Small Wars Journal

06/02/2021 News & Commentary – Korea

Wed, 06/02/2021 - 12:58pm

News & commentary by Dave Maxwell. Edited and published by Daniel Riggs.

1. N. Korea no longer pursues unification through revolution in S. Korea

2. Kim Jong Un gets new second-in-command in major changes to North Korea's ruling party

3. N.K. leader's powerful sister likely to fill new 'first secretary' post in case of emergency: expert

4. Appointment of U.S. point man on N. Korea signals readiness for dialogue with Pyongyang: Sherman

5. Student activists again burn Japanese flag in Seoul over Dokdo

6. Meet the new No. 2 in North Korea

7. Ex-USFK chief Brooks hasn't been offered ambassador post in S. Korea: aide

8. North Korea acquired two new oil tankers last year, report says

9. Lifting of missile guidelines leads to no change in U.S. defense commitment: Pentagon

10. Korea's role in infrastructure investment for stronger Indo-Pacific

11. S. Korea unveils homegrown space rocket for first time

12. The Real North Korea Foreign Policy Joe Biden Needs to Implement

13. Long Overdue Compensation for Korean War Veterans

14. Foreign Ministry summons senior Japanese ambassador to protest ‘Dokdo provocations’

15. Korea's business leaders call on Moon to free jailed Samsung boss Lee

16. Summit - step toward strategic clarity?


1. N. Korea no longer pursues unification through revolution in S. Korea


Perfect. Political Warfare with Juche characteristics. So much to unpack here.

This is already having the regime's desired effect on Twitter and among Korea watchers. It is almost as if the regime is reading our writings and our. criticism of the regime's nature, objectives, and strategy and i deliberately trying to undermine our legitimacy! Already the comments are that the north has changed its spots. It is no longer a scorpion and has in fact changed its nature!  

This plays right into Moon's vision for his peace agenda and is designed to drive a wedge in the alliance by supporting the Moon administration's naive view that Kim Jong-un supports his vision of peace and reconciliation against the Biden administration's realistic view of the existential threat the regime poses to South Korea and the global threat the regime poses from its nuclear weapons and missiles, to it cyber capabilities, to its global illicit activities. 

This may be designed to make the Biden administration policy dead on arrival but trying to take away ROK support for the new policy by giving the appearance the regime has given up its revolutionary unification objective and strategy.

The omission of these concepts and the shift from military first politics to a so-called focus on the people is excellent political warfare. It is creating a perception of a change in the behavior and outlook of the regime (a regime change! :-)) that supports the (naive) belief that the regime seeks to negotiate in good faith and act as a responsible member of the international community.

Before I accept the regime is no longer the scorpion and has been able to change its nature, I would like to see the nK Constitution changed to reflect the north is no longer a revolutionary state that seeks to complete the revolution by unifying the peninsula and ridding it of foreign influence. And if the regime is really jettisoning these concepts I want to see them purged from the 80 years worth of documents, books, memoirs, speeches, etc. This is tantamount to an admission that everything the regime has pursued for the last 80 years was wrong. Hard to believe the regime would ever admit it was wrong.

The bottom line is we should not be duped by the regime's political warfare. I have to admit that this is an excellent psychological operation and is designed to appeal to specific target audiences who will (and already are) swallow this hook, line, and sinker. I can already hear the personal attacks of "I told you so." "See north Korea is good afterall." "It is just US policy that has been the problem." 


2. Kim Jong Un gets new second-in-command in major changes to North Korea's ruling party

CNN · by Yoonjung Seo and Joshua Berlinger

CNN is focusing on the new "2IC" but does mention the change to the party rules and the omission of revolution and the shift to a "people-first" policy (or politics? - We should know that despite the words Songun or Military First Politics will never be abandoned.


3. N.K. leader's powerful sister likely to fill new 'first secretary' post in case of emergency: expert · by 이원주 · June 2, 2021

It has been about a year since we have talked about succession in north Korea (recall all the rumors of KJU's demise during the front end of the COVID pandemic when he was out of sight for some time). Notice the comment on the "Paektu bloodline" below.

But there are other reports (to include from Yonhap)that this position has been filled. Bradley Martin profiles Jo Yong Won (with the caveat if reports get it right). 

Excerpt: “Jo Yong-won, a close aide to Kim who was speculated to have been elected to the post, is unlikely to take up the position because he is not part of the Kim family or the "Paekdu bloodline," according to Lee.

"We cannot completely rule out the possibility of Jo, but the deputy post appears to be aimed more at securing regime stability for the successor," he said.


4. Appointment of U.S. point man on N. Korea signals readiness for dialogue with Pyongyang: Sherman · by 송상호 · June 2, 2021

Personnel is policy. And in this case the Ambassador was most likely at the center of the policy review and surely had a large hand in crafting the policy. He has the experience, the credibility and the reputation and he has engaged with north Korea to include in preparation for and during the Singapore summit. He is probably the only one in the current administration who was part of the Singapore summit. (and note he participated in the coordination for the summit - to include travel to Pyongyang - while he was the Ambassador to the Philippines. So he should not have any issue multi-tasking in his current roles. And we should also know he is backed up by a strong Korea team of professionals.) 

But the key point is the Biden administration is ready to talk. It is up to KJU.


5. Student activists again burn Japanese flag in Seoul over Dokdo · by 유청모 · June 2, 2021

The challenge continues. History and emotion trumps national security and national prosperity for some.


6.  Meet the new No. 2 in North Korea · by Bradley K. Martin · June 1, 2021

A useful profile from Bradley Martin. Note his caveat - "if reports are correct." What is the shelf-life for a No. 2 in north Korea? Not a job I would want to have.


7. Ex-USFK chief Brooks hasn't been offered ambassador post in S. Korea: aide · by The Korea Herald · June 2, 2021

In normal times I would say General Brooks would be an excellent choice. He not only has the knowledge, he has first hand experience, and he is very well respected in Korea.

But given the friction in civil-military relations and the current administration's views on military personnel in civilian positions (SECDEF is the exception to the administration's possibly unspoken policy of not putting too many former military personnel in political appointee positions). I don't think we will see a former military leader tapped for an ambassador job.

I also think that appointing a former general would send a message the Biden administration would not want to send. it might be (mis)interpreted by some as a "militarization" of our Korea policy.

But if I were asked for a recommendation, and if we were not going to appoint a career Foreign Service Officer as ambassador, I would offer General Tilelli for the Ambassador to the ROK based on his decades of experience and the high esteem in which Koreans hold him.


8. North Korea acquired two new oil tankers last year, report says

UPI · by Thomas Maresca · June 2, 2021

Excerpts: “North Korea uses a variety of methods to receive illicit supplies, including ship-to-ship transfers and disguising the identities of its vessels through swapped profiles or manipulation of automatic identification system transmissions, the U.N. Panel said.

Two of the three new tankers were previously owned by South Korean companies, according to the CSIS report. The ships, called the Sin Phyong 5 and Kwang Chon 2, made their way from South Korean brokers to individuals or companies in China, the report said.

The third, the Wol Bong San, had previously been sailing under a Sierra Leone flag and was transferred via Hong Kong-based Baili Shipping and Trading. The company has been tied to North Korea's illicit weapons trade as well as its coal and oil smuggling networks.


9. Lifting of missile guidelines leads to no change in U.S. defense commitment: Pentagon · by 변덕근 · June 2, 2021

I concur with the headline in that the termination of the missile guidelines will in no way lessen the US commitment to the defense of Korea.

But this article is based on an unusual or confusing exchange in yesterday's press conference. Based on the wording in the question I assume the journalist was from the Korean media. I think the law he or she must have been referring to is likely the NDAA which established a floor of 28,500 US troops stationed in Korea.

Q: Thank you, John. I have a question about the United States defensive law for the South Korea. How will you do the end of missile lines on the South Korea fact that the U.S. defense law for the South Korea? Will there be any change to the U.S. law (inaudible)?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not aware of any changes. The – nothing about this changes the alliance between South Korea and the United States or our commitments to that alliance, which as you know, is a defensive alliance.

Q: But any -- you have any schedule to reduce the defense role for the South Korea because of you lifted missile guidelines and taken –

MR. KIRBY: I know of no such changes in the offing.


10.  Korea's role in infrastructure investment for stronger Indo-Pacific

The Korea Times · Song Kyung-jin · June 1, 2021

Indications of alignment of the US INDOPACIFIC Strategy and the ROK New Southern Policy. 

Note the comments on the AIIB. I will leave it to the economic, financial, and development experts to comment.

Excerpts: “Korea is a democracy with a fairly recent development success story, and it respects the rules-based international order. It thus can relate with the developing Indo-Pacific better than its western counterparts.

Also, it was Korea that brought development into the multilateral G20 agenda in 2010 with nine pillars including infrastructure and governance, and so on. So, it was dubbed a "Korea initiative" or the "Seoul Development Initiative" then. While the objectives of NPS built on the Seoul initiative are laudable, it failed to succeed multilateralism enshrined in it. Going bilateral with limited resources is difficult to sustain; therefore, it should diversify into pluri-lateral and multilateral programs with like-minded partners. The same is true of Korea's other ASEAN initiatives.

ASEAN has become critically important on Korea's economic and diplomatic fronts in its endeavor to reduce its dependence on China. As a consequence, ASEAN now is Korea's second largest trading partner with a trading volume of $153.4 billion as of 2019, only next to China. It is Korea's third largest investment destination next to the US and EU, with $9.54 billion in 2019. It is also Korea's largest overseas construction market, growing to $8 billion in total orders in 2019.

Pension funds with deep pockets can set a good example as a long-term investor.

 There is a lack of long-term investors, public or private, in the region due to various reasons, such as the regional savings invested elsewhere including in the US Treasuries and the regulatory constraints. Korea's National Pension Fund, world's third largest, can and should make more and bolder investments in infrastructure bilaterally and multilaterally. Multilateral development banks such as the ADB, the World Bank and even the AIIB are good partners to work with. Alarmists may instantly flash a yellow card to the idea of inviting the AIIB. But they should not forget that the region needs to pool resources available as far as possible and that the AIIB is not China-owned but a multilateral organization run by experts of diverse nationalities.


11. S. Korea unveils homegrown space rocket for first time · by 채윤환 · June 1, 2021

Can the South Korea put communications satellites in geosynchronous orbit over the peninsula to support military command and control? 


12. The Real North Korea Foreign Policy Joe Biden Needs to Implement

The National Interest · by Doug Bandow · June 1, 2021

I do not think the Biden administration treats diplomatic relations as a reward.  

For the Biden administration diplomacy is at the heart of foreign policy and alliances are at the heart of diplomacy.

I think the Biden administration would support diplomatic relations with the north (and I would too for myriad reasons to include potential increased access and influence). But I seriously doubt the regime is ready for diplomatic relations or even establishing liaison offices in Pyongyang and Washington. It would bring too much access to outside information that would be a threat to the regime. But by all means put it on the agenda and see how KJU reacts.

I also think the Biden administration is willing to provide humanitarian assistance to the neediest Koreans in the north. But we should be under no illusion that such assistance is a carrot for the regime. At best it removes some burden from the regime to divert resources to the lower classes of north Korean society. At worst the regime is able to divert and exploit international aid for uses other than caring for the people. Kim is not really concerned with the welfare of the Korean people in the north expect to the point where it may help thwart resistance to the regime.

As an aside, one thing Mr. Bandow does not mention is north Korean human rights. I think the Biden administration is going to have a central focus on human rights (not only in north Korea but globally). So any discussion of diplomatic relations must include a focus on human rights. And of course that is a threat to the regime. But we cannot neglect human rights based on the fantasy that doing so will bring about negotiations toward denuclearization.


13. Long Overdue Compensation for Korean War Veterans · May 21, 2021

This is for all those who study special operations in Korea. This report is discussing Korean partisans who fought under the UN flag and were never compensated for their service.


14. Foreign Ministry summons senior Japanese ambassador to protest ‘Dokdo provocations’ · June 1, 2021

Unless President Moon (and his successor) and Prime Minister Suga (and his successor) decide to prioritize national security and national prosperity while pledging to manage the historic issues in good faith we are never going to see effective trilateral corporation and relations.


15. Korea's business leaders call on Moon to free jailed Samsung boss Lee


16. Summit - step toward strategic clarity?

The Korea Times · by Ahn Ho-young  · June 1, 2021

Important analysis from our good friend Ambassador Ahn.

He provides a note of caution here:

“The ministers were totally silent on Korea's commitment to a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, which made quite a few commentators wonder out loud if the Korean government had already started to water down the importance of the commitment it made in Washington, D.C. just a short while ago.

I hope this is not the case. Trust is a much appreciated commodity in any relationship, especially between security partners. I have long argued that the so-called strategic ambiguity, meaning frequently shifting position depending upon issues and the calculation of short-term interests, is not sustainable, because it will only deepen the impression that Korea is the weakest link in the Asia-Pacific and make Korea lose credibility with both the U.S. and China.

Whatever the motivation may have been, the recent Moon-Biden joint statement shows that the government made the right choice in clarifying its position on the Korea-U.S. alliance. Receding from the choice is not an option.”




“Your first task as a strategist is to widen your concept of the enemy, to include in that group those who are working against you, thwarting you, even in subtle ways.”

- Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies Of War


“Anyone who has ever studied the history of American diplomacy, especially military diplomacy, knows that you might start in a war with certain things on your mind as a purpose of what you are doing, but in the end, you found yourself fighting for entirely different things that you had never thought of before ... In other words, war has a momentum of its own and it carries you away from all thoughtful intentions when you get into it. Today, if we went into Iraq, like the president would like us to do, you know where you begin. You never know where you are going to end.”

- George F. Kennan


“If you hate a person, then you’re defeated by them.“ 

- Confucius

Categories: News