattack in 1950 could help Koreans to reunify their country. Similarly, North Korea’s progress in building their nuclear and rocket deterrent (independently from what is promised by the alliance with China) will be counterbalanced by the return of US-owned nuclear weapons to South Korea or by the resumption of Seoul’s indigenous nuclear program, which was abandoned in the 1970s. When the balance of threat is restored, a temporary period of improved inter-Korean and DPRK-US relations will follow. Peaceful or hostile co-existence in Korea serves the interests of the ruling elites in both Koreas and benefits their foreign partners too.

Imagining the catastrophic consequences of a new war in Korea is pointless because everyone (in Pyongyang and Seoul, Washington and Moscow, Beijing and Tokyo) understands the risks associated with imminent nuclear retaliation. After the 2006 nuclear test North Korea is a fully-fledged nuclear power and what was previously possible (or at least hypothetically imaginable) with regards to a military action against Pyongyang is simply out of question these days. Whether Washington admits the reality or continues to produce the self-deceitful blandishments of a surgical strike against North Korea, a new hot war in Korea is not feasible simply because it serves no ones’ interest.

First, it would be suicidal for the aggressor and equally catastrophic for the victim of aggression. Second, when the nuclear dust settles the presumed victor would not know what to do with the trophy. The Kim dynasty would not survive another war for unification. Democratically elected government in Seoul would not know how to rule the third of its (newly acquired) population who is not familiar with the concept self-organisation. The cost of damaged physical infrastructure rebuilding will be dwarfed by the long-term expenditures required for maintaining social order in the conquered territories, re-education and lustration of the captured population. Survivors would prefer to seek refuge in a third country out of fear for revenge and reprisals. The exodus of Korean reunification is not something that regional neighbours are ready to welcome or absorb. It will take years and trillions of dollars before Korea can recover after the shock of violent unification.

Even a peaceful unification is likely to pose threat to Korea’s neighbours. The windfall of natural resources and economical labour force, if combined with advanced technologies and nationalism-driven investments, will help Korea outperform the industrial powerhouse of Japan and enter into open competition with China. A narrow but strategically located Russo-Korean border corridor will link the European markets and Siberian oil with Korean industrial producers. An underwater tunnel, once completed between Korean and Japan, will undermine the Sino-American duopoly and link the peninsula with the islands.

If the North and South are unified, the presence of US troops will be questioned not only in Korea but in Japan as well. US security alliance structures across the Pacific will crumble, followed by economic and technological withdrawal from the region. Even the new Cold War against China and Russia won’t help Washington to prevent the major rollback of American influence in Asia and the Pacific. Russia and China, as well, upon losing the common adversary will need to resume competition and power struggle for regional hegemony. Thus, the unification of Korea will open a new era of regional tensions, which nobody is really prepared to endure.

Korea today, however divided and problematic, is a capstone of regional peace and stability which must not be touched by political adventurists. The balance of Northeast Asian regional security architecture has been hinging on the 1953 Armistice Agreement, which proved to be sold and robust enough to survive many international conflicts. Even the acquisition of nuclear armaments by North Korea is not going to change the inter-Korean relations or Koreans’ relations with neighbours. However, if North Korea is deliberately targeted or attacked and destroyed, as has been threatened from the UN podium, that would trigger the processes far beyond of our imagination and control and inevitably lead to tectonic shifts in politics, security and economy of the region, which collectively produces and consumes approximately 19% of the global Gross Domestic Product. Surely, nobody will play with fire when so much is at stake.





“Neither War Nor Peace” Regime in Korea in Untenable

21 06 2017

LP @bevvo14(ABC TV The World, 2017.06.20) Otto Warmbier has become the most recent victim of the continuing Korean War, where the most adamant participants (DPRK on one side and ROK and US on the other) still refuse to recognise each other and systematically threaten each other with preemptive strikes and nuclear retaliation.

Otto bore the brunt of unending hostility and continuing thirst for vengeance, which dominate politics on and around the Korean peninsula. His tragic death is a reminder to all of us that the “neither war nor peace” regime is unacceptable and is fraught with new dramas and victims. Tourism may help to heal the conflict, but it’s also most susceptible to political football and puts innocent or reckless people at a heightened risk. That’s why the zones of inter-Korean economic cooperation and tourism have been shut down one after another in the last decade. Unless the war is officially over, the Koreans, Americans and anyone involved in this conflict will be in real danger of arrest, abuse or even execution.





If China falls out with North Korea, then Russia will step in

27 04 2017

Pyongyang-MoscowKirsty Needham (Sydney Morning Herlad, Beijing, 24 APRIL 2017)

Chinese President Xi Jinping has told his US counterpart Donald Trump that Beijing opposes any action on the Korean Peninsula that goes against UN Security Council resolutions.

The phone call between the two leaders came as Chinese media reported on a rift between Beijing and Pyongyang, with North Korean state media criticising China as “dancing to the tune of the US”…

The US has repeatedly urged China to use its economic clout to put pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, warning that if China cannot produce a solution, the US may act alone.

Mr Xi told Mr Trump the international situation was changing rapidly and it was important the US and China maintain close contact, Chinese state media reported.

“Xi Jinping stressed that China is firmly against any behaviours that violate the UN Security Council’s resolution, at the same time it hopes all parties concerned maintain restraint, avoid doing anything intensifying the peninsula situation,” CCTV reported.

Asked about the North Korean media attack, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said: “China’s position is consistent and clear and the relevant party should be very clear about that.”

Chinese experts are saying cutting oil would be the toughest sanction China could impose – it was last done in 2003 for just three days.

North Korea’s mining industry would be severely hit if China cut energy supply to the regime.

The front page of North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Monday praised the DPRK’s mining industry as self-reliant, exceeding capacity and “smashing the enemies’ sanctions”.

Kim Jong-un sent congratulations to a magnesite mine – a mineral that is exempt from UN sanctions. North Korea has the world’s second largest deposits of magnesite, a raw material listed as “critical” by the US and the European Union and a key component in smartphones and aircraft. China has the world’s largest deposits.

Leonid Petrov, an ANU fellow, says China is buying other rare earth minerals that are vital for high-technology products at half price from North Korea. He says if relations between Pyongyang and Beijing continue to deteriorate, Pyongyang could cut off sales to China and find new export markets elsewhere.

“If China falls out with North Korea, then Russia will step in. North Korea allows China and Russia to compete for concessions and ports and fishing,” he said.

See the full article here…