Here’s what North Korea hopes to gain by offering denuclearization talks

7 03 2018

Kim Jung Un and Chung Eui Yong 2018.03.05The Clinton administration promised Pyongyang heavy fuel oil shipments and construction of light-water reactors, but these were delivered only partially or not at all, noted Leonid Petrov, a Korean studies researcher at the Australian National University. As a result, “North Korea suspended its nuclear and missile programs partially and resumed it when it became clear that the George W. Bush administration was not going to honor the promises,” Petrov added.

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(By Nyshka Chandran, CNBC, 2018.03.07) North Korea is reportedly willing to hold talks on denuclearization in exchange for security guarantees from the U.S. If true, the development marks a fresh milestone in the global quest to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

But the rogue state’s latest olive branch may just be another ploy to gain concessions.

Following a two-day visit to the North by South Korean envoys — the latest chapter in peace efforts between the two neighbors — the head of the Southern delegation Chung Eui-yong said on Tuesday that the reclusive regime expressed a “willingness to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.”

But that’s only if “the military threat to the North was eliminated and its security guaranteed,” Chung noted.

Such comments are a welcome respite amid escalating tensions between President Donald Trump and Kim. Still, they aren’t expected to produce any breakthroughs.

The news “represent the next step in North Korea’s 2018 charm offensive,” Miha Hribernik, senior Asia analyst at global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, said in a note.

“If past experiences are anything to go by, Kim Jong Un is hoping to extract a loosening of sanctions or other assistance by feigning a willingness to disarm,” Hribernik explained. “The North Korean economy is straining under the weight of sanctions, forcing the country to resort to a well-worn playbook.”

Years of failed negotiations, most notably during the 2003-2009 Six-Party Talks, indicate the North’s long-standing pattern of offering talks in exchange for fuel oil, aid or a release of frozen funds.

A breakdown in dialogue is possible “at any time, particularly if Pyongyang fails to obtain significant concessions,” according to Hribernik.

Analysts also point out that President Bill Clinton’s administration provided a security guarantee to Pyongyang in 1994 as part of a deal to halt the country’s nuclear program but both parties didn’t keep to their side of the bargain.

The Clinton administration promised Pyongyang heavy fuel oil shipments and construction of light-water reactors, but these were delivered only partially or not at all, noted Leonid Petrov, a Korean studies researcher at the Australian National University.

As a result, “North Korea suspended its nuclear and missile programs partially and resumed it when it became clear that the George W. Bush administration was not going to honor the promises,” Petrov added…

See the full article here…


A Unified Korea – The Finland of Northeast Asia

16 02 2018

PyeongchangRadio Sputnik International (Pivot to Asia 15.02.2018) An amazing thing is happening in Korea. The North and the South are experiencing a thaw in relations and a visit by the President of South Korea to North Korea is on the cards. This thaw has huge geopolitical implications.

Dr. Leonid Petrov, a visiting Fellow in the College of Asia and the Pacific, at The Australian National University in Canberra discusses the situation with host John Harrison.

The West has perhaps been caught off guard by what is happening right now in Korea. The North and South of country are on the verge of opening up diplomatic negotiations despite the will of the USA. When North Korean leader Kim Jong Un proposed resuming talks with South Korea in his New Year’s Day address, Seoul seemed to leap at the opportunity. Dr. Petrov explains that President of South Korea Moon Jae-in was elected with a promise that he would improve relations with the North, and that has not yet happened. Now it is possible, after a 10-year freeze that another era of ‘sunshine policy’ will once again lead to improved relations. “Before then, there were zones of cooperation, charter flights between the two countries; tourists could drive their own cars into North Korea to visit their loved ones who they hadn’t seen for decades after the Korean War.” Koreans, whether they live in the South or the North, Dr. Petrov says, are, in general, interested in improving relations between the two countries. But unification would bring its own difficulties. “Young and old will all tell you that unification of the country is their dream. But it depends what the next question is going to be. Are you going to introduce a unification tax, are you going to give your job to brothers and sisters in North Korea, who would agree to be paid half of your salary? So they might say — let’s have unification sometime in the future, not now. South Koreans view North Korea as a territory which needs to be liberated and emancipated.”

One could perhaps compare the possible unification of the two Koreas with the unification of East and West Germany, but that, Dr. Petrov said would not be a very good comparison because the wage levels of North Koreans are proportionally far lower than those of the East Germans before the Berlin wall came down. The South Koreans are extremely well educated now and competitive in commercial and industrial know-how and skills, this is clearly very different from the situation in North Korea. “North and South can talk about unification but only after a joint process of collaboration and education. That’s why President Moon Jae-in’s thesis is firstly one of reconciliation, second, economic integration and only then unification. The nuclearization, well that’s something that makes the whole story very complex because North Korea is not preparing to denuclearize.”

The Americans see their presence in South Korea as having provided stability in the area, surely they are not going to take been shouldered out lying down?, John Harrison asks. To that, Dr. Petrov answers that the whole idea of American presence in South Korea is based on anti-communist sentiment. “It is very ideological and political; this is in essence, a Cold war mentality which brings together American and Seoul right wing politicians. …For them, it is important to stand together because China and Russia are just next door, and the Americans want to be present. South Korea provides the opportunity for American troops to be stationed in the South Pacific….An American withdrawal would undermine the whole thesis of an American-Korean brotherhood in arms built on anti-communism.”

Since coming to power, President Trump has questioned Seoul’s contributions towards the alliance, opened renegotiations of the long-fought US-Korea Free Trade Agreement, and threatened direct military action against the North for which the South would bear the bulk of the risk. Dr. Petrov says that South Korea is the power that will benefit from Trump’s inconsistences in foreign policy. “South Korea will gain access to raw materials and minerals which North Korea is now selling to China….South Korea will be much stronger. This is why Japan is so paranoid about reconciliation as well. Everybody is against the idea of reconciliation but one country, and that is Russia. Russia is very keep to sell its raw materials and expertise to the unified Korea….Right now, North Korea is a black hole in a quickly growing region. For Russia, it makes much more sense to support the unification project because that will open the doors to export opportunities in South Korea, and the Russian Far East is hugely under developed and under populated….I think it is a win-win-win situation for Moscow, Pyongyang and Seoul to see the reconciliation process restarted, maybe at the expense of the South Korean-American alliance. The Americans don’t want to see a unified Korea right next door to Vladivostok, the home of the Russian Pacific Fleet. China is also paranoid about potential US military bases on its borders. So, for Russia and China, it is important to see Korea as a kind of Finland of East Asia. A country which is nonaligned but prosperous, which is peaceful but vigilant, and is an economic powerhouse.”

There is a possibility that the current thaw between the two Koreas might actually lead to an increased likelihood of war because the US may feel that it needs to safeguard its alliance whilst it can. Dr. Petrov explains that this is unlikely because of the close proximity of large centers of population spread between the two countries. “What President Trump was talking about last year, about fire and fury, about a nuclear armada all turned out to be just empty talk, he didn’t send a nuclear armada to the shores of North Korea because the coastline of North Korea is not far away from the Russian coastline, and the Russian Pacific fleet. I don’t think the United States is going to jeopardize its own naval and air assets and the lives of hundreds of thousands of American citizens who live work and study in South Korea because if war starts there, there is going to massive loss of human life, huge nuclear contamination of the whole region and economic disaster for everyone involved. South Korea would not tolerate any reckless action, President Moon Jae-in made it very clear to President Trump that there will be no war without his consent, that there will be no war against North Korea without the specific permission of the South Korean government, and the South Korea government is not suicidal…”

Listen to the full podcast of this interview here.

‘The Pentagon is dreading the potential of an inter-Korean reconciliation’

31 01 2018

Radio Sputnik(26 January 2018) North Korea has called on all Koreans at home and abroad to make a breakthrough for unification without the involvement of foreign countries. The message was announced by Pyongyang’s state media and came after the government met with political parties. Earlier, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signaled his willingness to mend relations with his southern neighbor ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics which will be held in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Radio Sputnik discussed this issue with Dr Leonid Petrov, North Korea expert and visiting fellow at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific.

Listen to this interview or download the broadcast here…

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)

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…