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The Death of an Alliance, Part 68

Here is a delicious pairing of cause and effect:

The U.S. has notified the South Korean government it will withdraw one squadron of some 20 F-16 fighters by the end of this year. [….]   The Defense Ministry is reportedly busy working out a response. They take the view that the abrupt notice of the withdrawal has something to do with the U.S.’s demand that Korea bear more upkeep cost for the USFK. [Chosun Ilbo]

If you happen to believe that USFK shouldn’t do what South Korea can do for itself, this isn’t all bad. 

Even so, it’s unfortunate that the decline of the alliance has to happen by way of punitive responses to deadlocks rather than through a mutual agreement that the USFK has served the purpose that formerly  required such a big American boot-print.   Even if you don’t  believe that we should have such  a  large force  in Korea, you can still agree that  an improved relationship with South Korea, if reasonably attainable,  can be very helpful in our dealings with North Korea. 

That’s why  I wonder why we’re already  kicking Lee Myung Bak in the teeth a month after his inauguration:

“The North has long had a strategy to go around the South and directly talk to the United States, but such strategy could never work,” [President]  Lee [Myung Bak] said in a press conference held before his state visits to Washington and Tokyo that will begin Tuesday. Lee also emphasized his determination to “work together” with Washington in an effort to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program. “Details of the agreement made in Singapore have not been revealed, and the U.S. has yet to make an official announcement. I would like to make clear that North Korea’s tactic to cut out South Korea and talk to the U.S. only can neither work nor will it ever work,” he said. [Joongang Ilbo]

Lee, who meets President Bush at Camp David this week, will probably direct a polite “WTF?” to his American counterpart.  Lee gets bonus points for class, having made his point without whining on camera about those big, mean Americans … like Roh would have done.  Instead, Lee makes his point with a rather delicate combination of clarity and subtlety.

And he a point.  Sharing intelligence and terms of agreement with our enemies  that we don’t share with our supposed allies —  not to mention  our own Congress —  is the sort of  kind of rank and arrogant  unilateralism at which our foreign policy establishment loves to wag fingers and cluck tongues … that is, if it happens to favor the same policies other foreign governments also happen to favor (here, we tend to see some strained applications of the term “ally”). 

This, just as President Lee is signaling his willingness to make South Korea a true ally again.   

The same, incidentally, is even more true of our most important Asian ally, Japan, which is also spitting  out the teeth we’ve just kicked in by consigning Japanese abductees to rot in hell and absolving North Korea of the consequences for holding them.  To quote Colin Powell, this is not how allies deal with each other.  It tempts you to weigh  those costs against the likely benefits.  With the North Koreans giving up essentially nothing and successfully splitting us from our friends, you have to wonder what vital U.S. interest the Administration’s current strategy is remotely likely to  secure.

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The Death of an Alliance, Part 67

[Update:   As I had figured, only video really does it justice.  Just watch the body language and Bush’s expression.  And for that  matter, Roh’s.   Roh certainly has used his presidency to perfect a sublime aura of idiocy.  It’s hard for me to imagine that South Korean voters will be impressed if their media ever decide to cover this story.  There definitely isn’t much love in that room.  Click the image.


Update 1 continued below, with an AP report that does a better job of reporting the dialogue and putting it in context.]

[Update 2: A full transcript of the photo op at the end of this post. My sincere thanks to the reader who sent this.]

[Update 3: I try and fail to explain why the Korean papers aren’t reporting this, regardless of their ideology. Maybe you can explain this. Is it Korean pride? Censorship? Just not that big a deal to Koreans? None of those theories makes sense to me.]

[Update 4:   This site’s peerless commenters, several of whom are fluent Korean speakers, report that what  Roh actually said to Bush  was almost universally mistranslated to airbrush out most of the venom.  Roh’s actual words  were more like, “You keep saying the same thing…. Chairman Kim Jong Il and the Korean people are waiting to hear more from you,” or “Same story. Same story, Chairman Kim Jong-il and the South Korean people want to hear a different story.   See  also this post at DPRK Studies.  So apparently,  Kim Jong Il is the only man in North Korea who is represented by an elected politician.]

[Original Post:]

In a testy public exchange Friday with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, President Bush said the United States would formally end the Korean War only when North Korea halts its nuclear weapons program.  [AP, Tom Raum]

Does  a public argument between two lame duck presidents qualify for a DOA post?  Admittedly, it’s marginal, but this would have been unthinkable five years ago, and it says much about the migration of South Korean public attitudes that Roh would see any profit in this.  Roh may be many things, but he’s not stupid, and he’s completely capable of keeping his differences with Bush, Kim Jong Il, Hu Jin Tao,  or anyone else  private.  For obvious reasons,  Roh chose to have them out in the open instead.

[Bush and Roh]  agreed there had been progress. But then they had a before-the-cameras back-and-forth that was remarkable in the diplomatic world of understatement and subtlety. 

Roh pushed Bush to be “clearer” about his position on an official end to the 1950-53 Korean War. The two Koreas were divided by the conflict, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, meaning they still remain technically at war.

The leaders’ tone remained light, but Bush responded firmly: “I can’t make it any more clear, Mr. President. We look forward to the day when we can end the Korean War. That will happen when Kim Jong Il verifiably gets rid of his weapons programs and his weapons.”

No matter what you may think of Bush — and I’ve been very critical of his Korea policy recently — he seems to have handled this with statesmanlike maturity and a self-discipline that I do not possess (more below on how I would have reacted).  If only I had more faith in the sincerity of what Bush actually said.  For Roh, this is a new low in boobery. 

The tense moments with Roh came as the leaders each made statements to reporters after their meeting. Roh concluded his by questioning why Bush hadn’t mention the issue of the war’s end.

“I might be wrong. I think I did not hear President Bush mention a declaration to end the Korean War just now,” Roh said through an interpreter. “Did you say so, President Bush?”

“It’s up to Kim Jong Il,” Bush said.  Roh pressed on. “If you could be a little bit clearer,” he said, prompting nervous laughter from the U.S. delegation and a look of annoyance from Bush.

Instead, the White House said, “There was clearly something lost in translation during the photo op.”  If you say so. 

For its part, Yonhap did a Rodong Sinmun-quality job of airbrushing all of the unpleasantness out of the story, making no reference to the disagreement and publishing only language to suggest to its readers how peachy things must be:

Friday’s Roh-Bush meeting, the eighth South Korea-U.S. summit during Roh’s term, lasted over 70 minutes in a “very friendly and warm atmosphere,” presidential spokesman Cheon Ho-seon said, noting Bush called Roh his friend during the talks.  [Yonhap]

It goes on to report cheerfully that the two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the free trade agreement and visa waiver, and if you think the odds of either item just improved at this meeting, you need to  take a closer look at  the fine print that came with your medications.  Those are two items  that (1) have some hope of being achieved, and (2) would have a significant impact on the lives of many South Koreans.  And with the crew that’s running the State Department these days, maybe a completely premature and unrealistic peace treaty is also possible.  But how many of those goals have been advanced by Roh’s choice of tactics, which have nothing to do with diplomacy and everything to do with the  short-term domestic political  goal of  showing the voters  how Roh stands up to the Yankees? 

Surely South Korea has differences with China — or should  have —  but  we didn’t  see such an  adolescent display when Roh met Hu Jin Tao last week.  When it comes to South Korea’s discussions with China and North Korea, the Blue House blows smoke about “quiet diplomacy” and leaves it up to us to infer that it’s exercising responsible statecraft and thinking of the interests of, say, thousands of  its abducted  citizens, even when reality supports no such inference.  Can anyone still argue that South Korea is an ally of the United States to any greater extent than dozens of other nations we merely refer to as “trading partners?”

Which only causes me to wonder just what will be revealed of the rest of the Il Shim Hue spy ring  story after the new crew takes over the Blue House.  Surely the shredding crew will miss something (more fuel for that speculation here).  And it wouldn’t be South Korea if the ex-president wasn’t disgraced (and quite probably, imprisoned).

Had it been me instead of Bush —  please suspend your darkest fears for a moment — I would have been unable to resist the temptation to respond just about like this:

You’re absolutely right, President Roh.  You’ve convinced me that tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been reduced so much by your highly effective diplomacy with North Korea that I’m pleased to  announce that all U.S. ground forces will be out of Korea by the end of my term.  Furthermore, I’m asking Secretary Gates to conduct a full BRAC review of all other U.S. forces in Korea. 

The United States has interests beyond  any differences over the DMZ.  Our own problems with North Korea will continue as long as Kim Jong Il continues to perfect the means to destroy entire cities, and as long as he  shows  such a  disregard for human life that moral restraint clearly does not prevent him from doing that, or from selling those weapons to others who would.  We will give Kim Jong Il until the end of this year to verifiably and completely comply with his agreement to disarm.  And if he doesn’t, the severe consequences for his misrule will begin with the overnight destruction of the palace economy that sustains his military, his weapons programs, and his luxurious lifestyle.  And not even the aid that Mr. Roh provides to Kim Jong Il will be immune.  Good day. 

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FTA Agreement Reached FTA Talks Near Failure: The Death of an Alliance, Part 66

[Update 2:   Well, as it turns out, the two sides did reach an agreement, although it’s not clear how comprehensive.  Both sides — mainly us — made major last-minute concessions.  Talks were ongoing until minutes before the legal deadline. Beef tariffs will be phased out over  15 years, which is a long time.  (We’ll see if the Koreans actually accept the next shipment.)   Korea also gets to protect its rice market.  There’s really only one bright spot I can see:  “Both sides have agreed to immediately eliminate import tariffs on passenger cars  … South Korea also accepted a U.S. demand to restructure its tax rates based on engine displacements.”  I’m guessing this will be better for Korea than for Detroit.  Now the really bad news:

In what appeared to be an unusual compromise, Washington agreed with Seoul to hold further negotiations on a South Korea-developed industrial complex in North Korea. Seoul has pushed for the treatment of goods produced in the Kaesong complex in the North Korean border city as South Korean-made products, but Washington has been against it.

In the statement, the two sides left room for the country of the origin issue to be solved in their future negotiations by designating it a “built-in agenda.”  [Yonhap]

It’s an outrage that we’re even considering this.  These are slave-made goods, it’s illegal to import them, and we know it. 

I don’t have any other details on the agreement.  I think the deal on cars is significant, and the rest, not so much.  As for how comprehensive this deal is, I’ll wait for more information.  Presuming this has met the U.S. fast-track deadline, the ball is back in the court of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the Korean National Assembly.  It’s an election year, so the fact that an agreement has been reached doesn’t mean the deal is sealed.  We may even see demands to renegotiate, although on balance, it sounds like Korea got most of what it wanted.  All of this presumes that there won’t be significant opposition right here in the United States.]

[Update: As of 8 p.m. Washington time, according to Yonhap, talks are still ongoing, although no one really knows why.  Without some hope of achieving something, you’d think they’d have quit by now.  My guess is that they’re going for some kind of scaled-down  deal that will be an FTA in name only, but which will allow everyone to say they’ve reached “an” agreement.]


Talks on  a proposed U.S.-South Korean free trade agreement  have failed to reach agreement  after a year of negotiation, and after  being  extended for another 48 hours after the last deadline.  It’s not yet completely clear if this means they’ve failed, period, because the two sides are still talking, but without the most unlikely of concessions from the South Korean side, there will not be a free trade agreement worthy of the name this year. 

Thus has a small radical movement influenced by  North Korea  paralyzed the  trade policy of one of the world’s  largest export economies.

It is the second deadline that has gone by in the search for what would be the largest U.S. trade pact in 15 years. The first was on Saturday and the second 1 a.m. on Monday in Seoul (1600 GMT on Sunday).

“They’re still meeting because there are issues left to be discussed,” a South Korean official told reporters as the second deadline expired. He declined to say if the talks were nearing a deal.  [Reuters, Jack Kim]

South Korea’s discourse on this issue follows each new low with another one, and another. 

One protester against the proposed free-trade agreement set fire to himself on Sunday near the central Seoul hotel which has been the venue for the final round of talks over the past week.

The 56-year-old man was taken to hospital where he was in critical condition with third-degree burns.

South Korean officials have said the most contentious issues were agriculture, including beef and oranges, autos and textiles.

In the past few days, U.S. leaders have been loudly pressing their demands that South Korea open its tightly protected market to beef and autos.   With the increasing likelihood that the FTA will miss the fast-track deadline, you can expect Democrats in Congress to inflict the death of a thousand cuts on any agreement once it’s reopened for amendments.  The failure of this agreement could be of far greater long-term  significance in U.S.-Korean relations than the USFK drawdown or  differences over North Korea.  Trade policy should have filled the gap left by the drawdown of our outdated military presence in Korea.  Still, there will be other opportunities, and I’m actually glad, on balance, that the FTA looks set to fail this year.  We’ll probably get a better agreement a year or two from now, and one hopes that this development will discredit anti-American demagogues in this election year.

Let’s look back at Seoul’s leadership on an agreement that would have been an enormous boon to South Korean manufacturers and consumers, and which it one saw as Roh Moo Hyun’s last chance at some kind of accomplishment to water down his legacy of appeasement, alienation, and national insecurity.  As you read this chronology, keep in mind that most of those opposing the FTA probably supported Roh, a leftist himself, in the 2002 election he narrowly won.

February 7, 2006:   A key House staffer suggests that without an FTA, South Korea could be drawn into the economic orbit of China, already Korea’s largest trading partner.

fta.jpgApril 9, 2006:   FTA talks get off to a bad start.  Before a media  audience, the leaders of South Korea’s negotiating team tell junior team members to watch out for clever flying CIA microphones made up to look like dragonflies.  Yes, this is  for real.

April 10, 2006:   Leftist opposition to the FTA begins to coalesce in earnest, despite analyses showing that if the FTA passes,  “[o]verall U.S. GDP is expected to increase by 0.2 percent, while Korean production is expected to increase by 0.7 percent….”  Radical firebrands compare a proposed FTA to a treaty used by Japan to occupy Korea, and claim that the FTA would make Korea “the 51st state.”  The radical and often violent  Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, whose rhetoric is often indistinguishable from North Korea’s,  emerges as the core of opposition to the FTA.  Despite its long history of violence, the KCTU receives government funding.

April 16, 2006:   Anti-FTA protest draws 8,000 protestors carrying signs heavily laden with anti-American and nationalist slogans.   A former Roh economic aide says, in reference to the United States, “it is no use making peace with a scoundrel.”  I predict that the FTA talks  will fail:

Under these circumstances, let me humbly suggest that the FTA is as good as dead for this year. The question is how badly this whole thing will end ….  The long-term interests of the United States might just be best served by quietly ending the FTA talks now, or maybe in a couple of weeks after the issue is fully joined, but before things get too ugly.

May 5, 2006:   Polls show that most South Koreans still support a free trade agreement with the United States.

May 9, 2006:   The far-left, anti-American, North Korean-infiltrated Korean Teachers’ Union tours Korean schools, telling the kids that an FTA means that they will be “brainwashed” by American ideology in the form  of such films as “Batman” and “Superman.” 

fta-protest.jpgJune 5, 2006:   South Korean protestors hold a small and rather silly anti-FTA protest in Washington, but at least no one gets hurt this time.

July 10, 2006:   Roh’s government  privately concedes that products made in North Korea’s Kaesong  Slave Labor Camp will never be  accepted as “South Korean” for FTA purposes.  (The State Department has applied the term “forced labor” to Kaesong, and the Tariff Act does not permit such goods to be landed in U.S. ports.)

anti-fta.jpgJuly 13, 2006:   25,000 violent  anti-FTA protestors  take to the streets of Seoul, wielding iron pipes and bamboo poles, and hurling paving stones.  The mob turns its fury upon a group of “Americans,” who turn out to be Swiss.

July 15, 2006:   ROK government’s approval rating hits 14%, mostly because of the lousy economy, high housing prices, high unemployment, and the government’s failed North Korea policy.

July 27, 2006:   The Trade Ministry tries to hold a town meeting on the FTA, only to be shouted down by an anti-FTA mob.

July 29, 2006:   Too late, the ROK government realizes that Ameriphobes have dominated the FTA debate, and does too little to promote the agreement’s potential benefits.

August 21, 2006:   Kaesong seems to be the issue that just won’t die, so U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab speaks bluntly on the idea of including Kaesong products in the FTA:  “It won’t happen, it can’t happen.”

October 27, 2006:   The Chairman of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service resigns following the exposure of a well-connected North Korean spy ring that had infiltrated the vehemently anti-FTA Democratic Labor Party, maneuvered itself into a leading position in the anti-American protest movement, tried to influence the Seoul mayoral election, plotted violent attacks against political opponents, and put  at least one  likely agent onto a U.S. Army base.  One of the arrested spies is a former senior KCTU official.  Some opposition newspapers suggest that  President Roh replaced the Chairman to stop the investigation from  coming too close to his own  administration. 

November 23, 2006:   Another big anti-FTA rally.

November 29, 2006:   Kang Soon-Jeong, who had led violent anti-American and anti-FTA protests, is arrested on suspicion of being a North Korean spy.

January 17, 2007:   FTA talks are still bogged down over exceptions the South Koreans demand:  antidumping laws, automobiles, beef, rice, citrus fruit,  and pharmaceuticals.  Kaesong intermittently reemerges as an issue.

dance-little-piggy.jpgMarch 31, 2007:   FTA talks miss their first deadline for fast-track approval.  Anti-American presidential candidate Kim Geun-Tae goes on a hunger strike to protest the FTA.  (Here’s a scene of Kim dancing for the amusement of the North Koreans at the Kaesong Slave Labor Camp a few days after North Korea’s nuclear test.)   In the United States, where the FTA has been off the political radar screen, Nancy Pelosi begins calling South Korea’s trade policies “one-sided” and compares Korean protectionism to an “iron curtain.”

April 2, 2007:   Talks miss their second deadline, which had been extended for 48 additional hours.  A protestor sets himself on fire to protest the FTA.

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The Death of an Alliance, Part 65: Beyond Dependency, Toward Reunification

[Update:   In the course of a whiney tirade about how America “betrayed” South Korea, Kim Dae Joong also calls for a national conversation about South Korea becoming more self-sufficient in its own defense.  I’d suggest to Mr. Kim that it’s a wee bit early to declare South Korea fully abandoned by America while we still have 29,000 of our people there.  Kim also  admits that the (elected) South Korean government got the deal it wanted, and in light of its own behavior toward the United States, South Korean cries of betrayal seem uniquely unfounded (ht to the Nomad).  Generally, however, I agree that Korea needs to have this conversation, this year. 

Original Post:  I begin this post with  a object  lesson in headline deconstruction.  Start with this …

U.S. Says No More Troop Reductions after 2008

… then proceed to this less-than-definitive textual basis for that bold call …

In a press briefing on the results of ministerial bilateral defense talks held on Friday, U.S. Defense Department spokesman Maj. David Smith said that the number of U.S. troops in Korea will be cut from the current 28,000 to 25,000 by 2008 in line with the third phase of reduction plans. But further reductions are not in the foreseeable future, he said.

A Major in the  Pentagon is the equivalent of a Specialist at Fort Hood.  The term “no plans at this time” is Pentagonese for “I’m a Major and the Secretary of Defense has not authorized me to set deployment schedules on behalf of the next President of the United States.”  From there, we end up with  a statement that, while speculative,  sounds much more candid:

Larry Niksch, a specialist in Asian affairs at the U.S. Congressional Research Service, said recently that it is only a matter of time before the U.S. withdraws all its ground forces from Korea by moving the single remaining brigade to another region. Of two brigades under the second U.S. infantry division, one was already relocated to Iraq, he said. Niksh predicted that the U.S. will considerably strengthen its air forces in Korea and indirectly support Korea’s naval forces from its naval bases in Japan.

Meaning, the truth is most likely to be the exact opposite of the what the headline actually says.  Indeed, the Pentagon  intends  to reduce  the level of U.S. ground forces with which it would reinforce the ROK in wartime.

The U.S. military has recently notified South Korean military authorities that it plans to cut back wartime reinforcements specified in a strategic master plan by the two allies, sources said Monday.

Military sources said Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command and Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff are revising and supplementing the strategy known as OPLAN 5027, and in the process the U.S. told Korea of “plans to reduce the scale” of reinforcements. A South Korean officer declined to say how big the cutbacks will be but added they were “not very big.”


Some predict that the U.S. cutbacks will be drastic: the legally binding force of the master plan concerning U.S. reinforcements is weak enough. If the joint command ceases exist, it will be even weaker.

There is mixed news there.  Plenty of us had assumed for a long time  that 690,000 troops was an unrealistic level.  There is also a significant doctrinal change embedded in this reduction:  fewer U.S. forces, perhaps none,  would be available to invade North Korea and overthrow  its regime in the event of war.  I admit to some mixed feelings about this.  Conventional theory is that a North Korean invasion must mean the end of its regime for maximum deterrent effect.  Considering how bloody an invasion of the North could be, however, it’s no longer a given that we’d have the political will to  join that fight, or finish it.  I believe in getting rid of the North Korean regime, but I don’t  believe that invading North Korea is the best way to accomplish that, not even if the North invades first.  Invasion is certainly not the only way to deter an invasion, and probably  isn’t the best way.  In fact, a U.S. invasion could actually rally North Koreans around the banner of nationalism, a sentiment whose appeal in Korea is hard to overstate. 

I  also believe  that any invasion or occupation of North Korea should have, as GI Korea has described it to me,  “a Korean face.”  South Korea will have to find the manpower for that, which won’t be easy if this RAND study is to be believed.  That militates in favor of us doing what we failed to do in Iraq —  take full advantage of  local support.   That begins with a decision to  do what the North  never quit  trying to do in the South:  sow dissent, undermine the regime’s control,  and prepare  the battlefield with psyops, which will not be  as effective if we wait for  actual hostilities.  Next, we should be training, equipping, and organizing a  Reuinification Corps  of North Korean defectors  whose job would be to  help reestablish order and basic services during any occupation of the North. 

Let’s hope that in time, necessity will force Korea to be all it can be.  My hope for Korea is that independent defense planning will lead to self-sufficiency, which will  build national  self-confidence,  break  the cycle of  unhealthy dependency, and  dispense with the luxuries of statecraft without responsibility and emotion as the primary engine of national policy.  Let’s hope that instead of complaining about which foreign powers have failed to deliver unification, South Korea will set about planning the most painless way to regain its own undivided nationhood.  And with that discussion will come hard questions about just how Korea will find the manpower to protect the South and simultaneously restore order from the chaos of the North.

That is where the rebuilding of the alliance can begin.

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The Death of an Alliance, Part 64: Thank You, Secretary Obvious!

The first Democratic-controlled hearing of the International Relations Foreign Affairs Committee has met.  No bold intiatives, brilliant proposals, or clear theme  emerged.  Instead, it was  a dizzying variety of views and  partisan mutual cancellation  that rendered the entire excercise inconclusive and confusing.  One could expect little else:  both parties are advocating more talks  backed by threats that North Korea does not fear.  Both sides fail to grasp,  or at  least to admit,  that North Korea will not disarm  for  any price.  None will simply state that the regime will be a danger as long as it exists.  On observing the natural consequence of things we stubbornly deny,  each side blames the other.  This is depressing.

And amusing.  While the Democrats were excoriating Bush for not engaging in bilateral talks, his chief negotiator, Chris Hill, was unable to testify … because he was in Berlin, engaging in bilateral talks.

There was one very interesting message that emerged, however, and it came from Clinton’s former Secretary of Defense, William Perry, who has a history of being a hawkish talker and a dovish actor.  Still, I don’t think that the Democratic congressional staff would have invited Secretary Perry to testify if it didn’t expect Perry to make the kind of statements that people tend to take more seriously when Democrats make them.  First, Perry stated an essential principle that too few  have grasped, particularly in the Korean context:

… Perry, also told lawmakers that the United States must negotiate with North Korea with a “credible coercive element” that includes the threat of a military attack on the North’s nuclear plant.

In other words,  if your interlocutor is determined  not to give you what you need, diplomacy requires a coercive incentive, and Perry does not just speak of coercing North Korea.  He speaks also to those who have deprived us of a nonviolent coercive option. 

“An additional inducement for China and South Korea would be the concern that if they did not provide the coercion, the United States might take the only meaningful coercive action available to it  — destroying the reactor before it could come on line,” Perry was quoted as saying. 

Perry is talking about a new 10-Megawatt reactor the North Koreans are building, even as famine and an opportunistic plague are already spreading across the country’s northeast.  That reactor would greatly increase North Korea’s production of nuclear material. 



Now, I’ve previously taken shots Perry’s suggestion that we should strike North  Korea’s missile capability, because I don’t believe those missiles present a risk  that justifies  the risk of destroying them and the political cost of a first strike.  Furthermore, I doubt that Perry would take his own advice if he was the one who had to make the decision, given his own past performance.  But when it comes to an increase of North Korea’s production of nuclear material, I might agree with Perry this time.  Sooner or later, that increased production will be exported.  That’s an unacceptable risk, and it may justify the risk of war, in light of our ability — we hope —  to deter war:

“Clearly, this is a dangerous alternative,” he said. “If China and South Korea do not agree to applying coercion, the United States may be forced to military action which, while it certainly would be successful, could lead to dangerous unintended consequences,” he said.

But, he said, there were no alternatives left that were not dangerous.

“Allowing North Korea to move ahead with a robust program that is building 10 nuclear bombs a year could prove to be even more dangerous than exercising coercive diplomacy,” he said.

In other words, appeasement  has increased the  risk of war by undermining deterrence and everything else short of it.  He might also have mentioned that Roh provides nearly half of North Korea’s  income,  actually bankrolled North Korea’s military (and most likely, it weapons programs with them), and allowed North Korea to become an important player in South Korea’s domestic politics and educational system.  But this bipartisan concurrence that South Korea has been  more  adversary than ally  in the unconventional war is a step in the direction of reality.



You can also wonder in perpetuity whether Saddam Hussein might have opted for transparency 14 U.N. resolutions ago had the U.N. showed some resolve and more determination to uphold sanctions.  Thus, opportunities for deterrence are lost and war becomes more  likely, because tyrants and terrorists lose their fear of consequences.  The same  nations that prosper in the milleu of peaceful commerce protected by soft American bodies undermine the preservation of that peace, and then turn against us when war comes.  In the modern lexicon, such nations are known as “allies.”

Most disappointing was the testimony of former Ambassador James Lilley.  I’ve met Lilley several times, and he is one of the most genial and intelligent men with whom I’ve ever spoken, a sage among statesmen.  But Lilley’s discounting of North Korea’s current capabilities is dangerously imprudent, and he seems not to have been a careful observer of North Korea’s success at reversing even limited reforms, or in isolating foreign investment from its general  population.

In the long run, the way to subdue nuclear-armed, bellicose North Korea is to let South Korea “absorb” the North economically, James Lilley told the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Moreover, economic development sponsored by South Korea and China is beginning to undermine North Korea’s communist system, Lilley said. But the “economic seduction” of North Korea will take a long time.
But threatening North Korea is unlikely to work, Lilley said. North Korea can simply make a counterthreat: Feed North Koreans in North Korea, or feed them in China, he said. Cutting off food and fuel to North Korea would almost certainly result in a vast flood of refugees into China and South Korea.  Facing that, China would send grain, Lilley said.

I don’t believe in making food a political weapon, for pragmatic reasons in addition to moral ones.   I wish there was a way that we could feed North Koreans who are the most likely to oppose their own government, but North Korea would never permit that, and that’s probably why international aid has slowed to a trickle:  because  we have no control over where aid goes. 

Yes, North Korea is changing, but it’s changing because of people and things that are  smuggled across  its borders in spite of the government’s efforts to prevent that.  All of the available evidence suggests that investments by China and South Korea have no effect on this process, and that North Korea’s “hard-faced generals” aren’t going to let their  kingdom  be absorbed slowly.  As long as the regime exists, so will the North Korean nuclear crisis.

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The Death of an Alliance, Part 62: South Korea’s Government (and North Korea’s Agents) Try to Veto USFK Restructuring

Update 1/10:   The Korean reaction to General Bell’s push-back has actually ranged from the restrained (the leftist Hankyoreh picked up Yonhap’s coverage, quoted below, but had no editorial comment) to the rueful (the conservative Chosun Ilbo’s reporting focused blame on its own government):

A key U.S. military official handling Korea’s national security has voiced his discontent with an ally by using the word “fight”.

After the press conference, Korea’s Ministry of National Defense rushed to contain the situation by saying the U.S. military said later that the word “fight” meant “to work toward achieving a goal”. The level of communication between Korea and the U.S. has deteriorated to this low point, and understanding between the two countries has declined significantly. There are barbs in the words being uttered.


This is the result of the Korean government’s four-year efforts at achieving military “independence,” at the cost of damaging the Korea-U.S. alliance. The damaged alliance will cause our national security to be plagued with pains for a long time.

In other words, in Korea, you get more flies with vinegar than with honey.  If you want flies, that is.  Or a base at Camp Humphreys, which is an equally dubious acquisition (especially when we’re still stuck with most of the bill).  But if we don’t want to spend the upcoming election year with targets on our backs, then  we shouldn’t act  like willing  doormats for every cheap street-corner demagogue.  If we act  hostile and crazy enough, they may even treat us with some of the obsequious deference they’ve shown to China … or North Korea.

I’m not suggesting that our senior officials should engage in public debate with every poop-flinging OhMyNews columnist or stoop to the undignified levels I cite below, because that is not and should not be our style.   I am suggesting that we  should start holding the South Korean government, its ruling party, and its major candidates  responsible for  their cynical and manipulative words and actions, such as those I quote below, and overtly describe the very real connection between  those words to the survival of the U.S.-Korean alliance.

Update 2, 1/10:  As far as the cost-sharing story goes — that’s what Undersecretary Lawless was pissed about the last time I went to Congress — I will not even try to outdo the superb  work of GI Korea.  Pay special attention to South Korea’s whining about kicking in  its agreed  share of what you and I are contributing to  its defense.  Despite  months of hardscrabble talks  in which Korea agreed to pay just 44 percent of that cost, $886 million, it has since reneged on  its word  and will pay just $772 million, which is just 38%.  At the  same time, and in  violation of two  U.N. resolutions, South Korea has budgeted nearly a billion dollars for direct transfers to North Korea, knowing full well that much of it is probably used to fund Kim Jong Il’s military, WMD,  and nuclear weapons programs.

Update 1/09 (Bumped Back Up):  OK, It’s on.

The top U.S. military commander in South Korea said Friday that he would “fight” any move to delay the much-awaited relocation of U.S. forces to a base south of Seoul.

“I am opposed to any decision to stretch this out for any reasons, whether it’s political or it’s fiscal… or whatever it is,” Gen. B.B. Bell, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) told a news conference at his office at the Yongsan Garrison in Seoul.

He stressed that the expansion of Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, 70 km south of Seoul, should be completed by 2008 as scheduled.

Bell said the reports of a possible delay in the move of U.S. troops to Pyeongtaek was news to him and that he was very concerned about it.

The four-star general became emotional, saying U.S. soldiers here, who now total around 30,000, badly need new facilities to live in with their families for a “normal life.”

“We hope … that this consolidation effort corrects a wrong that we have tolerated for years, and that is lousy living conditions and lousy facilities,” he said. “I don’t want my families and my service members to live in those conditions. I want them to be normal. I am fairly emotional about this.”

He added that the deadline was fast approaching and he didn’t care if the problems were political or financial, saying “I will fight this (delay),” and urging the South Korean government to show its firm commitment to the project rather than being swayed by other conditions.

Over  the Marmot’s Hole, Baduk offered his wise counsel to General Bell, suggesting that he choose his words more  … diplomatically!   Why, what a novel concept we’ve struck here!   I wonder which Korean statesmen will follow Baduk’s lead first.   A long list of  qualified candidates comes to mind:

*   Kim Won Ung, the unmedicated nutcase who holds a senior foreign policy post in the  National Assembly,  and who threatened to throw our Ambassador out of Korea, railed at Bell for suggesting that North Korean missiles could be viewed as  a threat to the South, and even asserted territorial  claims on Manchuria;

*   Kim Dae Jung, who blamed America for North Korean nuke tests and urged other poliiticians to adopt the same  fraudulent spin;  

*   Current Foreign Minister Song Min Soon:   “[The United States] has fought more wars than any other nation in the history of its establishment and survival ….;

*   “Comrade” Chung Dong-Young, who as UnFiction Minister,  published this rambling, illogical, error-riddled screed accusing the U.S. of responsibility for  Japan’s occupation of Korea, over a peace treaty it helped broker in 1904, and which won Teddy Roosevelt one of the first Nobel Peace Prizes;

*    Chang Yong-Dal,  the Uri representative and standing committee member  who praised the 9/11/05 thugs who tried to tear down a statue of General MacArthur  for their “deep ethnic purity” (the lead thug is now under arrest as a North Korean agent);

*    Jung Chung-Rae, the pervy Uri rep who compared the USFK  to unclean sperm;

*   Presidential Candidate and Uri Leader Kim Geun Tae, who dances for the amusement of the North Koreans the week after they test a nuke; but declares an insult to national pride when the U.S. declares that it will actually implement UN Security Council Resolution 1718;

*   Ex-Unification Minister Lee Jong-Seok: “The Bush administration of the U.S. is fundamentalist in nature, and it has been raising questions about drugs and human rights abuses since it took office.

I love debating the concept of “diplomacy” as applied to Korea, where that term has no coherent definition whatsoever. Retarded Chinese farmers spent the last decade renting out North Korean comfort women for six bucks a half hour while Ban Ki Moon’s “quiet diplomacy” played as soft background music. When the Chinese were done with them, they’d jab wires through the girls’ noses and lead them back to the firing squad, and Chung Dong-Young never took Kim Jong Il’s  hydraulics out of his mouth long enough to say “hold your fire.

Then, there’s the other extreme, the one South Korea uses with its allies and trading partners. For the last few years, we’ve all enjoyed the spectacle of Korea’s “statesmen” in competition to make the most bellicose threat of hostilities over two guano sculptures in the Sea of Japan. Then, after years of bitter negotiations, fought to the last pyeong, and which will return 30,000 acres and a huge chunk of Seoul back to Korean control, Korea waits until a new SecDef is going through confirmation to float an obvious trial balloon about renegeing on that deal.

Daechu-ri would be family housing by now, and its former  occupants would still be counting their generous compensation, had the ROK government bothered to offer it, and if it would actually enforce its own public order against violent thugs whose puppet-strings lead straight to Manyondae. Americans are awfully tired of the headache and expense that accompany the unique privilege of subsidizing a wealthy ex-ally. Forgive us for finally grasping that getting your way in Korea is all about having the loudest voice, the most inflexible position, and the most iron pipes.

Hey, it worked for Garry Trexler, didn’t it?  Some may argue that being forthright with South Korea will only provoke them.  On the contrary, I’d make the case that South Korea has been meekest and most compliant with those who who’ve been the most bellicose toward it.  The best way to draw South Korean  rage seems to be the use of polite and  mature diplomacy. 

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The Death of an Alliance, Part 61: S. Korea’s Withdrawal from Withdrawal

I agree with GI Korea on this: Iraq won’t even miss the Zaitun “division.”  Although numerically large, Korea’s contribution was militarily nil. The troops did not patrol, conduct raids, or guard anything except their own base, which sat in the most secure area of Kurdish Iraq. The deployment was a translucent veil for Korea’s ingratitude for the sacrifice of other nations, chiefly that of the United States, for its own survival. Locals joked that South Korea was a member of the “Coalition of the Sort of Willing.”

The region in which their soldiers are now based is the most stable in Iraq, thanks to 12 years of U.S. and British air cover that allowed the Kurds, a non-Arab group, to live independently from Saddam Hussein’s murderous regime.

The Kurdish region is so safe, relatively speaking, that a small unit of American soldiers stays in ordinary houses, with only modest protection, in a village near Irbil.

The Koreans, on the other hand, live in a fortress of razor wire, sand bags and blast walls in a remote area several miles from the city. No vehicles can approach without clearing at least two checkpoints with armed guards.

The other reason Korea sent troops was to buy a softer U.S. line toward North Korea. On balance, removing even a portion of this claim on our North Korea policy means much more than the Zaitun Brigade’s presence meant for Iraq’s, or America’s, security.

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The Death of an Alliance, Part 60

The United States and its allies are moving forward with active naval operations  to contain the North Korean proliferation threat.   The strikingly odd thing about this is that South Korea isn’t going to be one of them.  Here is a list of nations with which the United States has more diplomatic and military synergy today than with South Korea:  Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Australia, … and France.  I guess you’re officially no longer  a U.S. ally when the United States has closer military cooperation with France than it has with your country.   The Americans weren’t exactly surprised  by this, either.

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The Song Min-Soon Dossier (The Death of an Alliance, Part 59)

song-min-soon.jpgWe all know that Song Min-Soon is going to be South Korea’s next Minister of Foreign Affairs and trade, but if you think that a man who talks this kind of trash  about his friends couldn’t possibly be a career diplomat, think again.

[ ]Mr Song, 58, is a 30-year career diplomat who served as ambassador to Poland while Christopher Hill was US ambassador there.

The two then became their respective countries’ chief negotiators in the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, which Pyongyang on Tuesday agreed to rejoin. Their closeness was partly credited with forging the consensus that led to last year’s September 19 statement in which North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons programmes.

While  [outgoing Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon]  is famous for his mild manners, Mr Song ““ referred to as “Colonel Song” within the foreign ministry ““ is renowned for his outspokenness as well as his penchant for peppering conversations with Nietzsche and Proust quotes.

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Suspected N. Korean Spies, Shielded by Ruling Party Parliamentarian, Played a Leading Role in Anti-U.S. Protests (The Death of an Alliance, Part 58)

[Update: Welcome Gateway Pundit readers; this story is developing rapidly, and now, there’s new evidence that the North Koreans tried  to help the ruling leftist Uri  Party win the Seoul  mayor’s race last May.  Plus, more evidence of a North Korean hand in fanning anti-Americanism in the South.]

A  widening  spy scandal surrounding  several senior members of the  leftist Democratic Labor Party and  a U.S. citizen  may have  led to  the resignation of the head of the National Intelligence Service yesterday.  Now, evidence has emerged of a direct link  between Pyongyang’s agents in the South and the violent anti-American protests at Camp Humphreys last May (I served at Humphreys six years ago).  As I will explain below, that also makes at least an indirect link to some members of the Uri Party. 

The protests were  organized and led  by an organization calling itself “the Pan-National Committee to Deter the Expansion of U.S. Bases.”  The Committee frequently mobilized  thousands of violent protestors, many armed  with bamboo poles and iron pipes.  The protests resulted in hundreds of arrests and injuries, including serious injuries. The three groups that played the most important role in those protests were South Korea’s largest labor organization, the pro-North and violent  Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), the fiercely radical  Korean Federation of University Student Councils or Hanchongryon, and the Democratic Labor Party (DLP).

What role  did the DLP suspects play?

The  [Democratic Labor Party]  vice secretary general [Choi Ki-young] has reportedly taken a leading role in pro-North Korean activities. He played a key part in organizing protests against the move of U.S. Forces Korea headquarters to Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province and was also involved in demonstrations condemning the government’s support for the UN resolution sanctioning North Korea in the wake of its nuclear test. Party sources said Choi showed more interest in issues like the abolition of the National Security Law and anti-American protests in Pyeongtaek than questions of public welfare. He also participated in candle light vigils over the killing of two middle school girls by a U.S. Army vehicle some years ago.

Lee Jung-hun also leaned toward a pro-North Korean ideology of national liberation when he was a member of the DLP’s central committee. National liberation, along with proletarian democracy, was one of the two major ideological strands among student activists in the 1980s. Since former student activists of the national liberation faction reportedly took a more active part in protests against free trade talks with the U.S. and the move of the USFK base, there is speculation linking the espionage scandal to the organized anti-American movement.

Who else played a key role in organizing those protests?  Set your wayback machine for last May, and examine the roles of two men in particular.   The first, Father Moon Jeong-Hyun, was a leader of the Committee, and possibly a co-Chairman; prosecutors nearly issued an arrest warrant for him because of the protests’ violence.  This excellent article  described Moon’s role:

A firebrand Catholic priest leads daily slogan-shouting protests at the epicenter of the worst standoff in nearly four years between South Korean forces and an array of student groups and labor organizations.

The priest, Moon Jeong-hyun, 69, returned here less than a week after holding out for most of a day on the roof of the school building with nine other priests and two National Assembly members defying the riot police, who drove the activists from the building, some of them kicking and screaming.

A distinctive figure with a flowing beard, often seen holding a video camera as he records prayer meetings and confrontations, Moon and his cohorts were promised they would not be arrested before descending down a ladder from the roof on May 4.

Moon has lived in the village for the past two years, making it the center of the same anti-US struggle that he led during enormous protests in Seoul after the deaths of two schoolgirls, run over by a 50-ton US armored vehicle during military exercises nearly four years ago.

“Pray for this land,” Moon preaches to the villagers. “You have prospered on this land. Pray for your homes. You have built these homes. The land is yours. Your prayers will protect you.”

Now Moon is protected by activists manning checkpoints at entrances to the village within shouting distance of police blocking off narrow paved roads across the rice paddies into the village, on the western fringe of the bustling town of Pyongtaek, on the main railroad to Seoul.

The activists carry banners, not weapons, but they’re clearly ready to battle any attempt by police to enter the village.

Now, the really curious part.

Some wonder if the South’s governing Uri Party is actually encouraging the standoff in which an assembly member from the party, Im Jung-in, is playing a leading role.

Im was up on the roof with the priests before they all came down on May 4 – and has appeared again at rallies in the village. He talks frequently on his mobile phone with party officials, and his presence in the village symbolizes support for the farmers and activists in the government.

I don’t know that Im was involved with the North Koreans, but he was clearly doing everything he could to cover for others who, with or without Im’s knowledge, were.  Im appears to have insured that Moon wouldn’t be arrested for his role in the violent protests.   He also  joined with five  other Uri parliamentarians to demand the withdrawal of riot police in the face of the violent protests:

Meanwhile, six lawmakers from the ruling Uri Party released a statement calling for the withdrawal of riot police from the Pyeongtaek site. “The presence of soldiers and riot police there resulted in unnecessary conflict and misunderstanding with the locals,” they said. “To minimize that, the government needs to withdraw them. The six are Woo Won-shik, You Seung-Hee, Lee In-young, Im Jong-in, Jung Chung-rae and Choi Jae-cheon.

Im even joined the DLP recently in calling  on the government to abolish  the National Intelligence Service’s authority to investigate violations of the National Security Law (via the DLP Web site).  Im, in other words, was a close collaborator with the senior leadership of a committee whose membership included suspected North Korean spies,  and whose activities  may have been inspired and directed from Pyongyang.  Im did everything in his power to protect them  from investigation, arrest, and prosecution, and to secure the release of those already arrested.  He did so by using his connections to the leadership of the Uri Party.

For further reading on  the pro-North sympathies and affiliations of the  other  partners in the Committee, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and Hanchongryon, start at page  11 of my congressional testimony.   More on South Korea’s Fifth Column here. Here’s one of my favorite quotes, from KCTU President Kim Tae-Il:

During the May 1 North-South Workers’ Rally in Pyongyang, the workers of North and South agreed to unify to carry out the anti-American struggle”¦. The center of that struggle with the United States is Daechu-ri, Pyeongtaek.

Yes, this is the leader of  South Korea’s largest labor organization.  One final interesting, though not necessarily damning fact, is that the husband of Prime Minister Han Myeong-Sook was also a close collaborator with the anti-base coalition.

For its part, the DLP claims this is all a nasty plot by those notorious Yankee stooges in the Uri Party.

“The NIS did not elaborate details, but said Lee contacted a North Korean spy when it arrested him. We must say this is a plot by the NIS to set up the anti-North Korea and anti-unification atmosphere while conflicts intensified between North Korea and the United States, and also between the two Koreas,” the statement said.

And unless my eyes deceive me, they also said the opposite:

“We think that this has been set up by pro-Pyongyang forces within the National Intelligence Service,” the party’s spokesman Park Yong-jin said in a briefing.

Emphasis mine.  And yes, we can expect more arrests:

Investigators reportedly found a notebook that contained lists of names of South Korean civic group officials and former student activists, with other information that the sources refused to disclose.

The Chosun Ilbo wonders why the NIS Chair, Kim Seung-Kyu,  is resigning, and hints at a cover-up.  Finally, kudos to U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow — now pushing for South Korean compliance with Resolution 1718 — for being honest with the Korean people about the effect anti-Americanism is having on bilateral relations:

When asked how anti-U.S. sentiment here was viewed in the United States, Mr. Vershbow launched more pointed remarks. “I think there is a perception in the U.S. these days that Koreans have become more and more anti-American, and that they don’t appreciate the U.S. defense guarantee and the commitment of troops on the Korean peninsula, and this contributes to a certain mistrust and sometimes even animosity toward Korea.”

“It’s actually encouraging that the silent majority has been a little bit more vocal in recent weeks in reminding people of just how important our alliance still is.”

Yeah, well, I’m not sure they’re a majority, but I’d agree that they’ve been pretty silent, and that’s really the root of the entire problem.

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The Death of an Alliance, Part 57: Time to End the Screen Quota

I’m about to go all screedy  about this, but I  can be  brief, because  Robert Koehler has pretty much said everything I’d have said anyway.   I generally write  “DOA” posts after an action by  either  government documents some new low in bilateral relations.  The government isn’t responsible for the content of what Korea’s notoriously militant film industry makes, but it wasn’t responsible for the content of “Yoduk Story,” either.   So on one hand,  fictionalized movies about  No Gun Ri  or formaldehyde dumps get the protection of monopolistic  screen quotas  and government subsidies  (and just in time for FTA talks, too!), but on the other, those who would make or finance  a  small-time  musical  about just one of  North Korea’s  concentration camps  are threatened with prosecution under the National Security Law.   


Run! Yankee baby-killers!


Never mind that nobody has actually figured out exactly what happened at No Gun Ri; the reporters already had their Pulitzers by the time we learned that some of their “eyewitnesses” weren’t even there.  Either way, I’ll go out on a limb to suggest that this film’s scenes of bucolic village life  won’t feature any North Korean infantry dressed in peasant clothing. 

The only other point I would add is this:  if those Chinese imperialists hadn’t intervened in Korea, why, the entire peninsula would be unified today.  Yodok would be paved over  with greenhouses and the streets of Chongjin would be packed with bongo loudspeaker trucks heaped with produce instead of dying kkotjaebi. Why war indeed.  The more I hear the question asked, the more I wonder myself.  Overall, however, I increasingly see the U.S.-Korea  alliance as  a perfectly good idea that’s outlived much of its usefulness, at least as presently configured.

Another interesting perspective here.  I saw “Typhoon,” and I didn’t dislike it as much as this reviewer did.   My favorite part was  the ridiculously Canadian accent of one actor, cast in the role of one of the film’s  Yankee villains.

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The Death of an Alliance, Part 56

At the end of this post, there is big news, but  if I told you now, I couldn’t wring the last full measure of absurdity out of  it.  So please stick with me here.  I have  accused the South Korean government of promoting anti-Americanism.  When I do, I speak of things like  this:

The chief presidential secretary for security Song Min-soon on Wednesday said South Korea would be the greatest victim in a war on the peninsula due to the “absurdity” of the security structure. The U.S., on the other hand, “has fought more wars than any other nation in the history of its establishment and survival,” Song said.

This, in response to American objections to South Korean support for the North Korean regime, is one of those  expressions of national maturity  we’ve heard about; not anti-Americanism, just another reaction against Bush’s unilateralism (a theme we will soon revisit).  Well, in one important way — the absurdity of the security structure — Song is right, of course.  It’s absurd to think that if Kim Jong Il opts  for “use it or lose it,” 600,000 Americans  would fly in to defend Song’s sorry ass. 

So we can conclude that the predicted conflict over Kaesong and Kumgang has begun?  That would be safe to say.

Uri Party Chairman Kim Geun-tae intends to visit the Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea tomorrow, despite strong opposition from his own party amid growing concern here that the North used income from the inter-Korean economic project to fund its nuclear weapons program.

At a party leadership meeting yesterday, Mr. Kim was asked to reconsider the visit. The Uri Party’s secretary general, Won Hye-young, and two senior lawmakers, Kim Boo-kyum and Chong Jang-sun, told Mr. Kim it was inappropriate for the leader of South Korea’s governing party to go to the North at this time, considering public sentiment. They also said the North may conduct a second nuclear test.

Mr. Kim did not relent. “It is an action to symbolically show that the inter-Korean economic cooperation projects must continue,” Mr. Kim was quoted as saying by attendees at the meeting. “It is hard to postpone the schedule at this point.”

So Kim is running for president after all.

Now, the same report tries to distance Kim Geun Tae from a Korean government that, but for the odd legal fiction of partisan neutrality, is really an Uri government.  It does seem that both the government and Uri are somewhat  split on the implications of 1718 for Kaesong, but in each case,  someone is theoretically empowered to speak the views of the organization.  We know where Uri officially stands, then.  Roh could disavow those views, or he could disavow the party itself, but  by the end of the day,  he manages to simultaneously piss off absolutely everyone — the Security Council, the Americans, and even Kim Jong Il.  What’s saddest is that you could call this  an improvement.

At this point, we need to differentiate between the Kaesong Industrial Park and the Kumgang tourist project.  When American diplomats call Kumgang  a “cash cow” that seems designed for the specific purpose of funneling cash to North Korea, they are referring to the “$451 million in admission fees have been paid to North Korea since the tourism program began late 1998.” If you count associated development projects, the total comes closer to a cool billion.  So unless the South Koreans can account for where all that money is going, we have an issue with Resolution 1718’s requirement that governments ensure that neither they nor their companies are supporting sanctioned programs.  Just hours ago,  one  Roh’s main national security spokesmen was denying that it was so, and so was his most influential cabinet advisor:

Mr. Hill, who visited South Korea on October 17, expressed a negative view on the project, saying, “The project seems to have designed to give money to the North Korean regime.

In response to this, Minister Lee, who claimed to be the protector of engagement policy toward North Korea even after the North’s nuclear test, expressed his difference with Assistant Secretary Hill’s perception of the project. During the meeting with Mr. Hill, which was held at the central government complex in Seoul on the morning of October 18, Lee reportedly refuted, “The Mt. Geumgang project is normal commercial trade and has nothing to do with the UN Security Council’s resolution to impose sanctions against North Korea.

Here, we reveal the  truth  behind that  old saw, “unilateralism“:  to some,  only Republican American presidents are capable of it.  They can justify it, even in defiance of a unanimous resolution of the  United Nations, when it’s done in the service of appeasing evil.

Asked about Mr. Hill’s comments on the Mount Kumgang tourism project, he replied, “It is difficult to leave one’s own issue to a multilateral decision, although there is a need to respect that decision. It’s not an policy to be changed following somebody’s order to do this or that.”

Reporters continued to press him about whether Seoul was out of step with the international community, and he snapped, “We are not deviating from the UN Security Council. We are not deviating from the international community only because we differ with a certain country.” He added, “I’m not going to name that country.”

In fact, one could argue that China is  actually showing more signs of cooperating with Resolution 1718. So, what did all of this acrimony accomplish?  Bupkes.  After all that bile, the Korean government folded like  a pleated skirt.

The South Korean government has decided to suspend its financial assistance for a troubled tourism project to North Korea’s Mount Geumgang, a South Korean official said Thursday, apparently due to U.S. criticism of the inter-Korean economic project.

But the measure was believed to fall far short of what Washington had expected to see from Seoul since it would only lead to a cutback of several million dollars in the nearly US$1 billion project, which critics claim is a “cash cow” for the communist state.

So can we now conclude that the conflict over Kumgang ended almost as soon as it began?  No.  The text of Resolution 1718, Para. 8(d),  requires member states to “ensure that any funds, financial assets or economic resources are prevented from being made available by their nationals or by any persons or entities within their territories, to or for the benefit of such persons or entities.” 

What’s really odd about South Korea’s blind dedication to these projects is that they’ve been given a higher priority than food aid.

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The Death of an Alliance, Part 55: South Korea’s Ruling Party Blames America for North Korea’s Nukes

Update 10/15:   Correction — according to a newer poll, 43% of South Koreans are retarded.

If you also watched the new “South Park” episode last night, you may still be laughing about it. I still am. It dealt with 9-11 conspiracy theories, and naturally, Eric Cartman acted as the surrogate for all that is irrational, prejudiced, and nasty (Kyle was the scapegoat, of course). I won’t spoil any of the plot twists, but there’s a scene in the beginning where Cartman, Kyle, and Stan are talking about 9-11. Kyle says that only a retard would believe in the conspiracy theories. Cartman answers that a quarter of the American people believe that 9-11 was a conspiracy. Can one-quarter of the American people really be retards?

Kyle: Yes, Cartman, a quarter of the American people are retards.

Stan: Yeah, at least.

It helps you put this into some perspective.

U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow said Wednesday it was unfair that his country had been criticized in the wake of North Korea’s nuclear test. On a visit to the Grand National Party, the ambassador said according to a recent press poll, 30 percent of Korean’s believe that the North’s test was the fault of the U.S. But Vershbow insisted the U.S. did everything it could at the six-party talks on the North’s nuclear program. Party spokesman Na Kyung-won quoted Vershbow as voicing disappointment that people did not look at the entire series of events.

How can I possibly describe my reaction to this? Let me find exactly the right word. I am …


Yes, relieved. Because if you compare that result to some of these results, we could have the makings of a tourist brochure: “South Korea — Now 20% Less Retarded!” Unfortunately, there appears to be substantial overlap between that 30% and South Korea’s current government. The foundation of the ruling Uri Party is the idea that appeasing North Korea would improve its behavior. Now that the Sunshine Policy has just suffered the mother of all sunburns, Cartman Uri must find a scapegoat:

[F]ormer president Kim Dae-jung and the ruling Uri Party continued to work out their theory that the U.S. was to blame for the test. During a talk Wednesday at Chonnam National University, Kim said, “Under the Sunshine Policy, was North Korea engaged in nuclear development?

Where does DJ think North Korea got its bomb(s)? Botswana?

With the U.S. refusing to even talk while bullying North Korea, isn’t nuclear development the only option left (to North Korea) to ensure its survival.

Why, yes, if you exclude instituting meaningful economic reforms, releasing the captive citizens of your neighbors, importing some food, getting out of the counterfeiting and dope rackets, complying with the NPT, letting in some food aid, and moving some of the guns away from the DMZ. Other than that, I suppose that’s your only option. The continuation of Moammar Khaddafy’s life term of office does present some problems for DJ’s theory, of course, but facts are simply inconvenient obstacles.

During an urgent plenary session at the National Assembly, Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook said, “I do believe that the U.S. sanctions and financial pressure on North Korea may be one of the causes for the nuclear test. The initial responsibility falls to the North, but it is hard to name any one country.

Next to DJ’s, Han’s drivel seems almost reasonable. How sad.

Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok told lawmakers Seoul “told the U.S. government that if North Korea conducts a nuclear test, the fate of the Korean people is at stake, and recommended that if at all possible the U.S. should hold direct talks with the North, but the U.S. refused to accommodate us.

B.S., from an accomplished provider of it (one, two, three, four links, and the latest is a gem: “”I apologize for the illegal remittance issue, which was caused by mismatch between law and reality.). We’ve held bilateral talks and multilateral talks, and we’ve specifically held bilateral talks about counterfeiting and sanctions. It is North Korea that has refused to return to the six-party talks for a year now. North Korea wants to keep cranking out supernotes, smack, and nukes with abandon, and we’re unwilling to just let them and “take one for the team,” some of whose members are sitting out the game. If South Korea wants to break the deadlock — at least when it comes to counterfeiting, the North’s excuse d’anee — it knows exactly how to do it.

Chun Jung-bae posted a notice on his website that read, “The Neocon-led U.S. policy on North Korea has not stopped the nuclear proliferation and is a clear failure. It is a result of ignorance of the precept that the carrot and the stick must be used together to bring about positive effects. Rep. Jung Chung-rae said Washington had “abandoned the spirit” of a statement of principles agreed in the six-party talks last year and thus shoulders a large part of the blame.

Ruling Uri Party Chairman Kim Geun-tae said, “The final result was the North Korean nuclear test, so the Bush administration’s hostile attitude and policy of not recognizing North Korea are clearly not working.

When I testified at the House International Relations Committee on September 27th, I accused the South Korean ruling party of using anti-American demagoguery for pecuniary political gain. That party is elected to the leadership of the South Korean government. These examples certainly would make a good appendix to that testimony.

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The Death of an Alliance, Part 54

Last week, sitting barely more than arm’s length from Deputy Undersecretary of Richard Lawless, I detected a veiled threat to reduce the U.S. military presence in Korea if Korea doesn’t increase its contribution to cost sharing. The veil is now off.

Richard Lawless, the deputy undersecretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, told reporters that the administration may have to make cuts in Korea — in personnel or in other areas — if the 38 percent share of costs now paid by the Korean government is not raised toward the 50 percent to 75 percent range.

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The Death of an Alliance, Part 53

The end of the Eighth U.S. Army  in Korea  comes as no surprise to me; the rumors are not new, and this is easy  to downplay as “restructuring.”  With less than one complete U.S. infantry division left in Korea, it’s hard to call it EUSA a true Army-level command, but the symbolic value of  its removal  would be very significant.  I suspect it will also mean that the USFK’s new commander will be a three-star.

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The Death of an Alliance, Part 52: Thirty Days

The Air Force, via  USFK Deputy Commander Lt. Gen. Garry Trexler,  speaking at a public lecture, has given the South Korean Defense Ministry thirty days to find it some training range space, or see the air component relocated. 

I’ll go that one further:  if the air cover leaves, the ground forces leave, too.  With the exception of small Special Forces and SEAL teams, the U.S. military fights combined arms warfare.  Take away the air cover and we go home.  I also think that we’d avoid keep a foot in the door through 2007, to see if competent people win the next election.  Unfortunately, once you eliminate Uri and all political parties whose spokemen  throw around idle coup threats, you run out of options fast.

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The Death of an Alliance, Part 51

First, TKL is privileged to print this exclusive photo of the Bush-Roh luncheon.


The pomp and pageantry rolled out for America’s greatest ally since the Marquis de Lafayette does not end there.

Roh and the poor ROK Ambassador, Lee Tae-Shik, adjourned to Blair House to meet with a real who’s-who of has-beens. Extra props to whoever invited Richard Armitage, who must be the least popular man in this city this week. Also present: Madeleine Albright, Don Oberdorfer, Donald Gregg, Thomas Hubbard, Charles Pritchard, Richard Solomon, Sandy Burglar Berger, John Hamre, William Cohen (the one who just suggested we preemptively hit Musudan-ri) and the repellent Wendy Sherman, who thinks our human rights policy toward the North should respect North Korea’s “right to govern in its own way.” If there is justice in this world, Ms. Sherman will be first into Camp 22 and assigned the job of feeding, delousing, and caring for any survivors.

Extra irony: many of these folks belong to a foreign policy school that calls itself “realist,” which is a euphemism for diplomacy that emphasizes private diplomacy between diplomatic establishments, but which always has too much to apologize for to conduct effective public diplomacy. I don’t know Hamre or Solomon, so they’re exempt from the remarks that follow. The fact that this meeting with these people was the social highlight of Roh’s visit to Washington says everything. These “realists,” by bungling the public diplomacy, paved Roh’s way to power. They cocooned themselves with other like-minded members of the foreign policy establishment, avoiding the campuses while courting, I suppose, editors and other diplomats, trying their best not to notice that the streets of Seoul were thick with tear gas and North Korea was taking over the labor unions. The harvest of this realism was the elevation of one of those young radicals to the presidency of the Republic of Korea. Most of Roh’s voters wanted him to knocked down the hollow shell that was left of the U.S.-Korean alliance, and Roh has done an admirable job of it. It’s both ironic and fitting that they should celebrate together, but the question you have to ask is just what they’re celebrating.

Since so many of these people, in varying degrees, have expressed pretty much the same brand of hostility toward the policies of the administration in power now, this hardly seems like an ideal tactic for mending relations with the people who are actually in the Pentagon, working on the timetable for pulling the rug out from under your nation’s defense. It may comfort Roh to surround himself with members of a like-minded minority, but it will do little to create a sense of even minimally cordial relations between the two governments. I don’t dispute Roh’s right to have the meeting, of course, I just dispute the wisdom. Roh isn’t exactly putting himself in a position of greater strength by trying to build a political base of support among the least interventionist currents of American political thought. When the North Koreans are on the DMZ (or when they’ve collapsed into factions, and the Peoples’ Liberation Army is moving in to “restore order”) is Wendy Sherman really the person you want to count on to send you 690,000 American combat troops?

Hat tip: Mrs. Joshua 😉

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The Death of an Alliance, Part 50: Alternative Realities and Real Alternatives

I suppose everyone is entitled a theory on why Kim Jong Il decided to launch a round of missiles on July 4th, thereby drawing the wrong kind of attention from the U.N. Security Council, Japan, China, and the U.S. Treasury Department. This blog has been lukewarm on the conventional “extortion” theory, and has recently hosted discussions of the Strategic Disengagement Theory, the “Barrel of a Gun” Theory, The Loyalty Test Theory, and most recently, the Robert Kaplan Theory. All of these theories — which aren’t all mutually exclusive — share the single premise that the missile tests have a primarily domestic political explanation. After all, the alternative doesn’t make a lot of sense. That’s why I won’t be too harsh on Roh Moo Hyun, who appears to be saying the same thing:

I think the missile test was aimed at achieving political purposes …

The universal reaction of disbelief is more attributable to this part:

… rather than posing military threats,” Roh said.


The July tests were most likely politically motivated, with the largest projectile “too meager” to reach the United States but “too big” to be directed at South Korea, local media Friday quoted him as saying in Helsinki.


“However, there are many news media that regard the missile test as a real military threat instead of a political move, and this makes the issue more difficult to resolve.”


Asked about the possibility of further actions by the North, Roh said talking about hypothetical situations “will only make many people worried.”

“It could also harm inter-Korean relations, so it’s very difficult for me to answer that question,” he said.

Prime Minister Han Myeong-Sook actually offered a justification for the tests:

“With regard to the missile test, they were not threatening to start a war or to use force, they just want to get something out of the US through six-party talks. It was a way of addressing the negotiations and creating a more favourable environment for them,” Han told the paper.

And it’s no stretch to guess that Ms. Han expects us to give them that something. Incidentally, she’s propounding what sounds like the extortion theory, meaning that (apparently) unlike her President, she thinks that the tests were for external consumption. The incoherence only gets worse. Here’s the Chosun Ilbo version of Roh’s comments:

“One of the reasons why the North Korean missile issue is becoming more difficult to deal with is that the majority of the media” in South Korea, the U.S. and Japan “regard them as real military threats, not as a tool for political purposes,” the president told a Finnish reporter. “I don’t think of them as military threats.

And this:

The president also said Seoul sees “no signs or evidence that North Korea will carry out a nuclear test or if so, when. Asked if it is possible that North Korea will carry out a nuclear test, Roh said, “There is no evidence to support that possibility and people have offered only assumptions that the North could do it. Senior government officials in charge of security, however, have said otherwise. Asked about news that cables were spotted in Gilju, North Hamgyeong Province, National Intelligence Service Director Kim Seung-kyu told the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee, “It is unclear if the objects are directly related to preparations for a nuclear test” but “North Korea could conduct a nuclear test at any time if leader Kim Jong-il makes the decision. Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok told the National Assembly on Aug. 24, “The possibility that North Korea will conduct a nuclear test cannot be ruled out” and, “North Korea declared last year that it has nuclear arms, and it appears that there is a logical possibility that the test may occur.

I officially have absolutely no idea what this administration’s position on North Korea’s nuclear capability even is. I challenge anyone to make something coherent of that: “Sure, they’re a declared nuclear power and could probably do a nuclear test at any time, but you’re all just making unfounded assumptions that they might do one, and by the way, stop talking about the entire subject because you’re scaring people. They’re not really trying to ‘threaten’ anyone, they’re just doing scary things to ‘get something out of’ you. So pay up..”

It’s just too irrational and inconsistent to fathom. Such amateurishness would get most city councils recalled, except that here, we’re talking about deterring an impulsive, nuclear-armed tyrant from threatening the world’s largest, third-largest, and 12th-largest economies. Statements like these have eviscerated the alliance’s power of peaceful diplomatic and military deterrence. They make war more likely. As things stand now, if war does come, our soldiers will be among the first to die.

Obviously, I don’t see much good coming from a military alliance with a government like this. If one of my Army friends picked up a habit and moved in next door to a crackhouse in the South Bronx, he’d still be my friend, but I sure as hell wouldn’t send my kids over to spend the summer there. My friend could say that his crack-dealing friends next door didn’t intend to hit the neighbors with their gunplay, and it might be even true, but their true motives — enforcing gang discipline, protecting turf, marksmanship improvement, whatever — would be little consolation to the bereaved loved ones of dead bystanders. And to extend the analogy a bit further, if someone points a gun at me and pulls the trigger, I sure as hell wouldn’t deny the existence of a threat just because his gun jammed.

Is South Korea the sort of place where we want to tie tens of thousands of our soldiers in an inextricable commitment … particularly one that precludes us from packing up and leaving if their detachment from reality approaches the point of inviting or provoking a conflict that could involve us? If such a government can win one election, it could obviously win another. I suppose we should wait and see how the next Korean election turns out, but you can’t form much of an alliance with someone who lives in an alternative reality, no matter how much sense it makes in ours. You can always try to awaken another democracy from dreamland, but you can’t force it to act rationally. That’s why I believe that we need to move to a leaner, more flexible kind of alliance, one that’s more conformable to shifting risks and opportunities.

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