Small Wars Journal

02/12/2021 News & Commentary - Korea

Fri, 02/12/2021 - 10:23am

News and Commentary by Dave Maxwell. Edited and Published by Riley Murray.


1. FM Chung, Blinken stress close cooperation for complete denuclearization of Korean Peninsula

2. North Korea can change but won’t fall

3. N. Korean Foreign Minister Ri named politburo member

4. NGO urges withdrawal of Harvard professor's paper casting wartime sex enslavement as voluntary prostitution

5. Will Biden gov't benefit Korean tech suppliers?

6. North Korea closes most border bridges in North Hamgyong Province

7. The start of the honeymoon phase of the Sino-Korean relationship and America's response

8. Secretary Blinken’s Call with ROK Foreign Minister Chung

9. Strengthening Party Leadership in North Korea

10. New virus cases fall back on Lunar New Year's Day, post-holiday virus fight in focus (South Korea)

11.  Korean Lesson Number One for Joe Biden: ‘Maximum Pressure’ Is Over

12.  Report: North Korea ready to stage artillery exercises on Lunar New Year

13.  North Koreans in U.S., Britain express hope after leaving 'repressive state'

14. President Fires Gen. Singlaub as Korea Staff Chief (1977)



1. FM Chung, Blinken stress close cooperation for complete denuclearization of Korean Peninsula · by 송상호 · February 12, 2021

This is my tweet to the SECSTATE's tweet about the meeting:

I hope you were able to address the flawed strategic assumptions upon which the Moon administration is basing its "peace at any cost" strategy. The Moon and Biden administrations must sufficiently align their assumptions about the nature and objectives of the Kim family regime.


2. North Korea can change but won’t fall · by Andrew Salmon · February 10, 2021

I absolutely respect South Korean sovereignty and its right to conduct independent policy making. South Korea is not nor can it be seen as a US "puppet." However, alliance partners must have sufficient alignment of interests, values, and strategy which requires shared strategic assumptions. Otherwise, we do not have an alliance or it is only transactional. 

But what really irritates me about Moon Chung-in comments is the one about THAAD. He implies that the US somehow forced THAAD on Korea when in fact we could not deploy it without South Korean concurrence. More importantly, the deployment of THAAD provides a capability that not only protects US forces and Korean forces but all the Korean population against the very real missile threat from the north. That said how we handled Chinese economic warfare against South Korea was a major mistake. We should have assisted South Korea in defending against Chinese economic actions.

And in addition, he gets the description of OPCON transition wrong like most of the press and pundits. There is no "shifting" of control of local troops from US to Korea. The ROK/US Combined Forces Command will remain under the Military Committee.  

I mention these issues because we should take Moon Chung-in's advice and recommendations with a grain of salt.


With all that, Moon preaches independent policymaking with an eye on the alliance.

“We are an independent sovereign state and we have our own national interests. When there is a clash of interest between Washington and Seoul we can say ‘no,’” he said. “But we are indebted to the US: The US saved us from North Korean invasion and our economic miracle was partly because of US support.”

Clashes of interest in recent years have included the stationing of a US missile defense system, THAAD, on Korean soil, triggering Chinese sanctions; a massive difference of opinion over the amount Seoul should pay to host US troops; and ongoing complexities before wartime operational control of local troops shifts from US to domestic command (“OPCON Transfer”).

That said, I truly wish he is right about President Moon here. I strongly believe there can be no successful outcome on the Korean peninsula for either South Korea or the US without the foundation of a rock solid ROK/US alliance. (and we need sufficient trilateral cooperation with Japan as well). And the most important thing Presidents Moon and Trump did was to NOT lift sanctions. To have done so would simply have reinforced the regime's political warfare strategy supported by blackmail diplomacy.


Korea’s president, derided in some conservative circles on both sides of the Pacific as a hard-leftist or even a pro-North Korean, has cleaved to the US despite the pressures applied during the Trump administration.

This is visible in his maintenance of the bilateral alliance – despite the cost brouhaha – and in his refusing to breach sanctions on North Korea, despite his ardent wish to engage in cross-DMZ trade.

“I would say that Moon is a pro-American leader,” Moon said. “Preventing an outbreak of war is his number one priority and put very simply, maintaining a close alliance prevents war.”

Even so, there has been division among the president’s advisors.

“Some in the government have argued that we should enhance engagement with North Korea at the expense of the US alliance, but Moon has turned them down,” the academic said. “His major foreign policy has always been: ‘How can we promote cooperation with North Korea without necessarily undermining relations with the US?”


3.  N. Korean Foreign Minister Ri named politburo member · by 주경돈 · February 12, 2021

Excerpt:  "State economic guidance organs should emerge from old-fashioned force of habit by which they used to put the blame on bad condition, complaining lack of authority, and take a hands-off approach towards the national economy and actively wage a campaign for overcoming economical difficulties and obstacles," KCNA said, citing the report on the meeting.


4. NGO urges withdrawal of Harvard professor's paper casting wartime sex enslavement as voluntary prostitution · by 김승연 · February 12, 2021


5. Will Biden gov't benefit Korean tech suppliers?

The Korea Times – by Kim Bo-eun - February 12, 2021


6. North Korea closes most border bridges in North Hamgyong Province – by Kim Yoo Jin - February 12, 2021

This is an indication of the intent of the regime: continue to crack down on trade - legal and illicit and control the economy, information, and the population to protect the regime. But without the safety valve of the markets the people's resilience is going to decline and there will be increased hardship and suffering. We really have to be observant for the indications and warnings of internal instability. The conditions are much different than they were in the 19990's during the Arduous March of the great famine. 


7. The start of the honeymoon phase of the Sino-Korean relationship and America's response – by Jong Kyo Jin - February 11, 2021

This essay covers a lot of ground from the north Korean "trilateral front" to comparisons with the JCPOA negotiations to the Biden administration's multilateral approach and the Quad to Sung Kim's experience with north Korea to crisis management within the ROK/US Alliance.


However, the Biden administration will not be as easily persuaded by North Korea’s words of seduction as the Moon government. Biden will also draw a clear line against South Korea on the matter of furthering the Singapore Agreement, whereas the Moon administration has argued for its continued implementation. Biden has a strong stance on the Singapore Agreement, which he criticized in no uncertain terms as a “vague promise” and “the sign of a weakening alliance.” At the time of the agreement, Biden referred to the vague wording of the Singapore Agreement, which mentioned the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula rather than that of North Korea, and also pointed out the wrongheadedness of unconditionally suspending joint military exercises. Biden expressed his grave concern on both of these two points at the time, and refused to recognize the agreement as a deal between the two leaders.

In this regard, Blinken is also expected to express deep regret over Moon’s remarks that suggested South Korea will discuss suspending joint military exercises with North Korea. Nor will he turn a blind eye to South Korea’s move toward China. Perhaps the strategy will take the form of a blockade, or he might take stronger measures in the form of more sanctions. The methods are varied, and the US will be seeking tangible results. This has the potential to cause adverse effects, not only in terms of diplomacy and security, but also for the economy. It is a boomerang that has backfired on the Moon administration, which has lost its sense of reality. The measures of the new US government may be even more severe than the Trump administration. While the Moon administration dreams of romance with North Korea and China, it may very well end up as a scandalous affair.


8. Secretary Blinken’s Call with ROK Foreign Minister Chung · by Office of the Spokesperson

Short summary. It looks like we will continue to use the phrase "free and open INDOPACIFIC."


9. Strengthening Party Leadership in North Korea – by Atsuhito Isozaki - February 11, 2021

To borrow from the 1992 US presidential election: "It's the party, stupid." The Party is the regime's action arm, not the government. The party controls the bureaucracy and the military.


If North Korea is to achieve economic growth it needs sanctions to be lifted. For this to happen, progress in negotiations with the U.S. is vital. However, the change of administration in the U.S. means the road ahead will be hard, which is why “self-reliance” is being promoted as key to economic recovery. Having already factored in the possibility of prolonged sanctions, North Korea now hopes to be able to run its economy under its own steam. “Self-reliance” is a slogan from the Kim Il Sung era, but originates with Mao Zedong. The newly proposed five-year plan is also highly realistic, unlike Kim Il Sung’s “catch up to and surpass Japan” and Kim Jong Il’s goal of creating a “Strong and Prosperous Nation.”

Kim Jong Un positioned the U.S. as the “biggest enemy” and ordered his party to “strengthen the national defense.” Specific reference to military goals such as the development of nuclear submarines and missiles with a range of 15,000 km was undoubtedly motivated by a desire to attract the attention of the new Biden administration. If North Korea simply wished to develop weapons, then it would be better to do so in secret rather than announce it publicly.


10. New virus cases fall back on Lunar New Year's Day, post-holiday virus fight in focus (South Korea) · by 이해아 · February 12, 2021


There were 19 cases from overseas, raising the total number of imported cases to 6,659.

Of the newly imported cases, seven were from the United States, followed by Jordan and Pakistan with two each.

The country added 11 fatalities, upping the virus death toll to 1,507. The fatality rate was 1.82 percent.

The number of seriously or critically ill COVID-19 patients came to 161, down nine from a day earlier.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was 72,936, up 298 from a day earlier, with 8,394 people being isolated for COVID-19 treatment, up 94 from a day ago.


11. Korean Lesson Number One for Joe Biden: ‘Maximum Pressure’ Is Over

The National Interest · by Doug Bandow · February 11, 2021

Okay, if you want to have a combination of pressure and engagement let's then execute a superior form of political warfare with a long term objective of achieving the acceptable durable political arrangement that will serve, protect, and advance US and ROK/US alliance interests in the region and on the peninsula.

But Mr. Bandow misses the point of sanctions and pressure. We should be under no illusion that sanctions and pressure will cause denuclearization and democratization. It will take a much more sophisticated form of a political warfare strategy to achieve those objectives.

The bottom line is the only way we are going to see an end to the nuclear program and threats as well as the human rights abuses and crimes against humanity being committed against the Korean people living in the north by the mafia-like crime family cult known as the Kim family regime is through achievement of unification and the establishment of a United Republic of Korea that is secure and stable, non-nuclear, economically vibrant, and unified under a liberal constitutional form of government based on individual liberty, rule of law, and human rights as determined by the Korean people. In short, a United Republic of Korea (UROK). Until we understand and accept that we will be not be able to develop a comprehensive long term integrated alliance strategy.


12. Report: North Korea ready to stage artillery exercises on Lunar New Year – by Elizabeth Shim – 11 February 2021

Artillery is probably the nKPA's most important conventional weapon. Why is all the focus and criticism on ROK/US combined training while no one objects to the north's aggressive annual training that will bring nKPA pofrces to their highest state of readiness by the end of March?


13. North Koreans in U.S., Britain express hope after leaving 'repressive state' – by Elizabeth Shim – 11 February 2021

Can escapees from north Korea breathe new life into democracies where they reside? We will need a lot more escapees to do that. But we should be inspired by them and pledge to work hard to protect and advance the democracies we have come to take for granted.

This is a key point that we must understand. The Korean people in the north do not know they have human rights that have been taken away (or never have been allowed to have). The 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry recognized that the Korean people in the north must be informed and educated about their human rights and this is why the international community and especially South Korea (with support of the US) has a responsibility to try to get information to the Korean people inside north Korea.

Consider this powerful and important statement: "Human dignity, freedom, these were values I did not know in North Korea," Park said. "That's why I was at the receiving end of rights abuses."


14.  President Fires Gen. Singlaub as Korea Staff Chief (1977)

The Washington Post · by Austin Scott · May 22, 1977

For some reason this turned up in my news feed today. It is from 1977. A useful historical reminder. Every serving US general officer in Korea should ask themselves if they can be a Jack Singlaub. This incident should have more study in PME. Was it correct for him to speak out publicly? Would resigning in protest have achieved the same effect or not? Did one interview with the Washington Post, and a specific statement about the threat of war, change the course of US military presence in Korea?

It is interesting to recall that the recommendation was that he be retained and reassigned. Of course, he decided to retire.



“He who controls the past, controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” 

-George Orwell


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- Mark Twain


 "If it takes a lot of words to say what you have in mind, give it more thought." 

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Categories: News