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29 May 2009


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Babak Makkinejad

Neil Richardson:

In addition to your fine remarks, I would like to all my own observations. That there is also an unfinished civil war in the Korean peninsula. On the one side you have the partiots and the children and grand children of the patriots who fought against the Japanese occupation of Chosun and on the other side, the traitors and the collaborators who sold their country to Japan and their descendants are still running the show.

Even if US leaves South Korea U cannot see these 2 states being able to reunify - the issues of civil war are not yet resolved.

I do not think that there will be any war - this is another case of how nuclear weapons help keep the peace by making war very very expensive indeed.

Don Bacon

Gates made the decision on accompanied tours and announced it last summer in Seoul, saying that obviously Korea was no longer a combat zone.

Charles I

Neil yes I've read a couple of Mao biographies lately, well, this decade, Mao The Unknown Story by Jung Chang 2005, fabulous book, way more politically and historically insightful and revealing than the one by his former doctor 10-15 years ago, can't recall it, very amusing book in itself,
the doc paints Mao as a bedridden bipolar cowardly pedarist preying on ballerinas and gymnasts while history unfolds, but anyway, they accord with your descriptions above

Fantastic books.

I'm just saying Mao like big numbers, liked to wave them around, figured he shoulda been in charge, if only he had the spies, money and technology Stalin had.

I agree with stanleyhenning, the campaign is hysterical, relax, let China Russia, Japan and the ROK figure it out. Its not as though the PDRK have a lot of ICBM's ready to go, or launch platforms, imaging of their facilities is widely available, those missions just waiting to be flown or cruised, but I digress.

Seoul might be flattened in a couple of hours from what I've read, but hey, what's a Korean city when there's a poufy haired freak staring you down. Way bigger explosions waiting to go off a bit to the northwest.

Neil Richardson

"Gates made the decision on accompanied tours and announced it last summer in Seoul, saying that obviously Korea was no longer a combat zone.

Posted by: Don Bacon | 29 May 2009 at 11:32 PM"

Yes but these were results of the 2002 cost-sharing negotiations that led to the decision to leave Yongsan. They had made the decision to reduce the US personnel level by 10000 in 2006 and additional 2500 by 2008. A significant part of the outcome was to move the 2ID below the Han. The DMZ hasn't been a "combat zone" since the late 1960s. The reason why the Army wouldn't allow dependents was because tbe 2ID was forward deployed along the Imjin and was well within arty range not to mention the fact that they block the Munsan-Seoul corridor.



Posted by: Soonmyung Hong | 29 May 2009 at 09:03 PM

1) That guy has ~20% approval rating and 60% disapproval, and he wants to start a sea confict by signing some vague documents. He is dumber than I thought.

2) whatever "alignment means", sooner or later, there will be a "command/request" by Pentagon to SK military to interdict ship. Last I check SK operation control for Korean Navy is still in US hand. And I don't think the North Korean buy "I didn't do it. It's him" excuse.


Ship boarding agreements are tangible examples of nonproliferation cooperation, providing authority on a bilateral basis to board sea vessels suspected of carrying illicit shipments of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems, or related materials. These agreements will facilitate bilateral cooperation to prevent such shipments by establishing procedures to board and search such vessels in international waters. Under the agreements, if a vessel registered in the U.S. or the partner country is suspected of carrying proliferation-related cargo, either one of the Parties to this agreement can request of the other to confirm the nationality of the ship in question and, if needed, authorize the boarding, search, and possible detention of the vessel and its cargo. These agreements are important steps in further operationalizing the Proliferation Security Initiative and strengthening the mechanisms that we have at our disposal to interdict suspect weapons of mass destruction-related cargoes. They are modeled after similar arrangements that exist in the counter-narcotics arena.



so suppose. NK didn't buy official explanation of interdiction.

And they retaliate by detaining US/SK ship. Then what? You think Somalian pirates are pain in the ass. Just wait until NK waving their nuke after detaining bunch of ships.

Or at the very least it will be shooting incidents between NK and SK navies. Which will quickly spiral into larger skirmish.

And all that still won't stop proliferation, since it's basically, bunch of data and small amount of hardware.

Clifford Kiracofe

What a great thread!

Several years ago, I invited a leading Chinese foreign policy specialist visiting the US to lunch in DC.

The subject of North Korea came up. He explained that China was attempting to shift Dear Leader's focus from a family based succession to a party based one.

Cold War Zoomie

The Russian Army collapsed in 1917 as part of the Russian Revolution:

"By 1917, the Russian economy finally neared collapse under the strain of the war effort. While the equipment of the Russian armies actually improved due to the expansion of the war industry, the food shortages in the major urban centres brought about civil unrest which led to the abdication of the Tsar and the February Revolution. The large war casualties also created disaffection and mutinous attitudes in the army, which was fueled by Bolshevik agitators..."

Wiki Article

I think there are seeds for a reversal of the Russian experience above. How well will the "People's Army" fight under the current regime? How many pro-democratic agitators may pop up during the fight? How many soldiers who want to reunite with their extended families in the South simply desert in the chaos?

Basically, what have they got to fight for?

I don't think the NK forces are a piper tiger, but I believe they would have a very difficult time with a long, protracted fight. And they know it.



The explosive, while larger than the first test in October 2006, was still far short of the expected yield of a crude Hiroshima-type bomb, according to Jeffrey Park, director of the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies.

"More than likely this means North Korea tried and failed to get a simple plutonium bomb to detonate correctly," Park wrote in an article on the website of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Park said most estimates of the Richter magnitude were in the low half of the 4.5-5 range "so it seems likely that the yield was four kilotons or smaller."

While that was much larger than the 2006 test, it still fell far short of an expected 12-20 kiloton yield of a crude Hiroshima-style device, Park wrote.

"For comparison's sake, the first nuclear tests of all other nations that are self-announced members of the nuclear club had larger yields than this latest North Korean test."

Babak Makkinejad

Cold War Zoomie:

I do not think comparison with Russia is useful since Russia had been at war for 3 years and kept on loosing the battles. Moreover, the issues that had caused the Revolution of 1905 were still left unresolved.

You aksed "what have they got to fight for?". My guess is that they will be fighting for Chosun - as they have come to understand it.

Neither China nor Russia are interested in the dissolution of the DPRK and its incorporation into RK. They will not go along with the physical expansion of a US outpost in Asia.

While North Korea is considered an economic basket case now, in earl 1980s their standard of living was comparable to that of South Korea.



However, no matter the criticality of the Afghan situation, the US is insisting that NATO should sidestep offers of help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). In effect, the US's containment strategy of the George W Bush era still remains intact at the operational level in Central Asia, no matter President Barack Obama's promise to revamp US regional policy.

China’s People's Daily recently featured a commentary broadly estimating that while Obama's diplomacy was characterized by "soft power", that was merely tactical, since "the US will not give up its dominant role in world affairs ... Wrapping a big stick in a layer of soft sponge or putting a carrot at the front and a big stick at the back, the US has never given up its powerful military force ... Diplomatic policy is also a kind of political game. One of its fundamental principles is to obtain the largest benefit at the least cost. The adjustment of Obama's diplomatic policy notably predicates a reduction of cost, without any change in their goal to obtain the most benefits."

The commentary likely had Central Asia in mind. Both Russia and China will take note that US regional policy cuts into their core interests. Russia's state television, Rossiya, showed a documentary last week accusing the US of using its air base in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, for running intelligence operations. Rossiya showed clippings of a windowless two-storey building in the Manas base, which it said was the hub of a major US radio-intelligence unit. (Manas is close to China's missile sites in Xinjiang.) There are signs that Moscow and Beijing will invest the SCO as a key instrument to counter the US moves to expand NATO into the Central Asian region. The SCO conducted war games in Tajikistan recently, simulating an attack by al-Qaeda from Afghanistan, in which terrorists seized a chemical factory and took its workers hostage.


north korea airforce inventory


side note on CSTO (russia and surrounding)


However, the alliance must address several issues to ensure its political cohesiveness. Keeping Uzbekistan as a member is a challenge CSTO leaders will not neglect. Bringing Ukraine into the Russian orbit and particularly into CSTO will solidify the Tashkent Pact so this incorporation is very much on said organization's agenda. An eventual Turkmen CSTO membership is not a far-fetched scenario since it could provide meaningful benefits for both parties. Turkmenistan's entry will also help consolidate CSTO militarily, politically and geostrategically.

It must be borne in mind that the former Soviet Union is the geographic area for which CSTO was designed. No other country outside of the post-Soviet space can be seriously considered for membership at this point because the Tashkent's Pact top priority is to achieve its consolidation in the Near Abroad. If the organization were to send any membership invitations, the likeliest candidates would be Ukraine and Turkmenistan.


Very cool blog, must see.


North Korea Uncovered - (Google Earth)


B. Do you think there has been a big change since your first experiences in the mid 80’s?

AL.Huge. It is a completely different country nowadays. This is often under-appreciated. North Korean authorities are doing their best to keep the façade of a non-changing country. When Kim Jong Il became the new leader of the country he said: “don’t expect any change from me.” Change has happened nonetheless, whether the government has wanted it or not. The changes have been very profound and remarkable. Unlike China, it happened against the government’s wishes. Up to the present day, the state has sought to put the genie back in the bottle. They want a return to the situation that existed in the 70’s and 80’s - to a perfect Stalinist state. At same time they are also trying to hide these changes, especially from outside visitors. When you arrive at Pyongyang it looks completely unchanged. My first visit was in 1984, my most recent in 2005. Externally, in these 20 years, it has not changed. The city looks the same but society is now completely different. Under Kim Il Song’s rule until the early 1990’s, North Korea was a perfect Stalinist state. It was a strange mixture of Confucian traditionalism, nationalism and Stalinism. Economically it was very Stalinist, based on total state property; even small private economic activity was discouraged or banned. In the 1990’s the old economy collapsed. It had been inefficient and only survived so long as the Soviet Union and China were willing to provide North Korea with aid. When the aid flow abruptly ended the result was economic disaster. The economy collapsed, with the partial exception of the military sector. In order to survive, the populace had no choice but to rediscover capitalism. It was market economy from below. Until this point people lived on government rations, there was almost no free trade, nearly total rationing of everything. This system was introduced in the late 1950’s and became all encompassing in the 1960’s. Change occurred largely because the government was no longer able to provide rations. Since the early 1990s people were forced to find ways to generate other, independent, means of income. Booming markets began to grow, there was smuggling, farmers began to work on their private plots, low-level officials, sometimes out of compassion but more frequently in search of bribes, began to turn a blind eye on all of this “bad” activity. To all intents and purposes, North Korea is no longer a perfect Stalinist economy. It is more like a country in central Africa, but with a bad and cold climate.


Picture! (scroll down. midday with zero traffic and no people in the capital. commuter paradise. okay, maybe not. talking about neutron bomb landscape.)



I am not a military man, nor have I ever served in the military. However I have many military vet in my family. I have also been an ardent student of history.

It seems to me, that unless the Joint Chiefs now begin to rapidly move resources in or near the theater, the 28,000 troops that are now present on the peninsula would be dead men and women if hostilities start, unless the present administration has the gravitas to use tactical nukes.


I would not be surprised to see this turn out to be a part of a concerted effort with the chinese to enbroil / distract US Forces so that the US would have to accept a fait accompli move on Formosa


Is a government that is building a ballistic missile force and nuclear program on the economic base of the DPRK really be judged to be made up of "rational actors?

Actually, it makes sense to me. All you need is one reactor and one plutonium processing plant. Probably spend a lot more money on the conventional forces.

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