Small Wars Journal

5/26/2020 News & Commentary – Korea

Tue, 05/26/2020 - 12:33pm

1. U.S. Warns of 'Calibrated' Response to N.Korea's Nuke Activities

2. N. Korea should give up nuclear program, says Trump's advisor

3. New heavily-armed submarine enters service in North Korea

4. North's Kim heaps pressure on Trump to relax sanctions

5.  UNC says it cannot determine whether N.K. started border gunfire accidentally

6.  U.S. could build trust with North Korea by following South's lead: Brooks

7. Gov't to Push Ahead with Quixotic Cross-Border Projects (Korea)

8. An unidentified boat in the West Sea (Korea)

9. Between a rock and a hard place, Korea hedges bets

10. N. Korea distributes documents educating people about COVID-19

11.  S. Korea, U.S. pushing for defense ministers' videoconference next month

12.  Kim reappears promoting nuke deterrence

13. The way South Korea crushed its second wave is a warning to us all

14. S. Korea seeks law revision to bolster inter-Korean exchanges, cooperation


1. U.S. Warns of 'Calibrated' Response to N.Korea's Nuke Activities May 26, 2020 11:19

I am sure some will argue we are putting a foot on the path to a new "fire and fury." I think not but the burden is on Kim Jong-un.  The US stands ready and willing to hold substantive negotiations on the denuclearization of north Korea.  It is Kim who has refused to allow such negotiations to take place.

But we need to remember that Kim is playing his long con through his application of political warfare with Juche characteristics.  He is still also responding to the internal pressure for his failure to get sanctions relief.  We have to play our long game and that must be done through our superior form of political warfare which requires the application of all element of national power (DIME-A, including Alliances) to achieve our objectives short of war.

But this is the key message for Kim Jong-un (and our allies). Strategic reassurance and strategic resolve.  Emphasis on "if deterrence fails."

2. N. Korea should give up nuclear program, says Trump's advisor Posted May. 26, 2020 07:41, Updated May. 26, 2020 07:41

The operative word is "should."  Note the US remains committed to supporting a brighter future in north Korea if Kim Jong-un makes the right strategic decision.  Unfortunately that brighter future is just as much a threat to the survival of the regime as giving up nuclear weapons.  The fact is a brighter future means economic engagement, which means opening, which means information flow into the north which will undermine the legitimacy of the Kim family regime.  This is why the north either shuns engagement or strictly limits it.  The South, NGOs, and International Organizations try to engage in north Korea to help the Korean people in the north and do the right thing because it is the to do. But this is perceived as a threat by the Kim family regime.  

We should note the response to a provocation will not or should not be the same as a response if deterrence fails.  If deterrence fails we will be at war and thus the necessity for a decisive response.  The greater the decisive response the less blood and treasure of the ROK/US alliance will be expended.  north Korea remains an existential threat to the Republic of Korea and it is a vital interest of the United States to prevent war on the Korean peninsula.  Thus all our actions must be built on the foundation of the the strength of the ROK/US alliance and the ability to deter a north Korean attack.  Therefore NSA O'brien and ADM Richard's are correct to emphasize our commitment to deterrence.

Provocations are a different story.  They are designed to support the north's blackmail diplomacy (to use provocations and increased tensions to obtain political and economic concessions). Nuclear and missile tests may be designed to support blackmail diplomacy. But they may very well be designed to advance north Korean military capabilities to be able to be used in war.  Since we cannot know Kim's intention for sure we most first and foremost deter him from attack of the South.  Again, this nessiciates strategic reassurance and strategic resolve on our part.

3. New heavily-armed submarine enters service in North Korea · May 25, 2020

If this is accurate reporting there is only one reason for developing this submarine - a second strike nuclear capability.  While we cannot know Kim Jong-un's intentions for sure, he does provide us many indicators for assessment.  Note the comment "non-nuclear missile submarine" refers to the submarine not being nuclear powered not meaning it won't carry nuclear weapons.  

4. North's Kim heaps pressure on Trump to relax sanctions · by The Korea Herald · May 25, 2020

Three points.  Sanctions have been "relaxed" due to declining enforcement.  The US is the only country that is really enforcing sanctions on any scale and yet there is so much more the US could to do enforce sanctions and bring greater pressure to bear both on north Korea and those who enable sanctions evasion (e.g., China and Russia).

The second point is calling for sanctions "relaxation" combined with threats of provocation is not going to entice the President into negotiations.  Again the fact is the US is ready for substantive working level negotiations.  There should not be another summit or meeting between Kim and President Trump unless working level negotiations produce some kind of agreement that can he brought to the two leaders.

The third point is Kim's failure to get sanctions relief has resulted in strong internal pressure on him. I have to give Kim some credit if he is adjusting his position to only call for sanctions relaxation rather than sanctions relief (he initially raised expectations too high beginning at the Singapore summit).  Perhaps some Track 1.5 discussions with US interlocutors have suggested Kim make a lesser demand for relaxation rather than relief  since the enforcement of sanctions is already "relaxed."  But if they think this will entice POTUS I think they are mistaken.  I also think whether it is sanctions relief or sanctions relaxation to give in on this without any substantive movement toward denuclearization would be a mistake.  It would only reaffirm to Kim that his blackmail strategy works and eventually the US and the world will give in to his demands.  Once he gets even a symbolic relaxation he will not negotiate in good faith but will instead continue to employ blackmail diplomacy to get his next demand which will be total sanctions relief.  Lastly as part of this third point it is only the internal pressure from the elite and the military that can cause Kim to change his calculus on his nuclear program.  Therefore we need to maintain maximum pressure which means no only sanctions but also military pressure, cyber operations (defensive and offensive), aggressive diplomacy on the peninsula, in the region, and at the UN, and information and influence activities against the three target audiences: he elite, the second tier leadership, and the Korean people.

For anyone who advocates sanctions relaxation or sanctions relief I would ask you to tell us what north Korean behavior you wish to publicly condone:  Nuclear and missile development? Cyber attacks?  Global illicit activities (counterfeiting, drug trafficking, overseas slave labor)?  The denial of the human rights of the Korean people living in the north to ensure the survival of the regime?  

5.  UNC says it cannot determine whether N.K. started border gunfire accidentally · by 오석민 · May 26, 2020

I am surprised by this finding.  It should not be difficult to figure who fired first based on the CCTV footage which should be at the guard post.   And regarding violations by "both sides" I do believe the South Korean soldiers have the right to defend themselves from armed attack by the north under the Armistice.  Perhaps because it took 30 minutes for the South to return fire the investigators consider that no longer self defense.  

But this investigation is going to cause alliance friction which of course is one of the standard objectives for north Korean provocations.  This is a headline on Yonhap right now.  Those in the South who are opposed to the UNC will use this for justification to argue for removal.  And we should keep in mind a long standing objective for the regime is also the removal of the UNC.  Are we playing right into its hands?

6.  U.S. could build trust with North Korea by following South's lead: Brooks · by View more articles by Oliver Hotham · May 26, 2020

General Brooks has long advocated this approach. This assumes the north wants to negotiate in good faith and is not playing a long con and executing a political warfare strategy in support of its long term objective to dominate the peninsula under the control of the Guerrilla Dynasty adn Gulag State.  I am doubtful an end of war declaration will prove palatable to the "hardliners" in Pyongyang.  I think it is important to understand what the regime wants in terms of building trust.   The regime demands an end to the "US hostile policy."  The end of this policy requires an end to the rokUS alliance, the removal of US troops from the Korean peninsula, an end to extended deterrence and the nuclear umbrella over the ROK and Japan.  Once that happens there can be "trust" between the north and the US.  A simple declaration of the end of the war will not suffice for trust building from the view of the north. There must be a complete end of the hostile policy as defined by the regime.  The problem is if we were to do this there will be war on the peninsula as we will have removed our deterrent capability.  REgardless of the ROK's superior military capability and ability to successfully defend itself (though with huge expenditures of blood and treasure) the north will believe it has the correlation of forces to successfully attack the South.  It is the US presence and commitment that provide the foundation for deterring a north Korean attack.  Remove US forces and there will be war.

7. Gov't to Push Ahead with Quixotic Cross-Border Projects (Korea) May 26, 2020 12:10

Perhaps we should call the South's strategy the "Windmill Campaign" with the main component being "tilting at."

But I think we should consider why the north has not taken advantage of the ROK's desire for engagement.  Yes the north (and the Moon administration) want to restart the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the tours at Kumgangsan but are prohibited by sanctions.  The north wants these projects because in the past these projects have brought hundred of  millions of dollars directly to the regime's Royal Court economy.  

But there are may other areas for engagement between north and South but the regime has not agreed to anything and seems to have no interest.  There could be two reasons.  The obvious one is there is not enough money to be made for the regime from these engagement efforts.  The second is a lack of trust in the South and the suspicion the South is trying to undermine the regime for political purposes.  And even if that is not the deliberate intention of the Moon Administration (and I think no one in the South or the US believes it is) the engagement is still perceived as a threat to the regime.  Therefore these proposals are the act of a Don Quixote tilting at windmills.

8. An unidentified boat in the West Sea (Korea) Posted May. 26, 2020 07:41, Updated May. 26, 2020 07:41

Coastal defense is hard.  And detecting a small boat is hard.  Even a Sango submarine that runs aground on the beach is hard to detect.  In 1996 the north Korean infiltration submarine was detected by a taxi driver who alerted coastal defenses.

9. Between a rock and a hard place, Korea hedges bets

We need to reinforce the strength of our alliance.  And if China conducts economic warfare against the South due to its security relationship with the US, we need to be prepared to (economically) defend the South.  We failed to do so when we deployed THAAD and the Chinese took strong economic action. We have to understand the ROK's geostrategic situation.  It has a 600 pound gorilla (or dragon) knocking at its door.

10. N. Korea distributes documents educating people about COVID-19

By   Kang Mi Jin   2020.05.26 4:09pm 

As far as I know the north still reports zero cases of the coronavirus.  Either they are doing a good job suppressing information or they are really doing a good job of preventing an outbreak through their draconian population and resources control measures.  But this indicates to me they are either having an outbreak or are very concerned about having one.

11.  S. Korea, U.S. pushing for defense ministers' videoconference next month · by 오석민 · May 26, 2020

The two most important organizations to the ROK/US Alliance are the MIlitary Committee (which oversees the ROK/US Combined Forces Command) and the MOFA-DOS Strategy Working Group which coordinates alliance strategy toward north Korea. 

But the question is will we be able to get the SMA/burden sharing issue resolved soon before it does too much more damage to the alliance?

12.  Kim reappears promoting nuke deterrence · by Bradley K. Martin · May 23, 2020

This excerpted quote from Edward Oh is priceless and worth keeping in mind by anyone who thinks the north is going to give up its nuclear weapons.  I suppose it would have to change its constitution again to allow them to do so..  Also Bradley Martin provides key excerpts from the north's statements below.

"Set forth at the meeting were new policies for further increasing the nuclear war deterrence of the country," KCNA says.

That elicited a tweet from Washington lawyer Edward Oh, who writes about North Korea and has been skeptical about hopes others have expressed that Kim will shift his focus from nuclear weaponry to reforming the economy through such means as special economic zones:

"I guess when you declare your nuclear weapons as your 'treasured sword' and enshrine it in your constitution, it would probably be a misinterpretation of North Korea's intentions to think there may be a chance they would bargain them away for the chance to build more SEZs," said Oh.

13. The way South Korea crushed its second wave is a warning to us all

Wired · by David Cox · May 26, 2020

Watch and learn.  Of course there are troubling civil liberties issues especially for minority communities.  How to balance "freedom from" and "freedom to."

14. S. Korea seeks law revision to bolster inter-Korean exchanges, cooperation · by 고병준 · May 26, 2020

The South is doing everything it can to promote engagement with the north. 



"The enemy of my enemy is also my enemy, can't have too many enemies." 

- Maura Quint via Twitter


"When devils commit their biggest sins they put on their most heavenly face, as I do now." 

-Iago in Othello by Shakespeare 


"I don't underrate the value of military knowledge, but if men make war in slavish obedience to rules, they will fail." 

- President Ulysses S. Grant


"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." 

- President Thomas Jefferson 


Categories: News