Is Kim Jong Un in control?
April 5th, 2013
10:41 AM ET

Is Kim Jong Un in control?

By Jason Miks

South Korean media has reported today that two medium-range missiles have been loaded onto mobile launchers along North Korea’s east coast, and that they are ready to be launched. The report comes at the end of another tense weak on the Korean Peninsula that has seen an announcement by the U.S. that it is sending missile defenses to Guam and a North Korean statement that its army has final approval for nuclear strikes against the United States.

In a Situation Room special, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer spoke with Fareed Zakaria to get his take on North Korea’s rhetoric, how serious the latest threats are, and China’s potential role in easing tensions.

Is it time to send some sort of diplomatic envoy to Pyongyang on behalf of the president of the United States?

Well, the Bush administration actually did try diplomacy. They signed two agreements with the North Koreans. Plenty of people did.  The problem is that they cheat on them. They've cheated on every one of these.

There's only one country with whom diplomacy would work with North Korea, and that's China. The Chinese make up by some estimates 50 percent of North Korea's food, and about 80 percent of its fuel. There are people in China who literally opened the taps and allowed North Korea to survive.

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Topics: North Korea
North Korea's bark worse than bite
April 4th, 2013
05:42 PM ET

North Korea's bark worse than bite

This is an updated version of an article published on March 28.

By James Hardy, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: James Hardy is Asia-Pacific editor of IHS Jane's Defense Weekly. The views expressed are his own.

North Korea’s warning Thursday that a “moment of explosion” is nearing has further stoked already intense speculation over its motives following last week’s announcement that it was preparing to target Guam, Hawaii and the continental United States. Meanwhile, reports suggest that Pyongyang may have moved a missile to the east coast of the country.

But the fact is that despite the bombast, and unless there has been a miraculous turnaround among North Korea’s strategic forces, there is little to no chance that it could successfully land a missile on Guam, Hawaii or anywhere else outside the Korean Peninsula that U.S. forces may be stationed.

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Topics: North Korea
No, North Korea can’t hit Hawaii
March 28th, 2013
02:43 AM ET

No, North Korea can’t hit Hawaii

By James Hardy, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: James Hardy is Asia-Pacific editor of IHS Jane's Defense Weekly. The views expressed are his own.

North Korea's announcement via state TV that it was preparing to target Guam, Hawaii and the continental United States – and had readied its “rocket and long-range artillery” forces for the purpose – has inspired a cacophony of speculation across the globe.

But the fact is that despite the bombast, and unless there has been a miraculous turnaround among North Korea’s strategic forces, there is little to no chance that it could successfully land a missile on Guam, Hawaii or anywhere else outside the Korean Peninsula that U.S. forces may be stationed.

Even if North Korea did have the capability and chose to use it, the likelihood of an overwhelming U.S. military counterattack would render any such attack self-defeating for Kim Jong Un’s regime. Indeed, as Danger Room's Spencer Ackerman tweeted a few weeks ago, any such move would amount to "North Korea basically telling the world it would like to be made into a parking lot.”

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Topics: Military • North Korea
Countdown on to next North Korean provocation
March 20th, 2013
07:54 AM ET

Countdown on to next North Korean provocation

GPS speaks with Victor Cha, director of Asian Studies at Georgetown University and former director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council, about the latest developments in North Korea.

The past few weeks have seen North Korean threats of striking the United States, turning a South Korean island into a sea of fire, and “cracking the windpipes” of the country’s enemies. Is this the usual saber rattling that we’ve come to expect of North Korea, or is there something more to this?

It’s usual in the sense that we’ve grown used to North Korea’s blustery rhetoric, threatening others. So that part of it is normal. What is not normal is that the backdrop for this is about a year of very unpredictable behavior by a new leadership, and a sequence of provocations that is more concentrated over a period of time than we have seen in the last 20 years. So in that context, although to the average listener these threats may seem like it’s just the North Koreans firing their mouths off again, for those of us that look at this more closely this is a little bit different – and more concerning.

Is this rhetoric largely for a domestic audience? Is it a sign that Kim Jong Un is struggling to stamp his authority?

Certainly, part of the explanation could be a domestic one, in the sense that he needs to demonstrate his legitimacy as a 28 year-old that is taking over power. But the other thing that I think from a U.S. national security perspective is that this speaks to how unpredictability is really the new normal in dealing with North Korea. North Korea may have seemed unpredictable before. But for policymakers, Pyongyang was actually fairly decipherable. The thing is that now, no one would have predicted that Kim would sit there and spend a whole day with Dennis Rodman, but wouldn’t even meet the chairman of Google. If this guy is really interested in reform, then even just a handshake with the chairman of Google would have signaled that he was somewhat serious. But no, he didn’t do that. So it’s that aspect of it that is concerning and also makes it difficult to say for sure that he is doing this just for domestic legitimacy.

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Topics: Asia • North Korea
March 17th, 2013
01:50 AM ET

Addressing China's concerns over North Korea

By Fareed Zakaria

For decades, Beijing saw Pyongyang as a historical and natural ally. But now, a senior Obama administration official told me Wednesday, “We are clearly hearing increasingly levels of frustration and concern” from Beijing about North Korea. A few weeks ago, a senior Communist Party analyst, Deng Yuwen, argued in an op-ed in the Financial Times that ­China should “abandon” North Korea.

Now talk is easier than action. China has never imposed penalties or strictly enforced sanctions against its ally. Beijing’s reasoning is understandable. We tend to think about North Korea through the prism of two issues: nuclear weapons and human rights. But the Chinese have a more pressing concern — national collapse. If they were to push the North Korean government too hard, they feel, the regime could fall, leaving millions to seek refuge in China. Even more important, China would be bordered by a formal ally of the United States — one with about 28,000 U.S. troops on its soil as well as nuclear weapons. You don’t have to be paranoid to worry about that scenario.

Read more on this in the Washington Post.

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Topics: China • GPS Show • North Korea
March 13th, 2013
09:42 PM ET

North Korea’s high-stakes bluster

By Fareed Zakaria

Karl Marx wrote that history repeats itself the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. And the third time, he might have added, as North Korea. Just when you thought the place could not get any stranger, it did. In the past few weeks, this impoverished, isolated nation has tested a nuclear bomb, threatened a preemptive nuclear attack on the United States, abrogated the armistice that ended the Korean War and declared its intention to “rain bullets” on its neighbor to the South.

No one knows for sure what is going on. It is highly unlikely that these moves are being conceived and directed by Kim Jong Un, the young leader who succeeded his father, Kim Jong Il. North Korea’s military dictatorship has wedded itself to the third generation of the Kim dynasty, which now seems to serve mostly as a unifying symbol for its people. But it is unlikely that a 28-year-old with almost no background in politics or experience in government is conceiving and directing these policies. (He does appear to have free rein on basketball policy in the hermit kingdom.)

Read the full column at the Washington Post

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Topics: North Korea
To tackle North Korea, focus on Russia and China
March 7th, 2013
02:50 PM ET

To tackle North Korea, focus on Russia and China

By Stephen Yates, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Stephen Yates is former deputy national security advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney and currently CEO of DC International Advisory, a consulting firm. The views expressed are his own.

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously passed a new resolution sanctioning North Korea for its third nuclear test. North Korea's reaction to the announcement of a vote?  Threatening to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the United States.

This latest verbal volley is likely bluster, but there is a troubling quality to what we see in North Korea, and it is strategically significant.

On the surface it appears to be a cyclical melodrama – a spoiled child seeking attention or a cynical rogue extracting rewards for bad behavior. But over the last 20 years we have been through multiple leadership changes, multilateral and bilateral negotiations, humanitarian aid and U.N. sanctions, and the one constant is the steady progress North Korea has made on enrichment and other requirements for nuclear weapons. And that progress appears to have accelerated since Kim Jung Un succeeded his father.

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Topics: Asia • China • Iran • North Korea
How to deal with North Korea
February 18th, 2013
12:54 PM ET

How to deal with North Korea

By Global Public Square staff

North Korea's nuclear test drew the usual reprimands from world leaders. President Obama promised swift and credible action. We know what this is likely to mean – more sanctions and greater isolation for Pyongyang.

But what if the answer should really be the opposite? What if the best way to change North Korea is more commerce and communication with it rather than less?

If you look at examples of how we deal with other countries, sanctions rarely work. In Cuba, 54 years of sanctions have kept the Castros in power while its citizens have suffered. They remain isolated with the lowest rate of Internet penetration in the entire western hemisphere.

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Seven ways to get serious with North Korea
February 14th, 2013
10:24 AM ET

Seven ways to get serious with North Korea

By Michael Mazza, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Yesterday, GPS heard from Cato Scholar Doug Bandow, who suggested a hands off response to North Korea’s latest nuclear test. Today, American Enterprise Institute research fellow Michael Mazza suggests a very different response. The views expressed are his own.

Tuesday morning on the Today show, senior Barack Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett asserted that North Korea’s nuclear program “doesn’t strengthen North Korea. It makes it more vulnerable.” If only that were so. While the North’s nuclear weapons do contribute to its international isolation, it’s not at all clear that Pyongyang has any interest in joining the “world community,” as the president so often suggests.

In fact, North Korea’s nuclear achievements have, to date, made it feel less vulnerable. First, they provide leader Kim Jong-un with fodder for domestic propaganda, which may help shore up the regime. Second, and perhaps more importantly, they enhance its nascent nuclear deterrent. Kim and his cronies are already confident they can act with impunity, as they did in carrying out deadly attacks – indeed, what should be seen as acts of war – on South Korea in 2010 with the sinking of the Cheonan naval vessel and the shelling of Yeonpyeong island. As they continue to deploy their own nuclear capabilities, that confidence will surely only grow.

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Topics: North Korea
Time for U.S. to disengage from North Korea crisis
February 13th, 2013
09:47 AM ET

Time for U.S. to disengage from North Korea crisis

By Doug Bandow, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He is the author Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World.’ The views expressed are his own.

Pyongyang has dismissed international criticism of its third nuclear test, claiming to be responding to “outrageous” American hostility.  The proper response from Washington is a yawn.

The so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has long been an international black hole. Totalitarian, impoverished, belligerent, irresponsible. Yet, while a wreck of a country, it has managed to confound its neighbors and the United States.  Despite years of hope that it would either collapse or reform, the Kim dynasty staggers on, a system of monarchical communism seemingly immune to a changing world.

The nuclear test is the latest blow to hopes that Kim Jong-un, the son of Kim Jong-il, heralds a new era of modernization. But this week’s events should not surprise anyone. North Korea doesn’t work for most North Koreans. But it works well for the elite. Its members have little incentive to change. And while it might be nice to rule a wealthier, more powerful nation, opening up the political system risks leaving apparatchiks not only out of power, but hanging from lampposts.

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Time for long-term solution with North Korea?
February 12th, 2013
12:10 PM ET

Time for long-term solution with North Korea?

By Heather Williams, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Heather Williams is a research fellow in international security at Chatham House in London. The views expressed are her own.

Whether the latest North Korean nuclear test destabilizes Northeast Asia in the short-term depends on how it is handled within the U.N. Security Council. The major players in the region have made stability a priority, and are likely to continue to do so. And certainly, if stability is defined as the absence of conflict or risk of immediate conflict, all signs suggest the region will indeed remain stable. After all, China’s continued economic growth is dependent on regional stability, South Korea and Japan are terrified of war with nuclear-armed North Korea, and the United States is anxious about becoming embroiled in another regime change.

But regional players will likely still have to take some sort of action against a belligerent and increasingly aggressive North Korea if there is to be a meaningful chance of maintaining stability in the long term. The hard part, though, is balancing short-term and long-term gains.

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Topics: Asia • North Korea • Nuclear
Why sticks don't work with North Korea
January 25th, 2013
11:59 AM ET

Why sticks don't work with North Korea

By Charles Armstrong, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Charles Armstrong is the director of the Center for Korean Research at Columbia University. The views expressed are his own.

Anyone who has followed North Korean affairs for the last several years (or the last two decades) could have predicted North Korea’s defiant response to the U.N. Security Council resolution this week condemning North Korea’s rocket launch last December and strengthening international sanctions against Pyongyang. But it should also be clear by now that while carrots only occasionally deter North Korea’s provocative behavior, sticks – whether in the form of sanctions or threats of military action – only make North Korea defiant and more bellicose.

In 1994, the first time the United States proposed taking the North Korean nuclear question to the United Nations, North Korea announced that any impositions of U.N. sanctions would be considered “an act of war.” In 2006, and again in 2009, North Korea responded to U.N. sanctions not by giving up missiles and nukes, but ratcheting up the rhetoric. In the past, promises of security and economic aid have persuaded Pyongyang to freeze or reduce its missile and nuclear programs: North Korea halted its plutonium program for eight years following an agreement with the United States in 1994, adhered to a voluntary moratorium on missile tests from 1998 to 2006, and shut down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor in 2007 as part of a multilateral agreement. The record may not be terribly encouraging, but carrots do occasionally work.

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Topics: China • North Korea • United States
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