Small Wars Journal

06/30/2021 News & Commentary – Korea

Wed, 06/30/2021 - 9:37am

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

1. Report on 2nd Enlarged Meeting of Political Bureau of 8th C.C., WPK

2.  Aides 'Begged Kim Jong-un to Lose Weight'

3. N.K. leader says 'crucial case' has happened due to lapses in anti-epidemic efforts

4. No. of N.K. defectors entering resettlement center drops 85 pct on year to 57 in first half

5. Kim vents wrath over some Covid-related problem

6. U.S. respects South's opting out of military exercises

7. Upgrading our diplomacy (South Korea)

8. The North Korean Nuclear Arsenal

9. Does Biden have a North Korea policy? Not really

10. Clock ticking for Seoul's last-ditch efforts to thaw inter-Korean ties

11. North Korea orders the release of military rice stores to general population

12. North Korea moves to significantly reorganize command structure of the Strategic Force

13. North Korea’s Kim warns of ‘grave incident’ in fight against the coronavirus

14. American student David Sneddon did not die in China, family says

15. The Ultimate Pandora's Box: What If North Korea Collapsed?

16. North Korea Orders Nationwide School Renovations, Sends Bill to Parents


1. Report on 2nd Enlarged Meeting of Political Bureau of 8th C.C., WPK

This is the statement that is getting a lot of press. One of the significant areas of speculation from this is that there is major COVID outbreak in the north that the regime may not be able to control. I have seen no open source reporting on this possibility.

Excerpts:The respected General Secretary made an important conclusion.

Saying that the importance of the responsibility and role of senior officials including members of the Party central leadership organ and officials of units at all levels has become further salient after the 8th Congress of the Party, he referred to the necessity to put primary efforts into the work of building up the ranks of cadres into an elite force as the revolution advances and the situation gets grave, and to the major orientation of improving the cadres policy of our Party.

He expressed the opinion of the Party Central Committee concerning the seriousness of the acts alien to the Party revealed by the senior officials of the Party and the state.

He seriously pointed out that chronic irresponsibility and incompetence of cadres at present bring artificial difficulties to the implementation of the Party's policies and become a major brake doing tremendous harm to the development of the revolutionary work, stressing the need for the cadres to make increasingly exact demands on themselves and fulfill their responsibility and duty with high sense of extreme responsibility and practical ability.

He severely criticized the attitude of working like a flash in the pan, empiricism and old way of thinking generally revealed among cadres.


2. Aides 'Begged Kim Jong-un to Lose Weight' · June 29, 2021

It will be interesting to see how long the propaganda effort will play out and what will be the continued messaging. And then it will be interesting to see how they handle it when he regains the weight.


3.  N.K. leader says 'crucial case' has happened due to lapses in anti-epidemic efforts · by 고병준 · June 30, 2021

I hope we are paying close attention to the potential for an outbreak within the military.

Of course, this could all be part of a Propaganda and agitation Department effort to shape the information conditions for Kim to be able to make demands of the international community and especially the US and the ROK to provide concessions and most importantly sanctions relief.

And COVID will likely be the excuse for the continued stonewalling on any kind of north-south engagement and a return to nuclear negotiations. 


4. No. of N.K. defectors entering resettlement center drops 85 pct on year to 57 in first half · by 이원주 · June 30, 2021

I am sure the draconian population and resources control measures implemented by the regime to mitigate the effects of COVID is likely a contributing factor.


5.  Kim vents wrath over some Covid-related problem  · by  Sarah Kim · June 30, 2021

It is still a mystery what is that "crucial case" that caused a "great crisis" endangering the safety of the country."

Yes, all the speculation is about COVID. So what is the "crucial case?"


6. U.S. respects South's opting out of military exercises · by Michael Lee · June 30, 2021

At first I thought this was about opting out of the August combined exercises but this is about withdrawing from the Black Sea exercise Sea Breeze 21. 

I am disappointed as this was an opportunity for Korea to participate in an exercise with like-minded democracies and to demonstrate its military capabilities as a strong middle power. The Moon administration's timidity is not helpful.


7. Upgrading our diplomacy · by Wi Sung-lac · June 30, 2021

I have had the honor to work with Ambassador Wi on a number of Track II projects and in many conferences.

Excerpts:South Korea may belong to the G7 league in economics, but it needs to build up its diplomatic capabilities.

Moon has attended a G7 summit with such intrinsic problems. They didn’t matter so much since his role had been restricted to a guest. But Korea joined the Open Societies Statement that included declarations on open markets, democracy and human rights issues aimed at China and Russia. The mention of the North Korean nuclear threat did not comply with South Korean views. If Seoul continues activities within the G7 without minding those gaps, it may not be able to last in the framework.

There must be efforts to advance diplomatic capabilities. Korean diplomacy focused on domestic views, politics and the Korean Peninsula should be broadened to the international context. The conservatives and liberals must agree on policies on North Korea and China. A national consensus must be built on a future-oriented relationship with Japan.

Such a policy shift would be tantamount to a comprehensive reform of Korean diplomacy. Diplomatic reform has been long overdue. Now that Korea has ascended to the ranks of the G7, discussions on diplomatic reform must start. Although the work should start immediately, it cannot be expected by an administration with one year left. The work will have to be taken up by the next administration. Presidential aspirants must pay attention to the need for reform in diplomacy.

Korean diplomacy cannot truly represent Korea’s stature today. It must be radically upgraded to stand on par with other G7 members. A social consensus also must be built for diplomatic reform through the momentum of G7 participation.


8. The North Korean Nuclear Arsenal · by Mark B. Schneider

Excerpts: There is no fixed quantity of fissile material for a nuclear weapon. The amount necessary depends on the type of weapon (fission, boosted fission [use of fusion reactions to boost the yield of the fission device] or fission-fusion or thermonuclear weapons, all of which North Korea has reportedly tested). The amount required depends on the objective for the weapon, its desired yield, its size and weight, the design approach and the technology available, including the high explosive implosion system. However, to assume that every North Korean nuclear weapon requires 16-20 kilograms of HEU is not credible.

While the Chinese were open to Reed and Stillman about their assistance to Pakistan and North Korea, the content of their book, important as it is, is dated. Assuming 16 -20 kg of HEU is necessary in a nuclear bomb could result in a considerable underestimate of North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons numbers.

There is a good case to be made for a serious study, with ample representation by scientists and engineers from the nuclear weapons laboratories, to look at the assumptions being made about fissile material requirements and related issues for rogue state nuclear weapons. This is an important issue for the Biden administration’s nuclear posture review.


9. Does Biden have a North Korea policy? Not really · by Daniel Sneider · June 30, 2021

My assessment of the Biden policy is that it is practical and principled diplomacy (the Administration's words) that provides the opportunity for KimJong-un to act as a responsible member of the international community and come to the table to negotiate denuclearization and all related security and engagement issues. The US is willing to negotiate without any pre-conditions.

It does not give Kim a pass. It will not provide concessions until there is substantive progress. The policy calls for the implementation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions; the dismantlement of North Korea’s missile and nuclear arsenals; accountability for human rights; and halting Pyongyang’s global illicit activities, malicious cyber operations, and proliferation. And perhaps most importantly it will continue sanctions enforcement. The policy rests on the foundation of strong alliances and "stern deterrence."

Although it is not the strategic patience of the Obama administration, COVID 19 and the nature of the north Korean regime appear to prevent near term engagement and negotiation. On the other hand "stern deterrence “is not fire and fury but a demonstration of strategic determination and strategic resolve through combined military strength on the Korean peninsula and in the region. It will also not be the "grand bargains" of the Clinton and Bush eras nor the fire and fury and unconventional, experimental top-down, pen-pal diplomacy of the Trump administration.

So what is the new policy?

We should recall Dr. Kurt Campbell's interview with Yonhap last month:

·     On May 19, 2021 Dr. Kurt Campbell provided the a look at what might be the major elements of the policy that can be described as practical diplomacy.

o  "Importantly: Our policy towards North Korea is not aimed at hostility, it's aimed at solutions. It's aimed at ultimately achieving the complete de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Campbell said in the exclusive interview with Yonhap.

o  "And we're prepared to engage in diplomacy towards that ultimate objective, but work on practical measures that can help us make progress along the way towards that goal," he said.

o  After concluding its policy review on the North, the Biden administration said that the new policy will seek a "calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy" with North Korea.

o  Most importantly he said he stated policy would build on the Singapore Agreement.

We should also recall President Biden's own remarks last October when he was candidate Biden:

o  Out of the ashes of war, South Korea has shown the world the "miracle of the Han River," becoming a shining example of a flourishing democracy and economic powerhouse. It has been a global leader in the fight against COVID-19; and a strong ally in the region, to advance our shared prosperity, values, and security, and to meet global challenges.


o  Words matter -- and a president's words matter even more. As President, I'll stand with South Korea, strengthening our alliance to safeguard peace in East Asia and beyond, rather than extorting Seoul with reckless threats to remove our troops. I'll engage in principled diplomacy and keep pressing toward a denuclearized North Korea and a unified Korean Peninsula, while working to reunite Korean Americans separated from loved ones in North Korea for decades

The policy also calls for "building on" the Panmunjom and Singapore summit.

The four points from the Singapore statement:

1. The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new U.S.–DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.

2. The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.

3. Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

4. The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.

Lastly, President Biden's words tell us that he will maintain deterrence and defense as the foundation: "On Iran and North Korea — nuclear programs that present serious threats to American security and the security of the world — we’re going to be working closely with our allies to address the threats posed by both of these countries through di- — through diplomacy, as well as stern deterrence." 

So what will we call this policy is not a grand bargain, not strategic deterrence, not fire and fury, and not unconventional, experimental, top-down, pen-pal diplomacy? Note that none these names were given by the previous administrations as official names of the policies but instead were coined by pundits and the press (less strategic patience by the late Stephen Bosworth.

The Biden administration should consider some names to describe the policy both to prevent the pundits and press from developing derogatory names and to help that policy narrative.

Some basic descriptions could include these but I am sure the smart policy people at State and the NSC can come up with some effective names.

  • Principled, Practical Diplomacy and Stern Deterrence
  • Solutions Diplomacy Based on Strength
  • Options Diplomacy and Stern Deterrence


10.  Clock ticking for Seoul's last-ditch efforts to thaw inter-Korean ties

The Korea Times · Name Hyun-woo · June 30, 2021

I think the Moon administration must come to the realization that Kim Jong-un is not going to engage any time soon both because of COVID and because of his nature and the political warfare strategy he is executing. Certainly there can be no breakthrough between now and the South Korean presidential election in March.

The Moon administration tried almost everything and has been making good faith efforts to engage for the past few years. But it is not the Moon administration's fault. That lies squarely on the shoulders of Kim Jong-un.

I recommend the Moon administration shift its narrative to explaining to the Korean people why engagement was not possible and expose KIm Jong-un. One of the best things the Moon administration could do is to remind the Korean people in the South and north about the nature, objectives, and strategy of t Kim Jong-un as well as the evil doings of the Kim family regime. The Korean people in the South have grown complacent not only about the threat from the north but about any contingency that might arise from whatever happens inside north Korea. It is time for the administration to have a frank conversation with the Korean people in the South about the regime in the north.


11.  North Korea orders the release of military rice stores to general population · Lee Chae Un · June 30, 2021

An important indicator of the situation in the north.

Okay but here is a buried lede.Has the regime implemented a new concept: "people-first politics?" Is this supposed to replace songun (military first politics) and byungjin (simultaneous nuclear and economic development)? Or is this just another propaganda effort for the people in the north? (most likely in my opinion). 

North Korea’s leadership may soon release plans to deal with the country’s electricity and water woes given that it is focused on bolstering internal solidarity through “people-first politics.”

 I did find this article in KCNA from February. But does this mean anything more than a change in propaganda themes and messages?


12. North Korea moves to significantly reorganize command structure of the Strategic Force · June 30, 2021

We should take this with a grain of salt since it is from the Daily NK and it is not known for military analysis. That said this could be an important development.


13. North Korea’s Kim warns of ‘grave incident’ in fight against the coronavirus

The Washington Post · by Simon Denyer· June 30, 2021

Inquiring minds what to know. What is the "grave incident?"


14. American student David Sneddon did not die in China, family says

UPI  · by Elizabeth Shim · June 29, 2021

A story that does not often make the news. But we should not forget what happened to David Sneddon.

We have become numb to the abduction but the fact is Koreans, Japanese, and Americans have been kidnapped by the evil Kim family regime with most never being heard from again.


15. The Ultimate Pandora's Box: What If North Korea Collapsed? · by Eli Fuhrman · June 29, 2021

Be careful what you ask for.

But I am glad to see this key reference linked in this piece. This is one of the most critical aspects of being prepared for any contingency in north Korea - from war to collapse to unification, it is the least costly, and could have a huge payoff if we (specifically the ROK/US alliance as the "we') invest in it now: An Information Based Strategy to Reduce North Korea’s Increasing Threat: Recommendations for ROK & U.S. Policy Makers 


16. North Korea Orders Nationwide School Renovations, Sends Bill to Parents · by Myungchul Lee

"People-first politics?" Perhaps it means the people pay first (last and always).




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