Open Sources, February 7, 2014

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ROK, U.S. MILITARIES PREPARE “TAILORED” DETERRENCE: In 2010, North Korea attacked South Korea twice without eliciting any military response at all. If you ask me, that isn’t entirely a bad thing. Bombing a few shriveled conscripts wouldn’t perturb Kim Jong Un a whit. He might even spin that as a great military victory. We have other, non-military options (banking sanctions and subversive information operations) that would deter him much more. Unfortunately, but for understandable reasons, military planners prefer to work with the tools that are already in their kits. In that case, I suppose it’s at least good that they’re writing a scaleable plan to deter scaleable threats — plans that (hopefully) would not trigger all-out war. I’ve said it before: if you must bomb, bomb their palaces. At least this would complicate Pyongyang’s efforts to gain a propaganda benefit from film of the rubble. It might even help subvert Kim’s rule by broadcasting his sybaritic lifestyle to his subjects.

But then, I need to be reminded of the actual basis for Park Geun Hye’s certainty that the North is more likely than it is at any other time to do something stupid. I can see legitimate reasons for not revealing what Park’s clandestine sources tell her. I can also see less legitimate reasons for wanting to maintain a high level of vigilance among the voting public, but that level of vigilance can’t be sustained forever. Certainly internal discontent in the North, which seems to be at high levels today, was also a likely catalyst for the attacks of 2010. The provocations of 2009 were probably a test of, and message for, new leaders of the United States and South Korea. I suppose time will tell. Meanwhile, the NSC staff seems to be taking the threat seriously, which is probably wise.

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IS WASHINGTON LOSING INFLUENCE IN TOKYO? This commentary at the Asahi Shimbun wants you to believe that, but it looks more like Tokyo wants to show its annoyance with Washington’s objections to Yasukuni visits. At a time when the risk of a Sino-Japanese war is as high as it has been since the early 1930s, and of grave concern to the more august minds of this administration, it’s hard to understand why Japan would really want to back away from its alliance with Washington now. But then, It’s also hard to understand why Tokyo would have ruined a budding security alliance with South Korea, a country with whom it shares many interests. I expect statesmen to be above letting petty, emotional things disrupt bigger plans. I expect too much.

The same could be said of Caroline Kennedy, our Ambassador in Japan. One of the irritants she has introduced into the relationship with Japan is her objection to … dolphin hunting. Now, I love Flipper as much as the rest of you, but none of the dolphin species killed in the annual “drive hunts” is endangered. So, really? We’re going to do more damage to a key alliance — already under strain because we sold Japanese abductees out during Abe’s last administration (Item 3— because, Flipper?

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IS WASHINGTON SNUBBING SEOUL? I understand that the President is a busy man, and the schedule of his upcoming visit to Asia “has not been formally announced,” but visiting Japan without visiting South Korea would be a huge mistake.

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PARTY DISCIPLINE HAS BROKEN DOWN during Kim Jong Un’s reign, according to New Focus’s correspondents inside North Korea:

Titles of respect for North Korea’s ruling Kim have all but disappeared from common usage since Kim Jong-il’s death, as multiple testimonies from North Koreans who fled the country in the last year can confirm. The change has gone so far that to refer to Kim Jong-un as ‘Marshal’ in any setting other than an official one is now considered out of place and draws attention. This is an unprecedented departure from the recent past.

For ordinary North Koreans, perhaps there was more consternation that a young man in his 20s should suddenly become their ‘Great Leader’, than that their long-lasting but now familiar poverty has continued into a new generation of Kim family rule. …

Starting from January 5 of this year, high-level Party Committee cadres were dispatched to each provincial, city and district Party Committee in order to conduct checks over local Party members. … There were simply too many Party members who had abandoned their state assignments (that offer them no compensation even at the most basic level of sustenance) in order to make their livelihoods through private trade in the marketplaces. With their Party membership cards and Kim portraits stashed away in wardrobes at home, their loyalty was to the portraits of foreign men on foreign currency notes. They were Party members in name, but not in act.

I understand that the people who make these reports self-select because they’re disgruntled, but this would be a change. Read the whole piece.

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IS METH REALLY OFFERED AS CASUALLY AS A CUP OF TEA in North Korea? I think so — at least in some parts of North Korea — not only because Barbara Demick says it, but also because a different recent defector told me exactly the same thing over dinner weeks before Demick’s article was printed.

What I think is harder for Demick to know if whether the state really has gone out of the business. That appears to have been the case until very recently, but this piece in The Daily NK strongly suggests that today, Hamhung is to meth what Newcastle was to coal, and the overseas distribution channels are firmly in the state’s grip.

By the way, Sheena Chestnut Greitens, whom Demick quotes in her story, will be coming out with a report on North Korea’s drug business for HRNK in the near future. I have a lot of respect for Sheena’s work, so I look forward to reading her report. In the meantime, you might be interested in this report on how North Korea’s drug business has evolved in recent years (hat tip: Marcus Noland).

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POTUS CALLS FOR RELEASE of Kenneth Bae, at the National Prayer Breakfast (I mean the President called for the release at the breakfast, not that Bae was being held captive at the breakfast. In case that wasn’t clear.) Bae’s family has been speaking out more, which is good news for him. Congress’s four Korean War veterans have also called for Bae’s release.

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SIT DOWN FOR THIS: North Korea is breaking its word again. (More here.)

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NORTH KOREA CANCELS ARIRANG. Evidently, they’re updating it to include more imagery of Kim Jong Un, which could also mean that they need a wider stadium.

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HAHAHAHA! North Korea builds massive ski resort, then fails to qualify for the winter Olympics.

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WHY NORTH KOREA HOLDS “ELECTIONS:” New Focus explains.