North Korea’s nuclear weapons program isn’t going away

On June 12, U.S. President Donald Trump held a historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore. For Trump, the key aim of the meeting was to extract a commitment from Kim to “denuclearize,” which for Trump meant Kim unilaterally surrendering his nuclear weapons. For Kim, the aim of the summit was to shake Trump’s hand as an equal and as the leader of a nuclear power. Kim had no intention of unilaterally surrendering his nuclear weapons, which he has called North Korea’s “treasured sword of justice,” and he never committed to do so.

Since that meeting, things are going well — for Kim. Although Trump is desperate to continue claiming that he “solved” the North Korean nuclear threat at Singapore, North Korea continued to expand its nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals and has played its diplomatic hand brilliantly. It has taken largely cosmetic steps on its nuclear weapons program, such as partially destroying its nuclear test site and engine test facility, neither of which it needs to mass-produce nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. These steps give up just enough to keep Trump at bay.

In Singapore, Kim signed a declaration pledging “to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Denuclearization, however, was the third step in the sequence of commitments, after establishing “new U.S.-DPRK relations” and building a “peace regime” with the United States. Pyongyang is now reminding Washington that sequence matters: work toward denuclearization will follow only after efforts are made toward these first two objectives, which entail a wholesale transformation in the U.S.–North Korean relationship. It should thus not be surprising that there is little to show on the North Korean disarm-ament front. Whatever “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” might mean to Trump, it has a specific meaning for North Korea — a meaning that made it possible for Kim to sign on to such a statement after celebrating the so-called completion of his nuclear deterrent just months earlier.

For Kim, complete denuclearization of the peninsula would at least entail a package of concessions from the United States, including, but not limited to, removal of extended deterrence assurances from South Korea, security assurances for the North Korean regime, and even the establishment of a nuclear weapons– free zone on the Korean Peninsula. It could also literally refer to universal disarmament: North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons when the United States does. Either way, the phrase agreed to in Singapore does not amount to unilateral disarmament and certainly not the “final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea” — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s latest reformulation of “complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantle-ment,” which has been repeatedly rejected by North Korea. As a good-faith gesture of its commitment to disarmament, Secretary Pompeo demanded that North Korea hand over 60 to 70 percent of its nuclear arsenal in his July follow-up trip to Pyongyang. Unsurprisingly, the North Korean Foreign Ministry responded by publicly calling Pompeo’s demands “gangster-like” and not aligned with the spirit of Singapore. Simply put, Kim did not agree to unilaterally relinquish any of his nuclear weapons — not one.

Consider the series of leaks on the status of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program in the weeks since the summit. North Korean centrifuges for uranium enrichment continued to spin, as even Pompeo acknowledged during a July testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Elsewhere, one — perhaps two — Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are undergoing assembly. At a separate facility, North Korea continues to manufacture integrated launch vehicles for its highly responsive and flexible solid-fuel missile, the Pukguksong-2. Elsewhere still, the country’s Chemical Material Institute in Hamhung — associated with the advanced materials science necessary to develop efficient and threatening solid-fuel missiles — has expanded.

This activity does not suggest Kim is being duplicitous or is “cheating.” He never promised to stop producing nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles. In fact, quite the opposite. In his 2018 New Year’s Day address, Kim directed North Korea’s “nuclear weapons research sector and the rocket industry” to “mass- produce nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles.” It is clear now that Kim is following through on what he said he would do.

The voluntary North Korean moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing and the shuttering of several test sites do not suggest an intent to denuclearize, at least not in the way that Pompeo envisions. Without proper expert verification, we will be left to guess as to how substantive these steps actually are.

North Korea is pursuing a three-pronged strategy to talks with the United States. First, Kim has focused on offering up technical concessions that have little to no bearing on his ability to build a robust nuclear force. Second, North Korea is beginning to decouple diplomacy at the leaders’ level from ongoing talks at the working group level, attempting to drive a wedge between Trump and his own administration. For North Korea, the path to success is to sideline the influence of Trump’s deputies and continue granting concessions, such as the repatriation of U.S. Korean War remains, that please Trump. Third, North Korea is successfully using its diplomatic maneuvering with the United States as further leverage to drive a wedge between the United States and South Korea in the inter-Korean peace process.

At the end of a summit between Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang on September 19, the two leaders vowed to end hostility and usher in a “new era of peace and prosperity,” but there was little of substance to move the process of denuclearization forward. In a joint statement, North Korea pledged to permanently dismantle a missile engine test and missile launcher site at Tongchang-ri — a site the North Koreans had already promised to dismantle. In a step forward, however, they would allow the presence of inspectors from related countries. North Korea also expressed the will to continue taking further steps like permanent dismantlement of its main Yongbyon nuclear facility, but only if the United States takes corresponding steps. It urged the U.S. to declare an end to the Korean war.

North Korea’s pledge drew an enthusiastic response from President Donald Trump. His Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, responded that the United States was ready to engage in talks with North Korea “immediately,” with the goal of complete North Korea denuclearization by January 2021. But even President Moon admitted that it would be hard to reach an agreement on the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

– edited from Foreign Affairs, The Washington Post and Reuters
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2018

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

The challenge for Americans in understanding our dangerous world: North Korea

An early challenge to Uncle Sam’s purported right to manage postwar world affairs from the banks of the Potomac came in 1950. Korean forces, joined by Chinese troops, pushed back against the United States’ invasion of North Korea. Washington responded with a merciless bombing campaign that flattened all of North Korea’s cities and towns. U.S. Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay boasted that “we burned down every town in North Korea” and proudly guessed that Uncle Sam’s gruesome air campaign, replete with napalm and chemical weapons, murdered 20 percent of North Korea’s population. This and more was recounted without a hint of shame — with pride, in fact — in the leading public U.S. military journals of the time. As Noam Chomsky, the world’s leading intellectual, explained five years ago, the U.S. was not content just to demolish the country’s urban zones:

“Since everything in North Korea had been destroyed, the air force was then sent to destroy North Korea’s dams, huge dams that controlled the nation’s water supply — a war crime for which people had been hanged in Nuremberg. And these official journals … talk[ed] excitedly about how wonderful it was to see the water pouring down, digging out the valleys and the ‘Asians’ scurrying around trying to survive. The journals exulted in what this meant to those Asians — horrors beyond our imagination. It meant the destruction of their rice crop, which in turn meant starvation. How magnificent!

The United States’ monstrous massive crimes against North Korea during the early 1950s went down George Orwell’s “memory hole” even as they took place. To the American public they never occurred — and therefore hold no relevance to current U.S.-North Korean tensions and negotiations as far as most good Americans know.

Things are different in North Korea, where every schoolchild learns about the epic, mass-murderous wrongdoings of the U.S. “imperialist aggressor” from the early 1950s.

“Just imagine ourselves in their position,” Chomsky writes. “Imagine what it meant … for your country to be totally levelled — everything destroyed by a huge superpower, which furthermore was gloating about what it was doing. Imagine the imprint that would leave behind.”

That ugly history rarely makes its way into the “mainstream” U.S. understanding of why North Korea behaves in “bizarre” and “paranoid” ways toward the United States.

– excerpt from an article by Paul Street, Truthdig, June 13, 2018
PeaceMeal, July/August 2018

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

North Korea’s second thoughts on the summit with President Trump

On May 16, less than a month before Donald Trump is scheduled to meet Kim Jong Un for an unprecedented summit in Singapore, North Korea stunned the White House by cancelling a meeting with South Korean officials in protest of joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises. A few hours later, North Korea went further: it threatened to call off the summit with Trump and condemned recent comments from American officials, specifically national-security adviser John Bolton.

Kim Kye Gwan, a vice foreign minister in charge of arms negotiations, said, “If the U.S. is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue.” Of Bolton, Kim said, “We do not hide our feelings of repugnance toward him.”

Bolton, a longtime Washington hawk who, over the years, has argued for regime change in both North Korea and Iran, has been a source of concern to Pyongyang since he started working in the White House in April. Six weeks earlier, Bolton had advocated an attack on North Korea in a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First.” He wrote, “Given the gaps in U.S. intelligence about North Korea, we should not wait until the very last minute.”

The argument attracted criticism from some in the United States who worried that the remark was akin to the arguments that supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which Bolton main-tains was a prudent decision, long after other supporters of that war have concluded that it was a disaster. In March, Max Boot, who once supported the invasion, wrote in the Washington Post, referring to Bolton’s views on North Korea, that “anyone who favors a ‘war of choice’ against a nuclear-armed state belongs in a psychiatric ward, not the White House.”

More recently, Pyongyang was upset by Bolton’s comments in television interviews that the U.S. seeks to have North Korea quickly dismantle its nuclear program, much as Libya did fifteen years ago when it shipped its nuclear equipment out of the country. Only then, Bolton suggested, would North Korea receive benefits, including the lifting of sanctions. In April on “Face the Nation,” he said, “We’re looking at the Libya model of 2003, 2004.”

It was an astonishing statement to make in public, given that North Korean officials frequently cite the Libyan example as their nightmare. In 2003, when the Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi surrendered his nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, George W. Bush cited it as an example to other nations that they would have an “open path to better relations with the United States.” But eight years later, Qaddafi was overthrown, with help from the U.S. and NATO. Kim Kye Gwan said that his country would never allow itself to suffer that “miserable fate” at the hands of “big powers.”

President Trump, however, disavowed Bolton’s controversial remark. Trump told reporters, “The Libyan model isn’t a model that we have at all.” In contrast, Trump said that if the United States reaches a deal with North Korea, Kim Jong Un would “get protections that will be very strong” — a sharp departure from the fiery rhetoric he used just months ago.

The statement went far beyond what previous administrations have offered the communist dictatorship. Previous administrations have offered economic incentives and pledges not to take hostile action against North Korean, but have not said they would affirmatively protect the North.

Despite North Korea’s second thoughts about the summit, it may well go ahead. In a forthcoming interview for The New Yorker Radio Hour, Victor Cha, who was George W. Bush’s lead adviser on North Korea, told me, “I wouldn’t be completely panicked just yet.” He added, “There are hard-liners inside the North Korean government that are probably not as excited about this dramatic turn of events and probably are dragging their feet a little bit.”

As the complexity of the situation sank in, the White House took a new tack, downplaying the celebration of its progress and adopting a posture of measured optimism. “The President is ready if the meeting takes place,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Fox News. “And, if it doesn’t, we will continue the maximum pressure campaign that has been ongoing.”

It was, almost certainly, not the final stutter step in the lead-up to a North Korean summit. “I do feel like we are potentially on the brink of something quite historic,” Cha told me. “But the thing about being on the brink of something quite historic is that, on the one hand, it could lead to something fantastic. On the other hand, it could collapse spectacularly.”

– edited from New Yorker, May 17, 2018
PeaceMeal, May/June 2018

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

The case for letting North Korea keep its nukes

The official position of the United States government is that North Korea’s nuclear program is unacceptable and that Pyongyang has to give up all of its nuclear weapons. This was the goal of U.S. policy under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and is now the goal under President Donald Trump.

North Korea has as many as 60 nuclear weapons, according to the Defense Intelligence Agency, and has developed missiles that are in theory capable of hitting the East Coast of the United States. On Sept. 8, North Korea tested its most powerful nuclear bomb.

These developments, according to experts on the Kim Jong Un regime, underscore an awkward truth: The long-running campaign to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has been a dismal failure.

“There is very little chance that we are ever going to talk this guy out of his [nuclear] weapons, and none of us who have been watching the situation closely for years really thought we were going to,” says Mira Rapp-Hooper, a scholar at Yale Law School who studies North Korea.

It’s high time, these experts say, for the U.S. government to admit defeat. By sticking with a policy that no longer reflects reality, it is making the risk of a war that would kill millions higher than it needs to be.

There is a better way, they argue. The U.S. needs to shift to a policy of containment — a term that comes from Cold War diplomat George Kennan, who helped set the course of U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union. Kennan’s approach was not to confront the Soviet Union directly, but to limit the spread of its influence abroad through alliances and military deterrence — to contain the threat rather than attempt to eliminate it entirely.

This strategy could be adapted, with minimal effort, to North Korea. A policy of containment of North Korea would aim to minimize the danger of its nuclear weapons program through negotiations and the deterrent power of the U.S. military, rather than attempting to end it.

This strategy comes with risks, but so does the status quo. And, to hear the experts tell it, containment is a heck of a lot less dangerous than what the Trump administration and Congress are doing right now.

The most fundamentally important fact about North Korea’s nuclear program is that it is born out of fear — fear, specifically, of the United States.

After the Korean War ended in an armistice in 1953, the U.S. pledged to defend South Korea against future attack and left thousands of U.S. troops deployed there — a constant reminder to Pyongyang that the world’s strongest military power was its enemy. “They’re hyper-focused on our military and what we can do,” explains Dave Kang, the director of the Korean Studies Institute at the University of Southern California.

So, North Korea’s entire foreign policy and national identity have evolved around the threat of war with America. As a result, they’ve always been trying to improve their military capabilities in order to deter a U.S. invasion. N.K.’s nuclear program, which began in the 1950s, was designed to be the ultimate answer to this threat. The thinking among three generations of Kims was that if North Korea had nuclear weapons, they could inflict unacceptable costs on the U.S. if it were to invade the North. Nuclear weapons would be the ultimate deterrent against regime change.

This explains why North Korea has invested so many resources and been willing to accept crushing international sanctions in order to develop a nuclear bomb and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that could hit the U.S. mainland.

It also sys that North Korea is not a suicidal state. There is no evidence that it wants to blow up an American city and invite regime-ending retaliation. Its goal, according to every piece of evidence we have, is the opposite: to avoid war at all costs.

Members of the Trump administration have denied this. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s highly regarded national security adviser, went on TV in August and insisted that North Korea could not be deterred in the way the Soviet Union was.

“The classical deterrence theory, how does that apply to a regime like the regime in North Korea?” McMaster asked. “A regime that engages in unspeakable brutality against its own people? A regime that poses a continuous threat to its neighbors in the region and now may pose a threat — direct threat — to the United States with weapons of mass destruction?”

Of course, you could make the same arguments about the Soviet Union and China under Mao Tse-Tung — both of which were about as brutal toward their own people as the Kim regime is. Yet, that domestic repression did not translate into suicidal wars against the United States.

What’s more, North Korea has been hyper-repressive for its entire existence — and yet it still hasn’t launched a full-scale attack against the South. The fact that the North has nuclear weapons doesn’t change the fact that it would still likely be annihilated in an outright war with the United States.

“I am absolutely convinced that North Korea is not going to attack us first,” says Kang. “We have 64 years of evidence that deterrence works.”

The fact that North Korea is believed to be both rational and deterrable means that the United States may be able to live with a nuclear-armed North Korea, much in the same way that it has learned to live with a nuclear-armed China and Russia. It also explains why the goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula is now impossible.

North Korea saw what happened to Saddam Hussein in 2003 and Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. Both dictators once had nuclear programs and gave them up; both were swiftly toppled by the American military when U.S. policymakers decided they were threats.

Kim Jong Un (and his father before him) seems to have internalized those lessons and concluded that the United States cannot be trusted not to invade rogue regimes when it wants to. The ability to nuke an American city is the best way for Kim Jong Un to ensure that he doesn’t share Hussein and Qaddafi’s fates.

Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, describes current U.S. policy toward the North as “unremitting yet understandable hostility.” The U.S. refuses to accept that North Korea will keep its nuclear weapons, and uses economic sanctions and the threat of force as sticks to try to get N.K. to give them up.

The Trump administration has innovated on this strategy by adding a level of rhetorical bluster that didn’t exist under George W. Bush or Barack Obama. Most notably, President Trump personally said the North would face “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it didn’t stop threatening the U.S.

The thinking in the White House, as far as we can tell from the outside, is that you need to threaten North Korea with a credible military option in order to convince them to negotiate. But this appears to be making things worse, not better. By pursuing denuclearization in such an aggressive fashion, Trump may be making an already unstable situation worse. You can see this dynamic at work in part right now, as the North Korean response to Trump’s “fire and fury” comment was to fire a missile over Japan and to test its largest nuclear bomb ever.

In the absolute scariest scenario, North Korea could misinterpret Trump’s rhetorical bluster as an actual sign that the U.S. is about to attack — and strike first.

Because the United States and South Korea militarily outmatch North Korea, Lewis says, the North’s military doctrine aims to avoid a protracted conflict and instead strike a devastating early blow. The idea is that the U.S. would abandon the war before it could redeploy its vast military assets currently scattered around the world to the Korean peninsula. This doctrine gives North Korea an incentive to strike first if it believes war is imminent.

So, what would an alternative policy actually look like? The first thing to do, experts say, is to take the threat of preventive force off the table and admit that North Korea’s nukes are a reality that the United States will have to live with for the foreseeable future. After that, there are several concrete steps Washington could take to reduce the threat those weapons actually pose. One idea is to take a page from the Cold War playbook.

The U.S. and S.U. faced a number of situations — most notably the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis — where one side had reason to believe the other was preparing for a nuclear first strike. The most important reason these crises didn’t escalate is that the two governments had a lot of different ways to communicate and reassure each other that they weren’t about to attack. The most famous is the Moscow-Washington hotline — a messaging system that allowed the American president and Soviet premier to communicate with each other directly.

The United States doesn’t have anything like that with North Korea now. There is currently only one publicly known channel of communication between the two governments: through North Korea’s U.N. office in New York. Which means that, in the event of a crisis, it would be difficult for the two sides to communicate with each other that they weren’t about to launch a nuclear strike.

Another complementary idea is to keep talking with North Korea about its nuclear program, but with the aim of freezing it rather than eliminating it entirely. Some experts think North Korea might be willing to agree to stop building more missiles and bombs, as well as testing what it already has, in exchange for some kind of benefit — like limited sanctions relief. This would limit the damage North Korea’s nuclear arsenal could theoretically do, particularly by constraining its ability to strike the U.S. mainland.

These kinds of communication and negotiation are technically and politically feasible. North Korea has, in the past, shown real interest in direct negotiations with the United States. The biggest barrier is the U.S.’s reluctance to focus talks on anything other than denuclearization.

“This is one of those areas where we should be able to have negotiation because 1) we don’t want a nuclear war, and 2) North Korea shares that interest,” Lewis says. “Abandonment of denuclearization as a near-term goal [would allow the U.S.] to talk to them about stability, about crisis coordination.”

Third, the U.S. needs to make it crystal clear to North Korea that any attack on South Korea or Japan would be met with force. The best way to do this isn’t loud bluster, but rather by concrete steps to coordinate with allies.

Such steps would help convince the North to avoid anything too provocative, while simultaneously convincing allies not to respond on their own in a way that could escalate the situation.

“This problem requires a serious summoning of political will and commitment of diplomatic resources,” Rapp-Hooper says. “More than it even matters to fly a B-1 over the Korean peninsula at any given time, it matters to have an ambassador in Seoul and assistant secretaries of State and Defense who are constantly meeting with their counterparts and explaining to them what the United States will do to provide for their security in all manner of contingencies and how that’s going to work.” Yet, the Trump administration doesn’t even have anyone appointed to those positions.

Another easy step to improve things here would be to stop doing things that alienate allies, like threatening to withdraw from the South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement or calling the South Korean president an appeaser on Twitter.

What unites all of those different policy measures is a single strategic objective: preventing war on the Korean peninsula by managing the inherent tensions created by a nuclear North Korea. That means convincing everyone in the region — North and South Korea, China, and Japan — that U.S. intentions are purely defensive, that it has no interest whatsoever in bombing North Korea to stop its nuclear program, but would respond with overwhelming force if the North attacked first.

Diplomacy and deterrence, rather than economic sanctions and threats of war, would be the principal tools by which the U.S. would handle the Kim regime from here on out.

Containing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program may not be an attractive option, but much of the expert community is convinced that the alternatives are worse.

– edited from an article by Zack Beauchamp, Vox, Sept. 8, 2017
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2017

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South Korea’s new president proposes military talks with North Korea

South Korea on July 17 proposed military talks with North Korea, the first formal overture to Pyongyang by the government of President Moon Jae-in to discuss ways to avoid hostile acts near their heavily militarized border. Moon, who came to power in May, has pledged to engage North Korea in dialogue, as well as bring pressure to impede its nuclear and missile programs.

The offer came after North Korea claimed to have conducted the first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile earlier in July and said it had mastered the technology to mount a nuclear warhead on the missile.

South Korea’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon told a news briefing, “Talks and cooperation between the two Koreas to ease tension and bring about peace on the Korean peninsula will be instrumental for pushing forth a mutual, virtuous cycle for inter-Korea relations and North Korea’s nuclear problem.”

The United States, South Korea’s main ally, which had been trying to rally international support for tougher sanctions on North Korea, appeared cool to the proposal. President Donald Trump had stated that conditions must be right for dialogue. When Moon visited Washington after being elected president, he and Trump said they were open to renewed dialogue with North Korea but only under circumstances that would lead to Pyongyang giving up its nuclear weapons programs.

The South Korean defense ministry proposed that talks with the North take place on July 21 at Tongilgak to stop all activities that fuel tension at the military demarcation line. Tongilgak is a North Korean building at the Panmunjom truce village on the border used for previous inter-Korea talks. The last such talks were held in December 2015.

Unification Minister Cho also urged restoration of cross-border military and government hotlines that North Korea cut last year in response to South Korea’s imposition of new economic sanctions after a nuclear test by the North.

South Korea also proposed separate talks by the rival states’ Red Cross organizations to resume a humanitarian project to reunite families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War. The South Korean Red Cross suggested talks be held on August 1, with possible reunions over the Korean thanksgiving Chuseok holiday, which falls in October. The last such reunions were in October 2015.

China, which has close ties to Pyongyang despite its anger over North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests, welcomed the proposal, saying cooperation and reconciliation could help ease tensions. “We hope that North and South Korea can work hard to go in a positive direction and create conditions to break the deadlock and resume dialogue and consultation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a news briefing.

In the proposal for talks, South Korea did not elaborate on the meaning of hostile military activities, which varies between the two Koreas. South Korea usually refers to loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts by both sides, while North Korea wants a halt to routine joint U.S.-South Korea military drills.

President Moon suggested in July that hostile military activities at the border be ended on July 27, the anniversary of the 1953 armistice agreement. Since no truce was agreed on, the two sides technically remain at war.

North Korea said on July 20 that it was “nonsense” for South Korea to hope to improve inter-Korean ties while taking a confrontational policy against Pyongyang without giving up its dependence on the United States.

North Korea’s state-run daily, Rodong Sinmun, said, “Ditching confrontation and hostility is a precondition for opening the door for the two Koreas’ reconciliation and unity.”

A South Korean ministry official said that President Moon did not see the newspaper’s comment as Pyonyang’s official response to Seoul’s dialogue offer.

Pyongyang had previously said it would not engage in talks with Seoul unless it turns over 12 waitresses who defected to South Korea last year after leaving a North Korean restaurant in China. North Korea says South Korea abducted the waitresses, but Seoul has said they defected of their own free will. Cho said this matter was not included on the proposed talks agenda.

– edited from Reuters, July 17, 2017, and Indo-Asian News Service, July 20, 2017
PeaceMeal, July/August 2017

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North Korean nuclear threats spotlight U.S. missile defense

WASHINGTON DC — As North Korea rattles its nuclear saber, threatening to bomb the United States at “any moment,” a nerve-jangling question hangs in the air: If Pyongyang did launch a nuclear-armed missile at an American city, could the Pentagon’s missile defenses overcome their spotty test record and shoot it down beyond U.S. shores?

The Pentagon has poured at least $84 billion into missile defense over the past decade and is planning to spend another $3.3 billion over the next five years for a single program known as Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD). Its key part is a network of interceptor missiles designed to launch from underground silos, fly into the path of an attacking missile as it arcs through space, and destroy it by smashing into it,.

That system has failed three of its last four intercept tests. The only success in that series was the most recent test in June 2014. The intercept was accomplished in the absence of any decoy.

A congressional watchdog agency, the Government Account-ability Office, said in February that the Pentagon “has not demonstrated through flight testing that it can defend the U.S. homeland against the current missile defense threat.”

Adm. William Gortney, America’s homeland defender as head of U.S. Northern Command, told Congress in March that the nation needs “more capable forces and broader options.” Key improvements are in the works, he said, including a “long-range discrimination” radar for more effective tracking of incoming missiles. A Sea-Based X-Band Radar on which the Pentagon spent $2.2 billion was highly touted to do the long-range discrimination job but turned out to be a flop.

 Defense Secretary Ashton Carter testified that the Pentagon also is working on a more effective “kill vehicle” — a 5-foot-long device attached to the top of an interceptor, whose internal guidance system steers it into an oncoming missile.

Although officials say they are confident the defenses would work as advertised, the Pentagon acknowledges gaps that North Korea or others might be able to exploit someday, if not immediately. A major vulnerability involves a foe’s countermeasures — decoys carried aboard long-range offensive missiles to fool a U.S. interceptor missile into hitting the wrong target. After more than 30 years, that problem remains unsolved.

No one is predicting a bolt-out-of-the-blue North Korean nuclear attack, but the North Koreans are claiming major advances that have caught Washington’s attention, even if they are exaggerated. Already this year they have claimed a successful H-bomb test, put a satellite into space orbit, and claimed a successful simulated test of the warhead re-entry technology needed for a missile strike on the United States. In March the North claimed to have successfully tested a solid-fuel rocket engine which, if true, would mark a significant further advance that reduces launch preparation time and thus shortens warning time for U.S. defenses.

Of particular concern is a long-range missile under develop-ment in North Korea that the U.S. calls the KN-08. The Pentagon says the KN-08 has a range of more than 3,400 miles, putting it into the category of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Gortney said the KN-08 has “profound implications,” especially if it is deployed as a road-mobile weapon, meaning it could be moved and launched from vehicles that make it less vulnerable to detection. Such mobility, he said, would enable the North Koreans to elude or confound traditional U.S. pre-launch warning systems. While the KN-08 itself is untested, Gortney told a Senate panel March 10 that the North Koreans may have developed the technology to make a nuclear warhead small enough to fit atop a KN-08 missile.

The GMD interceptors designed to stop a long-range North Korean missile are based at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Three years ago, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the Pentagon would increase the number of interceptors deployed at Fort Greely from 30 to 44. The price tag for that expansion, initially put at $1 billion, has jumped to $1.5 billion. None of the additional 14 interceptors has been deployed yet, but all are to be in place by the end of next year.

– edited from The Associated Press, March 29, 2016
PeaceMeal, May/June 2016

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

North Korea H-bomb claims met with skepticism

International skepticism and condemnation have greeted North Korea’s claim to have successfully carried out an underground hydrogen bomb test. If confirmed, it would be North Korea’s fourth nuclear test since 2006 and mark a major upgrade in its capabilities. But nuclear experts have questioned whether the size of the blast was large enough to have been from an H-bomb.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon condemned the test “unequivocally,” calling it “profoundly destabilizing for regional security.” South Korea called the test a “grave provocation” but said it was difficult to believe it was an H-bomb.

Hydrogen bombs are more technologically advanced and powerful than atomic bombs, using fusion of atoms to unleash massive amounts of energy. Atomic bombs use fission — the splitting of atoms.

Bruce Bennett, an analyst with the Rand Corporation, was among those casting doubts on Pyongyang’s test: “The bang they should have gotten would have been 10 times greater than what they’re claiming. “So Kim Jong-un is either lying, saying they did a hydrogen test when they didn’t, they just used a little bit more efficient fission weapon — or the hydrogen part of the test really didn’t work very well or the fission part didn’t work very well.”

The rhetoric from the North Korean media was spectacular, announcing the country had carried out a “world startling event. People of the DPRK are making a giant stride, performing eye-catching miracles and exploits day by day.”

That North Korea is still living with its predictable 1950s post-Korean War world view, where the United States is the prime aggressor, was made clear too: “The U.S. is a gang of cruel robbers which has worked hard to bring even a nuclear disaster to the DPRK.”

Despite the rhetoric, what is not in doubt is the determination of Pyongyang to go down the nuclear path despite widespread condemnation the last time it tested a device.

– edited from BBC News, January 6, 2015
PeaceMeal, March/April 2016

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South Korea, Japan settle deal on wartime sex slaves

SEOUL, South Korea — The foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan said Dec. 28 they had reached a deal meant to resolve a decades-long impasse over Korean women forced into Japanese military-run brothels during World War II, a potentially dramatic breakthrough between the Northeast Asian neighbors and rivals.

Historians say tens of thousands of women from around Asia, many of them Korean, were sent to front-line military brothels to provide sex to Japanese soldiers. In South Korea, there are 46 such surviving former sex slaves, mostly in their late 80s or early 90s.

The deal, which included an apology from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and a 1 billion yen ($8.3 million) aid fund from Tokyo for the elderly former sex slaves, could reverse decades of animosity and mistrust between the thriving democracies, trade partners and staunch U.S. allies.

The issue of former Korean sex slaves, euphemistically known as “comfort women,” had been the biggest source of friction in ties between Seoul and Tokyo, with animosity rising precipitously since the hawkish Abe’s 2012 inauguration.

Many South Koreans feel lingering bitterness from the legacy of Japan’s brutal colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula from 1910-1945. But South Korean officials have also faced calls to improve ties with Japan, the world’s No. 3 economy and a regional powerhouse, not least from U.S. officials eager for a strong united front against a rising China and North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear-armed missiles that could target the American mainland.

Japan appeared emboldened to make the overture after the first formal leaders’ meeting between the neighbors in 3 years in November, and after South Korean courts recently acquitted a Japanese reporter charged with defaming South Korea’s president and refused to review a complaint by a South Korean seeking individual compensation for Japan’s forceful mobilization of workers during colonial days.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-se, made the announcement after their closed door meeting Monday. Yun said the agreement is final and irreversible as long as Japan faithfully implements it promises. “Abe, as the prime minister of Japan, offers from his heart an apology and reflection for everyone who suffered lots of pain and received scars that are difficult to heal physically and mentally,” Kishida told the same news conference.

Better relations between South Korea and Japan are a priority for Washington. The two countries together host about 80,000 U.S. troops and are members of now-stalled regional talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear ambitions in return for aid.

– edited from The Associated Press, December 28, 2015
PeaceMeal Jan/February 2016

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North Korea offers to suspend nuclear tests in return for end to U.S. drills

North Korea said on January 10 it was willing to suspend nuclear tests if the United States agreed to call off annual military drills held jointly with South Korea, saying the exercises were the main reason for tension on the Korean peninsula. The proposal, which the North’s official KCNA news agency said was conveyed to Washington through “a relevant channel,” follows an often-repeated demand by Pyongyang for an end to the large-scale defensive drills by the allies.

North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests, the last in February 2013, and is under layers of U.N. sanctions for defying international warnings not to conduct such tests in pursuit of a nuclear arsenal, which Pyongyang calls its “sacred sword.” It often promises to call off nuclear and missile tests in return for comparable steps by Washington to ease tensions. It reached such a deal in February 2012 with the United States for an arms test moratorium only to scrap it two months later.

The United States and South Korea have stressed that the annual drills, which in some years involved U.S. aircraft carriers, are purely defensive in nature, aimed at testing the allies’ readiness to confront any North Korean aggression.

Tension peaked on the Korean peninsula in March 2013 when the North ratcheted up rhetoric during the annual drills, with Pyongyang threatening war and putting its forces in a state of combat-readiness.

– edited from Reuters, January 10, 2015
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2015

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North Korea crimes evoke Nazi era, Kim may face charges

GENEVA – North Korean security chiefs and possibly even Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un himself should face international justice for ordering systematic torture, starvation and killings comparable to Nazi-era atrocities, United Nations investigators said on February 17. The investigators told Kim in a letter they were advising the U.N. to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court (ICC), to make sure any culprits “including possibly yourself” were held accountable.

The unprecedented public rebuke and warning to a head of state by a U.N. inquiry is likely to further antagonize Kim and complicate efforts to persuade him to rein in his isolated country’s nuclear weapons program and belligerent confrontations with South Korea and the West.

Referral to the International Criminal Court is seen as unlikely, given China’s probable veto of any such move in the U.N. Security Council. Michael Kirby, chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry, said, “Another possibility is establishment of an ad hoc tribunal like the tribunal on the former Yugoslavia.”

North Korea “categorically and totally” rejected the accusations set out in a 372-page report, saying they were based on material faked by hostile forces backed by the United States, the European Union and Japan.

The findings came out of a year-long investigation involving public testimony by defectors, including former prison camp guards. The independent investigators cited crimes including murder, torture, rape, abductions, starvation and executions.

Kirby said the crimes the team had catalogued were “strikingly similar” to those committed by Nazis during World War II. “Testimony was given ... in relation to the political prison camps of large numbers of people who were malnourished, who were effectively starved to death and then had to be disposed of in plots, burned and then buried ... It was the duty of other prisoners in the camps to dispose of them,” he said.

Human Rights Watch said it hoped the report would open the U.N. Security Council’s eyes to the scale of atrocities. “By focusing only on the nuclear threat in North Korea, the Security Council is overlooking the crimes of North Korean leaders who have overseen a brutal system of gulags, public executions, disappearances and mass starvation,” said executive director Kenneth Roth.

– edited from Reuters, February 17, 2014
PeaceMeal, March/April 2014

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)