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.


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… )

Kim Jong Un makes ‘significant decision’ at military meeting

27 08 2013

KJU_CMC KWP_2013-08-26_1(by CHAD O’CARROLL, NK News Pro, 26 AUGUST 2013Kim Jong Un made a “significant decision” to protect the sovereignty and safety of the country at an “enlarged” meeting of North Korea’s top military commissions, state media said on Monday.

Practical measures for bolstering combat and defensive capabilities were decided and guidelines issued to promote Songun military first policy, the Rodong Sinmun said, adding that an unspecified “organizational issue” was also discussed.

The meeting took place amid North Korea’s 53rd annual Songun Day anniversary – designed to underscore the importance of country’s military-first ideology – and ongoing ”Ulchi Freedom Guardian” joint U.S.-ROK military drills in South Korea.

Although no further details of the meeting were published, Daniel Pinkston of the International Crisis Group told NK News, “I think it’s a strong signal that another missile launch or nuke test could be in the works…If I were a betting man, I’d say within next 2-3 months”. “I see this as a very bad sign, it’s very similar to the meeting earlier this year before the nuke test,” Pinkston added.

North Korea’s powerful Central Military Commission last held an “enlarged” meeting in February 2013, approximately ten days before Pyongyang tested its third nuclear device. The announcement of that meeting was highly unusual, and perhaps unprecedented and came immediately prior to joint U.S.-ROK naval drills.

But despite similarities with the February meeting, Australian National University North Korea researcher Leonid Petrov told NK News that the importance of the Songun Day meeting should not be overestimated as the military commissions involved are “only responsible only for coordinating the work of Party organisations within the Korean People’s Army”.

“Even its enlarged meetings cannot match the power of the National Defence Commission, which is also chaired by Kim Jong Un, and simply deals with ideological issues in the Korean People’s Army”.

Petrov pointed out that the timing of the meeting suggested it was more likely to have been held to plan festivities for the forthcoming 65th anniversary of the DPRK, on September 9…

See the full text of this article here…

Kim Jong-Un’s search for shortcuts to North Korean prosperity

16 02 2013

KJU New Year speech 2013(By Leonid Petrov, Asian Currents, Feb. 2013) The New Year speech by North Korea’s new leader signals there will be little change…

When the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il breathed his last in December 2011, his youngest son Kim Jong-Un was catapulted to the country’s leadership. That permitted him to meet the people and play the role of populist and reformer.

Kim Jong-Un looked and behaved like his grandfather, Kim Il-Sung, the founder of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, who ruled for 46 years. His succession looked like a perfectly planned and well-orchestrated scenario, and no observers doubted the similarity was part of the transition plan.

On the first day of 2013, Kim Jong-Un addressed the nation from the state TV, just like his grandfather used to until his demise in 1994. Kim Jong-Il, on the other hand, avoided making public speeches and never gave a TV address during his 17-year-rule, publishing his New Year’s messages as joint editorials in North Korea’s three major newspapers. Obviously, the youthful new ruler was trying to appeal to North Koreans’ fondest memories of his grandfather, and to signal that his leadership style would be more in line with that of Kim Il-Sung.

The speech was an acknowledgement of the poor state of the country’s economy. Kim promised that 2013 would be ‘a year of great creations and changes in which a radical turnabout will be effected in the building of a thriving socialist country’. The speech was full of rhetoric calling on his countrymen to make tireless efforts to ‘rid themselves of the old way of thinking and attitude and make ceaseless innovations in all work’. Kim urged boosting the economy and the military’s capability by making the science and technology sector world class, and argued that ‘the industrial revolution in the new century is, in essence, a scientific and technological revolution’, and ‘breaking through the cutting edge is a shortcut to the building of an economic giant’.

Like his grandfather, who tried to instantly turn the war-torn North Korea into a communist paradise, Kim Jong-Un also looks for shortcuts. The problem with his plan is that he suggested nothing new, but encouraged his countrymen to stick to the old values and principles formulated by his late grandfather and father. Kim claimed that ‘road of chuch’e [national self-reliance] is the only path for the Party and people to invariably follow’.

Despite North Korea’s history of defeats, failures, famines and disappointments, Kim Jong-Un persisted in lauding ‘the great achievements the president made while leading the Fatherland Liberation War to brilliant victory’ and praised ‘the strength of his outstanding strategy and tactics and wise leadership’. He also urged the people to ‘carry out the cause of reunifying the country’, describing reunification as the greatest national task that ‘brooks no further delay’.

The theme of turning North Korea into an economic giant was the most recurring in the speech. The ostensible purpose of his plan was to make the people of Korea well off with nothing to envy in the world. For this, the people should wage an ‘all-out struggle this year to effect a turnaround in building an economic giant and improving the people’s standard of living’. By calling on all sectors and units of the national economy to boost production, Kim Jong-Un again simply repeated the style and rhetoric of his father and grandfather.

Instead of offering a meaningful formula for economic development, Kim simply recommended improved economic guidance and management: ‘Party organisations should embrace all the people, take warm care of them and lead them forward to ensure that they share the same destiny with the Party to the end’. That meant North Koreans should carry on ‘the tradition of single-hearted unity’ wherein ’the Party believes in the people and the latter absolutely trust and follow the former’. In other words, Kim had no other prescription than adhering to the old son’gun [military-first] politics of his father and the centrally-planned economic system of his grandfather.

The single-hearted unity of the Army and the people around the Party was the ‘strongest weapon and a powerful propellant for the building of a thriving socialist country’. Kim Jong-Un looked confident when he claimed that the military might of a country represents its national strength.

His speech avoided direct criticism of the United States and its allies. Nor did he mention nuclear weapons, but indicated that if aggressors dared launch a pre-emptive attack against the DPRK, ‘the People’s Army should mercilessly annihilate them and win victory in the war for the country’s reunification’. Boosting defence industry was another priority that could contribute to implementing the Party’s military strategy, and Kim urged developing more ‘sophisticated military hardware of our own style’.

His invitation to ‘spur the building of a civilised socialist nation to usher in a new era of cultural efflorescence in the 21st century’ was in sharp contrast to his recommendations to ‘conduct Party work in the same way as it was done on the battleline in the 1970s, and put a focus of the work on thoroughly applying Kim Jong Il’s patriotism in all activities’. In cultural construction as well, all sectors were advised ‘to implement to the letter the ideas, lines and policies set forth by the general’. In this context, it remains debatable how North Korea can develop education, public health, literature and the arts, physical culture, public morals and all other branches to the level ‘appropriate to an advanced civilised nation’.

In order to effect a radical change in this year’s campaign to build a thriving socialist country, ‘officials should make a fundamental turnabout in their ideological viewpoint, work style and attitude’. But will the Party bureaucrats voluntarily uphold the slogan ‘Everything for the people and everything by relying on them!’ set for them by their youthful and idealistic leader? No safeguards are suggested by Kim Jong-Un, who only asked them to ‘work to the best of their abilities with a high sense of responsibility, eagerness and an enterprising approach’. His conclusion is built on the premise that the nation can achieve prosperity only if ‘firmly rallied behind the Party under the banner of ‘Kimilsungism–Kimjongilism’.

The New Year speech tells much about Kim Jong-Un, the succession process, and the future of North Korea. It becomes clear that Kim’s ultimate goal is to avoid any change, because it threatens the very existence of the North Korean state. If anything like what happened to the Soviet Union when Gorbachev started perestroika happens in North Korea, the leadership would not be able to control the situation. And as North Korea’s elites are equally reluctant to consider any idea of change, the mood to maintain stability and continue as Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il did over the past half a century prevails.

The recent leadership succession is definitely a case of like father, like son. Kim Jong-Un is the legitimate successor and perfect choice to continue the Kim dynasty; he is of ‘revolutionary blood’ and widely recognised as such. He is eulogised and worshiped as the Generalissimo by the Korean People’s Army and as the Dear Leader by the Korean Workers’ Party. Common people link their expectations of socio-economic improvement to him, and he is a token of stability for the Kim family. Everyone in North Korea seems to have great hopes for him. If everything goes according to his father’s plan, Kim Jong-Un will be in power for a long time.

The North Korean leadership genuinely wants to modernise the country’s economy, but hates the idea of changes in social and political life. Like his father and grandfather, Kim Jong-Un constantly searches for shortcuts to boost the dysfunctional economy without having to build new social and political institutions. Achieving technological breakthrough without systemic reform is a preferred way forward. As a result of this half-hearted policy, ordinary North Koreans will probably eat and dress better; they might even own PCs and mobile phones, but they will continue to live in the same paranoid state of fear and dependency on the Great Leader’s decisions.

Beijing would love to see Pyongyang follow its example by introducing market-oriented reforms, but North Korea simply cannot come to terms with granting its population the many freedoms necessary to make such a reform successful. This is simply impossible in the conditions of an ongoing Korean War, in which North Korean society is continuously fed lies by the regime and denied contacts and interaction with the rest of the world, particularly with South Korea. Given the circumstances of the ongoing inter-Korean conflict, the sustainable development of the North Korean economy is impossible. The country is locked in a security dilemma and reluctant to open up.

If Kim Jong-Un did decide to initiate reform he would first need to persuade his family and other elite groups to forfeit their significant privileges, because reform of any type would inevitably and quickly lead to the collapse of the political regime. Not surprisingly, the very word ‘reform’ remains a taboo in Kim Jong-Un’s North Korea.

North Korea stages nuclear test in defiance of bans

13 02 2013

Image(by Justin McCurry in Tokyo and Tania Branigan in Beijing, Tuesday 12 February 2013). Regime confirms it set off its third nuclear bomb, signalled by an earthquake detected by South Korea, Japan and the US.

North Korea has drawn widespread condemnation after conducting a nuclear test in defiance of international bans – a development signalled by an earthquake detected in the country and later confirmed by the regime.

The test, which took place in the north-east of the country just before noon local time, could bring North Korea a step closer to developing a nuclear warhead small enough to be mounted on a long-range missile and possibly bringing the west coast of the US within striking distance.

The authorities in Pyongyang said scientists had set off a “miniaturised” nuclear device with a greater explosive force than those used in two previous nuclear tests, in 2006 and 2009.

“It was confirmed that the nuclear test that was carried out at a high level in a safe and perfect manner using a miniaturised and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force than previously did not pose any negative impact on the surrounding ecological environment,” KCNA, the North’s official news agency, announced. […]

Dr Leonid Petrov, a North Korea expert at the Australian National University, said it would bolster the North’s case for describing itself as a genuine nuclear state.

“Obviously the [North Koreans] are not going to bargain and are not going to give up the nuclear options,” Petrov said. “We have passed already the point of no return: North Korea is de facto a nuclear state, all we can do is minimise the damage.”

Petrov suggested the North might be willing to freeze its civilian nuclear programme if given sufficient incentives, such as the loosening of international sanctions. It would also need assurances, particularly from the US, that it would not be the target of attempts at regime change or military strikes.

The only alternative, he said, was a pre-emptive strike that could miss many of the country’s underground nuclear sites and raise the dangerous prospect of a counter-attack.

Petrov said the North’s determination to push ahead with its nuclear programme was a failure of diplomacy that began with the administration of George Bush, who described the country as part of an “axis of evil” when Washington adopted a tougher stance in 2002.

“The world is now a much more dangerous place,” Petrov said. “It’s very sad.”

Kim Min-seok, a South Korean defence ministry spokesman, said the North had informed China and the US in advance of its intention to conduct the test but could not say when the message was relayed.

Petrov said that, if true, the decision to inform other nations in advance was a marked change in the regime’s approach under its leader, Kim Jong-un, who has been in power just over a year.

Kim has shown no sign of ditching the nuclear ambitions of his father, Kim Jong-il, but has been more open than the country’s former leader about his regime’s intentions, having also given notice of its recent satellite launch using a ballistic rocket.

See the full text of the article here…

What should the Six Party Talks be about?

10 11 2012

I do not believe in success of the Six-Party-Talks because there are too many parties, their intentions are too different, and their approach is wrong. Since 2003, when this forum was convened for the first time, the five nations tried to persuade North Korea to disarm it unilaterally and unconditionally despite the fact that Korean War had not finished.

They also targeted the North Korea’s nuclear and space exploration programs, automatically denying the DPRK of the right to generate electricity and launch peaceful satellites.

Finally, after 2009, the US, ROK and Japan refused to participate in the Six-party-Talks, demanding from North Korea to demonstrate a “sincere approach”, which is impossible to measure or describe.

Instead, to be more productive in resolving the nuclear problem, the Six-Party-Talks should have first addressed the four crucial issues:

1. Replacing the 1953 armistice regime with a permanent peace treaty between the DPRK and ROK;

2. Achieving the diplomatic cross-recognition of the DPRK by the US and Japan (as it was done in the early 1990s by the USSR and PRC in relation to the ROK);

3. Offering a security assurance to the DPRK by the US;

4. Lifting all bi-lateral and multi-lateral trading sanctions imposed against the DPRK since 1950;

Then, naturally, there will be no need in demanding from North Korea to destroy its nuclear and space programs because there would be enough safeguards against nuclear proliferation or inappropriate usage of these technologies. Only then would people on the Korean peninsula and the region stop worrying about a new devastating conflict.

In other words, the Six-Party-Talks have been addressing the issues in the wrong order and from the wrong end. Was it done by mistake? For the answer, see my previous post about the Cold-War unity and struggle of the opposites in East Asia.

Why North Korea should be a foreign policy priority for the next US President?

8 11 2012

In March 2012, during a nuclear summit in South Korea, in a conversation the two leaders believed was private, Barak Obama whispered to Dmitri Medvedev that his second presidential term would empower him with much flexibility. Certainly the European missile defence issue is not a sole problem that Obama will need to face after being re-elected. North Korea with its nuclear and missile programs will be the most burning issue of US foreign policy in East Asia. However, after six decades of confrontation in Korea, where a diplomatic cat-and-mouse game seems endless, one may ask a reasonable question: can America ever come to terms with the existence of North Korea?

The rules of the Cold War, which continues in East Asia, are based on the dialectical principle of the unity and struggle of the opposites. Washington badly needs Pyongyang to keep its presence in the region and to strengthen its security alliance with the ROK and Japan. Equally, Pyongyang cannot survive and justify its authority domestically without the hostile attitude and actions of Washington, helping China realise how much it needs North Korea. War preparations are too profitable and ideologically consolidating for both camps to render them obsolete. Thus, the US’s North Korea policy (under Obama or any other president) will remain the same and continue to hinge on the expectations of DPRK’s soonest collapse or democratisation (which is equivalent to collapse).

Any attempt to soften the US policy towards North Korea will ultimately lead to the question of diplomatic recognition, security assurance and fair trade. No president of the US will accede to that without damaging its relations with Seoul and Tokyo. Similarly, no North Korean leader would go as far as to making peace with the US without demanding excessive reparations, public apologies and other symbols of moral superiority. Everything else would be a mere diplomatic smoke screen designed to hide the real intentions of the parties voluntarily locked in a security dilemma until one of the actors of this stand-off decides to give up and unilaterally surrender. I don’t envisage this happening during president Obama’s second term.

Moscow Supports Kim Jong-Un

29 06 2012

(By Leonid Petrov, The Montréal Review, 28 July 2012)

Russia claims it is willing to link divided Korea with energy pipelines and electricity grids. But its economic relations with North Korea indicate a return to the Cold War politics of the past.

In 1948 Stalin sponsored the creation of the DPRK in the Northern half of the Korean peninsula. The following year, Prime Minister Kim Il-sung travelled to Moscow to collect a 2% interest loan of 212 million Soviet Rubles. Some of this money was allocated to build the centrally-planned economy, but much of the funding was used to fuel unification efforts in a war against South Korea between 1950 and 1953. After the end of the disastrous Korean War, the Soviet Union continued to help North Korea with the rebuilding of its cities, industry and infrastructure.

Even during the Sino-Soviet ideological split in the 1960s and 1970s, Moscow tried to curry favour with Pyongyang throughout its confrontation with Beijing. As a bastion of Communism in the Far East that directly faced US troops on the Korean peninsula, North Korea successfully managed to squeeze money from both of its allies during the Cold War. But when the iron curtain fell in the early 1990s, the Democrats in Moscow swiftly recognized Seoul and demanded the payment of debts from Pyongyang.

The timing could not have been worse for North Korea. Most of the country’s capital had been wasted on non-productive sectors, an oversized army, ideological campaigns and extravagant monuments. All that North Korea could offer to Russia as payment-in-kind was a humble list of export goods that did not exceed pickles, cigarettes and ginseng-based medicines. With the death of Kim Il-sung in 1994 and the beginning of natural disasters in 1995, North Korea’s agonising industrial and agricultural sectors collapsed, killing some 3 million people in three consecutive years of famine.

South Korea’s “Sunshine Policy” (1998-2008) and growing humanitarian aid from other regional neighbours permitted North Korea to weather the “Arduous March”; finally showing some signs of recovery in the early 2000s. It was around this time that Moscow once again raised the issue of North Korea’s debt, which had already been calculated at nearly US $8 billion. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chairman Kim Jong-il visited each other twice to discuss this and other bilateral issues, creating an impression that the debt would be written off rather than paid in full.

In August last year, at the last summit between the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and the Russian President Medvedev, the parties agreed to move forward on a proposal to build a pipeline that would be capable of transporting Russian natural gas to both Koreas. Simultaneously, North Korea and Russia signed a protocol calling for economic cooperation between the two countries. But international observers immediately questioned the feasibility of such a project in the midst of an ongoing inter-Korean conflict.

The oil markets of the last ten years have been favourable for Russia, allowing the country to save hundreds of billions of petro-dollars from the sale of energy-rich natural resources to its neighbours. Expecting an impoverished North Korea to pay off a Soviet-era debt, which today amounts to US $11 billion, would be unrealistic. Last week the Russian government agreed to discount 90 % of the debt owed by its destitute but stubborn ally. The remaining USD $1.1 billion was promised to be invested in joint Russian-North Korean projects, particularly in education, medical and energy sectors.

One may be surprised by the timing and generosity of the deal. Despite promises of a new era of strength and prosperity, this year saw the DPRK at odds with old evils. The coldest winter and the driest summer in decades have dashed its expectations for a proper harvest. The embarrassment of a faulty rocket launch in April was compounded by the withdrawal of US food-aid and international condemnation. The hyper-inflation of North Korean currency and the continuing energy crisis are not the propitious signs of effective governance by the newest leader in the Kim dynasty. Is Russia trying to help Kim Jong-un consolidate political power and overcome mounting economic difficulties?

This year Russia experienced the return of the Kremlin veteran, Vladimir Putin, to the presidential seat. Although he is associated with political reaction and is concerned by the prospect of “colour revolutions” at home, Russia is desperately running out of friends on the international stage. With Libya and Syria having already become victims of the “Arab Spring”, Moscow is scrambling to buttress dictatorial regimes in its vicinity. Anti-Americanism and curtailed political freedoms once again have become the primary criteria in gaining Kremlin sympathies. Belarus, Iran, the countries of Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and now North Korea, have all received special treatment from the increasingly anti-Western Russia.

Whereas Beijing was once the only power that remained content to sink trillions of Yuan into North Korea simply to prop up a buffer state ruled by an anachronistic regime, Moscow is now returning to an East Asia policy that echoes of the Cold War. Instead of reprimanding Kim Jong-un for his provocative actions and belligerent rhetoric, Putin is dumping of trillions of tax-payers’ roubles into supporting a friendly dictator. Moscow’s empty promises to persuade North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program are in clear conflict with North Korea’s determination to remain a self-proclaimed nuclear power for the sake of its regime survival.

Northeast Asia is again becoming a theatre for large-scale geostrategic games where powerful empires scrum in a noxious struggle for domination, leaving 75 million Koreans in a state of anxious suspense.  Given the current situation, hopes for peace and reconciliation remain untenable.

See the Korean version of this article here… 모스크바는 김정은을 지지한다?

The Korean War and East Asia

28 06 2012

(Leonid Petrov, East Asia Forum, June 27th, 2012)

Koreans commemorated the tragic beginning of the Korean War (1950–53) on 25 June. What began as a civil war for unification soon escalated into an international war — a protracted Cold War conflict and a surrogate World War III. After 62 years and despite an Armistice Agreement, the conflict shows no signs of ending.

The Korean Peninsula’s geopolitical importance and its alliance policies are at the core of the problem. Surrounded by China, Japan and the Russian Far East, Korea is at the centre of Asia. And so, for centuries, policy makers and generals from the neighbouring regional powers have recognised Korea’s strategic importance in the region, prioritising its protection from potential enemies.

Relations with its neighbours have typically been unfavourable for Korea. Minor political events on the peninsula have long attracted attention and hasty international reactions. For this reason, Korea has an exceptionally rich and dramatic political history, including four ‘Korean Wars’ since the 16th century.

The Imjin War (1592–98) was ‘the first Korean War’, setting the tone for future relations between the combatants. The Imjin war was precipitated by a samurai warlord, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who intended to conquer China and dominate Asia. He set out to cross into China through the Korean Peninsula, but when Korea refused to give free passage to Japanese troops, it became a target for Hideyoshi’s marauding hordes. The Japanese marched to the Sino–Korean border before China’s Ming dynasty agreed to help Chosun Korea block Hideyoshi’s march. The combined Ming and Chosun armies finally pushed the Japanese out of the peninsula but the war tarnished the reputation of Korea’s powerful ally and destroyed much of Seoul and other parts of Korea.

The ‘second Korean War’ was, in fact, the first Sino–Japanese War (1894–95), which saw Korea becoming the primary subject of contention once again. As a newly rising power, Japan wished to protect its own interests and security by either annexing Korea or by ensuring Korea’s independence from other competitors. The Great Korean Empire was founded in 1897, in the aftermath of this ‘second Korean War’. But independent status of the country was not to last: piecemeal domestic reforms and sluggish administration made Korea an easy target for imperialist contest.

Russia’s tenuous foothold on Korea was challenged during the Russo–Japanese War (1904–05). Following this ‘third Korean War’ Japan gradually took control of Korean affairs, until 1910, when Korea formally became a Japanese colony. As such, it was forced to serve the economic and military needs of the expanding Japanese empire, but not without opposition: in the subsequent 35 years radical Korean groups continued to resist the Japanese occupation in Manchuria and China, while Korean intellectuals fought a battle against cultural obliteration at home.

The fall of Japan at the end of World War II did not lead to Korea being granted its independence immediately. The Soviet Union and the US, the allied powers who had liberated the country, believed Koreans were not yet ready for self-governance and divided the peninsula into two temporary zones of occupation. By that time the Cold War was already emerging, and this ‘temporary’ division of Korea became increasingly consolidated and ideologically cemented. This led to the creation of two antagonistic states in 1948: the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The conditions for a civil conflict were ripe, and as soon as US and Russian occupying forces left the country, a new Korean war broke out.

The ‘fourth Korean War’, which started on 25 June 1950 with a surprise attack from the North against the South, was an attempt to unify the country, but soon escalated to the level of a proxy World War III, involving some 20 countries. After three years of fratricidal conflict, and despite the strong opposition from the ROK President Rhee Syngman, delegates from North Korea, China and the United Nations Command signed the Armistice Agreement on 27 July 1953. Six decades later, a peace treaty has not yet been formalised.

The first step toward ending this fourth Korean War would be for the regional neighbours to formally recognise the two Korean states. Both China and Russia have already established diplomatic and trade relations with South Korea, while continuing to provide economic aid and security assurances to keep North Korea afloat. It is now time for the US and Japan to recognise North Korea, assuage its security concerns and lift economic sanctions.

In the meantime, the Korean Peninsula remains a bone of contention among its powerful neighbours. The old system of block alliances persists in the multipolar world of the 21st century, and this is keeping Korea divided. Only when Korea frees itself from the obligations of its allies will East Asia achieve peace and stability.

Cyber attacks may spark new war in Korea

8 06 2012

(Leonid Petrov, 38 North, 9 July 2013) Those who are familiar with Len Wiseman’s 2007 film “Live Free or Die Hard” (“Die Hard 4.0”) will recall the actor Bruce Willis taking on a gang of cyber terrorists intent on hacking FBI computers. At one point, the arch-villain Gabriel orders a crew of hackers to start a “fire sale” by taking control of the stock market and transportation grids. The attack is designed to target the nation’s reliance on computer controls, sending the public into a panic and presenting us with an almost credible sci-fi plot. The reality of today’s world shows that cyber-terrorism, if left unchecked, might be used not only by individuals or extremist groups, but by hostile governments on the offensive.

The Korean peninsula is now quickly turning into a place where a singular cyber-attack might spark a full-fledged conflict. Last month, North Korea was accused of actively jamming global positioning system (GPS) signals, targeting South Korea’s two largest airports outside its capital city of Seoul. The jamming signals, which were first detected on April 28 and ended on May 6, were traced to the North Korean border city of Kaesong, just 10 km north of the DMZ. Suspicions fell on imported truck-based jamming systems from Russia, capable of jamming signals within 100 kilometres. Was it really North Korea who stood behind the GPS jamming incidents and, if so, what was the purpose?

Following the North’s failed satellite launch on April 13, cyber warfare could be considered by Pyongyang as a more cost-effective way of intimidating the South. North Korea can send out jamming signals over a wide bandwidth, affecting a large number of facilities without consuming excessive amounts of energy or much needed foreign currency. A total of 553 aircraft flying in and out of South Korea’s Incheon and Gimpo airports reported GPS system failures, as did hundreds of ships and fishing boats. Considering the proximity of Seoul to the DMZ and Incheon International Airport’s proximity to the disputed waters of West Sea (Yellow Sea), such activity could cause aircrafts or ships to stray into North Korean territory, which would justify another naval clash.

GPS jamming can be used alone or in combination with other electronic and network-based attacks to disrupt South Korea’s highly digitized society. In addition to its forays into electronic warfare, the North’s military is also reportedly building up its hacking expertise. Within the last 12 months, North Korean military intelligence was accused of conducting a number of cyber attacks against South Korean and US financial institutions, government, and military websites. Experts believe that the DPRK People’s Army has units with hundreds of hackers, many of them based in China, who are employed in psychological operations to spread propaganda and infiltrate social networks. The Reconnaissance General Bureau is usually suspected of being responsible for coordinating these attempts to take down South Korea’s IT and communications infrastructure.

While inter-Korean confrontation is reaching new heights, the arrest of a 56-year-old naturalized citizen of New Zealand in Seoul in June reveals a new trend in an old conflict. An ethnic Korean known as “Mr. Kim” has been accused of exporting a satellite navigation system and long-range rocket detectors, which could have seriously compromised South Korea’s military capability. Kim and his South Korean business partners were arrested after an alleged meeting with a North Korean agent in Dandong, China. In July of last year, Kim also engaged in trade activities in Nampo, North Korea, where he handed over sensitive information that had been requested by a North Korean agent.

To what extent the North Korean military was able to utilize this equipment and information became clearer in early June this year. In an unusually detailed statement, the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army declared an ultimatum to the South Korean president Lee Myung Bak. It claimed that its missile units and other forces had been programmed with the longitude and latitude co-ordinates of various media outlets in Seoul. Among the named targets were the Chosun Ilbo and JoongAng Ilbo newspapers, a TV channel operated by the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper, and the KBS, CBS, MBC, and SBS television stations. In its report, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) named specific coordinates of the targets and promised to eliminate them if Lee did not publicly apologize for “hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK.”

According to Martyn Williams, who runs the “North Korea Tech” website, the coordinates given by the KCNA for the Chosun Ilbo and Dong-A Ilbo were incorrect, in that they failed to factor in the simple rule that the maximum value for measuring minutes and seconds is 60. That is, the Chosun Ilbo was listed at 37°56’83″ North and 126°97’65″ East. Even if these calculations were corrected and processed through mapping software, one would end up in the mountains to the northwest of Chuncheon province—a long way from downtown Seoul. The Dong-A-Ilbo’s location was similarly mistaken, as well as the coordinates of JoongAng Ilbo office, which in fact, belonged to a building across the street.

However, it is not only the hi-tech GPS equipment that North Korea might use to cause chaos and panic in South Korea. Some computer experts say that the North could try to destroy infrastructure in South Korea connected with traffic, electricity, power plants, and water supplies by hacking into computer systems. Over the years, the arsenal of North Korean cyber warfare has expanded to include virus-laden computer games. A 39-year-old South Korean game distributor, known as “Mr. Cho,” is now in police custody for allegedly violating the National Security Law when he travelled to Shenyang, China, where he is said to have met with agents of a North Korean trading company.

Cho asked the North Korean programmers to develop game software that would be used in South Korea, purchasing dozens of copies valued at tens of millions of Korean won. He then sold them to South Korean distributers. According to South Korean intelligence officials, these games were infected with malignant viruses, which turned customers’ PCs into “zombie computers,” contributing to the attempted cyber attacks against Incheon International Airport in March 2011. This activity could also provide the North with the personal information of hundreds of thousands of South Korean users of online games.

Unlike the GPS-guided conventional strike, a cyber-attack can be much more precise, long-ranged, and frustrating. North Korea-focused websites run by Pyongyang watchers and academics often fall victim to hacking attempts, which usually take the form of a Distributed Denial of Service attack. DDoS attacks involve surging a server with unwanted requests, creating such demand on the processor that the website itself becomes unavailable. Tad Farrell’s web portal “NK News: DPRK Information Center” suffered several such attacks in the past before being knocked out completely on June 6 by a different type of malicious attack where passwords were changed and most of the data in the server was wiped out.

It happened just two days after a rare photo of Kim Il Sung was published online, revealing the huge cyst on the neck of the former North Korean leader. Talking about this tumor is considered a crime in the North, and the DPRK media still meticulously avoids depicting it. Was this attack initiated by the North Koreans? It is always very difficult to find the culprit of any cyber attack. The North is routinely blamed for masterminding cyber attacks against the unfriendly sites, particularly if they are linked to North Korean defectors or focused on human rights issues. The paranoid nature of the South’s spy agencies and the ongoing inter-Korean conflict tend to elevate such suspicions to the status of common knowledge.

Cyber-attacks occur regularly worldwide and Trojan viruses are relatively easy to code. To organize and sustain a DDoS attack, the hackers must have resources on the scale that could only be provided by a wealthy client or a nation state. With heightening tensions in mind, North Korea would certainly do everything in its power to bolster its intelligence gathering capability along with the ability to attack vulnerable targets. But would not South Korea or China do the same? Even rogue NGOs with sufficient funds and vested interests can be linked to cyber crime.

For example, another news portal that follows North Korea, The Daily NK, reports that it knows the source of the malware infections installed on its website because the same Trojan scripts can be found on Chinese registered domains and These sites have no content and could be used by squads of international hackers. But just because a script is associated with China, does not necessarily answer the question about the origin of the malware code. The reasons behind each attack are much more obvious then the identity of a culprit. In most cases, cyber attacks leave us with circumstantial evidence but never with a smoking gun.

Still, following the most recent incidents, South Korean prosecutors will look even closer at any possible relations between the arrested suspects and North Korea’s jamming of GPS signals and cyber attacks. In a divided Korea, espionage can mean the death penalty. Although no one has been executed in the South for any crime since 1997, the new age of burgeoning information and communication technologies presents new challenges to states and national security. More peoples’ lives become vulnerable to subtle technological manipulations, and even foreign nationals can be easily accused of conspiring with the enemy or targeted by the conflicting sides.

Bruce Willis_die-hard-4The damage from cyber warfare can be serious and its potential consequences are yet to be understood worldwide. A Russian specialist on information security, Eugene Kaspersky, warns: “A cyber weapon can replicate itself and hit a random victim anywhere around the world, no matter how far you are from the conflict zone. After all, the Internet has no borders and an attack may target an identical system, for example power stations, even if they are located in a very different region of the world.” In other words, cyber terrorism opens a new Pandora’s Box of dangers of which the world has not had a chance to witness except from hypothetical scenarios in the Hollywood blockbuster “Die Hard 4.0.”

Peace and security in Korea is becoming increasingly susceptible to cataclysms, which can be triggered by either a malicious intent or human mistake. The non-aggression and non-nuclear agreements, which were signed by Seoul and Pyongyang in the early 1990s, as well as the suspension of mutually hostile propaganda, which was maintained during the years of “Sunshine Policy” (1998-2008), are now null and void. Any provocation—either real or assumed—can be fatal and can lead to the resumption of a full-scale war on the densely populated peninsula.

The Armistice Agreement signed in Korea in 1953 is long over-due for replacement by a firm peace treaty, which would guarantee security and create conditions for peaceful co-existence of the two Korean states. Reconciliation and collaboration between Koreans and their neighbors is necessary to avert the danger of a man-made regional catastrophe. Failing to achieve it quickly, means the whole world might be caught in the virtual crossfire of an unfinished civil war, which began 62 years ago.

Read a shorter version of this article in Korean here…  한반도에서 펼쳐지는 사이버 전쟁?!

Towards co-operative partnership with two Koreas

8 01 2012

 (Leonid Petrov, Public speech at the Regional Meeting of ROK National Unification Advisory Council in Sydney, 28 Oct. 2011)

In March 2008, the then newly-elected Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd declared his foreign policy philosophy and promised that “during the course of the next three years, the world will see an increasingly activist Australian international policy in areas where we believe we may be able to make a positive difference”. Rudd assured the audience that the new Australian government was committed to the principle of “creative middle-power diplomacy” as the best means of enhancing Australia’s national interests.

Since then Australia has already made great steps forward in departing from the one-sided conservative foreign policy of the Howard Years. The Australian Labor Party now proudly states that its foreign policy platform is based on the three pillars – alliance with the US, active membership of the UN, and comprehensive engagement with Asia – that manifest realism, liberal internationalism, and regionalism. Given this approach, how can Australia develop a comprehensive and co-operative partnership with the two Koreas and contribute to the building of peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region?

In April 2011, while visiting Seoul, Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard admitted that “China, Japan and Korea are countries of vital strategic and economic importance in the Asia-Pacific region and to Australia. They are Australia’s top three export destinations and three of Australia’s top four trading partners overall”. But at the Korean War memorial in Kapyong (the place of fierce fighting between Australians and Chinese), she brushed off the prospects for resuming denuclearisation talks with North Korea, saying “There’s no point just saying ‘sit down and talk’, if the talks are not going to achieve anything.”

Despite the pledge for a balanced regional partnership, Australia maintains strong relations with the ROK but minimal relations with the DPRK. While maintaining formal diplomatic links, Canberra has little plans to open its embassy in Pyongyang. Most bilateral cooperation with the North has been put on hold by the Australian side “until the nuclear-weapon crisis is resolved”. The closure of the DPRK’s embassy in Canberra in 2008 seemed to be a logical outcome of this freeze in relations. There is little discussion of the future of Australia-DPRK relations in the media. Reports on trade with North Korea produced by the Australian government reflect a pessimistic posture.

Certainly, the DPRK is not an ordinary state and its social order is unique in today’s world. To deal with North Korea successfully we must remember and understand Cold War history and its consequences for the region. The reality of the inter-Korean conflict must be taken into account whenever we try to engage in dialogue or cooperation. Sensibility and understanding in dealing with Korea and Koreans are as important as first-hand knowledge of their country, language and culture. Sadly, preoccupation with pragmatism and allied solidarity left Australia-Korea relations lopsided.

To be pragmatic means to understand that regime change in North Korea, despite the long-standing predictions, cannot happen in current circumstances. The Korean War has never ended, and as long as regional powers help one side of the divided Korea and bully the other, the division of Korea will continue. Without our full diplomatic recognition, solid security assurance, and fair economic treatment the DPRK will not follow China or Vietnam’s examples in market reforms and democratisation. Instead, North Korea will remain consolidated ideologically with no room for political freedom or economic liberalism.

The demise of its supreme leader, Kim Jong-il, has already triggered the power succession process, which may open new opportunities for negotiations. We also know that man-made and natural disasters began hitting North Korea again, leaving the population weakened and desperate. The fall in grain production around the world and rising international grain prices have also put international food donors into a difficult situation. Last year the World Food Program (WFP) warned that North Korea would need massive food aid in the coming months to avert widespread hunger caused by severe floods, economic sanctions, and ineffective diplomacy.

In the meantime, inter-Korean relations have deteriorated to a level previously known only in the Cold War era. The sinking of the Cheonan Corvette and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island are commonly attributed to Pyongyang’s “erratic and dangerous behavior”, but are rarely associated with Seoul’s actions in the disputed waters around the controversial Northern-Limit Line. Neither of these incidents would have occurred if the agreements of the June 2000 and October 2007 Inter-Korean Summits had been implemented. The Peace and Prosperity (or “Sunshine”) Policy had prioritised economic and humanitarian cooperation over political and military considerations, and was quite effective.

These days, South Korean producers dump millions of tons of quality food that could bring famine relief to their brethren in the North. I think that it would be much wiser for the ROK government to assume more active responsibility for the wellbeing of the people residing in the territories which will sooner or later become part of the unified Korea. Similarly, an Australia that routinely helps the flood victims in Myanmar and drought victims in Afghanistan could more actively assist the impoverished people of North Korea. Wouldn’t it be better if the Labor government in Canberra, together with administrations in Seoul and Pyongyang could cement the foundation for a new balanced relationship?

As the first step towards ending the war in Northeast Asia the mutual recognition of both the ROK and DPRK is necessary. Although both governments understand the pros and cons of peaceful co-existence the Cold War mentality that dominates the region does not permit such an option. In order to resolve the Korean knot both competing states in the North and South should dismantle the thesis of exclusive legitimacy on the peninsula, on which the whole building of their respective identities and statehood are founded. Sadly, as long as the ideology of nationalism permeates their domestic politics, I don’t think it is possible.

Confrontation will continue indefinitely until the regional powers decide to interrupt the vicious circle and change the paradigm of relations. But to make this situation sustainable, a special status (neutral and non-nuclear) should be given to the Korean peninsula with no place for foreign troops or conflicting alliances. Only this would stop the century-long foreign rivalry for domination in Korea, and help the Koreans reconcile.

While the Cold War mentality rules inter-Korean relations and limits contacts between the people of North and South Korea to an absolute minimum, it is impossible to expect much support from below either. The best example of balance between the grass-root initiative and government actions was achieved during the 10 years of Sunshine Policy. Its main principles were: “give first, take later” and “easy tasks first, difficult tasks later”. It’s time to understand that there is no alternative to such policy, and the sooner the ROK government resumes it the brighter will be the future for Korea and Koreans.

Differences in political views and economic systems must not divide but should rather enhance the value of partnership and help complement each other’s strengths. By intensifying diplomatic ties and expanding economic cooperation with both halves of divided Korea we can make a significant contribution to the peaceful resolution of the nuclear problem and prepare the basis for durable peace and prosperity in the region.

Published as “Toward partnership with two Koreas” (The Korea Times,  01-10-2012)

Publisged as “Towards a co-operative Korean partnership” (A-Times On-line, 10 Jan. 2012)

See report (in Korean) about the Regional Meeting of ROK National Unification Advisory Council in Sydney, 28 Oct. 2011in Korean here…