Category Archives: Yeonpyeong Attack

Gates: Roh Moo Hyun was “anti-American” and “a little crazy,” and Lee Myung Bak wanted to bomb the crap out of Kim Jong Il.

This must be the most controversial understatement of the year, so far:

Reading a new memoir by former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, South Koreans may be quite surprised by his characterization of the country’s late President Roh Moo-hyun as “a little crazy.”

I estimate that approximately 63.8% of them won’t be in complete shock about that.

Gates recalls a November 2007 meeting in Seoul with the liberal-minded president, whose diplomatic and security policy is still being debated. He calls Roh “anti-American and probably a little crazy.”

Roh was quoted as telling Gates that “the biggest security threats in Asia were the United States and Japan.” [Yonhap]

He said that to the U.S. SecDef’s face, and the SecDef thinks he’s a little crazy? If anything, Gates was too kind. I’m tempted to make the case that Roh’s policies were detached from reality, but I did enough of that when Roh was alive, and besides which, there’s someone willing to argue that about every politician.

Instead, evaluate Gates’s description on its literal, medical merits. If you must, pick some less pejorative adjective, like “unbalanced.” A retrospective examination of Roh’s public statements while in office, which clearly foretold his cause of death, could have been grounds to commit him to an institution for his own safety.

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North Korea’s cash-for-summit demands put 2010 attacks in a new light

WERE THE 2010 ATTACKS North Korea’s way of making good on extortion?  Stephan Haggard, not widely know for his hard-line views, cites an article in the Chosun Ilbo revealing that Kim Jong Il wanted a summit with Lee Myung Bak, but at a price.

The sticking point was money. How much? According to the Chosun Ilbo, $500-600 million in rice and fertilizer aid, which had effectively been cut from the first of the year, and perhaps some cash too; that was about the price that Kim Dae Jung paid for the first summit. Negotiations continued through November at Kaesong, when the North Korean delegation even presented a draft summit declaration including a resumption of aid.  [Stephan Haggard, Witness to Transformation]

The Chosun Ilbo story adds this important piece of evidence:

In January 2010, after the secret contacts ended and North Korea realized that it was impossible to extract any aid from Seoul, it vowed to launch a “holy retaliatory war” against the South and fired multiple artillery rounds at the Northern Limit Line, a de facto maritime border on the West Sea.  [Chosun Ilbo]

Haggard makes a compelling (if circumstantial) argument that the attacks were meant to demonstrate that North Korea’s extortion should be taken seriously.

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The Richardson Effect

After a weather-related delay, South Korea says it is determined to continue with live-fire exercises in the Yellow Sea islands.

“The planned firing drill is part of the usual exercises conducted by our troops based on Yeonpyeong Island. The drill can be justifiable, as it will occur within our territorial waters,” said the JCS official. “We won’t take into consideration North Korean threats and diplomatic situations before holding the live-fire drill. If weather permits, it will be held as scheduled.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Evan Ramstad accurately describes what is really at stake here:

The test will take place on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, which North Korean forces shelled last month in what appears to be an effort to effectively redefine border territory in the Yellow Sea off the countries’ west coast. The shelling killed four South Koreans, two of them civilians. With the test, South Korea is walking a tightrope by trying to defend waters it has controlled since the Korean War of the 1950s in a way that doesn’t escalate into more fighting, which would threaten the safety of its 50 million people and the vibrancy of its economy, the world’s 15th-biggest.

In a move that’s certain to resolve absolutely nothing whatsoever, the U.N.

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Co-Author Distances Himself from Selig Harrison’s Vicarious Surrender Plan

You don’t see the New York Times print a correction like this one every day:

An Op-Ed article on Monday, about the sea boundary between North and South Korea, listed as an author John H. Cushman, a retired Army lieutenant general who commanded the United States-South Korean First Corps Group from 1976 to 1978. During the editing process, General Cushman asked that his name be removed as a co-author, but because of technical problems his request was not received before publication.

I can’t say I blame him. The correction will be an additional embarrassment for Selig Harrison, but it shouldn’t be a greater embarrassment than the op-ed itself.

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Lord Haw Haw of Pyongyang

Selig Harrison’s latest op-ed is such a bizarre departure, even by his own declining standards, that I had to read it for myself to really believe it. I have little to add to what Kushibo has already said about this, except to stare agape at Harrison’s use of language. He calls South Korea’s elected President Lee Myung Bak is a “hard-liner,” while hereditary tyrant Kim Jong Il is a “leader.” Deaths that North Korea caused with malice aforethought are attributable only to “cycles” that we are duty-bound to break through appeasement and concessions. He mischaracterizes the multinational investigation that found North Korea guilty of sinking the Cheonan as a “South Korean inquiry.”

I don’t think this leaves any real question open as to where Harrison’s sympathies lie. Selig Harrison just saw North Korea shell a South Korean fishing village, kill and maim civilians, and create Korea’s first population of war refugees since 1953 … and still, he not only constructs some elaborate justification for this, he has the chutzpah to demand that South Korea sign a peace treaty, but only after the United States unilaterally cedes its territory first. What else really needs to be said?

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China’s Very Bad Week

I’ll begin this post by offering my congratulations to Liu Xiabao, and extending my hope that he’ll soon collect his Nobel Peace Prize in person. In recent years, Nobel Committee has tarnished the prize with some poor choices, and it may be that a man of Liu’s courage and character lends the Nobel more credibility than the other way around. Even President Obama had to concede that Liu deserved the prize far more than he ever did. The last regime to prevent a laureate from collecting his prize was Nazi Germany.

For China, this has been a week of unforced errors of sufficient magnitude to change the minds of voters and the policies of nations. Its leaders are accustomed to meeting domestic dissent with arrogance and thuggery, global revulsion with arrogance and disdain, and foreign diplomats and generals with just plain arrogance, but all of this goes only so far. Suffering this thin-skinned hubris has become the price of “good relations” with China, at least as so-called China Hands prefer to define them. President Obama tried that approach, and to his credit, he’s realized that it doesn’t work. Which is why I’m pleased to report that Admiral Mike Mullen will not win the 2011 Confucius Peace Prize:

“The Chinese have enormous influence over the North, influence that no other nation on Earth enjoys,” Mullen said.

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Victor Cha: “There is a real possibility of war on the Korean Peninsula.”

So begins a very sober assessment from a man not known, to put it mildly, for his erratic mood swings or his turbulent creative energy. If anything, I think Cha understates the gravity of the situation. North Korea — by the way, it was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008 — has already sunk a South Korean warship, shelled a South Korean island, killed and maimed Marines and civilians, and turned the survivors of the impact zone into South Korea’s first population of war refugees since 1953. How is that not already war — even if it’s still unilateral and limited? Yet with each provocation, another limit is crossed. Cha is also right that South Korea has an urgent need for a way to deter the next escalation, which might be as unthinkable as the last ones still seem. He then gives a persuasive explanation of how conventional deterrence has lost its meaning:

President Lee Myung-bak is forced to respond with calm and measured actions every time the North provokes. The pat responses to the island shelling and the sinking of the Cheonan — of enhanced military readiness, exercises with the U.S., and diplomatic sanctions — do not work.

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The New York Times sends a correspondent to Yeonpyeong Island and finds that the North Korean shelling successfully depopulated it. A Joongang Ilbo editorialist calls for a tripwire of Chinese gamblers on the four islands near the North Korean coastline. I really hope he’s jesting, because Chinese tourists aren’t even coming to Seoul these days, much less Yeonpyeong. But as Swiftian satire, I’d approve of this.

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In the interests of debate, here’s an argument in favor of increasing the U.S. troop presence in South Korea. I don’t agree, because having American ground troops there obviously isn’t deterring much of anything that the ROK military can’t deter by itself, and even the threats of South Korea’s new Defense Minister seem hollow when the U.S. military is there, presumably to back those threats. Put differently, U.S. troops only really deter a full-scale North Korean invasion that’s been unlikely for a decade, as asymmetric threats have risen.

I certainly don’t think this is the time for more reductions in U.S. forces in Korea, but if the South gets serious about building a modern, professional military, a stronger South backed by strong American air and naval power might be a more credible deterrent. After all, the North Korean perception of America is that we’re more adverse to casualties than South Korea and inclined to restrain the South from striking back.

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Huzzah, I’m finally a moderate!

Not being a frequent reader of Foreign Policy, I don’t know much about the leanings of the particular bloggers there, although most would call that publication a stalwart of the “realist” view that had so recently become fashionable in Washington, before Al Qaeda in Iraq was squeezed down to a small nub of its former self, and before it became evident that North Korea, Iran, and China weren’t prospective negotiating partners after all. This week, we read one FP contributor calling for us to give up on the six-party talks, and another, Will Inboden, coming to the realization that we need leverage against North Korea to have any prospect of productive negotiations:

In the case of North Korea, the lead officials in the Obama administration realize that they have little leverage, in part as a result of the concessions made in the last two years of the Bush administration (such as removal of the DPRK from the state sponsor of terror list, and lifting of the Banco Delta Asia sanction along with returning Kim Jong Il’s $25 million of ill-gotten gains) that failed to secure a meaningful improvement in North Korea’s behavior. Refusing to negotiate from the current posture is a good starting point and helps turn North Korea’s (possible) desire for talks into a source of some small leverage.

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I’ll bet China could stop North Korea from giving the Dalai Lama a visa!

The nation’s top military officer challenged China to respond forcefully to North Korea’s recent attacks on South Korea and rejected Beijing’s calls for a return to negotiations with Kim Jong Il’s regime.

“There is significant leverage [China] could apply to avoiding escalations and improving this troubling situation,” Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Washington think tank on Wednesday. “We need China to step up. [Stars and Stripes, Kevin Baron]

China is just about the only trading partner, investor, and aid provider Kim Jong Il still has, and it seriously expects us to believe that it doesn’t have enough influence to stop North Korea from shelling its neighbors, or for that matter, from shipping missile parts to Iran through the Beijing International Airport? Do you suppose China would be equally powerless if Kim Jong Il invited the Dalai Lama and Richard Gere over for a state dinner? Isn’t this the same China that had enough influence with South Korea to stop the Dalai Lama from getting a South Korean visa at least three times in the last decade? This was especially rich:

By allowing the Dalai Lama to visit the country, South Korea also risks losing China’s support in dismantling North Korea’s nuclear arms program and in bringing Korean War era defectors home.

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Really? But Wikileaks made them sound so annoyed! China has blocked a British and French initiative to send Kim Jong Il a very angry letter over his nuclear cheating and shelling of civilians. Like I said, Chinese expressions of annoyance at North Korean don’t translate into China actually doing anything to restrain North Korea.

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Presenting the “Kim Jong Il Looking at Things” blog.

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As if by request, Prof. Sung Yoon Lee elaborates on North Korea’s points of vulnerability in the L.A. Times:

It’s time to abandon the patronizing view that North Korean strategists merely “react” to signals — no matter how hostile or conciliatory — from Seoul or Washington, and instead focus on Pyongyang’s unique points of vulnerability.

The Kim clan must cope with four systemic problems: dynastic succession, an inherently challenging task for a regime beset by severe economic stresses; the long-term dependency on foreign aid because of the inability of its economy to feed the population; the dependence on illicit international transactions to maintain Pyongyang’s palace economy that supplies the elites, which means having to commit resources to evade U.S.-led financial sanctions; and the increasing information flow into the country, which undermines the regime’s totalitarian control of the public.

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It’s (long past) time to close Kaesong.

So a week after the shelling of Yeonpyeong, the Washington Post leads me to believe that a lot of South Koreans who had been inclined to overlook previous North Korean outrages are really outraged this time. The Post’s correspondent thinks that the South’s infamous generation gap as to perceptions about North Korea has closed significantly in the last week. That’s good if it lasts, and if it translates into a policy that puts us on the path to strangling and subverting the regime itself. More here, at the Joongang Ilbo, which notes the rising anger at China on the Korean Street.

Far be it for me to defend China’s conduct here, but that criticism doesn’t really pass the laugh test, coming as it does from a country that still pours millions of dollars into Kim Jong Il’s bank accounts through the Kaesong Industrial Park. All of the reasons that justified the Kaesong experiment have been refuted by events. It failed to attract significant foreign investment, it’s not producing much for export, the labor costs keep rising, the North keeps meddling, and it hasn’t made North Korea play nice. The experiment has failed.

So why keep it open, aside from the fear that the North will take hostages, or the fact that it might have been politically unpopular at one time?

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Doug Bandow Still Wants USFK Out

You’d think that the sinking of the Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong should have a lot of people questioning what deterrent value American ground forces really add in South Korea now, in light of the risk of having them within North Korean artillery range, and the great expense to American taxpayers. So amid the questions about how to respond — and the bad decisions of former presidents have brought us to point where we don’t really have many ways to respond — Doug Bandow reminds us to ask why American soldiers are in South Korea at all.

My view may not be quite as extreme as Bandow’s. I can see reasons to keep an Air Force and Navy presence there, because those provide us with stand-off power-projection capabilities and secure the other end of a logistical pipeline, should we decide to intervene on our own terms. I certainly don’t agree with Bandow that South Korea’s dependence on us is more shocking than North Korea’s many atrocities, or China’s abetting of those. South Korea lets America subsidize its defense for the not-at-all-shocking reasons that it saves South Korea money, and because the Pentagon is willing to pay. But Bandow is correct that South Korea can and should bear the cost of conventional deterrence.

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National Review nails it.

When North Korea acts up, you tend to see a great deal of commentary from — sorry — ill-informed people who are assigned to write about the subject. That’s why it’s refreshing to see things like this National Review editorial, which avoids the partisan temptation to blame North Korea’s behavior on an American President of the opposite party:

Some conservatives have argued that the Yeonpyeong attack was a direct response to U.S. “weakness. In fact, the Obama administration has been relatively tough on Pyongyang — much tougher than the Bush administration was during its final two years, when economic sanctions were loosened and North Korea was removed from the State Department’s list of terror sponsors. Go back and read secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s remarks at the July 2009 ASEAN Regional Forum in Thailand. A hawkish former Bush official describes that speech as “the best statement on North Korea strategy in the past 20 years. The Obama team — led by Clinton, secretary of defense Robert Gates, and State Department Asia hand Kurt Campbell — has bolstered America’s alliance with South Korea and championed muscular sanctions aimed at squeezing Pyongyang’s finances. Just a few days before the Yeonpyeong attack, the U.S.

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Shen Dingli is a man who really knows the value of a fish.

Shen Dingli has become my favorite poster child for showing just what a bunch of maleficent assholes run China today, and in the aftermath of the Yeonpyeong shelling, he does not disappoint:

Shen Dingli, a security expert at Fudan University in Shanghai, was more direct in laying the blame on Seoul. “South Korea provoked the Yeonpyeong conflict first,” he said. “The area where this incident happened is South Korean territory from a ‘South Korean perspective’. But it is a disputed area from the ‘North Korean perspective’. North Korea warned South Korea to stop the drills, but South Korea went ahead. And then the incident happened.

girl.JPG“It’s South Korean provocation and North Korean over-reaction. South Korea’s artillery killed fish. North Korean artillery killed civilians. If China should blame the party at fault, it should criticize both Koreas,” Shen said.

People, fish, same-same! I wonder if the stultified rags that Shen reads reported that the North Korean artillery almost hit an elementary school.

You remember Shen, of course. He’s the one who was flashing the green light just before North Korea’s first nuclear test. Remember that when you read Wikileaks cables, or characterizations of Wikileaks cables, reporting that Chinese officials say the North shouldn’t have nuclear weapons, or that this time North Korea went too far, or that one day at end of a receding horizon, the Koreas should eventually reunify.

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John McCain:I think it’s time we talked about regime change in North Korea, and I do not mean military action, but I do believe that this is a very unstable regime.”

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Adm. Mike Mullen:
I am one who believes we shouldn’t be rewarding bad behavior here.” Until last week, I was hearing distinct signs that the State Department was losing patience with “strategic patience.” Now, all of the pressure — backed by a very conservative new House of Representatives that will soon come to town — is pushing in the direction of more sanctions. I’m even seeing new-found interest in subverting the regime within policy circles. I can’t quite measure how South Koreans are going to react to this, but the Washington reaction isn’t going to be what Kim Jong Il must have hoped for.

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It’s only shocking because of the source, but here’s a condemnation of the shelling of Yeonpyeong and a good photo essay … from the Hankyoreh. No, really! Careful, guys. You might get purged for being reactionary splittists.

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Could Japan impose even more sanctions on North Korea?

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In addition to his attempt to justify the shelling of his own constituents, Incheon Mayor Song Young-Gil is now failing miserably at providing for his new refugee population.

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Is South Korea Finally Ready to Cut North Korea Off?

kji-step.jpgThe New York Times, in a report bylined in Incheon, says that the Yeonpyeong attack has caused a significant shift in South Korean views about the North.

After years of backing food aid and other help for the North despite a series of provocations that included two nuclear tests, many South Koreans now say they feel betrayed and angry. “I think we should respond strongly toward North Korea for once instead of being dragged by them,” said Cho Jong-gu, 44, a salesman in Seoul. “This time, it wasn’t just the soldiers. The North mercilessly hurt the civilians.

That is not to say that he or other South Koreans will really push for a South Korean strike; people south of the border are well aware that the North could devastate Seoul with its weapons. But the sentiments reflect a change of mood in a country where people have willed themselves to believe that their brotherly ties to the North would override the ideological chasm between the impoverished Communist North and the thriving capitalist South.

The attack seemed to challenge one of the underlying assumptions of a decade of inter-Korean rapprochement, which had slowed but not stopped under President Lee Myung-bak: that two nations’ shared Koreanness trumped political differences, making a return to cold war-era hostilities not only undesirable but also impossible.

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Funny how that works:
China doesn’t want to restrain North Korea from attacking South Korea, but hates it when the U.S. Navy shows up on its front door. The Wall Street Journal passes along a sampling of Chinese reactions to the shelling of Yeonpyeong. Well-connected people I’ve spoken to seem convinced that there’s a segment within Chinese academia and government that really has had it with North Korea, but I doubt China will ever restrain North Korea without being subjected to much more pressure than we’ve been willing to consider so far. The people who run China are enjoying North Korea’s shenanigans too much.

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The Independent reports that North Korean workers in Russia have been recalled as North Korea “prepares for war.”

A mass exodus of North Korean workers from the Far East of Russia is under way, according to reports coming out of the region. As the two Koreas edged towards the brink of war this week, it appears that the workers in Russia have been called back to aid potential military operations.

Vladnews agency, based in Vladivostok, reported that North Korean workers had left the town of Nakhodka en masse shortly after the escalation of tension on the Korean peninsula earlier this week.

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