Andrei Lankov On Why the United States Should Pursue A North Korean Freeze Deal

A ROK Drop favorite Dr. Andrei Lankov has an article published in NK News that once again advocates for a “freeze deal” with North Korea:

Andrei Lankov

Of course, it is politically impossible to be excessively frank about such a plan, as the admission that North Korea is a de facto nuclear state would damage international non-proliferation efforts and bring about a tidal wave of virtue signaling behavior from U.S. hard-liners, including many legislators.

To cushion these problems, a freeze deal will have to be presented as merely the “first step on the long and winding road to North Korea’s denuclearization” which will surely happen at some point in a rather distant future.

So far, the idea of a freeze, while widely discussed among the mid-level officials, remains a taboo at the higher levels of the U.S. bureaucracy. This is vital: this is exactly the levels where such decisions have to be made.

This author is skeptical about the immediate prospects of a freeze. It will take some time (probably, years) before U.S. decision makers get over their natural tendency to deny the unpleasant truth. Nonetheless, serious discussion of a freeze as a theoretical possibility has already begun, and numerous opponents of this idea have already made good arguments about what is problematic about such a plan.

Unfortunately, in spite of being a long-time proponent of the freeze idea, I cannot help but admit that many of their arguments are correct, but on balance, there are still valid reasons to accept the freeze solution as a deal which, while flawed and imperfect, is still better than its alternatives.  [NK News]

You can read more at the link, but as I have said before I think any freeze deal should include robust inspections and the risk of a retaliatory bombing strike if it is not complied with.  The risk of war on the peninsula by noncompliance by the Kim regime would give motivation to the Chinese to make sure the Kim regime is complying with the deal.

Andrei Lankov Explains Why Russia Will Water Down or Veto UN Sanctions on North Korea

A ROK Drop favorite Andrei Lankov explains why Russia is going to attempt to water down United Nations sanctions on North Korea or veto them all together and it has nothing to do with Putin taking an anti-US position:

Andrei Lankov

Vladimir Putin was right when he recently said that even if North Koreans have to eat grass, they will not surrender nuclear weapons (of course, in North Korea the people who make decisions on nuclear weapons are far removed from the people who would have no choice but to eat grass).

However, there is the probability that a really harsh sanctions regime will eventually provoke a grave political crisis and revolution in North Korea: instead of eating grass, the people will rebel.

For American observers, who will watch enthusiastic TV reports about a North Korean revolution in safety, this development, as long as it does not trigger a region-wide war, will be welcome. After all, regime collapse will bring about the complete solution of the North Korean nuclear issue, the U.S.’s overwhelming concern.

However, Russia and China, inconveniently located on the border with North Korea, have reasons to be unenthusiastic about prospects of a Syria-like or Libya-like situation, anarchy and civil war in a nuclear-armed country nearby. For Moscow – and, for that matter, for Beijing – a collapsing North Korea is a greater threat than a nuclear one, however bad a nuclear North Korea is.  [NK News]

You can read the rest of the analysis at the link.

Dr. Lankov Believes It Is Time To Cut A Deal With North Korea

Whenever noted North Korean scholar Dr. Andrei Lankov writes something I take notice.  In his latest op-ed published in Bloomberg he is advocating that the incoming Trump administration negotiate a deal for a nuclear and missile freeze with North Korea:

Dr. Andrei Lankov image via Wikipedia.

Finally, some observers seem to hold out hope that Trump, a self-described “great” dealmaker, might be able to talk Kim out of his nukes in direct negotiations. This, too, is a futile idea. U.S. and North Korean interests are fundamentally incompatible. North Korean leaders fear that giving up their nukes would leave them dangerously vulnerable; they only too well remember what happened to Moammar Qaddafi after he negotiated away his nuclear program.

The truth is that for more than a decade, there’s been no real chance of fully eliminating the North’s nuclear program. Even now, though, the U.S. could negotiate something better than the current situation: a verifiable freeze on nuclear and missile testing, before North Korea develops an ICBM.

Of course, Kim isn’t going to restrain himself for free. In return, he will demand many things — a hefty aid package, above all, but also political concessions, including a formal peace treaty. No doubt his regime will probably try to cheat.

The opponents of such a compromise will describe it as a terrible precedent, even blackmail — and they may be right. Unlike Iran, North Korea will remain a nuclear power even after signing such a deal. But the alternatives — either a major war that drags in the U.S. and China, or a fully armed North with the proven capacity to attack the U.S. mainland — are worse. As long as there’s still a chance of striking such a compromise, the new U.S. President should be doing everything he can to seize it.  [Bloomberg]

I do not see the point of a nuclear freeze in return for a bunch of free goodies to the Kim regime in return for something that even Dr. Lankov admits they will try and cheat on.  Plus by agreeing to sign a peace treaty with North Korea that puts into question the entire existence of the US-ROK alliance which is why the Kim regime has been pressing so hard for it.  The Kim regime knows they have no chance of reunifying the peninsula on their terms as long as the US-ROK alliance is in place.

It seems to me a peace treaty should not be part of a freeze deal and whatever deal that is signed should include robust inspections and the risk of a retaliatory bombing strike if it is not complied with.  The risk of war on the peninsula by noncompliance by the Kim regime would give motivation to the Chinese to make sure the Kim regime is complying with the deal.

Andrei Lankov On Why China Is So Opposed to the THAAD Deployment to South Korea

Via a reader tip comes an opinion piece from ROK Drop favorite Andrei Lankov in regards to why China is so vehemently opposed to the deployment of the THAAD battery to South Korea:

However, such a hard blow is unlikely to ever be delivered by China. This is because extreme pressure is more likely to bring about regime collapse than denuclearization, and regime collapse is not what the Chinese leaders want to see (an anarchy in a nuclear state nearby is not their idea of stability and success). And at any rate, the Chinese losses from such a scenario will be greater than the problems created by THAAD deployment. Minor pressure, however, is not going to solve the nuclear problem and hence it will not lead to THAAD re-deployment elsewhere.

In this context, China therefore acts reasonably: it does not increase its pressure on North Korea, but rather penalizes South Korea for THAAD deployment. Obviously, it is being done in expectation that a sufficiently persistent form of pressure will eventually make the South Korean government – well, perhaps, next one – re-consider its position on THAAD.

After all, being a democracy, South Korea is relatively susceptible to outside pressures. China looms large in the South Korean economy, so informal sanctions – which  are very easy to introduce for the Chinese leaders – will have a noticeable impact on the lives of the common South Koreans who, unlike their northern brethren, can vote and who also have many other means to push the government in the direction they (rightly or wrongly) see as conducive to their interests.  [NK News]

I recommend reading the whole thing at the link.  Mr. Lankov is right about what he covers in his analysis.  However, I think he did miss one thing.  In my opinion the Chinese know very well that THAAD is not a risk to their strategic missile deterrent. Instead they see this an opportunity to create a wedge between the US and the ROK.  A weakened US-ROK alliance is in China’s national interest which the reversing of course on THAAD has the potential of creating.

Andrei Lankov On Why North Korean and Chinese Relations “Is Business as Usual”

ROK Drop favorite Andrei Lankov has an opinion piece in the Korea Times that explains how China’s supposed harsh line with North Korea was merely a short term fluctuation and things are back to normal between the two countries:

For a brief while, South Korean diplomats were in a rather celebratory mood: it looked like China, for a change, had joined the ROK and the U.S. in their efforts to subject North Korea to the toughest sanctions ever. Indeed, in early March the Chinese representative in the U.N. Security Council voted for Resolution 2270 which introduced such measures, and for a while the united front looked like a reality.

Frankly, for yours truly, it was a surprise: the harsh position Beijing had seemingly committed itself to was unprecedented, and China’s switch happened quite suddenly. However, now it seems that this change was merely a short-term fluctuation.

There are many signs of a warming of relations between China and North Korea. In early June, Ri Su-yong, the former North Korean foreign minister who currently is the Korean Workers’ Party vice-chairman responsible for foreign relations, visited Beijing. It is the first time since 2013 that a North Korean official of such high rank has appeared in the Chinese capital. Among other things, Ri was granted an audience with President Xi Jinping. It lasted merely 20 minutes and therefore was, first and foremost, a formality, but it still had much symbolic meaning. It is equally important that the Chinese media devoted much space to describing the visit.

Simultaneously, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman expressed dissatisfaction with the new U.S. policy initiative ― unilateral sanctions, targeting banks that deal with North Korea. On the other hand, the U.S. authorities subpoenaed Huawei, a massive Chinese telecommunication company, for its alleged deals with North Korea. There is also a growing body of evidence that China is not being as strict with sanctions’ enforcement as many had hoped for.

There is nothing surprising about all this. Like it or not, when it comes to the Korean Peninsula, Chinese interests are seriously different from those of the United States.  [Korea Times]

You can read the rest at the link, but like I have always said China is never going to take a position that would risk the stability of the Kim regime.  As bad as the regime is, to the Chinese government it is better than the alternative of regime collapse and the unification of the peninsula under South Korean rule backed with US troops.

What Gaddafi and Ukraine Teaches Us About North Korea’s Nuclear Program

ROK Drop favorite Andrei Lankov writes about why what happened in Libya and Ukraine is all the justification the Kim regime needs in regards to why they need nuclear weapons:

nk flag

If the sanctions are enforced systematically, North Korea would suffer a major blow. Its economy, which began to recover in recent years, is likely to shrink again and its living standards will certainly go down.

It is the inevitable outcome when half the country’s export earnings evaporate overnight. This encourages supporters of sanctions who believe that these unprecedented measures will push North Korea to the negotiating table and may even lead to the end of North Korea’s nuclear programme.

Unfortunately, these expectations are unfounded. The North Korean ruling elite believe that the country needs nuclear weapons to counter foreign threats, and they remember well the sorry end of Muammar Gaddafi, the only strongman who agreed to surrender his nuclear programme.

Nor do they forget what happened to Ukraine, a country which, in 1994, was given international guarantees over its territorial integrity as a reward for its willingness not to retain Soviet-era nuclear weapons.

At the same time, short of an armed rebellion, the North Korean public had virtually no way to influence government policy – after all, this is the country which since the late 1950s claims 100 percent support for government-appointed candidates at all elections.  [Al Jazeera]

I recommend reading the whole thing at the link.

Andrei Lankov Explains How Surveillance and Indoctrination Works In North Korea

A ROK Drop favorite Dr. Andrei Lankov has an article published that discusses how the Kim regime prevents dissent within North Korea:

However, terror alone does not explain the remarkable staying power of the regime in Pyongyang. The presence and role of daily surveillance must not be underestimated. North Koreans have good reason to believe that even a minor deviation from the officially approved political line will be noticed and punished by the authorities. Punishment, like the misdemeanour itself, might be quite mild. However, it is the ubiquity of surveillance which is important.  (……)

Perhaps, one should first mention the neighbourhood watch groups, known as the inminban (literally, people’s group). Each inminban consists of 15-30 families living side-by-side in a village, urban block, or multi-story building. Such a group is headed by a junior official, whose task is to look for all suspicious activities within her (this is always a woman’s job) jurisdiction. She is also charged with the registration of overnight visitors because one cannot stay overnight even with friends or relatives without giving prior notice to the authorities. The official is required to have intimate knowledge of all families under her jurisdictions: their occupation, income level, family relations and even work routine. At their briefings with police, the inminban heads have always been reminded that they should know “how many chopsticks are in any given household” – and this oft-repeated sentence is not a joke.

Another responsibility of the “people’s group” and its head is to ensure that no forbidden items are kept in private houses. The list of such items includes, above all, tunable radio sets and DVDs of South Korean as well as some Western movies.  [Aljazeera]

You can read the rest at the link, but Dr. Lankov also discusses how the regime uses indoctrination as a means of political control.  There is really nothing new in Dr. Lankov’s analysis for people who closely follow North Korea, but it should make for interesting reading for those who do not.  On this topic I highly recommend reading Babara Demick’s book, “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea” which goes into great detail through interviews of North Korean defectors how the caste system, inminban, and indoctrination systems work.