PACOM Commander Testifies that North Korea Will Use Nuclear Weapons to Blackmail South Korea

Admiral Harris seems to understand what the Kim regime’s ultimate goal of their nuclear weapon’s program is:

This file photo shows U.S. Pacific Command chief Adm. Harry Harris. (Yonhap)

A top U.S. military commander said Wednesday he believes North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is intent on reunifying the Korean Peninsula under a single, communist system.

Adm. Harry Harris, chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, told a congressional hearing he does not agree with the predominant view that Kim is pursuing nuclear-tipped missiles to safeguard his regime only.

Kim is “after reunification under a single, communist system,” Harris told the House Armed Services Committee, adding that is the “long view.”

The North Korean leader’s nuclear ambitions contribute to that view and help him blackmail countries such as South Korea and the U.S., the commander said. And Washington should continue to increase economic and diplomatic sanctions on Pyongyang under its “maximum pressure” campaign to persuade Kim to abandon his nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.  [Yonhap]

As I and others have said repeatedly the development of nuclear weapons solely to deter US led regime change does not make sense.  North Korea’s conventional capabilities have proven to be an effective deterrent for decades.  Look at what they have done over the years with killing US soldiers, taking US naval personnel hostage, shooting down a US plane, attacking the Blue House to kill the ROK president, bombing an airliner out of the sky, hijacking an airplane, shelling a ROK island, sinking a ROK ship, etc.

None of these attacks led to a retaliatory strike because of their conventional capabilities were an effective deterrent.  So clearly there is more to why they want to develop nuclear weapons so aggressively.  The theory that makes the most sense is that the true intention of their nuclear program is to separate the US from South Korea and then seek a confederation on North Korean terms.

Explaining the “Wedge Theory” for North Korea’s Nuclear Program

A ROK Drop favorite Tom Coyner explains the “wedge theory” in a recent article in the Joong Ang Ilbo:

Tom Coyner

If Washington affairs are unpredictable, the same can be said about the entirety of the Korean Peninsula. As such, there are various ideas and theories of what is the fundamental thinking and strategy of North Korea. The most likely scenario being played out is the so-called wedge theory. Many scholars disagree, but I subscribe to it as the most likely explanation for both obvious and insidious reasons.

North Korea is unintentionally serving China’s geopolitical interests. First and most obviously, it serves as a physical barrier between China’s capital and U.S. forces based in South Korea. More controversially, North Korea’s nuclear program is not being designed to start a nuclear exchange unless absolutely necessary. Rather, its weapons are like other nations’ nukes. The weapons are meant as deterrents. But unlike other nations’ arsenals, the DPRK’s nukes are serving the hegemonic interests of its neighbor, China.  (…..)

Many North Korea watchers believe the real aim of the DPRK nukes is to threaten the U.S. and intimidate Washington out of its ironclad guarantee to come to the aid of Seoul under all circumstances. Which is to say, be able to challenge the current or future American president into deciding whether to stand by Seoul or risk having one of America’s cities be nuked. Of course, such a scenario would lead to the total destruction of North Korea by a vengeful America. But beyond simply living with a nuclear DPRK, all military scenarios are high risk, including ending with the ultimate destruction of North Korea. (……..)

Consequently, the wedge theory is the most plausible. If the U.S. backs away from its 100 percent support of South Korea, North Korea can further its political agenda to ultimately achieve a peace treaty leading to confederation without need for U.S. forces.  [Joong Ang Ilbo]

You can read more at the link, but I have long believed that the Kim regime and the Chinese government have a long term goal of driving a wedge between the US and the ROK.  That is what is behind the THAAD retaliation against South Korea by the Chinese government.  They know THAAD is not a threat to them, but it is an issue they can use to drive a wedge between the US and the ROK.  Likewise that is what North Korea is to the Chinese, yet another issue to drive a wedge between the US and the ROK.

Hankyoreh Worried President Trump Will Conduct Pre-emptive Strike to Boost Mid-Term Election Chances

The Korean left wing newspaper of choice, the Hankyoreh is extremely concerned about a US pre-emptive strike on North Korea:

According to Cha’s Washington Post piece, some ultra-hardliners have argued that the risk of endangering the lives of the 230,000 Americans living in South Korea if the bloody nose strategy escalates is worth taking in terms of “long-term interests” and the “safety of Americans living in the continental US.” The fates of 50 million South Koreans don’t even warrant a mention.The reason hardline voices have gotten so much louder in the White House lately has much to do with the discussions occurring between South and North Korea for the Pyeongchang Olympics. It appears to be an attempt to stop a climate of reconciliation from forming on the peninsula.

Given their lack of faith in denuclearization, they seem to believe the North Korean nuclear program will become irreversible if reconciliation occurs at a time of intensifying sanctions. Meanwhile, the Russia scandal is raising the possibility that Trump not only faces a difficult road to re-election but could end up impeached. Depending on how the mid-term elections in November turn out, he could find himself a lame duck.

This raises the troubling question of whether he might consider a strike against North Korea as a way out of his domestic political crisis. Indeed, White House National Security Council senior director for Asian affairs Matthew Pottinger reportedly said in a recent closed-door meeting with US experts on Korean Peninsula issues that a limited strike on the North might help in the midterm elections.  [Hankoryeh]

It seems to me the logic of this article does not add up.  If a pre-emptive strike leads to a bloody war with millions of people dead that will not help President Trump in the mid-term elections.  However, if the pre-emptive strike is successful that will help in the mid-term elections.  It almost seems like the Korean left is more concerned that the pre-emptive strategy could work thus boosting President Trump’s political chances, than doing anything to stop North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons.

North Korean Diplomats Tell Russian Academic That Nuclear Weapons Are for Deterrence Only

An academic from Russia, Alexander Vorontsov traveled to North Korea and what he has come back with looks like yet another information operation to drive a wedge between the United States and South Korea:

Alexander Vorontsov, (image)

In my conversations in Pyongyang, senior North Korean Foreign Ministry officials did not conceal their surprise that Seoul failed to see the huge gap in threat perceptions between American and South Korean societies. The North Koreans see growing signs, reflecting President Donald Trump’s “America First” principle, that the United States is prepared to accept the terrible loss of lives that would result from a large-scale military conflict with North Korea. In contrast, South Korean public opinion continues to believe that president Trump would never start a war in Korea—and that the tension, crisis-like atmosphere, and belligerent rhetoric are all posturing.

North Korean diplomats expressed surprise that a substantial part of the South Korean elite have missed many indications, reflected in polling data,[1] that a majority of Americans now believe that the US cannot allow North Korea to acquire a missile capable of delivering a nuclear weapon to the US mainland and that Pyongyang would order such a strike as soon as it had this capability. North Korean diplomats stressed that this is a misperception. As one opined, “it would be suicidal to attack the USA first and especially with nuclear weapons. We understand that it would be the last day of our country.” These officials were truly baffled that a majority of the South Korean population does not seem to have grasped the reality that the Trump administration, despite the risks, is inching ever closer to a preventive strike on North Korea. Pyongyang, they maintained, is under no such illusions.

North Korean experts reiterated that they are striving to reach some kind “nuclear parity” with the US, but not in order to use it in an unprovoked first strike against the American mainland.  [The National Interest]

You can read much more at the link, but the North Koreans are once again claiming their nuclear program is for deterrence only.  Unfortunately that does not fully explain why they are so aggressively pursuing a nuclear program when their conventional capabilities have proven to be an effective deterrent for decades.  Look at what they have done over the decades with killing US soldiers, taking US naval personnel hostage, shooting down a US plane, attacking the Blue House to kill the ROK president, bombing an airliner out of the sky, hijacking an airplane, shelling a ROK island, sinking a ROK ship, etc.

None of these attacks led to a retaliatory strike because of their conventional capabilities were an effective deterrent.  So clearly there is more to why they want to develop nuclear weapons so aggressively.  The theory that makes the most sense is that the true intention of their nuclear program is to separate the US from South Korea and then seek a confederation on North Korean terms.

B.R. Myers Responds to Criticism About His Belief that North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Are Intended to Unify the Peninsula

 

ROK Drop favorite B.R. Myers has been one of the strong advocates of the viewpoint that the overall goal of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is to force the withdrawal of US troops and create a confederation of the Korean peninsula under North Korean terms.  This viewpoint has apparently led to a lot of criticism by people who think the nuclear weapons are just to keep the US from trying to militarily remove the Kim Regime and that the North Koreans are not stupid enough to think they can actually unify the peninsula on their terms:

Image of B.R. Myers from the Korea Herald.

Oddly enough, the most furious people are on the softline or apologetic part of the Pyongyang-watching spectrum. They never get this worked up when North Korea is called a gangster state, a drug-running operation or a giant gulag. Nor do they express such fervent opposition to (say) imperialist proposals for the US and China to get together and decide the fate and political character of the peninsula on their own.

No, it seems that the craziest, most reprehensible thing one can possibly say about North Korea is that it wants to unify the peninsula with as little bloodshed as possible. And apparently the worst thing one can say about the South Koreans — “INSANE” “psychobabble” even – is that the North might have reason to believe they wouldn’t fight to the death against such an effort. (Needless to say, I never said South Koreans are ready to “give away” their republic, as “T.K.” is no doubt well aware.)

I repeat: it is self-styled progressives and liberals who find these ideas so scandalous. True, I have often clashed at conferences with South Korean conservatives who bristle at my emphasis on the North’s nationalism. Being nationalists themselves, albeit of a more moderate sort, they think it makes the regime look too respectable, dignified, legitimate. I am told to chalk up the unification drive to a communizing urge — “it sounds scarier that way,” I was helpfully advised — or to the regime’s evil desire to cause as much suffering as possible. But the other side of the spectrum now seems far more upset.

Particularly striking is the general tendency to identify the idea as my personal thing. “T.K.” has not yet questioned the sanity of South Korea’s Minister of Unification, though he too is alarmed by increasing signals that Pyongyang wants to use its nukes to take over the peninsula. And many quite moderate analysts in South Korea have been saying much the same stuff since the 1990s. But for the Westerners now raging on Twitter, this is my trademarked idea. (As it becomes harder and harder to refute, the tendency will no doubt go in the opposite direction.)  [B.R. Myers]

You can read much more at the link, but B.R. Myers is not the only person who has been advocating this viewpoint.  It makes me wonder if the criticism he is receiving is caused more by the fact that his viewpoint is gaining traction with people inside the Trump administration?

Buddhist Monk Warns to Not Count on China to Solve North Korean Nuclear Issue

The Venerable Pomnyun Sunim is a Buddhist monk who has done aid work inside of North Korea.  He believes based off his experience and history of North Korea that China is not the answer to resolving the current nuclear issue:

Today, the North Korean leadership considers China to be the primary threat to regime survival. Despite paying lip service to their alliance, the Kim dynasty cannot afford to have any forces within the regime answer to foreign governments, especially China with its huge influence on North Korea’s viability.

This has always been the case. In August 1956, Kim Il Sung purged people he suspected of seeking to overthrow him with backing from the Chinese Communist Party. Soon afterward, Kim forced Mao Zedong to remove all remaining Chinese military presence — which had saved him during the Korean War — from North Korea.

His son, Kim Jong-il, was also quoted as saying that the Chinese should never be trusted. This underlying mistrust seems to be the reason behind the death of Jang Song-thaek and Kim Jong-nam, both of whom were suspected as China’s potential alternatives to the current leadership.

As such, allowing Chinese pressure, whether economic or political, to dictate the terms of North Korea’s national security goes against the country’s fundamental nature and self-interest of the current regime. A nation founded on anti-imperialism simply cannot allow an imperial power, even a nominally friendly one, to interfere in its own affairs.  [Joong Ang Ilbo]

You can read more at the link, but I would say that most people that closely follow the North Korean nuclear issue know that China is not the answer because the status quo is in their national interest.  However, before other options are executed the US government has a responsibility to try all diplomatic angles which working with the Chinese is one of those options even if expectations are low of it working.

North Korea Says It is Not Interested In Talks with the US Even without Preconditions

I expect the engagement crowd will say that the Kim regime doesn’t really mean what they say:

North Korea on Tuesday rejected U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s latest proposal for dialogue without preconditions, saying that it has no interest in Washington’s scheme to make it give up its nuclear program.

Tillerson said last week that the U.S. is ready to begin talks with North Korea “without preconditions” in a possible shift of U.S. policy. But days later, he said that the North should halt its “threatening behavior” before talks can begin, backpedaling on his previous remarks.

The Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), said that nothing has changed in its stance of pursuing nuclear weapons, regardless of whether Washington has offered talks without strings attached.

“The U.S. is trying to shift responsibility for tensions on the Korean Peninsula to us with its dialogue offensive,” the newspaper said in a commentary. “The move is seen as being intended to set the tone for manipulating new U.N. Security Council resolutions that may include a maritime blockade if we do not accept dialogue aimed at discussing the abandonment of our nuclear weapons.”

North Korea made it clear that it will not put its nuclear weapons and missiles on the negotiation table if the U.S. does not ditch its hostile policy toward Pyongyang.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link, but I believe in believing what the Kim regime says.  It is pretty clear they only want to talk if the US ditches its hostile policies.  What that means is that the Kim regime wants the sanctions to go away and a peace treaty to be offered as part of negotiations.  This basically rewards the regime for bad behavior before the talks have even begun.  From their perspective this strategy has worked in the past and I guess they figure at some point the Trump administration will reward them as well.

Former Nuclear Negotiator Says Even A Deal North Korea Cheats On Is Still a Good Deal

Here is what a former nuclear negotiator with North Korea had to say recently about the Trump administration:

Robert Gallucci, a former U.S. special envoy to North Korea, speaks in the National Assembly, Monday. / Yonhap

Robert Gallucci, the chief negotiator during the 1994 North Korean nuclear crisis, called for dialogue with the North to make a breakthrough in the crisis on the Korean Peninsula, during his speech at Seoul’s National Assembly, Monday.

Gallucci, chairman of the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., reiterated the U.S. should negotiate with Pyongyang, if there’s room for improved circumstances through the negotiation.

“What we should not ask is a perfect deal. We should not ask how much does it cost,” Gallucci said in an event co-hosted by Reps. Kim Kyung-hyup and Lee Tae-kyu, members of the Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee.

“We should rather ask are we better off with the deal,” the former special envoy noted, referring to his past experience of talking with his North Korean counterpart Kang Sok-ju in Geneva, Switzerland.

“In 1994, our intelligence community estimated North Korea was capable to produce 200 kilograms of plutonium a year. However, when President George Bush came into office in 2001, North Korea had zero nuclear weapons,” he said. “Did the North cheat us? The answer is yes. However, the deal was still a good one.”  [Korea Times]

That last paragraph is all everyone needs to see to understand the problem with past negotiations with North Korea.  Gallucci is apparently more than happy to allow the North Koreans to cheat on a deal as long as there is a deal.

Here is what else he had to say:

Touching on the heightened tension sparked by the North’s Nov. 29 launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), Gallucci pointed out that it is a crisis between the North and the entire international community.

“It is a crisis because if military activity were to begin in days, indeed just days, no one in this room could be surprised, or should be surprised. That I think is a fair definition of crisis,” he said.  [Yonhap]

Who is assessing military action to happen within days except for people that don’t closely follow North Korea?  The ICBM launch was a research and development activity like their other prior test launches.  The US military has not launched any retaliatory strikes in response to these R&D activities and has instead focused on deterrence responses.  If the Kim regime fires a missile that lands in or near US territory than we will definitely have a military crisis on our hands.

The Kim regime has clearly been firing missiles in areas that are no where near US territory in order to not provoke a crisis.  Additionally the Kim regime has not shelled any islands, attacked ROK naval vessels, or murdered ROK servicemembers in quite sometime.  It is clear the Kim regime does not want a military crisis and instead is focusing on R&D of their ballistic missile and nuclear capabilities.

Why they are developing their ICBMs and nuclear capability Gallucci believes is for deterrence:

“This North Korean capability raises a question about whether the U.S. will fulfill its alliance responsibilities to its allies,” he said. “It raises a question about whether the U.S. will put Washington D.C. and New York City at risk in order to prevent North Korea from blackmailing South Korea and to deter any attack on Seoul specifically.”

But he noted the military dominance of the South Korea-U.S. alliance, saying Pyongyang cannot hold Seoul “hostage” with its artillery or nuclear weapons unless it is “suicidal.” He also voiced skepticism about the existence of a “good” military option without any cost or risk.

“Its nuclear weapons are good for one thing only to deter an effort at changing their regime. That is plausible,” he said.

“But the North cannot plausibly blackmail, it cannot deter a military response to its adventurism, it cannot compel the ROK (Republic of Korea) or the U.S. to do anything, it cannot break our alliance,” he added.   [Yonhap]

I think his remarks that North Korea is not developing nuclear weapons to blackmail the South is in direct response to ROK Drop favorite Joshua Stanton.  Stanton of One Free Korea fame has long argued that the North’s nuclear program is less about deterrence and more about driving concessions out of the South to create a confederation of the two countries on Kim’s terms.

I support Stanton’s position because reunification is a driving force within the Cult of Kim.  The Kim regime has long had deterrence through its conventional weapons that could destroy Seoul.  Most other countries in the world would have faced regime change retaliation for the provocations the North Koreans have executed over the years.  However, the Kim regime has faced little military retaliation because of the threat to Seoul.

Developing nuclear weapons allows the regime to threaten the US homeland for the first time.  It is arguable the regime wants to create a negotiating environment where it hopes to separate the ROK from the US.  This would explain why the North Koreans continuously bring up wanting to negotiate a peace treaty to end the Korean War.  If a peace treaty is signed then why would US troops be needed in South Korea any more?  The next goal for the Kim regime would be to co-opt the ROK into a confederation on North Korean terms.

Only time will tell who is right or who is wrong.

Profile of North Korea’s Nuclear and Rocket Scientists

The New York Times has a very good article published that shows who are the various scientists in North Korea that have made Kim Jong-un’s nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions so successful:

From left to right, Jang Cha-ha (scientist), Jon Il-ho (scientist), Kim Rak-gyom (commander of rocket forces), Yu Jin (munitions industry official).

“We have never heard of him killing scientists,” said Choi Hyun-kyoo, a senior researcher in South Korea who runs NK Tech, a database of North Korean scientific publications. “He is someone who understands that trial and error are part of doing science.”

Analysts are still trying to explain how North Korea managed to overcome decades of international sanctions and make so much progress so quickly. But it is clear the nation has accumulated a significant scientific foundation despite its backward image.

Its new ICBM is a feat of physics and engineering that has stunned the world, and each of its six nuclear tests has been more powerful than the last, boosting Mr. Kim’s stature at home and his leverage abroad.  [New York Times]

Also if you are wondering how the North Koreans have been so successful so quick with their nuclear and missile programs, this may explain it:

North Korea has also recruited scientists from the former Soviet Union, offering salaries as high as $10,000 per month, according to Lee Yun-keol, a defector who runs the North Korea Strategic Information Service Center in Seoul and has studied the history of the North’s nuclear program.

In 1992, a plane carrying 64 rocket scientists from Moscow was stopped before departing for North Korea. It is not clear how many, if any, former Soviet scientists made it to North Korea in the decades since.

Theodore A. Postol, a professor emeritus of science, technology and international security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the North has “this fantastic record for flying rockets the first time and having them succeed.”

“We think it’s because they had rocket motors and designs that were basically Russian designs, and they had the expertise of Russian engineers who knew how to solve the problems,” he said.

I recommend reading the whole thing at the link.