What the US Should Do with North Korea After the Winter Olympics

Here is what ROK Drop favorite Bruce Klingner says should happen after the conclusion of the Winter Olympics:

Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s nominal head of state Kim Yong Nam, Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in watch an Olympic hockey game in Gangneung, South Korea on Feb. 10, 2018. (Felipe Dana / Associated Press)

Seoul worries that Washington won’t risk Los Angeles for Seoul, but that it would trade Seoul for Los Angeles. Concern is so acute in South Korea, in fact, that Moon thought it necessary to declare: “There cannot be any military action on the Korean Peninsula without a prior consent of the Republic of Korea.”

All this fear could lead to discord between the United States and South Korea, something that in turn could be exploitable by Pyongyang. The North’s participation in the Winter Olympics, which highlighted common Korean themes, is part of Kim’s campaign to drive a wedge between the allies.

If it plays a high-stakes game of brinkmanship, the United States will paint itself into a corner. By defining the completion of North Korea’s ICBM program as an intolerable and strike-inducing event, the Trump administration would be drawing a red line it is not necessarily prepared to hold.

Eventually, every poker player must deliver on their bet, or be revealed as a bluffer. If the United States comes out looking like a bluffer, American credibility will be gravely eroded.

We are now closer to a war on the Korean Peninsula than at any point since 1994. The Trump administration should avoid both a premature return to negotiations and a reckless preventive attack. Instead, it should respond to the growing threat by seriously pursuing its policy of “maximum pressure.”   [LA Times]

You can read more at the link, but I think it is arguable that all the talk of a preemptive strike is part of the “maximum pressure” strategy.  The US government is putting everyone on notice that if maximum pressure does not work because other countries are not complying than the preemptive strike is an option that will be used instead.

Tweet of the Day: Are US and South Korean Relations Fraying?

Should the United States Be Concerned About Anti-Americanism at Pyeongchang Winter Olympics?

I think retired Army officer Steve Tharp makes a fair point to be concerned about an increase in anti-Americanism during the upcoming Winter Olympics.  With that said I think the conditions are a bit different this time compared to the 2002 World Cup where this time I think the likelihood of a large increase in anti-Americanism is low:

Steve Tharp

What is unknown right now is how the Korean populace will react towards the United States and its athletes during the Olympics. In 1988, South Koreans were observed cheering wildly for the Soviet athletes during competitions against the Americans. In 2002, I watched on TV as the South Korean soccer team mimicked a speed skating maneuver in front of the American net after South Korea scored, which brought a very emotional reaction from their fans in the bar where I was watching the game. I found both events disconcerting.

A final factor will be the presence of the North Korean delegation. It has long been my contention that there is a zero-sum game in South Korea when it comes to sentiment for and against the U.S. and North Korea. When pro-North Korean sentiment increases, pro-U.S. sentiment goes down, and the converse is also true. A possible effect of the combined Korean delegation may be that some South Koreans view the U.S. and its athletes in a more negative manner.

I hope my concerns prove unfounded and that we don’t have another spike in anti-Americanism in the coming months. While there is never a good time for a wedge to be driven into the ROK-U.S. alliance, this seems an especially bad time given the current political and security situation. Let’s not repeat history but instead, as they say at the ROK-US Combined Forces Command, “Let’s Go Together!”  [Korea Times]

You can read the whole article at the link, but during the World Cup timeframe many Koreans felt differently about North Korea due to the implementation of the Sunshine Policy.  So when negative incidents involving Americans happened the ROK media, politicians, and public felt free to inflate their importance and bash the US.  The 2002 Armored Vehicle Incident is a perfect example of this; the media published lies, politicians demagogued, and the public relentlessly bashed the US over a tragic traffic accident that USFK was deeply remorseful for.

During this same timeframe the North Koreans deliberately launched an attack that killed six ROK sailors and the media and politicians made excuses while the ROK public paid little notice.  This is how strongly the Sunshine Policy altered the ROK public’s perceptions of the US and North Korea.

Since 2002, the Sunshine Policy has been revealed as a sham that gave the Kim regime billions of dollars to help develop their nuclear and ballistic missile programs.  Additionally the North Koreans have made many deadly provocations to include sinking a ROK naval ship killing 46 sailors and even shelling a South Korean island with artillery.  The change in perceptions of North Korea by the ROK public compared to 2002 is most evident by the relatively cool reception North Korean athletes are receiving that will attend the Winter Olympics.

With all these factors converging at the Winter Olympics I would not be surprised if US athletes receive cheers from the ROK public if they end up competing against a North Korean athlete.

North Korea Says It Wants US Out of South Korea Before Any Unification Happens

As expected the Kim regime is continuing their efforts of trying to separate the ROK from the US in their strategy to seek a confederation on North Korean terms:

North Korea has reaffirmed its commitment to ultimately reunite with South Korea, but not before rejecting any involvement by the U.S. and any other foreign powers on their shared East Asian peninsula.

The phrase “By Our Nation Itself” has frequently appeared in North Korea’s official media, attributing it to various bodies of government or its supporters. It was first conceived during a 2000 joint declaration in which the leaders of the two rival states “agreed to solve the question of the country’s reunification independently by the concerted efforts of the Korean nation responsible for it,” as quoted by state-run website Uriminzokkiri, which was named after the phrase. Most recently, it popped up in an article published Wednesday by the official Korean Central News Agency, which included it in the context of current negotiations between the two Koreas.

In remarks attributed to pro-North Korea site Jaju Sibo, described by The Diplomat as the successor to an online outlet shut down by South Korea’s strict anti-communist laws, an individual titled the honorary chairman of the Association for Supporting Prisoners of Conscience of the Family Movement for Realizing Democracy in South Korea “urged the authorities to adhere to the principle of By Our Nation Itself in mending the north-south relations.”

He also said “the authorities should abolish institutional and legal barriers such as repeal of the ‘Security Law,'” or National Security Act, which forbade South Koreans from expressing support for North Korea or communism in general.  [Newsweek]

Moon Administration Wants to Open Talks with North Korea Starting Next Week

The Moon administration seems giddy after Kim Jong-un’s New Year message offering to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics:

This photo, taken on Jan. 2, 2017, shows Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon proposing high-level talks with North Korea next week. (Yonhap)

Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon proposed Tuesday holding high-level talks with North Korea, Jan. 9, to discuss its participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

Cho’s offer came in response to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s message, in which he said he was willing to send a delegation of athletes to the South’s first Winter Olympics.

Minister Cho suggested holding the cross-border dialogue at the truce village of Panmunjeom. He said Seoul is open to discuss the timing, venues, methods and other preparatory steps regarding the talks with Pyongyang.

“We propose to hold high-level talks on Jan. 9 at the Peace House (on the South Korean side of Panmunjeom),” Cho said during a press conference at the ministry in downtown Seoul. “We’re willing to talk with the North freely over the necessary steps both sides must take. To do so, the dialogue channel at Panmunjeom should be restored promptly. We expect to hear a positive response from the North soon.”

If North Korea accepts, this will be the first cross-border dialogue since President Moon Jae-in took office in May 2017. It will also be the highest-level contact between the two Koreas since December 2015 when vice minister-level officials met.  [Korea Times]

You can read more at the link, but for long time Korea watchers like myself this is just another example of the pattern with North Korea of raising tensions with provocations and then conducting a charm offensive to get concessions.  Once they get the concessions they will then break whatever agreement they made and blame the US and the ROK and restart the provocation cycle.

What is different this time is President Trump seems determined to enforce stricter sanctions and President Moon seems determined to start another Sunshine Policy particularly trying to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex.  I can easily see a return to the failed Sunshine Policy causing tension politically between the US and the ROK which is likely one of the goals of the Kim regime if they do implement a charm offensive.

Is it Time to Conduct A Preemptive Strike on North Korea?

That is what this retired Naval Captain is advocating for in his article published on the US Naval Institute website:

Limited strikes should be targeted carefully and focused on North Korea’s specific provocation. A good start would be to take out the next North Korean intercontinental test missile on its launch pad. Before making such a preemptive strike, however, careful consultation with allies, particularly South Korea and Japan, would be essential. Controlling escalation would require the adept execution of sound tactical and strategic plans that had already been established.

In the wake of such strikes, Kim likely would feel compelled to act. If rational, he would respond in ways that would  not promote a wider war. Especially because this is an unknown factor, it would be wise to prepare  for cyber and maritime aggressions similar to his more serious provocations in 2010. Such planning would dovetail with the development of sound preplanned responses to  increase the odds of  U.S. military success at this “escalate to deescalate” strategy. The nature of North Korea’s reaction to military strikes—rational or irrational—would shape U.S. and its allies’ policies to protect their citizens.  [US Naval Institute]

You can read more at the link, but I to am skeptical of the claim that Seoul will be destroyed if a limited strike is conducted against the Kim regime.  Kim knows if he attacks Seoul then a regime change war would be justified to remove him from power.  A limited military response in response to a preemptive strike would allow Kim to save face while not triggering a regime change war.

I tend to think that if for example his nuclear and ICBM facilities are targeted he would respond by targeting the bases where the bombers came from with ballistic missiles such as Andersen AFB on Guam or US military facilities in Japan.  I also think ballistic missile and even terrorism attacks against US bases in South Korea or Japan are a possibility.

I also think the ROK will not support a preemptive strike and will publicly make that known in an effort to not have military retaliation occur against South Korea.

So what does everyone else think?  Is it time to conduct a preemptive strike on North Korea?  If so what do people think the response would be?