One Korea, one enormous challenge

31 07 2011

by Hamish Mcdonald (Sydney Morning Herald, July 30, 2011)

If Kim Jong-il and his North Korean regime didn’t exist, would we have to invent them? This Strangelovian thought came to mind as the region’s foreign ministers in the American camp took the opportunity of the recent Bali security forum to beat up on the North Koreans.

Indeed they have much to be berated about: the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan, the shelling of a fishing village and frenetic pursuit of nuclear enrichment and weapons testing – despite having agreed six years ago to freeze and then dismantle the latter activity in return for various quid pro quo.
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For a while, the general policy line has been: let them starve, let them freeze, let the regime crumble – no more sweeteners or “paying for the same horse twice”. A couple of years ago, it really looked as though the regime might be close to collapse, when Kim Jong-il suffered a severe stroke and the order of succession was unclear.

According to Andrei Lankov, of Seoul’s Kookmin University, who is one of the talented Russian scholars helping us understand Pyongyang, the Chinese started sending academics to Seoul and other places to discuss ways of dealing with regime collapse.

Now Kim’s health seems to have stabilised and he’s started grooming one of his sons, Kim Jong-un, as the “Bright Leader” to be the third ruler in the dynasty. The Chinese seem to be giving cautious endorsement and continue to underwrite what they see as still a useful buffer state.

The 40 million South Koreans meanwhile are getting less and less keen about the prospect of reunifying the peninsula and assuming responsibility for 23 million stunted and brainwashed northerners – at an estimated cost of $US3 trillion ($2.7 trillion).

Emma Campbell, a Korea scholar at the Australian National University, has been investigating who young South Koreans include in “uri nara” (our nation). They can accept Korean-speaking foreigners who settle in South Korea, and most Korean-Americans, but not North Koreans.

Ethnic nationalism is mutating to what Campbell calls a “globalised cultural nationalism” by which young South Koreans take pride in the modernity of their society, its advanced technology and big corporations known around the world. They value education, international values and speaking foreign languages.

Although most Europeans regard the German reunification as a success story, with a former easterner, Angela Merkel, now the country’s leader, in South Korea there is a general perception that it was immensely costly and still difficult. The South’s young feel they have enough problems, Campbell says. “Even older Koreans don’t understand how competitive it is for young people – to get educated, to get into university, to get a good job, to get married. I don’t blame them for being reluctant to think about integrating North Koreans.”

Lankov and Campbell were among speakers at a University of Technology Sydney workshop a week ago on “North Korea: Imagining the Future”. A lot of imagination is required, and the organisers floated four scenarios to get everyone talking.

One was a smooth succession to Kim Jong-un, perhaps starting as early as the 100th birth anniversary next April of his grandfather, regime founder Kim Il-sung. The state and the market economy establish an “uneasy but symbiotic relationship” and the country muddles along. The second envisaged a power struggle in the regime when Kim Jong-il dies, with the country imploding in rebellion and even worse famine than usual, leading to a breakdown of the border with the South and a massive foreign stabilisation effort. The third is a variant of No.2, except that famine and internal strife precipitates Chinese intervention, with Seoul tacitly accepting and helping with food and financial aid, as an alternative to shouldering the burden itself. The fourth scenario sees North Korea taking the Chinese road of capitalism, with a powerful bourgeoisie rising out of the state sector. The outside world supports this opening up, and gradually barriers and hostilities on the peninsula subside. But don’t hold your breath. Something could happen next week, or it could take years before any significant trend is visible.

Leonid Petrov, another Korea expert from Russia now at Sydney University, suggests instruments of change are already at work. A Singapore fast-food chain has set up a joint-venture with Kim Jong-il’s younger sister. North Korea’s new mobile telephone system has 600,000 subscribers. DVDs of South Korean TV soaps are circulating.

Women have moved into the free markets allowed under Kim Jong-il’s hesitant reforms of the past few years. Kyungja Jung, of UTS, thinks such women are likely to be the first to have the scales fall from their eyes about the regime’s ideology. The “angry female trader” is already a phenomenon that could turn to dissidence.

If and when it does happen, Korean reunification will be the biggest challenge facing “any society, any country”, Campbell says.

It will pose big strategic issues, says Lankov: the Chinese have indicated a “maximal” aim of getting American forces off the peninsula completely, a “minimal” aim of keeping them below the present DMZ.

Mary Nasr, a PhD candidate at Sydney University, says being confronted by the demonised South Koreans and Americans will be traumatic for many Northerners. Indeed, you think of the Japanese in August 1945, only they had their emperor telling them to “bear the unbearable”.

Lankov thinks there is a lot of preventive medicine that countries like Australia could start providing. “A few things can help in any scenario,” he said.

One is education and training: North Korea is unlikely to send students to the US, but would send them here. The ANU actually had a program to teach officials how to run a modern market economy but it was halted by the Howard government as part of anti-nuclear sanctions.

Another is developmental aid. “Maybe not nuclear physics, but everything else,” Lankov says. “The trouble is people here are afraid of their American friends.”

While embargoes are rightly applied on strategic weapons and nuclear material, generalised sanctions tend to entrench dictatorships. More revolutions result from a population able to measure its position against that in other countries, and spread the word by mobile phones and email.

See the full text of this article here…

Still no end to Korean War after 6 decades

27 07 2011

(Russia Today TV 27 July 2011) The Korean Peninsula is the site of one of world’s longest-running armed conflicts. While the war there ended in an armistice, both the North and the South have been preparing to renew hostilities at any moment for 58 years now.

The animosity, which began as part of the Cold War, survived the collapse of the Soviet Union, and is not expected to end anytime soon. At the moment, relations between Seoul and Pyongyang are at a low point, with the current conservative government in the South taking a firm stance towards their northern neighbor.

The latest issues to part the two parties are the sinking of the corvette Cheonan in March 2010 and the shelling of the Yeonpyeong Island by the North.

There is cautious hope that at least some of the tension may be diffused soon after nuclear envoys from North and South Korea sat together for the first time in over two years on the sidelines of a security summit in Indonesia last week. However, no immediate breakthrough is expected from it.

Experts say an end to the conflict between the two Koreas is long overdue.

“Today is the 58th anniversary since of the armistice agreement. It’s interesting that South Korea was not a signatory of the agreement – those were North Korea, China and the United States. South Korea at the time simply refused to sign it. North Koreans have been suggesting a peace treaty to be signed – with the United States first of all – since 1975. It’s probably overdue that all parties sit down and sort out their differences,” historian Leonid Petrov, professor at the University of Sydney told RT.

“The Republic of Korea is more than anyone interested in signing a peace treaty, because it’s certain to assure investors that a new war is not going to break out. I believe the Korean War must end after all and, in order to achieve this, the Cold War structures in the region in general have to be dismantled,” he added.

Meanwhile, South Korea and the US are planning joint military drills in disputed seas next month, which North Korea always finds provocative. Hyun Lee from the Campaign to End the Korean War believes the US use military exercises in the region to disguise their real goal, which is to stop China’s expansion.

“The US military needs justification to maintain its troops in the region, so it can pursue its real interest, which is to contain China’s expansion of power, and also to continue selling its weapon systems – and demonizing North Korea as an axis of evil country conveniently provides that kind of justification,” she said.

See the full interview here…

US nuclear weapons to South Korea?

27 07 2011

By Ralph A. Cossa (The Korea Times 07-26-2011)

Support for the U.S.-ROK alliance has never seemed stronger in South Korea. Our two countries appear to be in lockstep when it comes to dealing with North Korea and our two presidents seem to genuinely like and respect one another, thus permitting an unprecedented level of trust and cooperation. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that a growing number of South Koreans, including many prominent politicians, are calling for the reintroduction of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea, and an even larger number believe that the South should have its own independent nuclear weapons capability to match that of the North’s.

During a recent five-city lecture tour, informal polls conducted among each of the Korean audiences (with one exception) produced the same results every time: over half the respondents thought it was time to reintroduce U.S. nuclear weapons to the peninsula, and an even greater majority believed that the South needed its own nuclear weapons.

To most Americans, a desire to return nuclear weapons to Korea signals that the extended deterrence provided by the U.S. security umbrella is not credible enough; a desire for an independent nuclear capability means U.S. extended deterrence is not credible at all. South Korean experts argue, and I would agree, that such an assessment is wrong.

The problem today is not a lack of faith in the alliance per se. The problem is a growing sense of frustration in South Korea over Seoul’s inability to prevent the North from conducting provocative acts of aggression, such as last year’s torpedo attack against the Cheonan and the artillery shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. South Koreans fear this trend will continue.

Frustration with the North is matched by a related and, in some cases, deeper frustration with China. China used to be seen as an honest broker that was determined to keep a lid on the North, but last year it seemed to be tilting clearly toward Pyongyang, thus empowering its bad behavior. South Koreans calling for the reintroduction of American tactical nuclear weapons frequently cite “sending a message to China” as the primary reason for such a move.

Others cite “sending a message to Washington.” But, the message here is not that the U.S. nuclear umbrella lacks credibility at the macro or strategic level (to deter an all-out attack), but that it does not (and should not) apply at the tactical level toward acts of harassment, and thus, is not frightening enough to both the North and to China. In short, Koreans are seeking to demonstrate some tangible consequences to continued bad behavior by the North ― short of military retribution, which could escalate out of control ― that would get the attention of both Beijing and Pyongyang.

One variation on the above themes is the call to use the threatened reintroduction of U.S. nuclear weapons as a lever to pry the North into taking some genuine, verifiable steps toward denuclearization.

Under this variation, the U.S. and ROK would specify a certain date by which tactical nuclear weapons would be introduced if the North has not returned to the negotiating table and demonstrated a credible commitment to nuclear disarmament. This would provide the North with the necessary incentive to cooperate and provide China with additional incentive to push Pyongyang in that direction … or so the logic goes.

The main problem with these three options ― redeployment, the threat of redeployment, or South Korean nukes ― is that they are likely to prove counterproductive. While they might increase China’s incentive to put pressure on North Korea, there is no evidence that Beijing is prepared under any circumstance to push Pyongyang to the brink; likewise, there is no evidence that Pyongyang is prepared to cooperate short of such an extreme action.

More importantly, such moves are likely to be used as justification for the North’s nuclear weapons program since, at least based on official pronouncements, the North continues to believe that U.S. nuclear weapons are already (still?) on the peninsula and that there is little difference between having them based there and having them available elsewhere for use in the ROK’s defense. In short, the North understands the nuances behind extended deterrence, even if some in the ROK do not.

Bringing U.S. nuclear weapons back to the peninsula would serve another North Korean purpose: to create and exploit splits among the South Korean public on security issues in general and North Korea policy in particular. Nothing would energize the anti-American opposition faster or more firmly than the reintroduction of U.S. nuclear weapons onto ROK soil. We couldn’t even reintroduce (perfectly safe) U.S. beef to the peninsula without widespread protests, imagine the reaction nuclear weapons would bring.

A decision by South Korea to develop its own nuclear weapons would provide the North with the same excuses but, more importantly, would severely damage Seoul’s international image and respectability, especially in advance of its hosting the second Nuclear Security Summit next year. In fact, it is hard to imagine that international summit proceeding under those circumstances. It would also put the alliance at risk and severely undercut President Obama’s pledge to move toward nuclear zero ― you don’t get to zero by supporting the addition of another nuclear weapons state.

There are better ways to send Pyongyang and Beijing a message. One has already been taken. The firm public pledge by President Lee Myung-bak that future acts of aggression would be met by military force ― backed by President Obama, who reportedly warned Chinese President Hu Jintao directly that such a response would be forthcoming and would enjoy unequivocal U.S. backing ― seems to have already gotten the two countries’ attention. It’s unfortunate that it had to take such a harsh and potentially escalatory measure to do so, but the point has been made.

Seoul and Washington also need to continue to insist on greater diplomatic pressure through the U.N. Security Council, not only on the North’s violations of the Armistice Treaty, but also in response to its announced uranium enrichment program and the UNSC Panel of Expert’s Report on how the North is violating the current U.N. sanctions regime. China cannot credibly claim to be in favor of diplomatic solutions when it routinely blocks the UNSC from doing its work.

Let me end with two footnotes. The one audience in which the overwhelming majority was against either redeployment or an independent ROK nuclear weapons capability was comprised of ROK military officers and cadets. They more fully understand the implications and consequences of such actions. This argues for a broader attempt to similarly educate the public on nuclear issues.

Secondly, even among audiences where support for such actions was widespread, no one raised a hand when asked if it would be OK to deploy nuclear weapons in their city or general vicinity. NIMBY ― the “not in my backyard” mentality ― is alive and well and should help temper ROK enthusiasm for nuclear options when all implications and consequences are considered.

Ralph A. Cossa is president of the Pacific Forum CSIS (, a Honolulu-based nonprofit research institute affiliated with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and senior editor of Comparative Connections, a quarterly electronic journal (

United Nations Disarmament Conference to Discuss Actions towards Nuclear-Weapon-Free World, in Matsumoto, Japan, 27-29 July

 NEW YORK, 25 July (UN Office for Disarmament Affairs)— The twenty-third United Nations Conference on Disarmament Issues will be held in Matsumoto, Japan, from 27 to 29 July.  Hosted by the Government of Japan and the City of Matsumoto, the Conference is organized by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs through its Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific.

Hannelore Hoppe, Director and Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs of the United Nations, will deliver the opening remarks.  Senior Japanese Government officials, as well as Mayor Akira Sugenoya of Matsumoto City and Mayor Tomihisa Taue of Nagasaki City will also address participants at the opening session.  Yukiya Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), will deliver the keynote address.

Approximately 60 participants from Governments, academia and think tanks, international and non-governmental organizations, as well as the media will attend the Conference.  It is open to the public as a way to raise general awareness of and support for disarmament and non-proliferation.

The overarching theme of this year’s Conference is “Urgent and United Action towards a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World”.  Issues to be addressed include the implementation of the Action Plan of the 2010 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons; nuclear disarmament measures by nuclear-weapon States; the prospects of negotiation of a fissile material cut-off treaty; taking concrete steps towards the negotiation of a nuclear weapons convention; as well as the role of civil society in peace and disarmament.  Enhancing nuclear safety and security is also high on the Conference’s agenda, especially in the wake of the recent accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.  Furthermore, a special session is devoted to peace and disarmament education, including discussions with high school students on the importance of promoting peace and security through disarmament efforts.

This annual United Nations Conference, which has been hosted by Japan since 1989, is recognized as an important forum for frank dialogue and an exchange of views on pressing security and disarmament-related issues facing the international community.  It also addresses particular regional disarmament and non-proliferation concerns, including those in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Conference is financed through voluntary contributions made to the Office for Disarmament Affairs by the Government of Japan and in-kind contributions by the host city.

For further information, please contact Taijiro Kimura, Director, United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific (UNRCPD), tel: +977 1 501 0257; fax: +977 1 501 0223; e-mail:

North Korea: Imagining the Future

21 07 2011

A Collaborative Workshop (USYD, UTS, ANU, Kookmin University)
10am – 2pm Friday, July 22
Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Research Centre
Level 3, MaryAnn House, University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), 645 Harris Street, Ultimo, Sydney

North Korea’s (DPRK) destiny over the coming years will have a profound impact on the stability of the entire Asia-Pacific region. Changes are likely to happen in North Korea over the coming years, and whatever direction they take, these changes will have far-reaching implications for all the other countries of the region.

This workshop aims to create a flexible forum in which leading experts can explore possible scenarios for future change in North Korea over the period to 2020, and consider the implications of each scenario for North Korea’s neighbours.

Focus will particularly be directed to economic and social change, including the future of the market economy, consumption patterns, the movement of people (both within and across North Korea’s frontiers) education, media and gender relations.

The workshop will be opened by the preeminent scholar in North Korean studies Professor Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University in Seoul and author of three books on North Korea, including “North of the DMZ: Essays on Daily Life in North Korea”. Presentations and panel discussions will include those by Professor Tessa Morris-Suzuki (ANU), Professor Choi Hyaeweol (ANU), Emma Campbell (ANU), Dr Kyungja Jung (UTS), Dr Bronwen Dalton (UTS), Mary Nasr (USyd), and Dr. Leonid Petrov (USyd).

This workshop is funded by the ARC Asia Pacific Futures Research Network and the University of Technology, Sydney’s Centre for Cosmopolitan Civil Societies (CCS). Other sponsors are the Australian National University’s Korea Institute, and the University of Sydney.

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In this scenario the succession from father to son will pass so smoothly that nothing will change in North Korea. Transfers of powers may begin sooner than the death of Kim Jong Il, perhaps symbolically on Kim Il Sung’s 100th anniversary in April 2012. North Korea will not be torn apart by a battle between the state and markets. The two over time will establish an uneasy but symbiotic relationship. The state will continue to consider the markets as parasites and vice versa, but each will learn to exist with the other.

Following the death of Kim Jong Il a power struggle within this elite ensues. Or the power struggle may come early in the leadership of Kim Jong Eun as some within the elite begin to doubt the leadership capabilities of Kim Jong Un and instead promote his brother Kim Jong Nam or even a military junta to lead the country instead. No winner comes out of the power struggle and a power vacuum at the top immediately causes problems elsewhere in the system. As the scenario progresses, North Korea implodes in rebellion and even more devastating famine. The boundaries between North and South Korea crumble, and reunified Korea is rebuilt with economic aid from the United States and other countries. Indeed, this is a scenario of destruction and revival, where far-sighted leaders work together to build a peaceful new peninsula out of the ashes of a collapsed North Korean regime.

In this scenario the succession from father to son coincides with dramatic floods and system failures that lead the country once again into a long and devastating famine. Millions die. Unable to show leadership a power struggle against Kim Jong Eun ensues. As soon as the regime in North Korea starts to totter, China will intervene. South Korea provides food aid and also discretely supports financially China – seeing it as much cheaper that absorbing all costs of unification which it predicts will be over $3 trillion over 10-25 years, not to mention its fear of a mass southward exodus of North Koreans.

Guided by its Chinese neighbour North Korea gradually instutionalises capitalism. The decision to go the capitalist road is pragmatic and seen as the best way to maintain control as well as access much needed capital. The process begins with more formal recognition of the “state capitalist sector” The mix of socialism and capitalism brings economic progress to the cities, creating a new bourgeoisie from within the ranks of incumbent state enterprise managers and powerful segments of the party-state bureaucracy. The US supports this pragmatism and supports the World Bank in providing loans to North Korea, China and Japan facilitate discussions between North and South Korea and the development of SEZs throughout the DPRK. With cheap labour from North Korea becoming increasingly attractive to South Korean businesses, the barriers between the two Koreas starts to fall. As the North Korean people are touched by economic opportunities, new challenges emerge with petty crime, counterfeiting, and labour issues mounting. Diplomatically the world accommodates this semi-socialist state and there is a degree of reconciliation between North Korea and its long-time enemies.