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26 December 2010


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Agree with Pat, but unfortunately Obama wants to use the Korea issue to pressure China. That will not work. China can not really pressure North Korea (look up "Juche") and China will not budge on its economic policies.

SoKo President Lee Myung-bak is a bit megalomaniac (and criminal) and one should be very careful to give him any backing at all.

From one of the Wikileaks cables [09SEOUL59]:

President Lee is determined not to give in to North Korean pressure. Our Blue House contacts have told us on several occasions that President Lee remained quite comfortable with his North Korea policy and that he is prepared leave the inter-Korean relations frozen until the end of his term in office, if necessary. It is also our assessment that Lee's more conservative advisors and supporters see the current standoff as a genuine opportunity to push and further weaken the North, even if this might involve considerable brinkmanship.

The impetus for the last skirmishes seemed to be coming more from the South Korean side than the North Korean as laid out in Japan Focus: Korean Brinkmanship, American Provocation, and the Road to War: the manufacturing of a crisis


So should China abstain when South Korea again aggresses against North Korea?
I have seen very little objective proof that North Korea is going to collapse messily or any other way, wishful thinking and magic dreaming by the usual gasbags yes but actual proof none.

Patrick Lang


I will assume for the moment that I am not one of the "usual gasbags" since I did not predict the collapse of the DPRK.

Should China stay neutral in that case? Yes, if they do not want a general war in Asia. pl

Neil Richardson

Dear Col. Lang:

I agree in principle that the United States should withdraw our forces from the ROK. This is a position that I've reached after some painful consideration as I have many close friends in South Korea. As I used to tell some of my men long time ago, we stood watch over the ground where our fathers and their friends had paid for with their blood.

My two major concerns are:
1) the withdrawal should be quid pro quo that would exact a heavy price from the North. The withdrawal of the USFK would be seen as a crowning victory for the Kim regime (something that the "Great Leader" thankfully wasn't around to see in person). I would posit that this would strengthen the regime when it appears the cracks are finally starting to show up despite their attempt to conceal them. I am of the view that the leadership succession probably will not be smooth after Kim Jong-Il dies (hopefully sooner than later).

2) how would a South Korean decision to proliferate affect our position on nonproliferation regime? (e.g., Egypt? the Gulf States?) This is still an unresolved question remaining from the Park Chunghee era (Incredibly today in South Korea, there are conspiracy theories on how the CIA masterminded the assassination of Park because he wanted to continue the proliferation research under the aegis of KIST). Perhaps De Gaulle was right about the decoupling of extended nuclear deterrence. I am fairly certain that the US nuclear umbrella helped to deter the North from launching a general invasion during the critical period from 1967 to 1976 when they had a window of opportunity.

An obvious related question is what would happen in terms of a potential regional arms race. I suspect a conventional arms race is inevitable given the economies of the states in the region. The key question is what will Japan do if South Korea were to go nuclear. I would have to assume that Taiwan would also strongly consider it if we countenance the ROK's proliferation.

I don't believe the United States should engage in direct talks for tactical reasons. Nobody should listen to Jimmy Carter's advice regarding the peninsula after the mess he left behind in 1977-78. (Luttwak is right about Namkung being a useful idiot. I'd also add Blitzer who is completely ignorant of the peninsula history not to mention the DPRK nomenklatura) Right now China is the only state with meaningful leverage over the DPRK. IMHO the Lee administration is following a reasonable course of action after Cheonan. Fortunately the United States and Japan are supporting the ROK's efforts to help the Chinese do the math in terms of strategic calculus regarding the DPRK.

When Roh Tae Woo initiated Nordpolitik, the South Koreans were very shrewd in using economic and diplomatic incentives to isolate the DPRK's traditional allies everywhere. The task is simpler today as China is getting fed up with the Kims as their sole sponsor. (It has been reported that the Chinese leadership warned Kim Jung Un personally before he tried to assassinate his oldest brother Jong-Nam in China). In the aftermath of Cheonan, Kim Jong-Il had made a demand for substantial increase in aid in terms of grain and fuel during a visit to Beijing. The Chinese politely rebuffed it and kept the aid at the previous level. IMHO because the PRC would prefer the withdrawal of US forces from the peninsula, we ought to retain the 6 party talks. And we should put this on the table only if the Chinese force the nKs to give away the farm short of handing over the nuclear devices (A complete shutdown of nuclear facilities would suffice as that would be easier to verify than the elimination of nuclear devices. I assume that they still don't have the ability to miniaturize warheads).

A unilateral withdrawal would serve as a cold shower for South Korea. In many ways, this is needed as it's plain silly for me to read about power projection capabilities of ROKN and ROKAF when they can barely meet the minimum standards in terms of simple counterfire missions. BTW it galls me to read that the ROK MOD announced that there would be American observers and trainers on Yeonpyungdo during the Dec.20 livefire exercise. After hearing so much anti-American nonsense from Democratic Labor Party (the CCSKA and ReBu probably infiltrated the DLP leadership) and other left wing politicians, I am sick of having Americans serve as mobile tripwire.

Neil Richardson


"The impetus for the last skirmishes seemed to be coming more from the South Korean side than the North Korean as laid out in Japan Focus: Korean Brinkmanship, American Provocation, and the Road to War: the manufacturing of a crisis"

You're right. No armed forces anywhere in the world ought to hold live fire exercises anywhere. If we were to listen to Beal, we might as well shut down the KTC and just hold parades up and down Highway 1 in our pretty uniforms. Live fire exercises have been conducted along the DMZ as well as NLL since 1953. Since you don't seem that keen on reading up on the history of the peninsula, let me tell you something you might not heard of. Both ROKA and KPA send patrols *into* the DMZ even today. Until the 2ID was taken off the line at the DMZ, we used to have Imjin Scouts who sometimes earned their patches the hard way. To uninformed CNN viewers, anything can be interpreted as "provocative." Most of the world had never even heard of 99 percent of the nonsense that went on along the Z for decades. You'll know what a provocation is when you see it. That's when the KPA initiates EMCON.

Stanley Henning

The Korean issue is VERY troublesome. The Chinese Three Kingdoms strategist, Zhuge Liang, provided a short description of the Korean mentality which applies to this day: "The Eastern Barbarians' (Koreans) mentality is to treat ceremony with contempt and show little loyalty to others, they are rash and quarrelsome." Interestingly, in a Korean language book on Korean military thought I picked up in Seoul when assigned there (1981-83), the author had reworded the ceremony and loyalty phrase to read, "they respect ceremony and are very loyal" - yes-within their own group, but Zhuge Liang was describing them as a Chinese outsider.

Charles I

Why stop at Korea?


I don't know what's best for us or Korea, but I still find it incredibly odd that we had more troops in Korea than the hot war in Afghanistan until about 3 years ago. Guess GWOT really wasn't that serious in comparison, eh? Or was it just inertia?



I agree with your assessment that we should withdraw our forces from the Korean peninsula. I have no experience in geo-political strategy but I am of the opinion that the US withdraw and disband all its forces from its Cold War commitments. We never really did get a dividend for winning the Cold War with the collapse of communist totalitarianism. Instead of shrinking our defense and military industrial expenditures dramatically to reflect the new realities we have expanded our spending in the name of enhanced national security in the age of jihadi terrorism. What do strategic bombers and ICBMs do in that contest? How many of such weaponry and delivery systems do we need to provide a deterrent to China, Russia, Pakistan and India?

But...I suppose the gravy train must run until it derails!

Neil Richardson

"I have seen very little objective proof that North Korea is going to collapse messily or any other way, wishful thinking and magic dreaming by the usual gasbags yes but actual proof none."

Apart from the bold predictions from the usual "gasbags" in Seoul, Tokyo and Washington, DC, there have been at least three confirmed assassination attempts against Kim Jong Il since 1990. The most notable one took place in Hamgyungbukdo by the officers of the KPA 6th and probably 7th Corps. The regime teetered during and after the famine of the 1990s. This is confirmed by a number of indicators inside and outside the DPRK border. (e.g., the public execution of KPA generals by burning at the Rung-Rado Stadium, the price of bribe required to pay the border guards along the Tumen, the number of KPA officers who defected, etc etc) I hope somebody at State had explained that to Albright and Wendy Sherman before their visit to Pyongyang. It's just embarrassing to see a Secretary of State toast Kim at the very venue where public executions are held routinely. It is also likely that there was an attempt on Kim Jong-Il's life back in 2004 which also resulted in a number of public executions. Not many saw any "objective proof" that the Soviet Union was going to collapse either.


The last time North Korea attempted to unify the peninsula the ROK army disintegrated. Since the armistice, the presence of American forces is what has kept the North at bay.
If they are withdrawn any time soon Korea will be unified.


I was reading about the Axe Murder Incident and thought the forces that were brought to bear for Operation Paul Bunyan was rather insane in a Strangelove kind of way.

Neil Richardson


"I was reading about the Axe Murder Incident and thought the forces that were brought to bear for Operation Paul Bunyan was rather insane in a Strangelove kind of way."

Paul Bunyan came after a series of provocations after a short lull (1972-74). The first tunnel was discovered in 1974 three months after the assassination attempt on Park (His wife was killed). The second one was discovered in 1975 shortly before the fall of Saigon. In fact the KPA had fired shots into the air all along the DMZ during the night of April 30, 1975 in celebration of the surrender of the RVN government. In June the KPA goons jumped Major Henderson at the Joint Security Area (the CO of the US Support Group) and beat him to a pulp. Also during this period there were occasional firefights along the MDL .

The nK's never expected such an overwhelming response after the murder of Bonifas and Barrett, because the UNC had responded to earlier provocations with the usual protests during MAC meetings. The 2ID was at DEFCON2 before TF Vierra left Kitty Hawk, but the credit for maintaining opsec prior to the operation has to go to Gens. Stilwell and Singlaub. I don't think they could pull off something like that today without the North getting an early warning (the ROKA was very different then). It also marked the only time the DPRK had ever apologized to the United States. Once they saw that the entire TROKA and 2ID were ready, they had no choice but to stand down. You also have to remember that this was before the KPA had forward deployed in the 1990s after Desert Storm.


Assassination attempts and successes are a non point. If they were relevant, the USA government would have fallen many times.
Famine ... that would cause most governments to rally round the flag and expropriate the evil private farmers and private grocery stores.
Not easy to do in a society with neither.
The distinction between public entertainment and private entertainment state sanctioned murder escapes me. Dead is dead. Message is sent. Maybe the Koreans are following the Byng philosophy as articulated by Voltaire?
@Col Lang:
If I thought you were a gasbag, I would not bother to read your site.
The Kagans and Friedmans and Krugmans have the warm methane market.

Charles I

b, here is South Korean President Lee's take as reported by the BEEB today. I note there is reference to domestic political considerations as well as security, often a reason for provocative bluster.

But periodically refusing to bend over and take is provocative only to the aggressor long accustomed to supine compliance with the merest threatening twitch. If conflict results - the aggressor continues while you resist - that's not provocative war. Its self - defense.

"South Korea must unite to survive, says President Lee
Myung-bak at the Demilitarised Zone on 26 Dec

Mr Lee said he had learned "valuable lessons" from the Yeonpyeong island shelling

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has told his nation it must unite in the face of military aggression from the North.

Mr Lee said in a national radio address that what was at stake was "the survival of this nation".

He added: "If [we] are afraid of war, we can never prevent war."

The Korean peninsula has been tense since the North shelled the Southern island of Yeonpyeong last month, killing four people.

On Sunday, it was announced that South Korean and Chinese defence ministers would meet in Beijing in February for talks on the situation.
'Sacred war'

In his broadcast on Monday, Mr Lee said: "We can't afford to have division of you against me in the face of national security, because what's at stake is our very lives and the survival of this nation."

Mr Lee said divisions of opinion after the North's alleged sinking of a Southern warship in March with the loss of 46 sailors had led to the North's attack on Yeonpyeong island.

He said: "It is when we show solidarity as one that the North dares not challenge us. Their will to challenge breaks."
South Korean military exercise South Korea has carried out a number of recent exercises

Mr Lee added: "We have clearly realised the fact that only strong counteractions to military provocations are able to deter war and safeguard peace."

His government came in for some criticism at home as weak after the Yeonpyeong attack.

Mr Lee said he had learned "valuable lessons".. . ."



I agree re: withdrawing US forces (slowly, but firmly) but for slightly different reasons:

To me, It is not obvious that a war in the Korean peninsular which entangles the US at great economic cost while destroying a competitor (and forces them to rebuild industries/infrastructure through Chinese imports) is not in China's interest... Note, N. Korea could easily transform into long-term guerilla warfare with China acting like Pakistan.

Ok, maybe it isn't in China's interest, but maybe it is.

On the other hand, If the US is not involved, then IMO the benefits of such a war versus the instability shift towards no-war (and the US actually gets a cots benefit).

Not certain what the benefit to the US of having our troops on a tripwire are, other than inertia.

Neil Richardson


"Assassination attempts and successes are a non point. If they were relevant, the USA government would have fallen many times."

I disagree because the polity and society are vastly different between these two countries. In addition, the impact of past famine had stressed the state to its limit in the 1990s (the main reason why the DPRK is now digitizing their identification system is because they simply don't have a clear idea on how to account for its citizens. Other than labor camp inmates whose numbers decrease over time, they really don't have a true understanding of what their demography is. I realize this is counterintuitive given the totalitarian nature of the regime, but it's been stated over and over again by thousands (the estimated total are in the hundreds of thousand) who crossed the Chinese border and have settled in Manchuria and Russia. Before DJ Kim came into office, there were numerous South Korean Christian outreach groups who aided these people (You can draw your own conclusion regarding whether some of these were ANSP activities). There were over a hundred KPA general officers who left during and after the famine.

This is a totalitarian state that had survived the death of anywhere between 5 to 12 percent of its population due to starvation. If you contrast that to the Great Leap Forward (Mao was nearly purged for that) or the Soviet famine after the dekulakization, it is mindboggling given the small population base of the DPRK. In the last twelve months the state security crackdowns have been ramped up as well as predictable reshuffling of KPA command in Hamkyungdo. We'll just have to see whether they can withstand another one. Not many states in history could. You also have to remember that the cult of personality of Kim Jong-Il was developed over two decades. Yet he certainly had his limits because the Kims have been "bribing" senior KPA officers since the late 1990s. (That is one of the reasons why the US had targeted luxury goods for sanctions as well as their bank accounts)

Kim Jong Un faces a compressed timeline in his attempt to consolidate power. And we're talking about a young man who had lived abroad longer than he has in the DPRK. And while they are dwindling in number, there still are remnants of the Yenan Ban and Kaspen Ban among the KPA senior leadership. We'll just have to see whether the Kim clan can survive if there's another famine. IMHO the US, Japan and ROK erred in throwing the Kims a lifeline in the late 1990s. There are some indications that the Chinese leadership hasn't given its support to the chosen successor even after that garish ceremony commemorating the death of Mao Anying. Otherwise Jong-Il would've taken him along on their visit to Beijing this year.

"Famine ... that would cause most governments to rally round the flag and expropriate the evil private farmers and private grocery stores.
Not easy to do in a society with neither."

I agree and the biggest problems facing the Kim regime is the issue of distribution of goods given very limited market liberalization. In certain parts, you actually had productive kulaks who produced surplus grain. And now after the currency reform, one of the biggest problems in countryside is the inflation which is why I suspect there might be another dekulakization. This is something that the Soviet Union and the PRC had learned the hard way with millions dying of starvation. They botched the currency reform and now it's probable that the nascent market won't survive. I don't think it was a coincidence that Jong-Il had increased demand for aid. The shortfall after the US/ROK/Japanese sanctions will have to be made up if they're going to survive another famine. We'll just have to see whether the Chinese will continue to prop up the regime. They've said that they could absorb a migration flow of about 300,000. One thing to note is that whenever the DPRK acts up, the ROK and Japan move closer to the US in terms of security cooperation. (and in the case of South Korea trade as well) I still expect a unified Korea (ROK) will be either become neutral or align closer to the PRC.

"The distinction between public entertainment and private entertainment state sanctioned murder escapes me. Dead is dead. Message is sent. Maybe the Koreans are following the Byng philosophy as articulated by Voltaire?"

Clearly the Kims don't agree with Foucault.


While you re at it, route the 130s through Afghanistan, and pick up our boys there, and bring them home also.

Enough of this empire BS!


Agree with all who argue for pulling out of South Korea.

They are one of a number of nations who benefit from our support, and offer us little to nothing in return. In fact, South Korean polling often shows that Americans are unpopular, as if we are responsible for the division of their country. So we foot the bill and they trash us in return.

We seem unable and unwilling to leave the cold war behind, along with a host of social and political grievances born in the 1960's. It is as if we never even won the cold war at all, and the nation has become incapable of seeing new opportunities and meeting new challenges.

Patrick Lang


Yes. South Korea is something we should see in the rear view mirror. The trick worldwide would be to figure out where to disengage while maintaining enough forces and basing (not occupation)to protect our actual security and economic interests. The navy, air forces, SOF and strategic command all look important. pl

William R. Cumming

How many times has the US not acted on formal treaty obligations in its history?
Is the presence of US forces in S.Korea because of the past de facto renunciation of US of its military treaty obligations? As I understand it the two largest and wealthiest S. Korean/American clusters are in L.A. and N.VA? Why?

Patrick Lang


Enlighten me as to the treaty obligations. pl

Neil Richardson

"How many times has the US not acted on formal treaty obligations in its history?"

Article 6 of the Mutual Defense Treaty states:

"This Treaty shall remain in force indefinitely. Either party may terminate it one year after notice has been given to the other Party."

Neil Richardson

Also Article 4 allows the US the "the right to dispose United States land, air and sea forces in and about the territory of the Republic of Korea as determined by mutual agreement."

Unilateral draw downs have taken place since 1953 (e.g., the 7ID) Wolfowitz negotiated the current USFK realignment program. He also informed the ROK that the 2ID would deploy one of its two heavy brigades to Iraq which would return to Fort Lewis and convert to a Stryker BCT.

Besides, with all the whinings that the USFK had to put up with in recent years (constant complaints about the Korea Training Center, noise level near Osan, their demands for Yongsan which is the reason why the EUSA is moving to Pyeongtaek, etc etc), I really don't think they're in a position to demand that we stay.


Those remnants of the Yenan Ban ( Fought in china in WWII with Mao agaist the Japanese, fought in Korea and the Kaspen Ban (Kim Il Sung's group, fought in Eastern Russia against the Japanese, likewise against the southern invaders) would have the status of Greatest Generation ( coferred by the NK version of Thom Brokaw). With that status comes revered memory but not much activity. 85+ for most of them, if they survived all the famines and inter-nicine warfares since 52.
My point about the irrelevance of assassination attempts is that NK has a functional bureaucracy, assassiation does not overthrow the bureaucracy; strengthens it over time if anything.
All governments give amouluments to their favoured Perfumed Princes, NK is no different. Actually they have good taste in Cognac.
Given that the PRC probably does not wish to see US troops any closer to its borders, I suspect that the rapidly expanding Chinese economy can be drained of a wee bit o shekels to support NK just as the US economy can be drained of shekels to support various "deserving nations that need more fighters and tanks".
Although it does amaze me how such an uncivilized, famine ridden, corrupt, nation can create exportable nuclear weaponry, send a favoured son to a european education ( something no american politician would dare), and stand up to its neighbours so readily. Must be magic.
So few agree with Foucault but the pendulum still swings.

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