Archive for the ‘North Korea’ Category

Korea: A Nobel for Trump?

April 18, 2018




For those who said a meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un was straight out of the La La Land handbook of the pursuit of dreams, then maybe a re-read of the script is worth a while.


President Trump this morning Tweeted in his own La La manner that his CIA director Mike Pompeo was back in Washington after a trip to North Korea during Easter for a meeting with Kim Jong-un. The idea is to fix a summit meeting between Trump and Kim Jung-un, probably in June.


Why would the director CIA be used in this role? Answer: he is Mr Trump’s choice as his next Secretary of State, his foreign minister.


The published hope is to get some deal whereby the North Koreans will give up their nuclear weapons programme in return for a treaty officially ending the 1950-1953 war between North Korea supported by China and South Korea supported by a UN force led by the United States. When fighting stopped, an armistice was declared not an official end to the conflict. Under a new agreement, North Korea would expect sanctions against its economy to be lifted.


This sounds and is all too simple a way to resolve a 65 year-old strategic conundrum that could even now lead the world into nuclear war. A few months ago Trump and Kim Jong-un were openly insulting each other in some Mediaeval pre-war pageant. Trump was threatening to rain down fire and fury. Kim was telling the world Trump needed a brain fix. Today the two men are clearing the diaries for what would be one of the most significant political summits since Reagan met Gorbachev in 1986.


Given this importance, there’s more to it that time clear up a bit of history with a wrong ending and, it goes much wider than Trump doing business his way and Kim Jong-un wanted the status of an international leader with an arsenal of nuclear warheads. It is the story of three, not two ambitions. For Europeans keen to live in a world without black mushroom clouds, then the political tact of Moon Jae-in, the South Korean President should be understood.


Mr Moon is the person who has persuaded Kim to at least publicly murmur that getting rid of nuclear weapons is in the deck of negotiations the three leaders are now shuffling. Six months ago when North Korean were doing a missile or warhead test every couple of weeks, such language was unknown never mind expressed. Moon moved on the real politik. While most watched Washington and Pyongyang for signs of coming together, it was Moon who spotted hesitations and repeats of key words in statements and knew when to nudge the discussions into apparently harmless areas of agreement that a meeting might be possible. There is no point in a meeting unless agreement is possible, otherwise it is a major failure of diplomacy.


Moon became the arch diplomat in praise of famous men only. He said Trump deserved huge credit for almost everything. Mr Trump was pleased. He said Mr Kim was wise. Mr Kim was pleased. So this week the two Korean leaders meet for the next move towards a summit and the CIA director reports back to the Oval Office that everything looks in good-fix mode. June could be summit month.


Or could it? Kim Jong-un is likely to be playing a harder game. Above everything he wants to be treated with respect. He could blow the world in half and would be willing to do so his people in the alleys of South Korea say. Trump could fires someone and pull out of a summit on instinct. Moon could loose his own people in the dangerous political gambit he is playing. But if they pull this June meeting and with it the nuclear agreement and the distinction of affording respect then the most dangerous arc on the globe could become something quite different.


And here is something: if the trio hold this together, what’s the betting there’s a joint Nobel Peace Prize. Who would have thought that in January 2017.

Kim Jong-un unveils his new team. Safe or dirty hands?

May 3, 2016


4 May 2016


Next Friday stare hard at North Korea. Remember what and who you see. On Friday 6 May in North Korea, after more than 30 years wait, there will be a Party Congress – a meeting of apparatchiks and keepers of the inner sanctum of North Korean power.

The faces that will appear will be in new places.  The names will change to protect the innocent?  There is none. This is the meeting that is supposed to take place every five years.  Not one has stood up since the last one in 1980 to ask why no one has put out the chairs.  Only the leader can say and anyone who tries to will probably get what was coming to him anyway – even Kim Jung-un’s relatives do not scare the executioner in that place.

So why have the Congress now?

This is Kim Jung-un’s Coronation. In spite of the smiles, spontaneous clapping at his very appearance it has taken until now for the Dear Leader to get his ducks in a row, shoot those who stood crookedly or to his liking and put in place those he can trust – for the moment. This is his moment to set out his own way of running North Korea and not to be a bag carrier for policies written in the time of his father, Kim Jong-il.

All major committee chairmen and senior members will be appointed and plans for the ambitions of each section of the governance of North Korea will be recognized. New-old faces, new-old policies are part of the code-breaking efforts of trying to read North Korea. There is little point in looking for new guidelines.

What we should look for are the handful of people with power that survive, step forward for the first time or in one particular case, is brought from retirement. For that is the way of the political musical chairs in North Korea.

This is the political postcard of easy targets for the executioners or hard seats for the new men who will keep the Dear Leader in power?

In short, Kim Jong-un appears to have cleared out the old guard some of whom were hang overs from the 1950s and 1960s and who owed their ranks and badges to Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il

The most powerful man in the army Rim Kwang Il is now Director of the KPA – the Korean Peoples Army. He has spent most of the past twenty years eye-balling South Korea and deciding how the KPA would take out South Koreran units and US forces if the long truce should rupture.

And there is a new man as head of the United Front Department directing Intelligence and Policy towards South Korea, Kim Yong Chol. This 4-star general, just turned 70, has control of everything that matters in civilian and military Intelligence. He is also virtually in command of cyber warfare.

The third appointment is the most interesting, Ri Myong Su. He is getting on: 82 and had retired two years ago. But he is to be trusted and the people trust him as one of the reliables of a quarter of a century ago. Most of all, Kim Jung-un will need a safe pair of hands if, as he suspects, the Americans and Japanese (perhaps too the Chinese) are preparing to put pressure on North Korea to abandon the high grade nuclear weapons programme.

The order of battle (orbat) and technological changes in the North Korean army demand new strategies to handle so-called advances. Even the form battle may be fought must change. We think we have seen in the North Korean Operations Bureau more changes at highest levels (seven directors moved out five different defence ministers appointed by Kim Jong-un) than ever before Kim Jong-un took tacit power on 11 October 2011.

But what we really need to know is this: Are these movements of personalities a prelude to a complete change in the way the chiefs of staff corridor operates and an end to the series of denunciations and therefore a feeling that Kim Jong-un is at last getting his military house in order.

The second consideration is something that has been suspected for the past six months or so: Kim Jong-un now has, or thinks he has, a full nuclear/conventional military orbat. So the question is obvious: Friday’s Congress consolidates the authority of the Dear Leader and also the commanding positions of the new order. It comes with more military muscle than he has ever had. It is not a question of will he use it and if so what for.  It is a question of who of the new and the trusted people on Friday has the confidence to see that the new order is used wisely.

A wrong move or worse, a wrongly interpreted step will give the executioner a day’s work and the region the shivers.