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.

Russia Emerging From the Cold

11 02 2011

By Sunny Lee (Asia Times On-line, 11 Feb, 2011)

BEIJING – With the United Nations Security Council scheduled to meet on February 23 to discuss the North Korean nuclear issue, including recent revelations of its uranium-enrichment program, Washington and its allies in Seoul and Tokyo are increasingly placing their hopes on China, oops! rather, Russia.

That’s an unusual development in the 20-year saga of North Korea’s nuclear program, as Russia has been largely “invisible” in the six-country consortium that heads international efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

During previous rounds of the six-party talks in Beijing – they were last held more than two years ago – international media outlets, even though hungry for scoops, spared their journalists from going to the Russian delegation, reflecting the former “empire’s” limited influence in regional security affairs and in particular its greatly reduced clout over Pyongyang. Furthermore, China has replaced Russia as the main Cold War benefactor of Pyongyang.

Yet, China pretends it doesn’t have influence on North Korea, while Russia pretends it has. The reality is the opposite. As one Chinese scholar put it, “We Chinese say we don’t have influence on North Korea. We say North Korea is a sovereign state and it makes its own decisions. But everybody knows that we have the influence.”

Leonid Petrov, a Russian expert on Korean affairs at the University of Sydney, says, “Russia lost its leverage on North Korea in 1991 when the Soviet empire collapsed”.

During the Cold War, Moscow was Pyongyang’s guardian in its “struggle against American imperialism”. Soviet records confirm that current North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was born in the village of Vyatskoye, near Khabarovsk, in Russia in 1941. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the cash-stripped Russian government demanded that Pyongyang pay back in hard currency the money it owed the Kremlin, which soured the Russo-North Korea relationship.

Russian interest as well as influence in North Korea steadily declined in the 1990s, especially after Moscow established diplomatic ties with Pyongyang’s rival, Seoul, making North Korea feel betrayed. The relationship was partly restored in 2000 when Vladimir Putin, the current premier who was then president, visited North Korea, the first trip of its kind by a top Russian leader.

That, however, does not mean today’s relationship is back to where it was. “The two countries used to be allies, but now they are neither friends nor foes,” said Yoichi Funabashi, a Japanese security expert on East Asia in his book The Peninsula Question. During the Cold War, Russia and China competed fiercely for leverage over the North, now China has gained the ascendency…

…”Russia is noticing the chasm between Washington and Beijing and seeing its own chance to enhance its international leverage,” said Lee Sang-soo at the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm.

While Russia supported China’s call for the resumption of the six-party talks, unlike China, Moscow condemned North Korea following the shelling of the island of Yeonpyeong. “In many ways, Russia’s views on global affairs are different from China’s,” said Zhang Liangui, a professor of international strategic research at the Party School of the China Communist Party Central Committee in Beijing.

At the UN Security Council meeting later this month, Washington is expected to push for a statement of condemnation on North Korea’s uranium-enrichment program, while China is likely to block the effort. It will instead seek to restart the six-party talks first. When Washington and Beijing are at odds, Russia’s role is crucial, and it could use its veto powers.

“Russia will support the US move,” said Zhang in Beijing, adding that Russia believed North Korea’s nuclear program was a threat. Petrov, the Russian scholar in Australia said, “Russia also firmly supports nuclear non-proliferation [more so than China.]”

According to Zhang, North Korea’s nuclear program is more dangerous than Iran’s. “It’s a more serious issue. Iran has not conducted nuclear testing. So, its claim [that its program is] for peaceful purposes for nuclear power has merit. But North Korea is different. It has already conducted nuclear testing, twice. So, its claim that its nuclear use is for peaceful purposes doesn’t hold ground.”

With Russia’s role “once lost, but now found”, it is no wonder that recently there have been increased flights to Moscow by envoys from concerned countries, in addition to visits to Beijing.

So, it is more than coincidence, for example, that South Korea’s chief nuclear envoy, Wi Sung-lak, is visiting Beijing on Thursday, while Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara is visiting Moscow on the same day. This comes on the heels of US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg’s Asian swing just two weeks ago. “Washington and its allies will increasingly turn to using the Russian card,” said Zhang in Beijing.

See the full text of the article here…

Иван Васильевич не сможет сменить профессию — или что ждёт переводчиков в глобализующемся мире

6 06 2009

Тут у нас в корееведной тусовке разгорелся спор о том, на сколько вообще перспективно знание языков в современном мире и о будущем профессии переводчика в частности. Одурманенный идеологическим воздействием англо-американского империализма я рискнул выступить с гипотезой о том, что мир катится в одном направлении – прямо в руки транснациональных корпораций и страховых компаний. Глобализация требует от всех одного — подчиниться и перейти на английский. В этих условиях переводчиков ждёт трудная судьба, граничащая с медленным и мучительным вымиранием. Вот некоторые из аргументов и тезисов, усвоенных мной после 15 лет бесплодных попыток доказать Западным людям, что языки – это нужно и полезно. Простите за пессимизм…

*  *  *

В чём притягательность профессии переводчика и на сколько она перспективна? Существует два взгляда на проблему – традиционный и глобалистский. Для традиционного мышления быть переводчиком – это “круто”, можно в работе купаться, мир повидать, а потом, если надоест, быстро переквалифицироваться и заняться чем-то другим. Для глобалистского мышления – переводчик — это тех.персонал, работа по найму от случая к случаю, карьерного роста никакого, да и вообще “скоро все перейдут на английский и поэтому профессия умрёт сама собой”. 

Для примера Ю.Корейцы ещё лет 15 назад были традиционалистами, советывали детям ехать в Россию учить русский или в Японии учить японский. В наши дни корейцы своих детей в перводчиках могут представить лишь в кошмарном сне. Для большинства из них залогом стабильности и процветания являются айтишная компания или бухгалтерская контора.

Почему это так? Потому что в Европе и Америке представления именно такие. Полвека интенсивной миграции населения, интеграционные процессы и наконец глобализация показали, что Переводчик – это не профессия (ну если только Вас не пригласили в ООН или НАТО). Африка, благодаря колониальному наследию, уже говорит на английском и французском. В Азии этот процесс только начинается. Поэтому Россия и Корея пока ещё остаются для переводчиков лакомым куском…

Read the rest of this entry »

“А вот интересно… если Северная Корея сейчас возьмет да признает независимость Абхазии?”

2 06 2009

Владимир Милов считает, что политика россйского МИДа по отношению к КНДР провалилась:
"Россия и Китай, прежде тормозившие принятие жестких решений по ядерной проблеме КНДР, сейчас с чего-то вдруг резко забеспокоились. Сегодня Лавров говорил по телефону с китайским министром иностранных дел, по итогам разговора было выражено "общее мнение о необходимости убедительного ответа со стороны Совбеза о недопустимости игнорирования решения СБ ООН и требований глобальных режимов нераспространения ОМУ".
Можете сравнить сегодняшнюю довольно жесткую риторику с МИДовскими соплями 6-летней давности: о необходимости "рассматривать «северокорейское досье» в неконфронтационном ключе", о том что "об оказании санкционного нажима на Пхеньян или принятии каких-либо иных ограничительных мер в отношении КНДР речи не шло", "что этот вопрос в нынешних условиях не должен стоять в повестке дня СБ ООН", и что "Россия расценила передачу северокорейского вопроса в СБ ООН преждевременным шагом". Господа из МИДа, конечно, ни за что не признаются, что их северокорейская политика провалилась."

Одна из читательниц его блога резонно задаёт вопрос: "А вот интересно… если Северная Корея сейчас возьмет да признает независимость Абхазии – какой будет позиция Лаврова?"

См. всю дискуссию здесь…

О возможной связи ядерных испытаний в КНДР и мировых ценах на нефть

1 06 2009

В своём последнем обзоре Юлия Латынина верно оценивает происходящее в КНДР, но рискует попасть в просак, ища связи между ядерными испытаниями и ценами на нефть. Много неточностей и ошибок и по другим пунктам.

"…Северная Корея – это государство-маньяк. Но, может быть, это – наш маньяк?

Увы. Северная Корея по количеству оскорблений, нанесенных России, стоит на втором месте после Южной Осетии.

Северная Корея взорвала ядерную бомбу менее чем в трехстах км. от Владивостока – может, она нас предупредила? Представляете себе, что было б, если бы США без предупреждения взорвали ядерную бомбу в трех сотнях километров от российского города-миллионера? Российский МИД изошел бы дерьмом и был бы совершенно прав.

Северная Корея без предупреждения испытывает ракеты, обломки которых падают на нашу территорию. Вы представляете себе, что было б, если бы на нашу территорию без предупреждения упали обломки… хотя бы китайской ракеты?

Северная Корея захватывает наши суда в водах, которые она (одна во всем мире) считает своими территориальными водами, и МИД по обыкновению молчит. Несколько лет назад Ким Чен Ир пообещал Путину ядерное разоружение, а потом сказал, что пошутил.

Нет, извините, это – сукин сын, и это – не наш сукин сын.

Вопрос: выгодна ли России политика Северной Кореи?

Ответ: Россия как член клуба ядерных держав стратегически не заинтересована в расширении этого членства.

Вопрос: выгодна ли политика Северной Кореи компании Gunvor?

Ответ: Да, компании Gunvor и любому нефте- и газоторговцу выгодна политика государства-маньяка, потому что она повышает цену на нефть.

В истории России бывали безумные цари, бывали блаженные, но не было еще в истории России примера, чтобы бенефициарами ее внешней политики являлись швейцарские нефтетрейдеры…."

Весь текст здесь…

Разбор и обсуждение статьи здесь…

Кто заступится за Рю Ен Нама?

28 11 2008

В России стало на одного нелегального эмигранта больше. В июне этого года приморские пограничники обнаружили неизвестного, пересекавшего вплавль государственную границу РФ со стороны КНР близ села Игнашино Сковородинского района. Им оказался Рю Ен Нам, гражданин КНДР. Как выяснилось, сначала северный кореец бежал в Китай, куда также попал нелегально. Однако конечной целью его маршрута была Россия, где он хотел обосноваться и заработать.

Из Северной Кореи легальным путем попасть на работу в Россию непросто. Для этого нужно завербоваться на лесоповал или в строительную бригаду. Процедура эта требует множество разрешений и проверок на лояльность режиму, что без знакомств и взяток практически невозможно. Даже попав на работу в Россию, существенную часть заработанных средств (30-40%) работникам положено сдавать бригадиру, который затем отправляет собранное в КНДР своему начальству. Кому конкретно попадают эти деньги – можно лишь догадываться. Поэтому северные корейцы, работающие в Приморском и Хабаровском краях, стараются сделать всё возможное, чтобы "уйти в свободное плавание" и работать подальше от глаз начальства. 

Некоторые из них предпочитают более простой, но более опасный путь. В КНДР самовольный уход в соседнюю страну обычно расценивают как измену Родине. За такой проступок Рю Ен Наму теперь грозит смертная казнь. Более того, власти могут покарать и всю его семью. Незаконно пересекшего российскую границу гражданина КНДР, 27 октября 2008 г. Сковородинский районный суд приговорил к 6 месяцам колонии общего режима. Это значит, что ближайшие полгода Рю Ен Нам проведет в России. После этого, согласно взаимной договорённости между РФ и КНДР об обмене лиц скрывающихся от правосудия, он будет насильно репатриирован и, скорее всего, казнён.

Помочь этому человеку могут немногие. Среди вероятных заступников, по всей видимости, окажется Светлана Ганнушкина, председатель Комитета “Гражданское содействие”, которая занимается оказанием помощи беженцам, попавшим в трудные ситуации. История помощи Комитета другому гражданину КНДР в ноябре 2007 г. описана здесь. Однако, время не терпит. Если в срок наказания будет включено время, которое Рю Ен Нам уже находился под стражей, то его репатриация может состояться уже в начале 2009 г.  Для того чтобы задержать или отменить передачу беженца северокорейским властям, потребуется огромная работа. Необходимо участие юристов-правозащитников, которые могли бы встретиться с самим Рю Ен Намом для определения линии его защиты. Есть ли заинтересованные в этом люди и средства – остаётся пока неясным. Так заступится ли кто-нибудь за Рю Ен Нама? 

Пока, участие в его судьбе проявил elmor 
Постарайтесь разослать это послание по ЖЖ своим знакомым. А вдруг поможет?

Связваться с Комитетом “Гражданское содействие” можно по Тел.: (499) 973-54-74, (499) 973-54-43, (495) 251-53-19 (факс)

См. историю о злоключениях другого беженца – российского корейца здесь…


Film Screening: “The Schoolgirl’s Diary” (2006)

1 04 2008

Schoolgirl’s Diary-With commentary from Suk-Young Kim, University of California at Santa Barbara
April 09, 2008 4:00 – 6:30pm
6th Floor Auditorium
Woodrow Wilson Center
One Woodrow Wilson Plaza
1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20004

Visit for more information, and to RSVP

The North Korea International Documentation Project invites you to attend a screening of the North Korean film “The Schoolgirl’s Diary” (Han Nyeohaksaengeui Ilgi) followed by commentary by Suk-Young Kim, assistant professor of theater and dance at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and an expert on North Korean propaganda.

The Schoolgirl’s Diary (2006, in Korean, no subtitles) is the story of a self-absorbed North Korean teenager, Soo-Ryeon, who yearns to move to an apartment from her home in the countryside and questions the values of her father and mother, a scientist and a librarian at the academy of sciences who put the good of the nation before that of their family. Soo-Ryeon realizes how selfish she is only after her mother falls ill and her father makes a major breakthrough in his research. The film’s screenwriters reportedly received guidance in drafting the script from North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Suk-Young Kim is assistant professor of theater and dance at the University of California at Santa Barbara. She is currently completing a book project titled Illusive Utopia: Theater, Film, and Everyday Performance in North Korea, which explores how state produced propaganda performances intersect with everyday life practice in North Korea. Another book project, Long Road Home: A Testimony of a North Korean Camp Survivor (coauthored with Kim Yong) is forthcoming from Columbia University Press.

“The Schoolgirl’s Diary” (2006) is, indeed, the most interesting piece of work recently produced by Pyongyang filmmakers. It looks like an attempt to depict the growing conflict between selfishness and self-sacrifice in North Korea. Echoing the Russian film Courier [Kurier] (1986), which hit the records of popularity in the Perestroika-stricken Soviet Union, this film employs the convenient method of viewing the grim reality of life through the eyes of a teenager. If something in the film is politically unpalatable, it is the immaturity of the main character that has to be blamed – not the film director (Jang In-hak or Kim Jong-il himself?).

The main character, Suryeon, gets increasingly frustrated with her poor and naïve parents who “foolishly” devoted themselves to the country and the people. Her protest may look unsophisticated but small details reveal political overtones. In one scene, where Suryeon is arguing with her younger sister over the quality of food in their lunchboxes, her blouse and skirt also show aggressive colours – namely stars and stripes (just like on the US flag). Is this a new vogue in modern Pyongyang? Or maybe the director’s tongue-in-cheek? Some people still argue that it were blue jeans and rock music that destroyed socialism in the USSR.

It looks like this film is trying to address the issues vital to North Korea’s survival. In the DPRK it was viewed by some 8 million people just in the first six months. Pretty Pictures bought the screening rights to show it in Europe last year. Who knows, maybe this film will open a new dimension of the “Hallyu” phenomenon? It would be interesting to hear the opinion of those who have seen it already.

Download this film for free here…



How North Koreans overcome the shortage of electricity

26 03 2008

Voltage converter

The Daily NK describes how North Koreans, who have faced chronic shortages of electricity, use conventional and alternative means to meet their basic needs.

“People overcome the shortage of electricity on their own. They import a large number of batteries from China. In addition, there are many households which have a bicycle generator,” Mr. Shin said, “Even though no electricity is provided by the state, people can manage to get by. Indeed, they get used to the shortage of electricity and can solve the problem on their own.”

– A similar situation was in the USSR well until the later 1970s – early 1980s. Not only in provinces but in the large cities too.

“Unlike their counterparts in the city, many people in the rural areas do not use motor vehicle batteries because they need not only the battery but also a 220v converter, current transformer and low voltage circuit breaker to watch TV and video, Mr. Shin said.”

– The picture above shows such batteries and a voltage converter.

“In North Korea, it costs 70,000 North Korean Won to get a used motor vehicle battery and 120,000 to 160,000 North Korean won to get a new one. Considering the availability of repair services, people prefer to buy the domestically produced ‘Daedong River Battery’ to its Chinese counterpart even though Chinese one is of better quality,” said the merchant.

– That’s correct! Last October I checked the prices for small generators sold at the T’ongil Market in Pyongyang and was asked 140,000 NKW. However, in Pyongyang people have more cash in hands.  However, a greater variety of consumer goods in Pyongyang markets makes the competition there stronger.

When asked whether North Korean people complain about the shortage of power, the merchant said, “Do you think the government has ever provided anything for its people? These days, people have become accustomed to making a living with their own hands even if there is no provision from the government.”

– People in NK, like it was in the former USSR, have little expectations of government ability to help them with their daily needs. But they don’t blame the government for inefficiency. Instead, they see the source of their misery in the hostility of foreign nations (first of all the US), continuing conflict with South Korea, the collapse of Socialism in China and Russia, and natural disasters….


Taedonggang Beer

24 03 2008

Taedonggang beer brewery

North Koreans are very proud of their Taedonggang Beer, which, in fact, is of excellent export quality. However, for some reason, its export is allowed only to South Korea (which is technically the same country).

The hardware is, indeed, British but the story of brand creation goes back to Kim Jong-il’s visit to Russia in August 2001. During his visit to the Baltika brewery in St.Petersburg, the North Korean leader invited its experts to cooperation and, in memory of the tasting, took away a 5-liter keg.


Some cooperation between this Russian brewery and North Korean Taedonggang took place soon after that. Also, Taedonggang beer owes its qualities to the technological processes of Chinese Tsingtao and Japanese Sapporo (according to the factory’s official guide, Ms. Kim Seong-bok). Its byproducts include Taedonggang soju and Taedonggang barley tea.

Barley and hop, which are used for Taedonggang beer, come from the northern Ryanggang Province, and the fresh water from South Hwanghae Province. The filtering material is also produced locally. Taedonggang is produced bottled and draft (10° and 12°). But the North Koreans prefer stronger liqueurs and consider beer merely a “beverage”, not alcohol.


See “Taedonggang Beer: The Simple Pleasures” by DPRK Studies

Presidential elections and the future of Russian-Korean relations

13 03 2008

Putin_KimJongIlBy Leonid Petrov

At the end of this month the inauguration of the recently elected President of the Republic of Korea will take place in Seoul. Russia is poised for its own presidential elections in early March. In North Korea (formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK), it has been reported, the grooming of a new leader is already under way. Nevertheless, the dynamics of relations between Russia and the two Koreas will depend not so much on personalities but on the joint efforts of the sides…

See the full text at