Archive for the ‘North Korea – regime change’ category

Trump is Right, Tillerson is Wasting His Time on North Korea

October 2, 2017

Trump is Right, Tillerson is Wasting His Time on North Korea, Power LinePaul Mirengoff, October 2, 2017

(Please see also, China openly discussing collapse of North Korea. — DM)

If there is any hope of changing North Korea’s behavior, it rests not with Tillerson’s diplomacy or with the direct effect of threatening Kim Jong Un. Rather, it rests with China acting out of self-interest.

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A day after Secretary of State Tillerson said he was reaching out to North Korea in hopes of starting a new dialogue, President Trump belittled the idea. He tweeted:

I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man. Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!

Trump is right. North Korea isn’t going to negotiate away its nuclear arsenal and it’s not going to freeze its nuclear program until the program has the capacity to inflict the level of damage Kim Jong Un deems necessary to deter the U.S. — namely the capacity to hit major U.S. cities.

Michael Green, President George W. Bush’s chief Asia adviser, acknowledged that “the president is right on this one in the sense that Pyongyang is clear it will not put nuclear weapons on the negotiating table, nor will the current level of sanctions likely convince them to do so. . . .”

The incoherence of Tillerson’s approach is underscored by this incoherent statement by Sen. Bob Corker:

I think that there’s more going on than meets the eye. I think Tillerson understands that every intelligence agency we have says there’s no amount of economic pressure you can put on North Korea to get them to stop this program because they view this as their survival.

If no amount of economic pressure can induce North Korea to stop its nuclear program because of its centrality to the regime’s survival, then what are the likely outcomes of Tillerson negotiating with the regime? The likely outcomes are (1) no agreement or (2) acceptance of North Korea continuing its program, in effect on North Korean terms.

These have been the outcomes of past U.S. diplomacy with North Korea. As Trump tweeted: “Being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it work now?”

The question remains, though, why did Trump publicly undercut his Secretary of State on Twitter. According to reports, the president was furious at Tillerson for contradicting his public position that now is not the time for talks. That seems like reason enough for the president’s tweeting. It may be reason enough to sack Tillerson.

Some have suggested that Trump is attempting a good cop, bad cop approach to Kim Jong Un. It seems to be true that the North Koreans are mightily confused by conflicting signals coming from Washington. According to a number of sources, they are frantically talking to American sources in an attempt to understand the true intentions of the Trump administration. And Trump has often touted the advantages of keeping our adversaries uncertain about his intentions.

It’s far from clear, however, that this is the right approach in the context of a fledgling nuclear power led by an inexperienced ruler about whom we don’t know much. My guess is that Trump’s rhetoric will unsettle North Korea, but is no more likely than Tillerson’s diplomacy to deter it from expanding its nuclear program.

At the same time, it will not prompt Kim Jong Un to start a war he otherwise doesn’t want, as Trump’s critics suggest might happen. Where’s the advantage to the regime in that?

If one is inclined to view Trump’s rhetoric as rationally calculated to achieve a positive purpose, I think that purpose would be to influence China. If China believes Trump might launch a preemptive attack on North Korea, it might apply a stranglehold on the regime, especially if it also sees South Korea and Japan possibly moving towards developing a nuclear arsenal.

If there is any hope of changing North Korea’s behavior, it rests not with Tillerson’s diplomacy or with the direct effect of threatening Kim Jong Un. Rather, it rests with China acting out of self-interest.

China openly discussing collapse of North Korea

October 2, 2017

China openly discussing collapse of North Korea, American ThinkerThomas Lifson, October 2, 2017

China has sent an unmistakable signal that Kim Jong-un had better not rely on the historic alliance between China and North Korea to resist President Trump’s demands. In fact, as he dallies with his troop of teen sex slaves, he had better keep in mind that Beijing is wondering what it might be like with the Kim dynasty out of the way.

The Chinese way of delivering such a harsh message is to use a third party. Preferably one without a policy role, but who clearly speaks for the ruling elite. Someone, for instance, like the Dean of International Studies at Beijing University (the Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford of China). Patrick Baert of AFP writes:

Jia Qingguo, dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, raised eyebrows earlier in September when he published an article entitled: “Time to prepare for the worst in North Korea”.

The paper was published in English in East Asia Forum, a website of the Australian National University, but it is unlikely that he could have released it without the approval of Chinese authorities.

Jia urged Beijing to start discussing contingency plans with the United States and South Korea — talks that the two nations have sought in the past but China has resisted for fear of upsetting Pyongyang.

 “When war becomes a real possibility, China must be prepared. And, with this in mind, China must be more willing to consider talks with concerned countries on contingency plans,” Jia wrote.

This comparatively mild language is telling KJU that in a war, China might not be on the North Korean side.

Observers say the public debate might be a tactic to try and coerce Pyongyang into cooling its weapons programme, with its nuclear and missile tests visibly angering Beijing, which has backed tough new United Nations sanctions on the country.

But it may also indicate growing calls to overhaul its relationship with the North, a longterm ally that it defended during the 1950-53 Korean War and has a mutual defence pact with.

Yalu River bridges from China into North Korea at Dandong, Liaoning, Provicne/

As most readers know, the Korean War never ended. So, an “overhaul” of the relationship could only mean weakening or abandoning the alliance, and allowing the war to be fought to completion — without Beijing backing Pyongyang in the fighting.   Even raising this possibility, indirectly and via a scholarly journal published in English, is calculated to let Kim know he could be on his own.

This could indicate a shift in the tectonic plates of China’s geostrategy:

But there are also signs of a genuine shift in perceptions over how China should handle North Korea.

David Kelly, director of research at Beijing-based consultancy China Policy, said the thinking among Chinese academics was: “We could do better without them, a unified Korea would be incredibly good for China, the northeast would boom”.

China has long supported North Korea because it serves as a buffer from US troops stationed in South Korea, but Barthelemy Courmont, a China specialist at the Institute of Strategic and International Relations in Paris, said Pyongyang’s downfall could be good for Beijing, especially economically.

“China now believes that a collapse of North Korea would not necessarily be to its disadvantage,” Courmont said.

“If North Korea were to fall in a peaceful way, China would be best positioned for its reconstruction. China is the only country capable of overseeing the reconstruction of North Korea,” he said.

This has to be related to the current “conflict” between SecState Tillerson and President Trump that has progs reveling in what they see as amateur hour. The New York Times:

President Trump undercut his own secretary of state on Sunday, calling his effort to open lines of communication with North Korea a waste of time, and seeming to rule out a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear-edged confrontation with Pyongyang.

A day after Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said he was reaching out to Pyongyang in hopes of starting a new dialogue, Mr. Trump belittled the idea and left the impression that he was focused mainly on military options. Mr. Trump was privately described by advisers as furious at Mr. Tillerson for contradicting the president’s public position that now is not the time for talks.

This sounds more like Good cop/bad cop than outright conflict. As with President Reagan, Trump is regarded as a bit of a madman, who might just start a nuclear war. Even Kim Jong un understands that North Korea cannot win such a conflict. But now, the old passivity and delay that characterized American policy towards North Korea for the past three decades is over.

If (and it is a big if), China switches over to a policy of Korean reunification and dumps the embarrassment in Pyongyang, it would be an achievement of President Trump that echoes Nixon opening relations with China and Regan winning the Cold War.

 

President Trump JUST Drops Executive Order NOW Kim Jong Un Is Panicking(VIDEO)!!!

September 26, 2017

President Trump JUST Drops Executive Order NOW Kim Jong Un Is Panicking(VIDEO)!!!, Global News via YouTube, September 26, 2017

(The title seems excessively dramatic, but Dear Leader Kim will feel the new sanctions China claims to support.  The more interesting segments of the video deal with our military options. — DM)

The blurb beneath the video states,

President Trump drops executive order now Kim Jong Un is panicking. President Trump signed an executive order targeting North Korea’s trading partners, calling it a powerful new tool aimed at isolating the regime. Foreign banks will face a clear choice. Do business with the United States or facilitate trade with the lawless regime in North Korea.

A North Korea nuclear test over the Pacific? Logical, terrifying

September 22, 2017

A North Korea nuclear test over the Pacific? Logical, terrifying, ReutersHyonhee ShinLinda Sieg, September 22, 2017

“To put a live nuclear warhead on a missile that’s only been tested a handful of times, overflying potentially populated centers. If it…doesn’t go exactly as planned….it could be a world changing event.”

If Kim’s threat materializes, it will be a “tipping point” for China, and may prompt many other countries to demand an “end to the regime,” said David Albright, founder of the non-profit Institute for Science and International Security in Washington.

“No one has tested above ground for decades and the radioactive fallout could be terrifying to many,” Albright said.

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SEOUL/TOKYO (Reuters) – Detonating a nuclear-tipped missile over the Pacific Ocean would be a logical final step by North Korea to prove the success of its weapons program but would be extremely provocative and carry huge risks, arms control experts said on Friday.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho suggested leader Kim Jong Un was considering testing “an unprecedented scale hydrogen bomb” over the Pacific in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat at the United Nations to “totally destroy” the country.

“It may mean North Korea will fire a warhead-tipped (intermediate range) Hwasong-12 or Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile and blow it up a few hundred kilometers above the Pacific Ocean,” said Yang Uk, a senior researcher at the Korea Defence and Security Forum in Seoul.

“They may be bluffing, but there is a need for them to test their combined missile-bomb capability. They could have already prepared the plan and are now trying to use Trump’s remarks as an excuse to make it happen,” said Yang.

Such an atmospheric test would be the first globally since China detonated a device in 1980, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Tests of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles are rarer still. The United States’ only test of an operational ballistic missile with a live warhead was fired from submarine far out in the Pacific Ocean in 1962.

China was widely condemned for a similar test with a missile that exploded over its Lop Nur test site in the country’s west in 1966.

North Korea’s six nuclear tests to date have all been underground, the most recent earlier this month by far its largest.

“We have to assume they *could* do it, but it is exceedingly provocative,” said Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at  Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“To put a live nuclear warhead on a missile that’s only been tested a handful of times, overflying potentially populated centers. If it…doesn’t go exactly as planned….it could be a world changing event.”

North Korea has fired two ballistic missiles over Japan’s north Hokkaido region in the past month as part of a series of tests that experts say have illustrated unexpectedly rapid advances.

“They said Pacific Ocean, which pretty much means firing a missile over Japan,” said Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the U.S.-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California. “They want to shut us all up for doubting they could build it.”

SERIOUS FALLOUT

While a missile would be the most ideal means of delivery, it is also possible to put a bomb on a ship and detonate on the surface of the ocean or in the sea, the experts said.

Either way, the radioactive fallout could be significant, as well as the diplomatic backlash from around the world. North Korea’s recent missile launches over Japan especially drew stern rebukes from Tokyo and the international community.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga called Pyongyang’s remarks and behavior “completely unacceptable”.

Narang said a test high enough over the ocean would limit the radioactive fallout but risks included damage from an electro-magnetic pulse, something Pyongyang has hinted it might employ on an attack on the United States or its allies.

“If it doesn’t go exactly as planned and the detonation occurs at a lower altitude we could see some EMP-like effects for anything in the area. A lot of dead fish too.”

Pyongyang has launched dozens of missiles this year as it spurs a program aimed at mastering a nuclear-tipped missile that can strike the United States, in addition to its Sept 3 nuclear test.

If Kim’s threat materializes, it will be a “tipping point” for China, and may prompt many other countries to demand an “end to the regime,” said David Albright, founder of the non-profit Institute for Science and International Security in Washington.

“No one has tested above ground for decades and the radioactive fallout could be terrifying to many,” Albright said.

Other experts said such an atmospheric nuclear test is unlikely for now due to its substantial technical and diplomatic risks.

Joshua Pollack, editor of the Washington-based Nonproliferation Review, said it would be an “end-to-end demo of everything.”

“But I would be surprised if this were their very next move. They have yet to test an ICBM at full range into the Pacific,” said Pollack. “That will probably come first.”

Korea: Escalation Is A Two-Way Street

September 19, 2017

Korea: Escalation Is A Two-Way Street, Strategy Page, September 15, 2017

(This is a lengthy article but provides very useful insights. — DM)

The latest North Korean nuclear and missile tests have caused Chinese public opinion towards North Korea to become even more hostile. According to opinion polls North Korea has, over the last few years, turned into a larger military threat to China than the U.S. or anyone else. To deal with this China has increased the number of troops and border police stationed near the North Korean border and conducted more military exercises in the area. This also addresses another Chinese fear (that gets less publicity in China) that a government collapse in North Korea would send millions of desperate, and opportunistic, North Koreans into China. There is no way China or the Chinese living along the North Korean border would tolerate that. Meanwhile China is becoming more hostile to North Koreans no matter what their legal or economic status is. Part of that is because North Korea has become a very unpleasant place for Chinese to visit or do business in.

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Every nation has its priorities and for North Korea it is all about image. Most people see that in terms of North Korean nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. But there are other equally important (to the North Korean leaders) issues that get little publicity, and that is intentional. In mid-2017 North Korea ordered its secret police to expand its operations in northeast China (the area just across the northern border) so as to suppress news about the growing number of senior and mid-level officials who are, often with their families, illegally leaving North Korea. The single incident that prompted this new secret police effort was the suicide of one of these families (all five of them). The five took poison after being arrested by Chinese police and facing repatriation to North Korea, where the entire family would probably die anyway but more slowly and painfully. The secret police were ordered to increase efforts to prevent such defections in the first place. That will be difficult because the mood among many North Korean officials can best be described as suppressed (so the secret police don’t take note) panic and increased efforts to escape from the country and get to South Korea.

Senior North Korean officials who have gotten out in the last few years all agree that Kim Jong Un is considered a failure by more and more North Koreans and that his days are numbered, even if China does not step in and take over beforehand. Yet these senior officials report that Kim Jong Un could keep his police state going into the late 2020s. But time is not on his side and the signs backing that up are increasingly obvious. Kim Jong Un has triggered a trend that will destroy him and nothing he does seems to fix the problem. He believes having workable nukes and a reliable delivery system (ballistic missiles) will enable him to extort the neighbors for enough goodies to bail him out. That is a high-risk strategy. Kim Jong Un is betting everything on this and none of the potential victims seems ready to give in and are instead planning to meet nuclear threats with force not surrender. Escalation and intimidation work both ways.

Coming Up Short

North Korea has reduced its physical standards for military service. Previously conscripts had to be 150 cm (59 inches) tall and weigh at least 48 kg (106 pounds). But that standard has been reduced over the last decade to 137 cm (54 inches) and 43 kg (95 pounds). Now the government is urging teenage boys to volunteer for service when they are 15 years old. Actually, local officials have been given quotas and are coercing families of 15 year old boys to go along with this. With all the food shortages and unemployment the government sees that as an incentive. But most teenagers prefer to try their luck with the market economy and eventually make enough money to get out of North Korea.

The government needs more soldiers because of a lower birthrate and the inability to reverse the problem. South Korea also has this problem but for different reasons. By 2010 South Korea had the lowest birth rate (1.15 children per woman, on average) in the world and held that dubious achievement for two years in a row. This is because of growing affluence over the last half century. South Korea is now one of the wealthiest nations on the planet. At the current birth rate, the South Korean population is expected to stop growing in the 2020s, after reaching about 52 million (about twice the population of the north). If the birth rate stays under 2.1, the population will then begin to shrink. In North Korea, the birth rate is 1.9, and is also declining, because of increasing poverty and famine. For example, life expectancy in the north has declined from 72.7 years in the early 1990s, to 69.3 now. That’s ten years less than in South Korea. Northerners are not only living shorter lives, they are also shorter. A study of teenagers in the north and south revealed that the northerners are 8 percent shorter, and weigh nearly 20 percent less. It’s not as bad with older adults, because they were not born during the famine (which began after Cold War Russian subsidies ended in the early 1990s).

By 2012 there was a very visible shortage of recruits for the North Korean armed forces. A lower birth rate in the 1990s, because of the famine (that killed five percent of the population back then) has reduced the number of 18 year old recruits for the army and security forces. So fewer exemptions are being allowed, and more 17 years olds are being taken. That escalated to pressuring 16 year olds to volunteer. Now the government is after 15 year olds. North Korean men serve at least six years (and up to ten) in the military, keeping them out of trouble for that time in their lives (18-24), when they are most likely to act out revolutionary fantasies. The military is really a large prison system. While the troops are trained to use weapons, they get little ammunition for training, and the weapons are locked up most of the time. Young North Koreans increasingly know how poor they are, and in greater and greater detail. The soldiers born during the great famine of the 1990s are well-aware that they are physically much smaller than their South Korean counterparts. They also know that the average South Korean lives ten years longer and lives a much more pleasant life. All the more reason to limit the time North Korean troops can handle their weapons, especially when they have ammunition (which is actually very infrequently.)

By 2017 North Korean army officers were ordered to encourage their troops to steal food during the harvest and that failure to do so could result in punishment and would definitely result in hunger. Naturally this has caused more popular anger towards the military. This is nothing new. In 2016 hungry troops grew bolder because the government made it clear they would not punish soldiers unless people are killed or badly injured during these incidents. Police are often called to catch soldiers who have robbed someone. At first this was usually troops breaking into a house seeking food and valuables. The soldiers that are caught are often arrested but must be taken back to their base where the military takes over. The soldiers are “punished” with some verbal abuse for getting caught and that is all. The government was desperate because earlier efforts to address the problem had failed. In 2015 there was a new program to expand food production by the military. Troops were allowed to raise pigs as well as the usual vegetable and grain crops. Meat has been in particularly short supply for the troops in the past few years and hungry troops often steal small livestock (chickens, ducks and pigs), kill them on the spot and carry them off to be cooked and eaten before returning to base. As more reports came in it became apparent that most military units didn’t have enough to eat, either because the food was not to be had or, as is more often the case, corruption (someone in a position of power stole it.) This led to more soldiers stealing food from civilians or selling military clothing and equipment on the black market so they could buy food. Soldiers have opportunities to steal food and sell stolen goods when they are off their base doing construction or farm work. This is how troops spend a lot of their time and they receive no extra pay or food even when the outside work requires heavy (and calorie consuming) labor. All this is illegal, but commanders were not eager to punish hungry soldiers. For commanders their troops have become profitable slaves who can be rented out with the commanders getting part of the payment. Now the government insists that disobedient slaves be executed.

Visible Signs Of Decline

Declining discipline in the police is more evident in many obvious ways. For example a growing number of North Korean women are operating openly as prostitutes (usually near border areas where there are more foreigners). These women get $20 or more per customer but get to keep less than 20 percent of that because the rest goes to bribes (for police) and “fees” to various middlemen (or women) who supervise it all. Thus it is not surprising that these young (from late teens to 30s) women will also offer to sell drugs (usually meth) to customers as well. Many of these prostitutes are married and some have children but no money to keep the kids fed and healthy.

With the growth of free markets and police getting jealous, greedy and corrupted by demanding and getting bribes, there has also developed criminal gangs. These groups often have connections (usually financial) with the security forces and of course the gangsters are all veterans. The gangs act as middlemen between donju (free market entrepreneurs) and the government but as a matter of law, the gangs do not exist. As a matter of fact the gangs are very real and one of the fastest growing sectors of the market economy.

China Chooses Sides

The latest North Korean nuclear and missile tests have caused Chinese public opinion towards North Korea to become even more hostile. According to opinion polls North Korea has, over the last few years, turned into a larger military threat to China than the U.S. or anyone else. To deal with this China has increased the number of troops and border police stationed near the North Korean border and conducted more military exercises in the area. This also addresses another Chinese fear (that gets less publicity in China) that a government collapse in North Korea would send millions of desperate, and opportunistic, North Koreans into China. There is no way China or the Chinese living along the North Korean border would tolerate that. Meanwhile China is becoming more hostile to North Koreans no matter what their legal or economic status is. Part of that is because North Korea has become a very unpleasant place for Chinese to visit or do business in.

News of the bad treatment Chinese are suffering in North Korea gets around, even when the Chinese government tries to keep the worst examples out of the news. Chinese individuals and firms doing business in North Korea complain that the North Koreans have become even more unreliable when it comes to handling foreign investments from China. In the past China could impose some degree of discipline on North Korea for abuse of Chinese investors and investments. The North Koreans are increasingly ignoring this sort of pressure and as a result Chinese investors are backing away from current and planned investments. China could order state owned firms to do business in North Korea but does not because these firms are poorly run compared to the privately owned firms and would suffer even larger losses when dealing the increasingly treacherous and unreliable neighbor.

North Korea used to be a dependable place, at least for Chinese with the right connections in the Chinese government. While corruption in China has declined in the past few years it appears to have gotten worse in North Korea, to the point where long-term deals are avoided and transactions are made carefully, usually with payment before delivery. The smugglers and various other criminal gangs in China that do business with their North Korean counterparts have been forced to operate this way as well and for the same reasons. South Korea and Japan have already learned how unreliable North Korea can be when it comes to business deals and Russia has already adopted the wary approach to economic deals with North Korea.

China has visibly increased enforcement of economic sanctions on North Korea but this has not made North Korea any more willing to negotiate. The growing number of police and secret police night patrols in areas where North Korean smugglers long operated is hard to miss, as is the fact that when North Korean smugglers are encountered they get arrested and taken away. Even higher bribes (over $3,000 to make an arrest not happen) no longer work because the Chinese cops will still demand that amount of cash before they will turn the smugglers over to North Korean officials. China never came down so hard on North Korean smuggling before.

China is also cracking down on North Korean drug production and smuggling. This is a matter of self-defense for China and is effective because North Korea make the highest profits from methamphetamine (“meth”). But this drug requires a key ingredient (phenylacetic acid, in the form of white crystals) to be smuggled in from China. Now the Chinese are cracking down on that as well as the meth coming into China. North Korea is seeking another, probably more expensive, supplier in Russia.

While Russia is still doing business with North Korea China and Russia are also cooperating with many of the new rules banning North Korean workers they long employed legally. This exported labor was outlawed by the latest round of sanctions. North Korea responded by quietly ordering overseas workers to stay where they are and work illegally (in deals arranged by their government minders). Yet in many instances the export ban on slave labor is being enforced by Russia and especially China and that is hurting North Korea economically.

The North Koreans see this as yet another challenge that can be worked around. While it is true that there are still a lot of corrupt Chinese and Russians willing to do business with North Korea if the bribe is large enough, that is not working as well as it used to in China. This is because North Korea is very unpopular with Chinese in general and a growing number of senior Chinese officials in particular. Russians are less upset with North Korea and, while having fewer economic resources than China, are more receptive to shady deals. The problem is that North Korea has become very dependent on the much larger and still expanding Chinese economy. Russia simply cannot supply a lot of what North Korea needs. It is possible to still buy the forbidden goods in China and have them shipped to a fictitious customer in Russia who will quietly send it to North Korea. That does not always work and when it does it costs a lot more than getting the goods directly from China. North Korea has less cash for the extra expenses. The Chinese know this and are quite willing to slowly squeeze until North Korean leaders are all dead or more receptive to Chinese needs (no nukes next door and fewer desperate illegal migrants). Yet there is the growing risk that North Korea will get (or thinks it has) reliable nukes and keep threatening China. That is not the desired outcome but the Chinese have quietly reminded leaders of both Koreas (and their foreign allies) that in the past China has occupied much of Korea when the Koreans become troublesome.

Meanwhile China is not happy with South Korea either, fearing the growing military power of South Korea and the recent installation of a THAAD anti-missile battery despite vigorous Chinese diplomatic and economic efforts to prevent that. The diplomatic and economic pressure continues but the South Koreans are in no mood to back off as long as the North Korean threat remains. South Korea believes China could do more to eliminate the North Korean threat. While many, if not most, Chinese and Russians agree with that the Russian and Chinese governments still see economic opportunities in North Korea and are unwilling to do anything drastic.

September 14, 2017: In coincidental, nearly simultaneous, events North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan while South Korea fired two Hyunmoo 2 ballistic missiles. One of these failed while the other accurately hit the target area (at sea) 250 kilometers away. The North Korean missile travelled about 2,200 kilometers and landed in the Pacific. Japan said it tracked the missile and did not try to intercept because it was obvious the missile was following a trajectory that would take it far from Japan. The identity of the North Korean missile was not known.

South Korea has developed a longer (500 kilometer) version; Hyunmoo 2C. South Korea developed a 180 kilometer range ballistic missile (Hyunmoo 1) and a 300 kilometer one (Hyunmoo 2) in the 1980s. Both are about 13 meters (40 feet) long and weigh 4-5 tons. Both of these were based on the design of the U.S. Nike-Hercules anti-aircraft missile, which South Korea used for many years.

September 13, 2017: Google and YouTube have banned videos from North Korean media, apparently because it is a source of income for North Korea and now in violation of sanctions. This reduces open source access to North Korean TV although intelligence agencies will still be able to get these.

China has restricted access to Mount Paektu, apparently for safety reasons related to the recent North Korean nuclear test, which was conducted 110 kilometers away. Mount Paektu is a dormant volcano on the Chinese border. In fact, half the volcano is in China, where it is a popular tourist destination for South Koreans. That’s because Koreans and Manchus (as in Manchuria, the native people of northeast China) both consider Mt Paektu as a sacred place where their tribes originated thousands of years ago. In 2013 North Korea put some silos for their long range (2,000-3,000 kilometers) ballistic missiles up there because that part of North Korea is a triangle, surrounded on two sides by China. This makes it difficult for the Americans to launch air attacks without entering Chinese territory and makes it easier for North Korean anti-aircraft forces to defend against cruise missile. On the down side, Paektu is a dormant volcano that is active (lava flows and the like) about once a century. The last time it erupted (throwing large quantities of rocks and dust into the atmosphere) was in 1703 and an eruption in the late 10th century blew the top off the mountain and created the current 4.5 kilometers wide crater lake. Volcanologists consider Paektu capable of another major eruption but North Korea considers that less likely than an American air attack. So the silos stay, despite the risk of destruction by lava flows and earthquakes. Before all these silos were built North Korea planned to keep its long range ballistic missiles mobile and launch them from any number of launch sites (a flat field where the missile could be fueled and the guidance system programmed before launch.) Bad weather could complicate the use of mobile launchers (washing out bridges or blocking roads with snow). The quality of North Korean roads has also declined sharply (from lack of maintenance) since the late 1990s. Then there is the increased American surveillance (from satellites, U-2s and high-altitude UAVs) that makes mobile missiles more vulnerable to air or missile attack. Silos can also be attacked from the air, but in a war the more numerous and shorter range ballistic missiles to the south would also be subject to air attack as these missiles would be aimed at the South Korean capital. North Korea apparently believes that silos protected by a sacred volcano are a worthwhile investment to ensure that some of long-range missiles will get launched during a crises. China is more concerned about nuclear radiation coming from North Korea.

September 12, 2017: Chinese radiation monitors on the North Korean border recorded levels were up seven percent since the September 3rd test and have appeared to have peaked. This data was released because the population along the border know that they face some health risks if radiation levels increase too much for too long.

September 11, 2017: The UN approved new economic sanctions against North Korea and China said it would enforce them all and repeated that it had been enforcing sanctions since March. The new sanctions limit the export of refined petroleum product to two million barrels a year and ban North Korea from importing liquefied natural gas. This followed China condemning North Korea nuclear tests openly in the UN for the first time.

Meanwhile the United States continues to call on China and Russia to do more to halt the North Korean evasion of sanctions via corrupt officials and businesses in China and Russia. China in particular does not want too much international attention focused on that corruption, which has long been quite active along the North Korean border and still is. The United States is not being diplomatic in pointing this out but it is correct in showing how Chinese enforcement of sanctions does not really work unless China effectively curbs the Chinese corruption that enables North Korea to continue doing whatever it wants. For the North Korea the increased sanctions pressure merely increases costs (larger bribes are required in China and Russia).

September 10, 2017: Chinese banks have been warning its customers to stay away from bitcoin because of the threat from North Korean hackers, who are believed to be responsible for several recent multi-million dollar thefts from bitcoin exchanges. North Korea is believed to be targeting bitcoin and other Internet based cryptocurrencies even though North Korea has used bitcoin exchanges as a substitute for sanctions that ban it from accessing the international banking system. The Chinese government fears that North Korean hackers are now going after Chinese firms, something they are not supposed to do because China is still the main source of foreign trade. This sort of irrational behavior leads China to fear that North Korea would even be foolish to become a real military threat to China.

September 9, 2017: China orders all Chinese banks (including foreign banks licensed to operate in China) to not only stop opening accounts for North Koreans but also to close any such accounts immediately. This is a very harmful economic sanction and the North Koreans respond by ignoring the new rules any way they can.

September 8, 2017: North Korea has quietly freed a Russian yacht it had seized in mid-June. A North Korean warship seized the Russian yacht when both were 80 kilometers off the coast. The yacht and the vessel towing it to Vladivostok were definitely in international waters and the Russian ambassador demanded the release of the yacht and three man crew. North Korea was not responsive until now. This was similar to a May 2016 incident where North Korean warship seized a Russian sailing yacht some 160 kilometers from the east coast of North Korea (very much in international waters). The yacht and crew of five were taken to a North Korean port. The yacht was released two days later and continued on its way to its original destination (Vladivostok) for a sailboat race. In both cases North Korea would not say why they took the yacht and then released it.

September 7, 2017: South Korea has completed deploying an entire THAAD battery to a site some 300 kilometers south of the North Korean border. The United States will share radar data generated by the high-powered radar installed as part of a THAAD anti-missile battery that began arriving in early 2017. The THAAD battery is operated by American personnel and costs $3.5 million a year to operate. The battery consists of six truck-mounted missile launchers (eight missiles per launcher), a fire control and communications unit and an AN/TPY-2 radar. Villagers living near the site of the THAAD base oppose the presence of the anti-missile battery because it will be a target for North Korean (or even Chinese) attack. Locals also fear (without any evidence) that the powerful THAAD radar will cause health problems.

September 6, 2017: A recent online opinion survey in China showed that 66 percent believed North Korea was a larger military threat to China than the United States. Only 10 percent felt the Americans were a larger threat and 15 percent believed the U.S. was no threat at all. This is consistent with earlier surveys only the degree of hostility towards North Korea keeps increasing. Chinese see North Korea has a poorly managed nation that is ungrateful towards China and unpredictable.

September 4, 2017: North Korean living near the site of the recent underground nuclear weapons test are demanding compensation for the damage done to their home by the earthquake (estimated to be 5.6 on the Richter scale) the test produced. Across the Yalu River some Chinese buildings also suffered damage from the quake and several aftershocks.

South Korea announced that its policy towards North Korea will now on “punishment” rather than negotiation.

September 3, 2017: North Korea carried out its sixth nuclear test. This one appeared to be the largest one yet indicating a yield of 100-200 tons and described as a hydrogen bomb. The first nuclear test was in 2006 (less than one kiloton) but the first one that was truly successful occurred in 2013 (6 kilotons) and despite the fact that the test was not a complete success, the nuclear bomb program continued with two tests in 2016. In late 2015 Kim Jong Un claimed that North Korea had developed a hydrogen (fusion) bomb. Foreign experts openly expressed skepticism given that North Korea didn’t really have a reliable fission type nuclear bomb yet. You need an efficient fission bomb to trigger the fusion reaction that makes the “H-Bomb” so much more destructive than a fission bomb of the same weight and size. Nuclear test number four in January 2016 was described by North Korea as a fusion (H-bomb) test when it clearly was not, or not a successful one. That would be in contrast to the 2013 test which appeared to be seven kilotons and a complete detonation. The second test was a two kiloton weapon in 2009. Western intelligence believed that the original North Korean nuclear weapon design was flawed, as the first two tests were only a fraction of what they should have been. The first one was less than a kiloton and called in the trade, a “fizzle.” The second test was less of a fizzle and apparently a modified version of the original design. Thus North Korea needed more tests to perfect their bomb design and was still years away from a useful nuclear weapon even though the second bomb appeared to be more effective. The third test in 2013 was considered overdue and that may have been because more time was spent designing and building a smaller device that could fit into a missile warhead. The second 2016 test is still something of a mystery. U.S. intelligence agencies have collected air samples (as have most other neighboring countries) from the test which can tell much about the design of the bomb. The January 2016 nuke appeared to be the same as the 2013 one. The second 2016 test in September appeared to be a better design and was about ten kilotons. North Korea insisted this was a fusion bomb. Air samples are still being collected on the test today but it will take weeks to analyze the samples and come to some useful conclusion. The sheer size of the most recent test indicated either a fusion bomb or an enhanced fission bomb. But for a yield of over 100 tons a fusion bomb is more likely. Such designs have been around and in use since the late 1940s. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 a lot of Russian nuclear weapons designers and technicians were out of a job and the pensions of the retired ones were suddenly worth a lot less. The security for nuclear weapons designs, especially much older ones, became a lot more lax. There were plenty of opportunities to obtain previously unavailable tech.

August 29, 2017: North Korea fired a Hwasong-12 ballistic missile over Japan. This was the 18th North Korean ballistic missile test of 2017 and this one appeared to break into pieces before it fell into the ocean after travelling 2,700 kilometers from North Korea. This was the second successful test of the Hwasong-12.

August 28, 2017: South Korea announced its largest increase (6.9 percent for 2018) in its defense budget since 2009. This is a direct result of the increasing threat from North Korea. Next year South Korea will spend $38 billion, which is more than a third larger than the annual GDP of North Korea (which spends about a third of GDP on defense compared to less than three percent in South Korea). South Korea is in the top ten of national economies, something which annoys North Korea but is admired by the other neighbors (including China). Meanwhile Japan is also increasing its defense spending by 2.5 percent in 2018 (to $48 billion). Japan, like China and the U.S., are among the top five economies on the planet. Japan, because of the post-World War II constitution the United States insisted on (and Japan did not much object to) has been largely demilitarized considering the size of its economy. That is changing and the U.S. has dropped nearly all restrictions on what weapons it will export to South Korea and Japan and is ignoring treaties it has with both nations that restrict what types of advanced weapons (like ballistic missiles and nukes) they can develop. The Americans would still prefer that South Korea and Japan not build nukes (which both these nations could easily and quickly do). China and Russia would also prefer that Japan and South Korea remain non-nuclear weapon nations. But if North Korean military ambitions and threats (especially against South Korea and Japan) are not curbed popular opinion in South Korea and Japan is becoming more comfortable with the having their own nukes.

August 25, 2017: China banned North Korea from establishing any new businesses in China or expanding existing ones. Russia has done the same, but the Chinese are a much larger market and apparently intent on following through. Meanwhile the August 15 order for Chinese firms to halt imports of minerals and seafood cost some Chinese firms with physical operations (trucks, mines) and warehouses in North Korea to suffer losses because they were given only 24 hours to get this stuff back to China and that was not enough time. This was especially true when many North Korean officials demanded special payments before these goods could be moved.

August 24, 2017: A Russian Tu-95 bomber flew south from a base north of Korea until it got close enough to South Korea to cause South Korean F-16s to come up and investigate. Russia said it was a scheduled training flight.

Ryan Mauro: Iran / North Korea Meetings After H-Bomb Test & EMP Threat

September 6, 2017

Ryan Mauro: Iran / North Korea Meetings After H-Bomb Test & EMP Threat, Clarion Project via YouTube, September 5, 2017

(Regime change in both Iran and North Korea could be good. But it would take more time than we can afford. — DM)

 

Waiting for North Korea’s Next Nuclear Test

May 28, 2017

Waiting for North Korea’s Next Nuclear Test, PJMedia, Claudia Rosett, May 27, 2017

(To the extent that history is a good predictor of the future, more sanctions — even if enforced briefly — won’t work. Regime change, maybe. But how can we find a suitable replacement for Kim Chi-un Kim Jong-un? Has the recent high-level defector been asked? It would be stupid to let the Norks know whether he has been and, even worse, what, if anything, he said because anyone he suggested would be killed. No matter how much the leakers and media would like to know, secrecy is absolutely necessary. –DM)

In this undated photo distributed by the North Korean government Monday, May 22, 2017, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the test launch of a solid-fuel “Pukguksong-2” at an undisclosed location in North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

The threats from North Korea keep rising — not only its nuclear program, but such matters as its cyber warfare projects, plus the example Pyongyang continues to set of how a malign and predatory tyranny can survive by arming itself with the world’s most destructive weapons and threatening liberally to use them. We should have no doubt that Iran and others are taking notes.

What’s certain is this: None of this will be resolved by America writing off regime change as the real goal in Pyongyang while waiting to respond with another stack of UN sanctions, however neatly pre-negotiated, to North Korea’s next nuclear test.

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Just last month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the United Nations Security Council that the era of letting North Korea call the shots was over. Commenting on a record in which North Korea has carried out five nuclear tests since 2006, two of them just last year, Tillerson said: “For too long the international community has been reactive in addressing North Korea.” He added, “Those days must come to an end. Failing to act now on the most pressing security issue in the world may bring catastrophic consequences.”

Yet here we are, with Reuters reporting, based on a news conference held Friday in Beijing by senior State Department official Susan Thornton, that the U.S. is “looking at discussing with China a new Security Council resolution on pre-negotiated measures to reduce delays in any response to further nuclear tests or other provocations from the North.”

In other words, the U.S. is waiting to react to North Korea’s next nuclear test, which North Korean officials have already threatened to carry out, and for which preparations have been visibly underway.

With the variation that the diplomatic response (providing China agrees) would be “pre-negotiated,” this sounds disturbingly similar to the ritual that President Obama’s administration dolled up under the fatuous label of “strategic patience.” The result, on Obama’s watch, was that North Korea carried out four of its five nuclear tests to date, and accelerated its missile program to include over the past three years — as The Wall Street Journal reported recently — the launches of “more major missiles than in the three previous decades combined.”

The Obama ritual went like this: North Korea would carry out a forbidden nuclear test (in 2009, 2013, and two in 2016). The U.S. would turn to the UN Security Council, which after a period of closed-door wrangling would respond by approving yet another sanctions resolution, which would then be advertised by the U.S. as tough… tougher… toughest. Whatever.

Recall America’s former ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, declaring after the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2270 in March 2016 (in response to North Korea’s fourth nuclear test) that “this resolution is so comprehensive, there are many provisions that leave no gap, no window.” That resolution was followed last September by North Korea’s fifth nuclear test, to which the UN responded by adding to the gapless, windowless sanctions resolution #2270 the even more gapless and windowless resolution #2321.

One might reasonably ask: Why reserve all those ever tougher sanctions for North Korea’s next nuclear test, or the one after that? If gapless, windowless sanctions have yet more holes that need plugging, why not do it all now?

If I might hazard a guess, the obstacle is not solely that veto-wielding permanent Security Council members China and Russia have no serious interest in trying to throttle North Korea’s Kim regime. Even when they vote for those ever tougher UN sanctions, they have been, to put it generously, highly casual about enforcing them. On the evidence, China — despite its public expressions of disapproval and disappointment over each North Korean nuclear test — has nonetheless, for decades now, allowed North Korea to proceed. It is past time to ask quite seriously whether Beijing (never mind its public posturing) reached a quiet decision quite some years ago that China can live comfortably enough with a nuclear-armed North Korea that dedicates itself to bedeviling such leading democracies as South Korea, America and Japan.

Nor is the problem solely that sanctions, to whatever degree they are attempted, have virtually no chance of forcing North Korea into a good-faith deal to give up its long-established, deeply entrenched nuclear program. In previous talks and deals (1994, 2005, 2007, as well as President Obama’s attempted 2012 so-called Leap Day missile-freeze deal), Pyongyang racked up an unbroken record of lying, cheating, pocketing the gains and carrying on with its threats and WMD projects.

In the prime case in which sanctions did seem to get serious traction — when U.S. sanctions persuaded Macau in 2005 to freeze North Korea-linked accounts in Banco Delta Asia — North Korea went ahead in 2006 with its first nuclear test, then came to the bargaining table for a deal in 2007, and took to the cleaners the eager diplomats of President Bush’s “soft power” second term.  The antics of that era included State Department special envoy Chris Hill demanding the help of the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve to transfer back to North Korea, via the banking system (at North Korea’s behest), some $25 million in tainted funds that had been frozen at Banco Delta Asia in Macau; a U.S. handout of millions to pay Pyongyang for the Potemkin spectacle in 2008 of blowing up a dispensable cooling tower at North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear complex; and the removal of North Korea from the U.S. government’s blacklist of terror-sponsoring states (a concession which to this day the State Department has yet to remedy). The 2007 deal fell apart as Bush was leaving office, and in May of 2009 North Korea welcomed Obama’s presidency by conducting its second nuclear test.

Today, with North Korea working at speed toward an ability to target the United States, the U.S. fallback is to try to pressure China, under threat of sanctions that would hurt China itself, to defang North Korea. That approach allows for plenty of employment in Washington, in the debates, design and attempts to apply such sanctions. But somewhere out there lies the question of how to sustain any such approach, on the ground (and the seas) in Asia, and where it might actually lead. Sanctions tend to erode over time, as their targets adapt. If North Korea is richly capable of the duplicities that have repeatedly foiled nuclear negotiators, China has vastly more reach and resources available for its own gambits. Even if the ever-tougher-sanctions approach leads to a deal, who or what then guarantees (the deep flaws of Obama’s Iran nuclear deal  come to mind) that once the strictures are loosened, North Korea, or China, would abide by that deal? (Forget the UN, which has to date failed abysmally to stop North Korea’s nuclear program, and which relies on individual member states to police their own enforcement of sanctions.)

The further fallback is the threat of U.S.-led military force, which is what the Trump administration is now turning to in a number of ways, including the deployment of a third aircraft carrier group as part of the “armada” Trump is sending to the Western Pacific. Part of the idea here is also to put China on notice that the U.S. is serious.

The problem here is that to be effective, military threats need to be credible. After eight years of Obama’s “patience,” following North Korea’s successes with its nuclear extortion racket going back to the early 1990s, the consistent signal from three U.S. presidents — Obama, Bush and Clinton — has been that the U.S. for all its vast firepower would rather be snookered at the bargaining table, or simply do nothing, than actually risk a military strike that could turn into a hot war with North Korea.

It doesn’t help that on May 19 Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Pentagon reporters that any military solution to North Korea would be “tragic on an unbelievable scale,” so “our effort is to work with the U.N., work with China, work with Japan, work with South Korea to try to find a way out of this situation.” Nor does it help that on May 23, 64 Democratic lawmakers sent a public letter to Trump, asking for details of his plans for a negotiated solution of “the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula,” and warning Trump against including in any such plans an “ill-advised military component.” If — after the agonies of the 1950-1953 Korean War, and in view of North Korea’s current military threat to Seoul and increasingly dangerous arsenal — the U.S. is not prepared to go to war again to stop North Korea, then the prudent course would be at least to keep quiet about it. Otherwise, the result is to neuter any U.S. threat of force, further emboldening North Korea.

Which brings us to the core problem, the grand dilemma looming behind all the machinations described above. There is really only one way out of this situation, only one real solution, and that is an end to the Kim regime in North Korea. On humanitarian grounds alone, the fall or overthrow of the Kim regime would be fully justified, and is long, long overdue. In view of North Korea’s rising threats to others, its growing arsenal, its record of peddling munitions to the likes of Syria and Iran, and its unbroken record of abusing any and all deals, there is no other answer. The Kim regime has to go.

But getting rid of the Kim regime is in itself risky. However it might happen, whether Kim’s regime might be destroyed by military force, throttled by sanctions, overthrown from within, or somehow shoved from power through some combination of these factors, no one knows exactly what might follow, or how things might then play out.

And so, with variations that have repeatedly failed to end the threat, one U.S. administration after another has defaulted to a “status quo” in which the effort is not to get rid of the Kim regime, but to manage it — as if it were some sort of highly unpleasant chronic medical condition.

Thus did  Tillerson tell the UN Security Council meeting last month, at its special meeting on North Korea, that “our goal is not regime change, nor do we desire to threaten the North Korean people or destabilize the Asia Pacific region.”

Newsflash: The Asia Pacific region is already being destabilized, by nuclear-arming North Korea itself, as well as China — with its own military buildup, its island-building territorial grabs offshore, and its threats to freedom of navigation. What we are witnessing is not a durable status quo, but a trajectory, in which a U.S. impulse for peace in our time keeps steering us toward cataclysm ahead. What Obama achieved with his “strategic patience” was to postpone the day of reckoning long enough to hand off a threat grown vastly worse to his successor.

How this gets resolved in any way favorable, or even remotely safe, for America and its democratic allies is a hideous conundrum. But the situation right now is very far from safe. The threats from North Korea keep rising — not only its nuclear program, but such matters as its cyber warfare projects, plus the example Pyongyang continues to set of how a malign and predatory tyranny can survive by arming itself with the world’s most destructive weapons and threatening liberally to use them. We should have no doubt that Iran and others are taking notes.

What’s certain is this: None of this will be resolved by America writing off regime change as the real goal in Pyongyang while waiting to respond with another stack of UN sanctions, however neatly pre-negotiated, to North Korea’s next nuclear test.