Archive for WMD

North Korea approaching provocation phase of its “vicious cycle”

North Korea’s bipolar cycle is now familiar to most Korea watchers, including the President of South Korea. The North pursues its nuclear weapons capability with consistent determination in all phases of that cycle, but not always with consistent ostentation. There are periodic acts of satellite theater — a new excavation here, a new launch pad there, or steam from a cooling tower. Words vacillate between conciliation (often cryptic) and belligerence (but mostly, belligerence).

You can’t really time North Korea’s cycles with a calendar — although it does strike me that it would be interesting to try — but it is possible to identify some broad patterns. The cycles have higher tides and lower ebbs when the North wants to test a new or weakened administration in the United States or South Korea. The tides ebb when the North calculates that it’s about to get a payoff, or that it has gone as far as it can without suffering some consequence that it fears. They probably rise due to a combination of domestic political motives, a desire to keep its opponents off balance, and simple extortion. As for how the tone of North Korean propaganda has changed under Kim Jong Un, I’ll recommend this analysis by the Daily NK.

What is increasingly clear is that North Korea’s current moon-faced tyrant has entered a waxing phase.

Three years ago the retaliation was limited to Yeonpyeong, but in the future it will include the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae and other centers of the puppet South Korean government,” said the statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency.

The KPA command, which is responsible for units facing the sea demarcation line in the Yellow Sea, claimed that if Seoul has forgotten the “crushing defeat” it received in the past, it will face greater tragedy for making any kind of impudent provocations.

A senior North Korean official has also threatened the U.S., South Korea, and Japan with “a nuclear catastrophe.” (North Korea was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Discuss among yourselves.)

By the end of the Lee Myung Bak administration, the North had posted banners on the KCNA website calling for the slitting of Lee’s throat. We can already see that Pyongyang has begun the process of making Ms. Park its new Emmanuel Goldstein. Last week, KCNA called Park “a political prostitute.” This week, it’s Uriminzokkiri’s turn:

Uriminzokkiri, North Korea’s main Internet-based media and propaganda website, said a Pyongyang printing house released a booklet called a “diagnosis of the South’s theory of principle” that dissected the follies of policy goals being pursued by the conservative Park government.

It said the so-called principled approach lauded by the chief executive who took power in late February effectively aims to change the North, and is based on the arrogant idea that the South can dictate actions of the North.

According to the website, the booklet claimed South Korean hardliners want to wrestle the initiative in inter-Korean dialogue and use this advantage to strive for unification based on a free and democratic political system.

Where else is this headed? For one thing, we continue to read rumors that the North is ready to conduct another nuclear test. Recent strains between the U.S. and China may tempt Pyongyang to see a moment of opportunity to get away with a provocation.

Personally, I hope North Korea does test a nuke. If it can be said that the Obama Administration has a North Korea policy at all, that policy clearly isn’t working, and is allowing North Korea to rush toward nuclear breakout almost unimpeded. The administration seems disinterested in North Korea, perhaps because it has quietly resigned itself to a nuclear North Korea, or perhaps because it’s distracted by domestic troubles or Iran. Whatever the cause of the administration’s apparent lack of a coherent policy, it’s not going to change unless busy policymakers stop thinking about immigration reform, Obamacare, the 2014 elections, or Iran long enough to focus on this problem for a week or two. Every time they do, it becomes more obvious to them that the old approach has failed and that a new, tougher approach is needed.

What will make this test different from every other test is that this time, there is a ready policy alternative at hand that threatens to cause severe (and possibly fatal) damage to North Korea’s ruling class. At the very least, a sudden case of bankruptcy should convince an unsteady new North Korean leader that time isn’t on his side.

Can North Korea have both Kaesong and Yongbyon?

Who is the real Park Geun Hye? The uneasy coexistence of two headlines may soon tell us. The first headline tells us that, six months after North Korea withdrew its workers, the Kaesong Industrial Park will soon restart.  The second tells us that North Korea’s reactor at Yongbyon already has. Both of these developments are bad news for those who want to see North Korea disarmed, for reasons I explained here. But if Park is really as tough as some of us wanted to believe she was, she’ll at least make Kim Jong Un choose one.

To some, Park’s tactical success at negotiating the reopening of Kaesong revealed a predisposition to a more conditional variation of Sunshine. To others, it showed that Park was a completely different kind of leader than her predecessors–one who was not only willing to let Kaesong die rather than yield on principle, but perhaps even secretly hopeful that it would die, for reasons not easily attributed to her. As one who previously held the latter view, with declining confidence, over the last few months, I grasped at her insistence that the North “guarantee” that it wouldn’t shut Kaesong down again. Perhaps these guarantees were really poison pills. Perhaps they disguised demands for apologies or compensation–things that North Korea couldn’t possibly accept. But it doesn’t look that way now.

Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation said it best in a conversation over dinner a few weeks ago, when he called Trustpolitik “a Rorschach test.”

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In early April, just before North Korea was hit by a wave of financial pressure, Kim Jong Un made what turns out to have been a grave miscalculation by withdrawing 53,000 workers from Kaesong.  Kaesong was a source of $80 million a year in hard currency, but in early April, Kim Jong Un calculated that Park Geun Hye would be as easy as her predecessors to manipulate, that the disruption would be brief, and that he had enough cash reserves to weather it.  He would not have withdrawn the North Korean workers from Kaesong had he known what would happen in the following weeks.

The Kaesong affair has taught us all–but Kim Jong Un most of all–that Park Geun Hye’s tactical sophistication is a dimension beyond her predecessors. For years, I’ve watched North Korea lead the likes of Roh and D.J. with nose rings forged from their own beneficent hallucinations.  I’ve watched them stampede every American president to hold office since 1993 with thunderclaps of scary headlines.  President Obama is the only one of them who hasn’t paid Pyongyang off yet, but it’s still hard to see what his policy vision is, or that he even has one.

Park Geun-Hye is not like these others.  Park–who was poised and statesmanlike at an age when most of us were experimenting with facial hair, whose North Korea messaging has been maddeningly consistent for a decade, who coolly questioned her staff as they rushed her to the hospital with a slashed throat–has an actual, calculated policy vision for North Korea.  I’m not sure exactly what that vision is, but I doubt that it’s quite the same as the advertised vision.  I saw hints of it when I was fortunate enough to be in the Capitol for her speech to a joint meeting of Congress.

I’m at the upper center-right of the audience in the beginning of the video (appropriately enough). Recognize me? No? Neither do I. Here’s what I keyed in on:

But as we say in Korea, it takes two hands to clap. Trust is not something that can be imposed on another.

The pattern is all too familiar — and badly misguided. North Korea provokes a crisis. The international community imposes a certain period of sanctions. Later, it tries to patch things up by offering concessions and rewards. Meanwhile, Pyongyang uses that time to advance its nuclear capabilities. And uncertainty prevails.

It is time to put an end to this vicious cycle.

Pyongyang is pursuing two goals at once, a nuclear arsenal and economic development. We know these are incompatible.You cannot have your cake and eat it, too.

The leadership in Pyongyang must make no mistake. Security does not come from nuclear weapons. Security comes when the lives of its people are improved. It comes when people are free to pursue their happiness.

North Korea must make the right choice. It must walk the path to becoming a responsible member in the community of nations.

In order to induce North Korea to make that choice, the international community must speak with one voice. Its message must be clear and consistent.

Is Park now letting that cycle re-play itself? Her tactical achievement in negotiations over Kaesong now threatens to become a strategic setback, both for Park and for her American allies, who expended substantial diplomatic capital securing the passage of U.N. Security Council 2094.

What financial transparency ensures us that Kaesong and Yongbyon aren’t really just two reactors in different stages of North Korea’s nuclear cycle? No one knows that answer. And if Park doesn’t know, she’s violating that Security Council resolution we’ve just fought to secure, and are trying to get other nations to enforce. That would be a major diplomatic victory for North Korea. And weakening the enforcement of Security Council resolutions shortly after their passage is part of North Korea’s playbook.

The Syria-North Korea Axis

After watching North Korea get away with shipping anti-aircraft missiles to terrorists and its past chemical and nuclear proliferation to Syria, it’s gratifying to see people catch onto North Korea’s role in the tragedy in Syria.  There are several more op-eds and stories on this today, all of them well worth reading:

These weren’t necessarily Korea-related, but did provide useful information:

  • Congressional support for a military strike on Syria is collapsing. It’s unfortunate that we seem divided and irresolute, but it’s better that the President steers toward a new strategy, hopefully after he solicits Congress’s views and gets its support. A strike would make us feel like we’ve done something, but the only way it could slow Assad’s use of chemical weapons at this point would be to hit enough artillery to also, incidentally, help Al Qaeda. Better to attack the proliferation network that supplies the weapons to begin with. That network’s source is in Pyongyang, and the best ways to attack it don’t involve the use for military force.
  • It’s a pretty rare week when Tom Friedman writes two columns, and I agree with a majority of what he writes in both of them.

[Update: I changed the wording in the first sentence, which previously read "proliferation" to terrorists, to "shipping anti-aircraft missiles to terrorists," because "proliferation" implies the transfer of WMD, which I don't know to be the case (not that I'd doubt it, either).]

AP Exclusive! North Korea’s nuke test a cry for peace

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — AP Pyongyang has all the logic and perspective of KCNA Pyongyang and none of the guilty pleasures of KCNA’s prose.  

The way North Korea sees it, only bigger weapons and more threatening provocations will force Washington to come to the table to discuss what Pyongyang says it really wants: peace. [....]

North Korea has long cited the U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula, and what it considers a nuclear umbrella in the region, as the main reason behind its need for nuclear weapons. North Korea and the U.S. fought on opposite sides of the bitter, three-year Korean War. That conflict ended in a truce in 1953, and left the peninsula divided by heavily fortified buffer zone manned by the U.S.-led U.N. Command.

Sixty years after the armistice, North Korea has pushed for a peace treaty with the U.S. But when talks fail, as they have for nearly two decades, the North Koreans turn to speaking with their weapons.  [Jean H. Lee, AP]

I realize that Lee frequents a place where war is peace, but peace isn’t the first goal one would attribute to a regime that, less than four years ago, renounced the Korean War cease fire agreement, subsequently carried out two sneak attacks against South Korea, killing 50 of its citizens, and attempted to assassinate several defector-dissidents on South Korean soil.

Is this The Onion, you ask?  No, this is The Onion.

The idea that a peace treaty with North Korea is the solution to our problems with North Korea is nonetheless the stated position of a small pro-North Korean fringe, and just about no one else, no doubt because the negotiations would give that fringe the chance to support North Korea’s preconditions for said peace.  Still, I suppose it’s good to have clarity on where Lee stands.

For something a little better grounded in reality, see this Reuters analysis by Paul Eckert and Michael Martina:

A North Korean nuclear test draws international condemnation, modest U.N. sanctions and expressions of hope in the United States that China will finally rein in its brazen ally.

Beijing chides North Korea, but nothing much happens.

The world has seen this movie before and it’s likely to witness another rerun after North Korea’s third nuclear test on Tuesday.

See also this piece by Jeffrey Lewis and this one by Bruce Klingner, citing evidence that North Korea may already have a miniaturized and functional nuclear weapon that it can deliver on a missile.  Say what you want about the accuracy of North Korea’s long-range missiles; its short and medium range missiles are thought to be accurate and effective enough to pose a real danger to South Korea and Japan.

If that’s not bad enough, consider how many terrorist-sponsoring clients North Korea has in the Middle East for its nuclear and missile technology.  Claudia Rosett has an excellent summary in Forbes.

Guess who just tested a nuke. Now I’m going to sleep.

Here’s the USGS report, coming in at 4.9,  and here’s the first report saying it looks like a nuke test.  In case you’re keeping track, North Korea’s 2009 test measured 4.7 on the Richter scale after a yield estimated between 2 and 8 kilotons. Its 2006 test registered 4.2, at a yield of just under a kiloton.  Remember — this is a logarithmic scale, which means that a 5 is ten times larger than a 4.

Anyway, a nuclear test site isn’t the only thing newsworthy in that vicinity.  If you wonder if the North Koreans are evil enough to actually use one of their new toys, well, have a look around the neighborhood.

Open Sources: Special Nukewatch Edition

ANYONE UP FOR A NUKE POOL? So North Korea didn’t test a nuke on Monday, as rumor had it, but Sung Yoon Lee was on the record (in an email to me) before that, saying it would happen around February 10th.

If it’s a uranium device, the closest guess gets my autograph on your copy of “Meltdown.”  I say this knowing that there might be two winners, and that it might be a while before we know, if we ever do. For more on that, you may find Sig Hecker’s thoughts to be of interest, but be mindful that Hecker has sometimes gone astray when he let his political views influence his scientific conclusions; for example, he was a long-time skeptic of a growing body of open-source evidence that North Korea violated the 1994 Agreed Framework by assembling a uranium enrichment program.  Even now, he still finds North Korea’s pursuit of a uranium enrichment program “puzzling,” yet former SecDef Bill Perry thinks the North Koreans actually have at least two HEU facilities.

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WHILE OUR EYES WERE ON PUNGGYE-RI, the Israelis just bombed another WMD facility in Syria with a North Korean connection.

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ONE THING I CLEARLY SENSE is that the mood in Washington is much more open to ideas like this than at any time in the last five years.  Centrists of both parties are acknowledging that diplomacy has failed — Perry refers to it as “the same losing diplomatic strategy” — and guys like Bill Richardson, who continue to advocate appeasement, have been marginalized.  Most North Korea-watchers still seem uncomfortable with their cautious and qualified support for new sanctions, but thankfully, some people know exactly where they stand.  We don’t to guess where Ed Royce’s head is:

In an interview in Seoul with Yonhap News Agency, Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said the U.S. Treasury Department’s 2005 blacklisting of a Macau-based bank accused of laundering money for the North Korean regime proved to be “the most effective” means to deal with Pyongyang’s provocative behaviors.  [....]

“When we did that with the Banco Delta Asia, the impact they created was the situation where the North Korean regime could not pay its generals, could not get the hard currency they needed in order to continue its nuclear program,” Royce said, referring to the Macau-based bank.

If North Korea detonates a nuclear device again, Royce said, “I will suggest those types of sanctions to the Treasury Department and its executive branches in order to create deterrence this type of behavior.”  [Yonhap]

Royce is a man after my own heart.  The problem is that these actions can’t work unless the Executive Branch is willing to enforce them.  The last time the boys at Treasury tried that, State rolled them.  And of course, the China and Korea lobbies will do everything in their power to insulate their own North Korea-enabling corporations and banks from the effect of these measures.

It’s good to see U.S. and South Korean diplomats already coordinating about what new sanctions they’ll pile on, but what effect will it have on Kaesong?  It’s too early to judge Park Geun-Hye, and the Obama Administration has never looked less serious.  You can see it in the Obama Administration’s retreat on U.N. sanctions, and its anemic application of Executive Order 13,382.  But at least the stage is set for a public debate about North Korea policy, and in the current political environment, there’s almost no chance State can get Congress to fund the aid that North Korea would demand as the price of Agreed Framework III.

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I WELCOME THE HARDENING OF ATTITUDES toward North Korea, but let’s be a little smarter about it.  Someone needs to take a deep breath and chill.


Sometimes, a missile is just a missile

Every time North Korea tests a rocket, Hans Blix sheds a little tear and Ban Ki Moon’s fluffy white tail stops wagging, because North Korean rocket tests violate three U.N. Security Council Resolutions — 1695 (which bans “all activities related to its ballistic missile programme”), UNSCR 1718 (ditto, and requires N. Korea to “re-establish its pre-existing commitments to a moratorium on missile launching”), and 1874 (which bans “any launch using ballistic missile technology”).  North Korea’s official response is that it is launching peaceful satellites, not testing ICBMs.  You may be wondering if anyone on the Outer Earth is still fool enough to believe this.

There’s little reason to doubt North Korea’s claim that it simply wants to put a satellite into space.  [John Feffer, Foreign Policy in Focus]

Maybe John Feffer just needs more reason, so he can reason his way to what’s obvious to the rest of us.

North Korea exhibited the fuselage of what is presumed to be the long-range rocket it launched in December, and explicitly called it a ballistic missile, despite its claims to the outside world that the Unha-3 was part of its peaceful space development program, a report said Monday.

The report by Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun quoted North Korean sources as saying that the fuselage was displayed under the name “Hwasong-13″ among the exhibitions of the country’s missile lineup in an exhibition hall in Pyongyang. The Hwasong line also includes shorter-range scud missiles, which the country has produced since the 1980′s.  [Yonhap]

Well, you say, if they’re missiles, then they must be for strictly defensive deterrence.  No need to infer any malicious intent here, right?  So we now have this, via North Korea’s quasi-official Uriminzokkiri:

Uriminzokkiri roughly translates to “among our race only” and is aimed at South Korean norksimps. It is reportedly run from China, a country that selectively decides what speech should be permitted based on the state’s value judgments about its content.  Or so you may have heard.  (Hat tip)

If your memory is long enough, may recall that other norksimps in South Korea, the Korean Teachers’ Union, produced an equally sickening video for schoolchildren before the 2005 APEC Forum in Busan, featuring replays of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, set to “What a Wonderful World.”  A theme seems to be emerging.

I’m sure that all across the more progressive quarters of this world, there are fevered minds with room enough for the conflicting lunacies that the Jews and neocons pulled off 9/11, and also that on 9/11, nineteen great martyrs fulfilled a divine mandate of vengeance against toddlers, flight attendants, and office workers.  Similarly, there’s clearly some market in some quarters of Korea for fantasies of North Korea’s peaceful satellites destroying American cities.  I hope that market is a whole lot smaller than it was a decade ago.

If nothing else, it’s a useful reminder that the North Koreans aren’t just fucking around.  We already know what they’re capable of, morally speaking.  Faster, please.

Rumor Control: Nuke Test Imminent

Thanks to those of you who emailed the tips.  I’m hearing either this weekend or Monday.  I guess we’ll know soon enough if that’s disinformation.

Over at Foreign Policy …

Professor Sung Yoon Lee and I have a piece up discussing the world’s next, almost-certain-to-be-lost opportunity to respond to North Korea more effectively than having Susan Rice continue to beat her cranium against the Great Wall of China at the Security Council.  It’s a blend of Professor Lee’s prognostications about what the North will do next, and some of the financial constriction ideas I’ve been pushing as one of those Three C’s.

I’ll say this about FP — it’s certainly a great place to find an audience that isn’t, erm, accustomed to reading that sort of proposal, which makes me all the more appreciative that they decided to publish it.  I’m sure the comments will be just … fascinating.

I want to offer my sincere thanks to Professor Lee for his co-authorship, without which I doubt FP would have given this serious consideration.  Admittedly, there are many people who share his linguistic head start toward understanding the pathology of North Korea; very few who are his equal in judgment, intellect, and knowledge; and none who can communicate that understanding so cogently to those of us who aren’t Korean.  Honestly, I think his English is actually several levels better than mine.  That’s what makes him such a unique resource.

Update:  Here’s Prof. Lee saying many of the same things in 2009.

Nuke Test Watch: One Disease, Many Symptoms

OK, I admit it — I’m disappointed in the North Koreans for wimping out:

North Korea on Tuesday ruled out an imminent nuclear weapon test, but vowed to expand and bolster its nuclear deterrence as well as its sovereign right to launch satellites, while slamming the Group of Eight nations’ condemnation of its failed long-range rocket launch in April.

In a remark given to Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency, a spokesman for North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said that the North didn’t have a plan for a nuclear test from the beginning, because it sought to launch a scientific and technical satellite.

“From the beginning, we did not envisage such a military measure as a nuclear test as we planned to launch a scientific and technical satellite for peaceful purposes,” said the official.

“Several weeks ago, we informed the U.S. side of the fact that we are restraining ourselves in real actions though we are no longer bound to the February 29 DPRK-U.S. agreement, taking the concerns voiced by the U.S. into consideration for the purpose of ensuring the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula necessary for focusing every effort on the peaceful development.” [Yonhap]

Well, damn. I wanted an election-year demonstration of how our desperate diplomatic appeals and offers failed to buy North Korea out of the headlines. I wanted someone else to point out how we allowed our obsession with treating each symptom to interfere with our diagnosis and treatment of the disease. I wanted someone else to wonder how it is that even now, our diplomats seem befuddled that North Korea doesn’t behave the way it’s supposed to when appeased. And maybe I’ll still get what I want. Keep hope alive!

If North Korea puts this off, the most plausible reason is that China pressured North Korea to put it off. This will be both temporary and inadequate. If the North Koreans don’t test a nuke before Election Day, it’s a safe bet they’ll test one shortly thereafter.

Earlier Tuesday, James Hardy, an analyst at IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly said that images taken by two satellite companies, DigitalGlobe and GeoEye, in the past month showed more earth being removed from a tunnel at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Korea’s northeast.

There is a trope in this town that China — despite being the portal for the vast majority of North Korea’s regime-sustaining trade and aid, both legal and illegal — really can’t control North Korea. I’ve long suspected that China merely chooses not to control North Korea, except just before American and South Korean election seasons. But we’re never more than one excuse way from North Korea doing something completely different from what it just said.

Of course, most diseases have many symptoms. Have a look at what the North Koreans are doing at the Cape Musudan test site. Yes, 38 North can be interesting when it’s adding something new to the discussion.

On October 11, 2008, North Korea was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism for its progress toward nuclear disarmament. Discuss among yourselves.