Posts Tagged ‘Kim Jong-un’

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.



US Interrogators Go For Kim Jong-un’s General

April 11, 2016


11 April 2016


US interrogators have been working over a North Korean general. No water boarding.  No white sound. No hood. No extraordinary rendition. This one was a walk-in. This was a two-star North Korean general who defected from his Dear Leader last year.

The word in Washington and Seoul is unanimous. The man is no has been looking for a  a never empty rice bowl. On the day he jumped the general was head of overseas Intelligence gathering for North Korea’s General Bureau of Reconnaissance. He was the officer who signed off spy operations against South Korea including US force capabilities in the south.

So, what have the interrogations produced? There are four main phases of interrogation for the two-star.

Firstly and immediately he needs checking out. Is he who he says he is? Why has he come over? It has to be understood that this man did not simply climb over the fence one dark and stormy night. Why now? Why not before? Why not next year? It took a lot of planning and nerve and a need for reassurances before he jumped. Was his move pure Le Carre? Did he come in from his northern cold? Who were his handlers from day one?  What promises of protection and comfort were made?

Secondly, the first phase of practical interrogation is tactical questioning. His interrogators South Korean and American started list building. Names of senior people. Their jobs. What is everyone working on now?

Immediately and importantly, he has handed over a list of all the North Korean spies and wiring diagrams of spying operations by his people in South Korea.

The general has also given what he thinks he knows about key tactical plans by North Korea: test firings, power demonstrations, readiness states of forces, senior personnel changes. This phase is on-going. The general is now having to do a daily reading of  the North. What does this action mean? Who is this person we have not seen before? Etc.

The third stage is strategic intelligence. For example, he has been asked about Kim’s personal standing among senior generals – thus what chance a palace revolution.

The longer look interrogation has included power levels of general officers, state of mind of The Dear Leader, military capababilities and matching intentions (if any known) plus the all-important routines of North Korean leaders – Kim is not the only authority in the state. The interrogators have established and in some cases confirmed what they were not sure about and raised questions about what they thought was true.

Who meets, when they meet, under whose chairmanship, to whom they report has two-fold significance: it suggests power levels and confirms patterns that are indicators of events about to happen.

They key question on the interrogation list it seems could not be answered with any certainty. The general revealed information and confirmed what is already thought about what is going on in North Korea. However, although he said what he believes about capabilities he could not get far with the intentions of Kim Jong-un. Put simply, he said that this is what the leader has but the general had not idea what he intends to do with it.

There has apparently been an important uncertainty in the interrogation. Officers have had to spend time deconstructing the answers from the general.  There has been a suspicion that sometimes he simply told the Americans what he thought they wanted to hear – to make himself more important.

The two main assets the general has brought south are one practical and two theoretical: He has given the South Koreans and the Americans the names and operations of North Korean spying operations and plans. He has also given his thinking on what the United States has long believed to be the only practical solution beyond warfare to relations with North Korea: the possibility of a palace revolution.

We have the answer to the last question: if there was chance of a palace revolution and the replacement of Kim Jong-un by his own people then why would the general have defected?

Moreover it is understood (whoever that can mean in this situation) that he feared his loyalties were being questioned and that would mean execution. However that is read, the Americans are assuming the Dear Leader is there for the long term.

They now need the general to give a running explanation of every move from now on. British Intelligence will nod to that one. It is a game they too have played.

In 1985 a Soviet KGB colonel Oleg Gordievsky who had worked for British Intelligence was brought back to the UK.  He spent years after that telling British governments, including that of Margaret Thatcher, exactly what the USSR was up to.

Taken as precedent, that should be a comfortable day job for the two-star general.




North Korea’s nuclear target: Hiroshima?

February 7, 2016


6 February 2016, London

The North Koreans have done what the Dear Leader Kim Jong-un said they were going to do; they have launched another rocket claiming that it was putting a satellite into space.

The Americans have not done what they said they were going to do. Reprisals.

The Japanese have not done what they said they were going to do: shoot it down if they feel threatened. They feel threatened.

Back in 1957, the Soviet Union space department launched the first satellite into space, Sputnik 1.  That was the start of the Cold War threat called intercontinental nuclear warfare and it lead to the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction. Why? Because you cannot put a satellite into space unless you have built a rocket capable of taking the satellite there – into space.  Once you have built that rocket it gets a second name: missile.

The same rocket/missile is what it takes to put a re-entry vehicle into space that comes back into the atmosphere to hit a target on earth.

That is the system the British and American use in their Trident missiles (the US has also 450 Minuteman III)).  It is the same used by the Russians in their 13 types of ICBMs (Ballistic missiles) including Scarp, Satan, Tool, Stingray, Skiff and Bulava (these are the NATO names for the Russian missiles). China is in there too with Dong Feng, the Israelis with Jericho III, Pakistan Taimur and India is developing Agni VI.

Kim Jong-un thinks that is a good club to join.  Every one respects its members.

The rocket firing from North Korea on Sunday last does not change the strategic balance in Asia or anywhere else.  However we should reasonably suspect that the Dear Leader is trying to join the ICBM club.

Kim Jong-un would then expect the other nuclear club members to take him seriously.  Show some respect is the way he sees it. No one messes with a man who has a long range rocket that he now calls a missile especially if he is developing a fission and after that a nuclear fusion warhead.

Kim Jong-Ng would like respect.  Read North Korean statements on bi-lateral talks with almost anyone especially the US.  Somewhere in each statement there is a veiled or upfront demand for respect.  That is not the clue to dealing with the Dear Leader but it is something we have to take on board if we are going to get to Key Stage 2 with him.

Instead the United Nations is stumbling about trying to fix a lot of sanctions that will bring Kim Jung-un to heel. Sanctions? He self-imposes.  The North Koreans have more self-inflicted sanctions than the Sicarii rebels of first century Masada.

So where are we with the North Korean leader?

He has a crude nuclear capability.  His scientists tell him that he has better than that – a fusion bomb. There is evidence to suggest they are telling him what he wants to hear. They are close, but no cigar. But soon it will happen.

His rocket engineers are more or less there.  They need enhanced stage propulsion and then the capability of remote command for re-entry.

But then what? What would he do with it? First he has capability that cannot be ignored. A place at arms control talks?  Kim Jong-un does not go to arms control talks nor does he need to. Who needs arms control when you have just arrived on the block?

The Future Intentions (for that read Nightmares) Intelligence Analysts outside Washington DC have a recurring and increasingly mind-cramping scenario in wargaming. In time of amazing regional tension, the Dear Leader will order nuclear release on two targets. Neither will be South Korean nor American bases.

The gamers say the targets would be: Hiroshima on Day One and Nagasaki on Day Two.  Respect? Then what do the UN Sanctions Planners do?






Just how dangerous is the world today?

October 10, 2015


12 October 2015


The way it sounds on the networks and the OpEd pages the world is close to WWIII. Syria is on the brink of something although few pundits can say what. Afghanistan is about to go under. A second Intifada is revving up. NATO is sending more troops to the old Soviet borders. Oil is creeping back – a sure sign that no one is in control. Gold is up – a sure sign that a global problem is slipping into crisis status.

But is the world really in such a social and security meltdown? Could it just be that the globe is coping with little local difficulties and not much more? A quick round-up from East to West is in everyone’s interests.

North Korea beloved leader Kim Jong-un said a couple of days ago that his country is easily ready to defend itself if the United States starts trouble. His corps de ballet militaire performed exquisitely in Pyongyang’s main square, jets flew above in tight formation, tanks and full missile carriers rumbled below and Mr Kim made his first public speech in three years. Then they went home. Not even a missile test worth the bang.

China is building artificial islands in South China Sea and America and Japan says they should not and so China has carried on building knowing that no one is going to war over this.

In Sri Lanka the civil war moral tragedy is a matter for the UN but no one is fighting.

To the north, Pakistan and India still disagree over Kashmir, but apart from a few practise shots, no one is going to war over that blunder as once they did.

In Afghanistan, the security mess will get worse, Taliban (Afghanistan) and Taliban (Pakistan) will make inroads, the Americans will deploy troops for longer than expected, but there is nothing going on that suggests a return to the events of the opening decade and a half of this century.

In Africa, there is no way that Libya is on the road to peaceful government but nor is the carnage of just a couple of years back being repeated.

Further south the Boko Haram threat is broadened but not any greater.  The gunmen are on the streets of Guinea but the elections will go ahead as planned.

The UN has 19,000 troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 12500 in South Sudan, 12,000 in the Central African Republic and 10,000 in Mali.  Something’s working there in spite of minor conflicts, skirmishes, coups and corruption as a matter of course.

In Europe, there is Ukraine.  Potentially but mostly theoretically, there is a chance of an East West confrontation but not really. Why?  Because in spite of posturing and statements from NATO, the Alliance will not go to the mattresses over Ukraine and Russia bets on this.  There’s nothing doing in the rest of Europe other than a few separatist groups.

Of course there is Syria etc.  Is it so bad in historical warfare terms? Just about. Two years from the original protest in Damascus in March 2011, the deaths had reached 100,000.  That was a landmark figure that continued to multiply and does not look like stopping. Daesh or whatever we are to call the butcher terrorists is all about asymmetric warfare.  It is not state on state and thus, and this is hard to say, not so bad as might have been.

So this very crude audit of world warfare says there is plenty of politics, plenty of $m ordnance being used but not so many killed.

In truth 95% of the world is not at war. Most people have never heard a shot fired in anger. We might think on that as part of the reason that there are no boots on the ground anywhere that matters.

Christopher Lee

April 7, 2013


North Korea: US Runs Scared And Aunty Calls The Shots

7th April 2013

As the US cringes before the brain-challenged image of Kim Jong-un and postpones this week’s American ballistic missile test, guys traveling down here from Pyongyan tell me two things: the US missile postponement is nothing to do with diplomacy and,  we really should get to know Kim’s auntie.  Let me explain.

The US has announced that it will not be test firing a missile from its west coast because it may be seen as a provocative act by the North Koreans and that will only get them spiking the military rhetoric.  Washington is being pretty cool and responsible? That’s not the way the North Koreans see it.

The reason the Americans are not firing up the ballistic missile is that it was not a test for that piece of hardware.  What was supposed to have happened is this: the ballistic missile is fired. Then a second missile, called an anti-ballistic missile, is fired at the first one to knock it out.  But similar tests have not been too good. Most of the anti missile rockets have thus far missed!  Get the problem for the US?

If this week’s test had been a failure for the anti-missile weapon as earlier ones were, you would have heard hours and hours of Kim Jong-un that North Korea rules OK and that they would be firing a missile at Guam because the American technology was far behind North Korea’s and that the announcement last week the US was deploying anti missile defences to Guam was a joke – all in one breath.

Just to prove the point, Kim would have been shown on NK TV pressing the red button to fire one of his missiles over Japan into the ocean and then asking where was the mighty western superpower with all its hardware?

So imagine what American allies in the China Seas littoral states would think: America could not defend them, so why sign up for this confrontation?

That’s the straightforward read-out of the US diplomatic move to calm the situation this week: not diplomacy, just a safe bet that its military might display would have been a failure. This is not the week to show the world that a lot of the US military machine is like a 1950s automobile – plenty chrome but no starter motor.

Now we come to the best part of the travelers tales from north of the DMZ.

If you really want to know who pulls the strings in North Korea, forget the chubby kid with the crazy hair.  The place is being run by Rosa Klebb, the nastiest bit of work ever seen in a Bond movie. Dear old Rosa was a fiction of course.  The real Rosa Klebb is Kim Jong-un’s little ol’ aunty who goes by the handle, Kim Kyong-hui.  She is the power behind the reinforced concrete throne of the boy leader in Pyongyang.

Her day job is director of North Korea’s Department of Organization and Guidance.  If the Department says it, you do it.  If the department says don’t do it, guess what? You don’t do it.  If of course you think you’re smart and disobey Kim Kyong-Klebb’s department, then it’s not even a trip to the salt mines.  Dead simple, go against the system and you’re toast. She’s that powerful.

Ms Kim was the sister of the last beloved leader, Kim Jong-il.  When even he realized his days were coming to an unbelievable end, he anointed his son Kim Jong-un as successor and put his sister in charge of teaching the young man to walk and chew rhetoric at the same time.  It was she who orchestrated the latest tirade but it was not to test America.  

She had two reasons: this was a test on the resolve and reaction of the just elected leader of South Korea President Park.  Ms Park also comes from a distinguished political dynasty.  Kim Kyong-Klebb needed to know how tough she was.  She’s found out that Ms Park is tough indeed.

The second purpose of what has become an international incident was to show that she’d brought on the boy as a good enough leader to rule over any officials and in particular any military clique who thought he was soft in the head and that the time was approaching for the generals to take over.

With a lot of help from the American, Aunty Kim has had a good couple of weeks.

So watch out for the token missile firing (the North Korean one that is) and US-China backstairs diplomacy to get on not quite new best friend terms with Kim Jong-un.  If it works, then it’ll be because Aunty says so.

Christopher Lee

March 31, 2013


Korea: The Director’s Cut.  Not Good Viewing

30th March 2013

Kim Jong-un is the movie buff who runs North Korea and wants a silo-load of nuclear tipped missiles to frighten the other guy, the other guy being President Barack Obama who is not a movie buff  but does have enough nuclear warheads to meltdown North Korea in an afternoon.

Kim Jong-un hasn’t the firepower to melt a marshmallows.  You would have thought no contest.  You would have thought wrong.

The North Korean has America prancing around the region like a tag wrestler winding up his image; China wondering what the hell it has to do to keep junior in line; the Japanese doing gold pen affairs on any defence treaty that will make them feel secure – which they will not – and, South Korea saying that maybe the latest north-south of the Panmunjon line spat is just another incident and it’ll go away some time soon.

There’s major problem in all this. Kim the movie man has to learn the difference between a trailer and a main feature and Washington is banking on this. So is China. So is Japan.


Kim has ordered his troops to go stand-by for a full scale war against America and South Korea.  He’s pulled the plug on the hot line. He’s told his rocketeers to point them south – long range and short. Targets are on his mental pinboard: Guam. Hawaii. Washington State and DC – he doesn’t care which zip code gets it.

According to this man “The time has come to settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists in view of the prevailing situation.” Which is what?

Back in February, Kim’s people ran a nuclear test. The UN, egged by the US, raised further sanctions on North Korea. The Americans are running manoeuvres with the South Korean military.  They’ve flown a couple of long range Stealth bomber operations over the Korean peninsular, had two dummy bombing B-52s in the area and made sure Kim’s seen the newsreels.

Kim says all this is bad news and shows no respect for his position.  He does not mention that he has to prove to his generals that he’s no easy shake down when it comes to facing off Obama. So then we get warm to the problem.

It could be of course that Kim is hanging on to an old North Korean tradition.  Every time there is a new President in South Korea, the North Koreas wing off a couple of rounds and test the resolve of the new man.  Just last month, South Korea got a new President, Park Geun-hye.   

Well that could explain everything excepting that Kim needs fast track nuclear weapons development so that he can get one-on-one respect from the US because any White House will be nervous of any genuine nuclear power.  Kim knows his recent history.  

India and Pakistan were given a hard time by America when it was heard they may be getting into nuclear weapons.  But once they were in, the rhetoric from Pennsylvania Avenue dropped to flesh pressing and newest best friends rating.  

And now Kim sees Iran getting the hard time from America just like him.  He also senses that if America had been going to do something about Iran, they would have done so or got their Middle East legman, Israel to do it.  They may still happen but Kim is not betting what’s left of the North Korean ranch on it.

But Washington’s nervousness is that Obama’s analysts are telling him that Kim has pulled this Red Alert trick before and backed down. So nothing to worry about.  Not so say Obama’s think tankers.  Could be that Kim realizes that his own generals and the crowds in the big state capital Pyongyang Square on 24-hour demo are going to be thinking that the wonderful leader is just big on screaming Death To The US Imperialists and nothing else.  Seems the whole nation is short on respect.

So the real fear is not an all-out rocket attack from the North Koreans but just maybe there’ll be a couple of fly-over rockets and maybe a border incident, maybe two.

There’s a dull truth that the Americans don’t want to share.  North Korea really is on the same sort of position as Iran.  If Kim wants nuclear weapons, chances are that the US will not, in spite of the diplomatic arm twisting, be able to do anything about it.  In the Middle East, the people to stop the Iranians at lastminute-dot-bomb are the Israeli.  They have the regional interest that cannot be denied and the rest of the world that matters in this business will leave it to them.

In the Far East, China is the local Israel.  They have the most to lose if North Korea go nuclear. They may not pull a raid on the test facilities, but they are the only hope of cutting Kim down to size.

The realistic thinking in the White House is that China won’t do it and North Korea won’t go down the diplomatic trail.  Then what?  That’s the last superpower’s problem.  The US doesn’t know what to do.  They talk about Kim having something to prove.  He hasn’t really. But this American President has.  Next American president may well discover on her or his watch, that North Korea is about to get the kiloton magic mushroom.  Then what happens?  Washington doesn’t know. That is what’s known as scary diplomacy especially in a week when US movie buffs are watching a new release.  It’s theme is a North Korean attack on America. This is not a trailer.