Showing posts with label Korea. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Korea. Show all posts

26 September 2021

From the Kabul airlift to BTS at the UN: South Korea’s middle power role

Andrew Yeo

Lost in the flurry of media coverage on Afghanistan last month was a bright piece of news featuring Afghan families, including dozens of children clutching pink or white teddy bears, exiting South Korea’s Incheon International Airport on August 26. They were part of the 391 Afghans airlifted out of Kabul by the South Korean military following the city’s fall to the Taliban. Deemed as “persons of special merit,” many of the Afghans had worked as translators, medical assistants, vocational trainers, and engineers with the South Korean government. What does the U.S. withdrawal mean for allies such as South Korea who offered support for U.S. missions in Afghanistan (and also Iraq), and more significantly, what should South Korea’s broader role be in an increasingly “multiplex world”?

The frantic withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and the recent passing of the 20th anniversary of 9/11 have put spotlights on the wisdom of U.S. intervention and on America’s role in the world in the 21st century thus far. This in turn has spurred further debate about the best course of action for U.S. foreign policy going forward. Whether one advocates for greater restraint or greater activism on the global stage, however, most experts seem to agree that U.S. allies can do more to support regional stability and global order.

23 September 2021

Brief: North Korea Tests a Missile and Biden

Background: North Korea has been relatively quiet for the past year or so while it deals with pandemic pressures and other internal matters, which means it was late in its tradition of testing new U.S. presidents during their first few months in office. But a challenge was only a matter of time. Nothing has fundamentally changed about Pyongyang’s geopolitical situation: It has been in desperate need of sanctions relief for years, and it is perpetually upset about major annual U.S.-South Korean joint exercises that, from the North’s vantage point, are nearly indistinguishable from preparations for an invasion. Given enduring Western concerns about its nuclear and missile arsenals, Pyongyang feels like it has the upper hand.

What Happened: North Korea said it test-launched a pair of new long-range cruise missiles over the weekend. According to North Korean state media, the missiles hit targets around 1,500 miles away, ostensibly giving them the range to reach Japan. The missiles were described as a “strategic weapon,” implying that they’re capable of carrying nuclear payloads, though this has not been confirmed.

4 September 2021

Debating North Korea: US and Chinese perspectives

Susan A. Thornton, Li Nan and Juliet Lee

The deteriorating U.S.-China relationship is hindering prospects for meaningful cooperation on persistent security challenges, including the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) nuclear issue. The threat perception gap, different long-term objectives and increasing mutual suspicion between the two major powers continue to widen despite mutual interest in ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. Both countries view the other as an obstacle to progress—China is seen as prioritizing DPRK regime security over the nuclear nonproliferation regime and nuclear threats, while the U.S. is seen as a destabilizer plotting to contain China. As the region waits to see if and when North Korea will reengage, the U.S. and China should engage now on overcoming obstacles to cooperation and on a possible road map for sustained denuclearization negotiations.

The following exchange of views between Susan Thornton, Project Director of the Forum on Asia-Pacific Security at the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, and Li Nan, Senior Fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, highlights the differing perspectives, mutual suspicions and lingering contradictions between the U.S. and China on North Korea policy and the prospects for future negotiations.

6 August 2021

South Korea: A Middle Power in the Making?

Andrei Lankov

Is South Korea a middle power? This question might be difficult to answer—not least because the term ‘middle power’ is rather nebulous and poorly defined. However, there is little doubt that South Koreans now clearly see themselves as a middle power—and try to act accordingly.

Indeed, in recent few years a sense of triumphalism is in the Seoul’s air—especially among the numerous supporters of the left-leaning Moon Jae-in’s administration. The media writes about Korea’s new global reach, and the book titled The Era of Overtaking has become a major bestseller. Among other things, the book insists that Korea is not catching up with the developed world any more, but is overtaking some major international players.

Thus, let’s follow the triumphalist zeitgeist and agree that Republic of Korea (ROK) is now a middle power indeed. After all, both the size of its GDP (roughly equal to that of Russia) and the power of its military clearly position it high at the international pecking order. If this is the case, what is special about it? How can we compare it with such indisputable middle powers as Sweden, Australia or Poland?

29 July 2021

North, South Korea Agree to Reopen Communication Channels

Mitch Shin

South Korea announced Tuesday morning that it has agreed to restore stalled communication channels with the North and improve ties between the two Koreas. It has been 13 months since Pyongyang shut down all communication channels in June of last year as a protest against the distribution of leaflets by North Korean defectors. The North even blew up the inter-Korean joint liaison office located in Kaesong, showing the extent of its dissatisfaction with the South’s stance on the U.N.-led economic sanctions, South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises, and the “no-deal” Hanoi summit between North Korea and the United States.

South Korea’s National Assembly passed the bill to ban the distribution of leaflets in the North, but Kim Yo Jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, kept insisting that the North will not re-engage in dialogues with the United States or South Korea unless both countries halt the hostile acts against the North.

28 July 2021

China Cannot Solve the North Korea Conundrum

Doug Bandow

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited the People’s Republic of China (PRC) hoping to ease tensions. Her trip appeared to be a grand flop. At least, Beijing officials were anything but conciliatory in public. But why would anyone imagine a nationalistic rising power would respond well to someone whose government publicly announced that she was going to discuss Washington’s “serious concerns” with Chinese behavior?

Although the PRC’s response must have been a disappointment, perhaps it helped end the persistent Washington illusion that China’s leadership is disposed to help the U.S. pressure North Korea into denuclearization. During meetings in Seoul before heading to Beijing Sherman opined that “thinking together about bringing the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is certainly an area for cooperation.” Looking ahead to her PRC swing, she added, “I have no doubt that my conversations in Tianjin in a few days, that we will discuss the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). China certainly has interests and thoughts.”

11 July 2021

South Korea’s Intelligence Agency Confirms North Korean Cyberattacks

Mitch Shin

The National Intelligence Service (NIS) on Thursday told the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee that South Korean companies and public institutions had been damaged by cyberattacks from North Korea.

Ha Tae-kyung, a member of the Intelligence Committee and legislator for the main opposition party, said that the NIS has taken measures to control the damage among companies and public institutions. The North’s attempted cyberattacks on the public sector decreased by 4 percent while its cyberattacks on the private sector increased by 13 percent from last year’s figures, Ha said.

The major public institutions affected by North Korean hacking were related to national security. The Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute was exposed to hacking attacks by North Korea for 12 days; the institute first reported the damage on June 1. According to Ha, the NIS said that the “most sensitive information” was not affected, but it did not give a definition of what constituted sensitive information to lawmakers.

27 June 2021

The Challenge of a Nuclear North Korea

Though North Korea’s nuclearization efforts have faded from the headlines, the country has continued to improve its capabilities. North Korea can now plausibly reach any location in the continental United States with a nuclear weapon, even as Pyongyang has diversified its delivery systems for launching long-range missiles, making its arsenals more likely to survive attack. In the absence of a deal to curb its nuclear and missile programs, North Korea’s arsenal will only grow more lethal.

Striking that deal was at the forefront of former President Donald Trump’s early foreign policy agenda. But despite a period of improved relations between North and South Korea and two unprecedented face-to-face meetings between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jung Un, no clear progress was made toward denuclearizing North Korea. Instead of scoring his own foreign policy win, Trump handed Kim a monumental victory. In engaging with Trump, the North Korean leader not only avoided a military confrontation, but also won concessions—including the suspension of some joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises—and international legitimacy.

26 June 2021

Just How Stable Is North Korea?

Robert E. Kelly

North Korea is once again having food shortages. This is by now a well-known problem, and the government is at least admitting it this time. When North Korea last experienced major food insecurity—in the late 1990s—then-leader Kim Jong Il refused to admit it, as around one million people starved to death around him. Thankfully, current leader Kim Jong-un is admitting reality. This means he is more likely to do something about it. This Kim is no reformer, but at least he seems to care about the state of the economy more than his reclusive, disinterested father.

The cause of this latest round of food insecurity is apparently the weather. The same excuse was used twenty-five years ago. Somehow weather variations do not provoke famine alerts in neighboring South Korea, where I live. The real reasons, as always, are almost certainly political—staggering misgovernment and corruption.

28 May 2021

Provoking to Avoid War: North Korea’s Hybrid Security Strategies

Sico van der Meer

So-called ‘hybrid’ security strategies, sometimes also labelled ‘hybrid warfare’, are much discussed among military and security experts in recent years. Russia is often mentioned as employing such hybrid security strategies, yet there are more states that use them successfully, and, in some cases, for many decades already. North Korea is one of those examples. If one defines a hybrid security strategy as the integrated deployment by states of various means and actors in order to influence or coerce other states with the aim of achieving strategic objectives while avoiding actual armed conflict, North Korea offers an interesting example of how successful such strategies can be in the longer term.

This article concisely analyses the North Korean experience with hybrid security strategies. First, the aims of the North Korean strategy will be discussed. Next, the evolving set of policy tools being used will be described, as well as some special characteristics. The article will conclude with a few general observations and lessons that could be learned from the North Korean case.

23 April 2021

The Incredible Rise of North Korea’s Hacking Army

By Ed Caesar

North Korea, whose government is the only one on earth known to conduct nakedly criminal hacking for monetary gain, has run schemes in some hundred and fifty nations.Illustration by Anuj Shrestha

Shimomura was a member of the Yamaguchi-gumi, the largest yakuza crime family in Japan. When one of his superiors asked him if he wanted to make a pile of fast money, he naturally said yes. It was May 14, 2016, and Shimomura was living in the city of Nagoya. Thirty-two years old and skinny, with expressive eyes, he took pride in his appearance, often wearing a suit and mirror-shined loafers. But he was a minor figure in the organization: a collector of debts, a performer of odd jobs.

The superior assured him that the scheme was low risk, and instructed him to attend a meeting that evening at a bar in Nagoya. (Shimomura, who has since left the Yamaguchi-gumi, asked to be referred to only by his surname.) When Shimomura showed up, he found three other gangsters, none of whom he knew. Like many yakuza, he is of Korean descent, and two of the others were also Korean-Japanese; for a while, they spoke in Korean. The superior finally arrived, and the five men moved into a private room. Each volunteer was given a plain white credit card. There was no chip on the card, no numbers, no name—just a magnetic strip.

18 April 2021

The Most Urgent North Korean Nuclear Threat Isn’t What You Think

North Korea’s resumed nuclear missile testing generates understandable hand-wringing in Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington. Such tests demonstrate Pyongyang’s growing prowess with nuclear weaponry and are a frightening reminder that a crisis on the Korean Peninsula could erupt at any time.

Yet, as troubling as missile tests are, the chances of a war on the Korean Peninsula remain very low. Policymakers should be more concerned about the likelier possibility of North Korea selling nuclear and missile technology to countries in the Middle East.


For three decades, neither diplomacy nor increasingly stringent economic sanctions have reversed North Korea’s ambition to possess nuclear weapons. Nor have they diminished North Korea’s illicit trade relationships with Iran, Syria, and other states in the Middle East. Even during the heady days in 2018 and 2019 of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and former president Donald Trump’s love letter diplomacy, North Korea’s arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles continued to grow. Over the same period, the UN Panel of Experts, which assesses compliance with economic and trade sanctions on North Korea, reported numerous times when North Korean entities sold technology for missiles or weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to buyers in the Middle East

16 April 2021

North Korea’s “tactical-guided” ballistic missile test is no joke for Biden and South Korea

By Duyeon Kim

2014 missile launch of the Iskander-M missile system. North Korea’s March 25, 2021 missile test appears to be an improved variant of the Russian Iskander-style short-range ballistic missile. Credit: Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY 4.0.

North Korea’s March 25 test of two short-range ballistic missiles should be taken seriously. These missiles threaten South Korea and Americans living there. The test unambiguously violates UN Security Council resolutions, and any miscalculation involving these missiles could escalate into nuclear war. War is not imminent or highly probable, but the risks are high. As such, the United States and the international community should respond firmly.

The tests indicate Pyongyang is serious about developing tactical nuclear weapons, which can be achieved by mounting nuclear warheads onto short-range ballistic missiles. After all, Kim Jong Un declared in January that he is pursuing “ultra-modern tactical nuclear weapons including new-type tactical rockets.” At the time, the broader international discourse overlooked this notable threat to South Korea and the United States. Pyongyang now appears to be putting Kim’s declared plans into action—and doing so in earnest.

President Biden reacted by warning that “there will be responses if they choose to escalate. We will respond accordingly.” He also stressed that his administration is prepared for “some form of diplomacy, but it has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearization.” Pyongyang then criticized Biden for making statements that were “detrimental to the dignity and sovereignty” of North Korea and warned of consequences if Washington continued to make “unreasonable remarks” aimed at “slandering” North Korea “as the gravest threat to [America’s] security.”

7 April 2021

The Challenge of a Nuclear North Korea

Though North Korea’s nuclearization efforts have faded from the headlines, the country has continued to improve its capabilities. North Korea can now plausibly reach any location in the continental United States with a nuclear weapon, even as Pyongyang has diversified its delivery systems for launching long-range missiles, making its arsenals more likely to survive attack. In the absence of a deal to curb its nuclear and missile programs, North Korea’s arsenal will only grow more lethal.

Striking that deal was at the forefront of former President Donald Trump’s early foreign policy agenda. But despite a period of improved relations between North and South Korea and two unprecedented face-to-face meetings between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jung Un, no clear progress was made toward denuclearizing North Korea. Instead of scoring his own foreign policy win, Trump handed Kim a monumental victory. In engaging with Trump, the North Korean leader not only avoided a military confrontation, but also won concessions—including the suspension of some joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises—and international legitimacy.

Trump’s approach also dug a hole for his successor, President Joe Biden. His insistence on meeting with Kim in made-for-TV summits undermined the work of American diplomats, while signaling to Kim the benefits of brinksmanship. And Trump’s trade war with China did little to help matters, as it created tensions with Chinese President Xi Jinping, one of the few leaders with any leverage over Kim due to North Korea’s economic dependence on China. North Korea has already issued an early warning shot at Biden ahead of U.S. joint military exercises with South Korea, cautioning the new administration that “if it wants to sleep in peace for the coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.”

6 April 2021

Why South Korea is balking at the Quad

Author: Kuyoun Chung

As great power competition intensifies, South Korea is coming under pressure to choose between the United States and China. At the same time, recognising its waning dominance in the region, Washington is probing the willingness of allies and partners to join a like-minded democratic coalition in confrontation with China.

The anti-access environment — layered by Chinese anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles, armed combat aircraft and submarines — is weakening the US capacity to maintain stability in the region.

China is realigning the US-led economic architecture to solidify its supply chains and increase the economic interdependence of other countries in the region. Hoping to become an indispensable player in East Asia, Beijing is also using its economic clout to weaken the cohesion of the US-led alliance system and bring US allies and partners closer to its orbit.

There is now a sense of urgency for the United States to forge and strengthen a more extensive web of like-minded ‘Indo-Pacific’ democracies. Such a coalition would be instrumental in slowing down the pace of geopolitical flux and reinforcing the hard power behind the liberal order that the Biden administration intends to restore.

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) — comprising the United States, India, Japan and Australia — and Quad-plus, intend to multilateralise the US-led hub-and-spoke bilateral alliance system and encourage spoke-to-spoke cooperation. This is what the United States envisions as part of a networked security architecture.

2 April 2021

North Korea’s new nuclear gambit and the fate of denuclearization

Evans J.R. Revere

With the Biden administration's North Korea policy yet unclear, Kim Jong Un and the North Korean regime are doubling down on their efforts to change the focus of U.S.-North Korea dialogue from denuclearization to arms control, writes Evans Revere. This piece originally appeared in the East Asia Forum.

In March 2012, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho told a group of U.S. experts and former officials that North Korea would not denuclearize until the United States removed its “threat.” He defined this as the U.S.-South Korea alliance, the presence of U.S. troops in South Korea, and the U.S. nuclear umbrella defending South Korea and Japan.

“If you remove the threat,” Ri said, “we will feel more secure, and in 10 or 20 years we will be able to consider denuclearization.” “In the meantime,” he declared, “we can sit down and engage in arms control talks as one nuclear power with another.”

Ri’s remarks provided valuable insight into North Korea’s strategy and goals at the time. Today, his words shed light on why North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has doubled down on nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Faced with a new U.S. president whose North Korea policy remains unclear, Kim Jong Un has decided to pre-empt the outcome of the ongoing U.S. policy review by ending all prospects of denuclearization and expanding his nuclear and missile capabilities instead. In doing so, Kim hopes to compel Washington to engage in “arms control talks” if it hopes to slow the North’s nuclear program.

25 March 2021

The South Korea-US 2+2 Talks: Who Came Out Ahead?

By Sukjoon Yoon

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (far left) and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken (second from left) participate in a 2+2 meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong (second from right) and South Korea Defense Minister Suh Wook (far right) in Seoul, South Korea, on March 18, 2021.Credit: U.S. State Department photo

Last week in Seoul, after a five-year interlude, South Korea and the United States held “2+2” talks between their foreign and defense ministers. The stakes are high at this important juncture. South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s administration has only one year left to implement its nuanced strategy toward the United States and North Korea, following the contentious DPRK-U.S. summits of the Trump era. And new U.S. President Joe Biden is in a hurry to clear up Trump’s mess by reestablishing U.S. global security alliances around the globe, sending the message that “America is back.”

Ahead of the 2+2 talks, it was anticipated that the United States would urge South Korea to sign up to a new foreign and diplomatic initiative, as yet undeclared and perhaps unformulated, intended to manage relations with China and North Korea. Some commentators have speculated that if South Korea does not play ball, then the United States would likely wait for a more cooperative administration, holding only ceremonial meetings for the time being.

20 March 2021

While North Korean Missiles Sit in Storage, Their Hackers Go Rampant


They’ve stolen billions of dollars, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. They’ve paralyzed the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, according to the U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office. And they’ve apparently hacked India’s newest nuclear power plant to steal its designs.

North Korean hackers have gone from spying on and disrupting their South Korean adversaries to stealing large sums of money, robbing cutting-edge technology, and causing havoc. While senior U.S. and Japanese officials are meeting this week to discuss regional security—especially with a focus on North Korea’s missiles—many experts say Pyongyang’s hackers are potentially a bigger threat than the massive rockets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un parades around every year.

“When comparing hackers to missiles, I definitely think that these guys are a bigger threat,” Simon Choi told Foreign Policy. He founded and runs IssueMakersLab, a nonprofit that specializes in infiltrating and tracking North Korean hacker groups. “They’re ready to use [missiles], but they haven’t done it yet. But hacking, we see it happen every day, all around us,” he added.

16 February 2021



Can Washington keep its friends feeling secure and, at the same time, reduce the prominence of nuclear weapons in its national security? That is the needle that President Joe Biden’s administration will try to thread as it faces growing policy tension between alliance management requirements and anticipated adjustments to the U.S. nuclear posture.

Regional threats in Asia and Europe are growing more complex, whether from North Korea’s burgeoning nuclear missile arsenal, China’s combative “wolf warrior” diplomacy, or Russia’s use of cyber attacks and attempted assassinations. The United States also confronts a credibility deficit resulting from President Donald Trump’s transactional treatment of America’s traditional security allies. As a result, U.S. allies in both Asia and Europe express greater fears of alliance decoupling and demand more U.S. assurances.

At the same time, growing fiscal pressures and a desire to revise some aspects of Trump’s nuclear policy propel putative changes to how the United States postures nuclear weapons, both to deter adversaries and assure allies. In particular, the Biden administration could seek to remove ambiguity about whether the United States would use nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear attacks. The 2020 Democratic Party election platform avowed that “the sole purpose of [the U.S.] nuclear arsenal should be to deter — and, if necessary, retaliate against — a nuclear attack.” As vice president, Biden supported sole purpose, so at least the administration seems likely to consider it in the context of their policy reviews. A sole purpose declaration could give U.S. deterrent threats greater credibility and dampen crisis escalation risks with adversaries but potentially at some cost to alliance assurance.

15 February 2021

UN experts: North Korea using cyber attacks to update nukes


UNITED NATIONS (AP) — North Korea has modernized its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles by flaunting United Nations sanctions, using cyberattacks to help finance its programs and continuing to seek material and technology overseas for its arsenal including in Iran, U.N. experts said.

The panel of experts monitoring sanctions on the Northeast Asian nation said in a report sent to Security Council members Monday that North Korea’s “total theft of virtual assets from 2019 to November 2020 is valued at approximately $316.4 million,” according to one unidentified country.

The panel said its investigations found that North Korean-linked cyber actors continued to conduct operations in 2020 against financial institutions and virtual currency exchange houses to generate money to support its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.

The experts previously reported on the continuous involvement in Iran of the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation, North Korea’s primary arms dealer and main exporter of goods and equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons that are under U.N. sanctions.

In the new report, the experts quoted an unidentified country as saying North Korea and Iran “have resumed cooperation on long-range missile development projects ... said to have included the transfer of critical parts, with the most recent shipment associated with this relationship taking place in 2020.”