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…





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.





The Ball is in the US Court

19 04 2017

LP ABC TV 2017.04.17(ABC TV, 7:30 Report, 2017.04.17) US Vice President Mike Pence has warned the ‘era of strategic patience’ with North Korea is over after the country carried out a failed missile launch. The world now awaits the next move of the brutal North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

DONALD TRUMP, US PRESIDENT: North Korea’s a problem. The problem will be taken care of.

LT. GENERAL H.R. MCMASTER, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The President has made clear that he will not accept the United States and its allies and partners in the region being under threat from this hostile regime.

LEONID PETROV, ANU COLLEGE OF ASIA AND THE PACIFIC: The whole population is determined to stand up and fight until the last bullet, until the last soldier.

STAN GRANT, REPORTER: North Korea is at war. Nothing has changed in more than 60 years. For this reclusive country, the Korean War has never ended.

LEONID PETROV: For North Korea, the state of war is their normal state of existence, and the population of North Korea is told every day that the war is going on, it never ended in 1953.

STAN GRANT: The drums are now beating louder. American warships are steaming near the Korean Coast. This past weekend, North Korea put on a display of its own firepower. It sends a deadly warning – it has the weapons and, if pushed, it could use them.

LEONID PETROV: The worst thing for the Kim regime is an attack, a regime change, occupation of North Korea, total chaos and the termination of the dynasty.

STAN GRANT: Leonid Petrov has spent a lifetime studying this hermit kingdom. He was in the capital, Pyongyang, just this year. It is, he says, a strange place, where time has stood still.

LEONID PETROV: North Koreans live in year 106.

STAN GRANT: 106?

LEONID PETROV: Yes, 106th year after the birth of their founding father. Kim Il-sung.

STAN GRANT: They’re not living in the 21st Century?

LEONID PETROV: They live in the year 106.

STAN GRANT: Survival of the regime now rests with the boy king, Kim Jong-un. He came to power before he was 30 years old. Like his father and grandfather, he is brutal, he executes writers, he rules his people with fear and he continues to amass a military that threatens nuclear apocalypse.

In a report for the United Nations, former Australian High Court judge Michael Kirby peered into this terrifying world of secret prisons, mass starvation and state-sanctioned violence.

MICHAEL KIRBY, UNITED NATIONS INVESTIGATOR: We found that there was widespread, prolonged and brutal wrongs done to the people of North Korea, many of which rose to the level of crimes against humanity.

STAN GRANT: So, could a regime that turns its guns on its own people launch an attack against the rest of us?

LEONID PETROV: If North Korea is attacked with the force which is similar to nuclear capability, nuclear attack, then North Koreans probably wouldn’t think twice before using the weapons of mass destruction.

STAN GRANT: Petrov fears an American attack that pushes North Korea into a corner. Kim Jong-un, he says, would immediately strike across the border into South Korea. Military strategists believe it could rain down half a million artillery rounds in just one hour.

LEONID PETROV: That would cause tens of thousands of human lives, at least, and massive panic, and also devastation to the infrastructure…

(Watch the full interview here… )





In Harm’s Way: Australia and North Korea

2 04 2013

Kevin Rudd(by Sasha Petrova, Crikey, 26 March 2013) In late 2011, then Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd wrote an opinion piece in which he warned Australia about the threat of missile attack from North Korea – a “cruel, totalitarian state” that he claimed could “prove to be our worst nightmare.”

“The secretive North Koreans are hard at work to threaten our allies, our region and us. North Korea has not only developed nuclear weapons, it is also building missiles that could, in future, reach Australia,” Rudd wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

Drawing on the two nuclear tests conducted by North Korea in 2006 and 2009, and the imminent destabilising transition of power, Rudd cautioned that “we, in Australia, have no cause for comfort.” He detailed that the rogue regime’s development of the Taepo-Dong 2 – a long-range missile that was tested in 2006 but crashed shortly after take-off – put Australia well within its purported 9000km range, with Darwin lying 6000km and Sydney 8500km away.

Less than two years on, a successful missile launch and another nuclear test later, should we heed Rudd’s warnings? With increasing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, continuous threats from an ambitious Kim Jung-un, a ramping up of US military drills in South Korea, Pyongyang’s nullification of the 1953 Korean Armistice and last Monday’s propaganda video of an imagined attack against Washington, could Australia truly be in harm’s way?

Not according to Dr Leonid Petrov, a Korean Studies expert from the Australian National University. “North Koreans don’t have any intention to attack Australia,” he says. “They didn’t event test an ICBM.” The gravest fear is of North Korea developing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of mounting a nuclear warhead.

Pyongyang claimed that its missile launch in December last year was purely for the purposes of putting a satellite into orbit for weather and maritime monitoring. “I don’t have any reason not to trust them because in fact they did put the satellite into orbit. It was, in essence, very similar to what South Korea did the following month – in January 2013. It launched a missile that had the same pattern of flight, the same orbit and was flying southward towards Australia.”

Moreover, Dr Petrov puts Rudd’s grave warnings down to personal histrionics based on a grudge he has held against the North Koreans for some time. “I was surprised to see when Kevin Rudd won the elections in late 2007 and the North Korean embassy in Canberra packed up and left in January 2008. Something must have happened between the North Korean embassy and Kevin Rudd ‘s administration that prompted the North Korean embassy to leave.”

Personal grievances aside, it’s impossible to dismiss Pyongyang’s aggressive behaviour. Indeed a failed missile test in March 2012 was reportedly headed in our direction, with a personal warning issued to Bob Carr by the US State Department.

Australia has long been on alert to a threat from the north. The 2009 Defence White Paper considered “threats posed by ballistic missiles and their proliferation, particularly by states of concern such as North Korea,” as potential strategic challenges. Recently, the National Security Strategy also flagged the tensions and unstable environment on the Korean Peninsula, particularly arising from North Korea, as worrisome for Australia.

North Korea’s withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003, the most comprehensive international agreement to halt the spread of nuclear weapons, still draws widespread condemnation; it’s nuclear ambitions continuing to alarm world leaders. Consequent six-party talks and other negotiations about its suspected – and self-professed – nuclear program have failed to reach a suitable compromise.

Australia has been one of the 15 members of the Security Council who, in January, unanimously voted to adopt sanctions against North Korea under Resolution 2087. These imposed travel bans and asset freezes on some senior officials. In response to the latest nuclear test in February, the most recent resolution strengthened and intensified the sanctions already in place since its first test in 2006.

For Australia, these sanctions mean a ban on supplying, selling or transferring all arms and related material to North Korea as well as a wide list of items, materials, equipment and technology that relates to ballistic missile programs or weapons of mass destruction.

These impositions have only served to aggravate the regime further. While Pyongyang continues to conduct missile and nuclear tests in clear violation of Security Council Resolutions, its nullification of the 1953 truce to end the Korean War stands as the most problematic of its retaliatory actions so far. In this regard, Dr Petrov considers the situation to be more serious now than it was in January or last December.





North Korea Enters “State of War”

31 03 2013

APTOPIX North Korea Rally(NKnews.org March 30, 2013) North Korea is entering a “state of war” with South Korea, according to a statement made this morning by the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA). Pyongyang’s latest warning pointed out that U.S. bases in Hawaii and Guam would be targeted in what could turn into “an all-out war, a nuclear war.”

“From this moment, the North-South relations will be put at the state of war, and all the issues arousing between the North and the South will be dealt with according to the wartime regulations,” North Korean state media outlet KCNA said today. “If the U.S. and the South Korean puppet group perpetrate a military provocation for igniting a war against the DPRK (North Korea) in any area… it will not be limited to a local war but develop into an all-out war, a nuclear war”.  KCNA added that the “time has come to stage a do-or-die final battle”.

But despite the increasing rhetoric, Denis Samsonov, a public relations officer working at the Russian embassy in North Korea, told Russia’s NTV that the situation in Pyongyang remains “calm”. “Basically, life in the city is as usual…We are witnessing no tension.” The Russian Foreign Ministry ambassador at large, Grigoriy Logvinov, told Interfax News that although he hoped all sides would “show restraint”, Russia would not “remain uninvolved under conditions when tension is fomenting near our eastern borders”.

Leonid Petrov, an Australian National University Korean Studies Researcher, told NK NEWS that the ”state of war” marked a sharp turning point. “After 60 years of slow-motion war thinly covered by the 1953 Armistice Agreement, Pyongyang has finally found the courage to call a spade a spade. The ambiguity of the current situation is no longer tolerable for North Korea, who is tired of sanctions, double standards, and nuclear bullying.” He added, “Neither peace nor war has led to famine, stagnation or isolation of this rich and strategically important part of Northeast Asia. By proclaiming “state of war” with South Korea, Kim Jong Un is simply reminding the world about this unresolved problem, inherited from the Cold War era.”

Despite the increase in rhetoric, a military source told South Korean news agency Yonhap News that the Korean People’s Army was not currently showing signs of war preparations or unusual moves. Yonhap added that the South Korean defense ministry viewed the latest statement as an”unacceptable threat that hurts peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula”.

In the U.S., the White house said that it would be taking North Korea’s threats seriously. ”We’ve seen reports of a new and unconstructive statement from North Korea,” Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council told AFP.

Steve Chung, a Research Fellow at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said the “state of war” was merely a new deployment of old North Korean rhetoric. “We have seen Pyongyang using similar verbal threats before. North Korea has routinely warned Seoul of things like a ‘Sea of Flames’, ‘Sacred War’, and even ‘Pre-Emptive Nuclear Strikes’. So while this is a revision of previous rhetoric, it may only have a limited effect.” Chung added, “the two Koreas are still technically in a ‘state-of-war’, because the 60 year old armistice only serves as a temporarily halt to war, not an end to the Korean War.”

Meanwhile, Beijing based experts talking to Chinese media said that Thursday’s deployment of B-2 bombers, which can carry up to 16 nuclear weapons, was a “shock-and-awe” symbol of U.S. escalation. On CCTV’s “Focus Today”, North Korea expert Li Li said the bombers’ deployment was a reflection of the U.S. attempt to “counter North Korea’s nuclear weapons with nuclear weapons.” Xinhua News, a Chinese state news outlet, pointed out that “it’s time for both sides to take a step back and let the cooler minds prevail”, weary of the escalation of threat.

However, North Korean media added in a later bulletin that in the event of conflict, victory would  be “certain”. Pyongyang has threatened attacks almost daily since it was sanctioned for its February nuclear test. Some observers suggest the threats indicate the potential of regime instability. Few think though that North Korea will follow up and actually commence major hostilities.

The latest rhetoric appears to be a tit-for-tat response to Thursday’s U.S. stealth bomber training that saw two B-2’s fly from Missouri to drop ordinance on an island in the southern half of the Korean peninsula. U.S. officials said the flights were not designed to raise tensions, but reduce them by bolstering deterrence in face of North Korea’s recent vitriolic provocations.

Both Pyongyang and Seoul have labelled each other’s rhetoric as ‘provocative’ in recent weeks, and their own military exercises as ‘defensive’. North Korea has declared the peace agreement that ended the Korean War to be “void”, and has threatened preemptive nuclear strikes on both Japan and the U.S.