Breaking News: UN Security Council Adopts Resolution 2321

On Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2321, adding more sanctions to the North Korean regime as a way to choke off the regime from its sources of hard currency. The resolution was adopted 82 days after North Korea fifth nuclear test on September 9.

The sanctions will close a major loop hole present in previous attempts to siphon off cash flow from the regime.  Coal exports – the single biggest export item and source of hard currency – are capped at 7.5 million tons even if the export is for livleyhood reasons.  This cap represents a cut of North Korean ability to make money exporting coal by 60% or around $700 million, a quarter of its exports.  The resolution also forces countries to reduce the number of North Korean officials at North Korean missions.  North Korea could also see its membership to the United Nations suspended if it continues its push for nuclear weapons.

South Korea welcomed the passing of the resolution, calling it a milestone, similar to resolution 2270 which was adopted earlier this year.  The Foreign Ministry released a statement detailing its praise for the resolution.  “The government strongly welcomes that the resolution was unianimously adopted, with the backing of China and Russia, in response to North Korea’s fifth nuclear test,” the statement read.  South Korea is set to work with United Nations memeber nations to enforce the strong round of sanctions.

The looming question, as it has been with other adopted sanctions, is the role of China in enforcing the new round.  China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner, and supplier of aid, and is normally adverse to strong sanctions on the reclusive nation; China fears collapse of North Korea may lead to an economic nightmare as refugees pour across the Tumen River seeking better opportunities, and that a unified Korea places a strong democracy right at its border.  However, China may also save face, as it has done in many situations, and enforce this round of sanctions as a way to show its opposition to the North Korean nuclear program.


Daily Update – November 28

South Korea

Politics – President Park Geun-hye, at 2:30pm local time, gave a public statement on the ongoing political scandal, her third statement since news of the scandal broke earlier this month.  In her statement, Park expressed her grave apologies for the continuing trickle of information regarding this scandal.  Park also stated that she never followed her personal interests throughout her 18 years in public office.  The major aspect of her short speech was Park saying that she will regulate the shortening of her term to the National Assembly.  This is the first Park has highlighted any path forward.  However, Park refused to answer questions following her statement.*  As Korea looks forward, Park’s future is uncertain, as the impeachment motion in the National Assembly will require votes from 28 Saenuri Party members. This is not a small task, though is not impossible (some local media outlets have hinted that this is fairly likely).  If impeachment passes the National Assembly, the motion will move to the Constitutional Court where it will need 6 votes from the judges to finalize Park’s impeachment – a total of 9 sit on the court.  If ousted from power, South Korea’s second most powerful politician, Prime Minister Hwan Kyo-ahn will take over as president.  This is uncharted for South Korea in a variety of forms.  Park is the first president to be a suspect in an abuse of power scandal – though many presidents have been tangled up in scandals while in office, many involving family members – and, if impeached, Park will be the first democratically elected South Korean president to be ousted from the office.

*I have sourced the video and the translated script of her third address.  Though the video is not my favorite, it does illistrate her walking off stage as reporters blurt out questions.

(Due to the importance of the above story, will include the other major political development in tomorrow’s Daily Update.)

Economics – The Korea Labor Institute (KLI) released a study showing that the top .1% of Koreans make around 360 million won ($308,000) per year.  This category was dominated by executive officers, who made up 29% of this group.  Other professions in this category included Doctors at 22%, Business Owners at 12.7%, Stock Shareholders at 12.5%, Financial Sector Employees at 7%, and Property Owners at 4%.  Specialist Laborers made up 0.1%.  Missing from this category were positions in public service as well general service positions.  KLI conducted this study by examing the tax reports and income survey data from the Ministry of Employment and Labor.

Culture – South Koreans have taken to the streets to protest against their scandal-ridden president.  On Sunday, 9 major protests all ended peacefully, while also breaking a national record with 1.9 million participants.  The U.S. State Department even heralded the protests, with John Kirby saying, in a press briefing, “that is how democracy works,” and that South Koreans are exercising their democratic right.  However, some protestors are arguing that the non-violence embraced in the protests is not working, citing the simple fact that Park remains president despite five straight weeks of 1 million plus people gathering in Seoul to call for the ousting of her from South Korea’s highest office.  Below are a few pictures of the protests:south-korea-protests-are-peaceful-democratic-us-state-department-saysFrom UPI on November 28, 2016Protesters hold candles during an anti-government rally in central SeoulFrom Reuters on November 19, 2016k2016111300122_650From the Korea Times on November 12, 2016 (Signs translate to Park Geun-hye Resign)

North Korea

News – Kim Jung-un has declared a three-day mourning period following the death of Fidel Castro this weekend.  Kim also visited the Cuban Embassy to pay his condolences to Castro, calling him a brave comrade in arms.  On Monday, a group of North Korean elite set off to Havanna to attend the memorial services for Castro; the group was headed by Choe Ryong-hae.  North Korea has also ordered its flags to be flown at half-mast, in honor of the dictator.

Seoul-based Traditional JusticeWorking Group is working to release a report on North Korean mass graves for victims of human rights abuses in the reclusive state.  The group says it has gotten a grasp of 12 places which may be home to mass graves, following its examination of satellite photos as well as 277 interviews with defectors.  They hope to publish the report in April-May of next year.

Yonhap News reported that a fresh new round of sanctions on North Korea may be handed down the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday.  According to sources cited by Yonhap, the new sanctions would place a cap on North Korean coal exports at 7.5 million tons, or around $400 million, a 60% cut from the North’s current export rate of around $700 per year worth of coal.  The new sanctions will also add copper, nickel, silver and zinc to the list of minerals North Korea is banned from exporting.  Overall, the sanctions may cut North Korean revenue by as much as $800 million annually.  This round of sanctions comes 82 days after Pyongyang conducted its fifth nuclear test in September, highlighting the growing divide over how to sanction the regime for its continued nuclear ambitions.

Leadership Watch – North Korean leader Kim Jung-un provided on the spot guidance to various fields in Samjiyon County on Monday.  During his visit, Kim paid homage to his father, Kim Jong-il, and grandfather, Kim Il-sung.  He also visited the Samjiyon Culture Hall where he learned about the production of art and film, pushing artists to create which will uphold the revolutionary ideals of Juche and the Workers Party of Korea.  Kim also visited a school where he underscored the need for a proper, North Korean education.  He visited the Camp for Visitors to the Samjiyon Revolutionary Battle Sites, and concluded his trip by watching Sajabong Sports team in training.  Accompanying Kim on this trip was Choe Ryong Hae, member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the C.C., the WPK, vice-chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK and vice-chairman of the C.C., the WPK, and Kim Yong Su, department director of the C.C., the WPK.+

+This report is based on sources from North Korean state media, mainly the Korean Central News Agency and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Site News

So, I am still trying to cement myself into a structured system of posting, though that has been fairly difficult because of extenuating circumstances and for that I apologize.  Daily Updates will resume shortly, I promise.

As for good news, my first long read is up and I hope you enjoy it.  I tried my hardest to synthesize and analyze a very complex debate into only a few paragraphs.  Any mistakes in facts are mine alone as are any confusing and/or weak sections of the post.  My next long read will cover the Choi Soon-sil scandal which I am going to start soon.

Thank you for understanding that life is a thing.  I miss my Daily Updates, but for now, enjoy the first long read analysis on the blog.

THAAD and the Korean Peninsula

This year, THAAD deployment in South Korea has been a hotly debated topic throughout the Korean peninsula and, in greater scope, throughout the entire world.  Debates over THAAD deployment have shaken the political landscape of South Korea.  North Korea, China, Russia, and the United States have also expressed strong opinions on the deployment.  This post will examine the debate of THAAD deployment in South Korea, looking into what THAAD is capable of while also looking deeply into how THAAD deployment has been debated by the international community.  It will conclude with some final remarks of my own on THAAD deployment.

What Is THAAD?  Is North Korea a threat?

THAAD, or the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System, is a modern missile defense system.  It is a land-based system which uses hit-to-kill technology – kinetic energy destroys the warhead in the air – to mitigate the effect of enemy weapons before they hit the ground (MDA Factsheet).  THAAD consists of four major components; a highly mobile truck-based launcher with 8 interceptors per launcher; the largest x-band radar in the world; and communications to link the system to the entire BDMS.  THAAD has an effective range of 200km, with a maximum effective altitude of 150km, which makes it more promising than any other South Korean missile currently deployed or under development (South Korea Needs THAAD: Klinger).  In theory, the deployment of THAAD in South Korea would work to enhance South Korea’s defense against North Korean provocations and, in the case of an all out resumption of the Korean War, it would defend South Korea against the variety of missiles North Korea launches.

In order to appropriately assess the effectiveness of THAAD in South Korea, one must examine the threat of North Korea.  Throughout the 21st century, the North Korean threat has constantly evolved as North Korea has worked to procure more advanced military hardware.  The nuclear and missile programs have long produced debate and fear in the region and beyond.  But how has the North Korean threat evolved to the point where THAAD is seen as necessary?

In 2006, North Korea became the first and only nation to conduct a nuclear test in the 21st century.  Pyongyang then followed with two more tests, one in 2009 and 2013.  Following its 2013 test, North Korea, in a letter sent to the United Nations, claimed it had the capability to precisely strike “bases of aggression… no matter where they are in the world” (UN Doc.S/2013/91: Dated 13 February 2013).  In January 2016, North Korea tested its fourth nuclear weapon.  So far, 2016 has seen a large push for advancement in the nuclear realm.  Two hours after testing, Kim Jung-un claimed North Korea had tested a “hydrogen bomb of justice” (Yonhap).  Kim has also pushed for miniaturizing nuclear warheads throughout the year; in March of this year, Kim posed for a photo-op with a mini-warhead (The Sun). North Korea further cemented its nuclear push during the 7th Worker’s Party Congress in May when Kim heralded the program as a path to dignity and security (NY Times).  The evolution of North Korea’s nuclear program forces those in the region to pursue effective measures to ensure their security.*

Another cause for concern is North Korea’s missile program.  Pyongyang started to acquire missile technology in the 1960s when it received several surface-to-ship missiles from the Soviet Union (Nuclear Threat Initiative).  North Korea continued to expand its program by reverse engineering Soviet scud missiles.  During the 1980s,  North Korea tested the Hwansong-5 scud type missile, securing Iranian financial support.  The Hwansong entered serial production in the mid-1980s.  Around the same time, North Korea started development of a missile which would become a prominent fixture of North Korea’s program (Nuclear Threat Initiative).

Between 1987-1988 and 1990, Nodong technology was transferred to North Korea from the Soviet Union.  The Nodong missile has a range of 1300-1600km and is capable of carrying a nuclear-tipped warhead.  It has a road range of 550km (Global Security).  Nodong missiles were first detected on the launch pad at Musudan-ri Missile Testing Site in May of 1990, though subsequent imagery revealed a failed test had likely occurred (Nuclear Threat Initiative).  However, the Nodong continued to be tested, culminating in its first successful test in 1993 (Cha: 2013, p.224+).  The Nodong missile has been continually upgraded and tested since, with its most recent test occurring in September of this year (Yonhap).  Though the Nodong missile has been tested and refined over the years, North Korea has also devoted time to a variety of missile systems, such as the Musudan; the Musudan has been tested 8 times in 2016, though most of those tests have resulted in failure (International Business Times).

One of the main goals of the North Korean missile program is to produce an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) which is operational.  Currently, Kim has the KN-08 and KN-14 models at his disposal, revealed in 2012 and 2015 respectively (38North; Washington Free Beacon).  The KN-08 is a three-stage rocket, with the possibility to hit the American mainland with a nuclear warhead, according to Admiral Bill Gortney, the head of NORAD (Global SecurityBusiness Insider).  As of writing, the KN series of missiles has yet to have a flight test.  However, North Korea has conducted a series of ground tests of rocket engines which may be used in the KN-08 missile.  Many also thought that the launching of the Unha missile in February of 2016 also gave North Korea information related to the creation of an operational ICBM (New York Times).  Some even feared that  April tests of Musudan medium-range ballistic missiles, despite being stated as a failure, contributed information to the creation of a North Korean ICBM (38North).

2016 has also seen the rapid development of North Korean Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles.  In December of 2015, North Korea tested its SLBM technology, but the test was a failure.  The missile was also fired from a submerged barge, rather than an actual submarine (38North).  In April, North Korea conducted its first SLBM test 2016 which was also a failure (38North).  Another failure followed in July as a protest to the announcement of THAAD deployment in South Korea (Yonhap; CNN).  Many experts argued the program to be nascent and wrote off a successful test of the KN-11 for at least a couple of years; John Schilling is quoted saying it “will likely require several years to deliver an operational system” (38North).  Despite such thinking, North Korea was able to successfully test an SLBM on August 25, 2016; the missile flew 500km before landing in the Sea of Japan (East Sea), according to reports (BBCReuters).  Despite its rapid progress, North Korea’s SLBM program still has a long road ahead.  With only one successful test, and only one submarine capable of carrying the system, it will take time before North Korea is able to strike fear all over the world with its SLBMs.  However, with its rapid advancement, this program may only need a couple of years to fully develop, a scary thought for the world.

Though nascent, North Korea’s devotion to developing a diverse set of operable nuclear weapons and missiles is a grave security threat to the entire world.  The deployment of THAAD in South Korea does work to add a layer a defense against these programs, though it alone may not offer a perfect defense system.  Therefore, South Korea and the United States must look beyond the deployment of THAAD to ensure that a robust, capable defense system is in place to defend against the threat of North Korea.

The Politics of Deployment

THAAD deployment opened a highly contested political rift in South Korea.  The ruling Saenuri Party, on August 30, officially adopted a favorable opinion to THAAD deployment as a part of its party platform (Yonhap) and has made several calls for bipartisan support for the missile defense system.  Minjoo Party – South Korea’s main opposition party – leadership, however, has put forth differing opinions.  In July, Party Spokesman Lee Jae-joong came out strongly against THAAD deployment, saying “we are very disappointed by the presidential office that makes such a dogmatic and hasty decision.”  At the same time, interim Minjoo Party Chief Kim Jong-in supported THAAD deployment (Donga Ilbo).  In late August, the Minjoo Party elected long time THAAD opponent Choe Min-ae as Chief.  Since taking the position, Choe has vowed to give the party a clear position on the issue and make opposition to THAAD a part of the Minjoo Party platform (Chosun Ilbo).  South Korean domestic politics have been polarized on the issue of THAAD as it prepares for a presidential election in December next year.

South Korea’s political institutions were not the only places where strong opinions on the THAAD issue were expressed.  South Korean citizens also expressed outrage.  Protestors in Seongju country, where the battery is to be deployed, even shaved their heads to highlight the possible environmental effects of the battery (BBC).  Protestors also raised fears that the presence of THAAD would make the region a target for strikes if hostilities broke out on the peninsula (Voice of America).  This trend, however, is reversing as North Korea continues down a provocative path; on September 19, ten days after North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test, The Korea Times reported that South Korea’s second largest opposition party – the People’s Party – is showing signs of withdrawing its opposition to THAAD.  And in an MBC public poll, 65.1 percent of respondents supported the deployment of THAAD (Korea Times), up from around 50 percent in July (Sputnik).

Two days after the announcement of THAAD deployment, North Korea launched an SLBM into the East Sea.  The test was a failure, though it was quickly deemed a protest to the deployment of THAAD (CNN).  Obviously, North Korea would oppose the deployment of THAAD.  To North Korean leaders, in particular Kim Jung-un, THAAD represents a shift toward American supremacy on the peninsula, thus shifting the status-quo away from a favorable situation for the isolated regime.  THAAD also represents a growing presence of advanced American military weaponry in Korea, thus threatening the legitimacy of the North Korean defense systems.  However, North Korea’s recent provocations may have a more subtle intent.  Pyongyang may be gaming the system with provocative behavior to hasten the deployment of THAAD in Korea as a way to weaken Sino-ROK relations (KINU Online Series, July 15, 2016).   North Korea would then take advantage of a weakening Sino-ROK relationship in order to repair its own relationship with China.  Though it is difficult to really piece together North Korea’s true intentions, one thing is clearly obvious: Pyongyang’s action have only worked to isolate the regime even further from the international community and global financial system.  (For a more updated version of this argument, see this CNBC article.)

Throughout the entire THAAD debate, China has expressed its opposition to the defense system.  In a question and answer session, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kwang said, “deployment of THAAD will in no way help achieve peace and stability of the Peninsula,” vowing that China would take “corresponding measures to safeguard its interests” (Chinese Foreign Ministry).  Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement against the decision, urging the United States and South Korea to opt against “unwise actions that can do tragic and irremediable damage to the situation in Southeast Asia and beyond” (Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs).  While China and Russia have been very adamant in their opposition to the deployment of THAAD in South Korea, their objections have had little effect; President Park has made recent trips to Russia and China about convincing the two nations that THAAD is essential in deterring North Korean provocations.  In a meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping, Park highlighted that THAAD would only be used to deter North Korea (Korea Herald).  Chinese and Russian opposition, though strong, will have little effect in reversing THAAD deployment in Korea.  If anything, THAAD may drive a wedge in Sino-US-ROK relations, resulting in stronger ties between North Korea and China.


THAAD will provide another level of defense for South Korea in the event of North Korean aggression.  However, with its current effective range of 200km, it will do little in terms of defending Seoul – the battery is being deployed 217km away.  Deployment has also polarized the international community.  So, is THAAD worth the fallout it is creating?

In order for South Korea to successfully address defense concerns, THAAD is a step in the right direction.  However, THAAD is not an end-all solution.  In order to effectively build a robust defense system, South Korea and the United States must look to update its current defense capabilities.  This would include ensuring personnel have access to the most up-to-date equipment and working to make missiles currently in South Korea more accurate and versatile.  THAAD should be viewed as a last resort defense mechanism, simply because a missile would have to fly past Seoul in order for it to be effective.

South Korea and the United States must do everything to ensure diplomatic damages to relations with China and Russia are minimized.  This would include ensuring China and Russia that THAAD will only be used in the case of North Korean provocation, and as a last resort at that.  This can be accomplished by establishing strict protocols for the usage of THAAD which would be approved by every nation in the region – America, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and China.  Implementing this would ensure that China and Russia’s concerns are voiced and addressed, which could result in more multilateral support for THAAD deployment.

THAAD is a step in the right direction.  Ironing out the details, however, will prove a difficult task for the United States and South Korea.  In order to make THAAD deployment more successful, the United States and South Korea must work to ensure THAAD is a layer of defense which can be implemented with success into the current defense structure of the Korean peninsula, while also working to gain more international favorability of defense system.  In summary, THAAD is worth the political parlay, as long as work is done to ensure a minimization of damage in relations resulting from the deployment.


+Cha, Victor. The Impossible State: North Korea Past, Present, and Future.  New York: Harpers Collins, 2013.

Corrections and Updates:

November 22: While writing this piece, North Korea conducted its fifth and most powerful nuclear test, further highlighting the push for WMDs by Pyongyang.


Breaking News: Reaction to Trump Election Victory

As many of you may well know, Donald Trump was elected to become the 45th president of the United States on Tuesday, upsetting Hillary Clinton in dramatic fashion.  News of his election has sent the world into damage control, as several nations struggle to contemplate what a Trump presidency means for the future of their relationship with America.  Korea is no exception.

As a Trump presidency started to be all but assured, President Park Geun-hye called an emergency meeting of the National Security Council to explore what a Trump presidency means for the future of the US-ROK alliance.  In the meeting, Park stressed the need for Korea to be prepared for a drastic shift in ties under a president Trump.  South Korea’s Foreign Ministry also formed a task force to prepare for shifts in ties as Trump moves to the White House.  Overall, South Korea is working to mitigate the potential shock a Trump White House may have on the US-ROK relationship.

Park also had a ten minute discussion with Trump over the phone.  Reports indicate that Trump made assurances that he would maintain Washington’s security commitment to Korea, a break from his campaign platform; it is too early to tell exactly what Trump plans for Korea, however.

The Saenuri Party also was dealt a winning card with the election of Trump.  So far, Saenuri lawmakers have been able to keep the focus on the American election and diverting attention away from Choi-gate – President Park’s domestic political scandal.  This deflection has provided a short break from the constant attacks on Park and Choi, though those most likely will continue sooner rather than later.

Finally, the North Korean response has been relatively mute following the election outcome.  Earlier in the campaign, North Korea had praised Donald Trump, calling him a smart politican.  Two days after the election, however, North Korea vowed to never give up its nuclear program, even under a president Trump.  As for provocation, analysts believe Pyongyang will conduct a missile launch around December 17, the anniversary of Kim Jung-il’s death rather than around the American election.

So far, South Korea appears to be taking the proper cautionary steps to ensure that after inauguration any possible outcome is prepared for.  North Korea is also stepping up to reaffirm its pursuit of nuclear weapons.  Relations between the Koreas should be at a state resembling the status-quo, barring a major political change in the coming months. This ensures that the peninsula will be ready for anything come January 20, 2017.

*Written on my phone, will update and add links tomorrow.

American Election Day

Today the United States will select a new president to lead our wonderful nation for the four years.  Sadly, the choices are no where close to being good.  Anyway, a few points on the candidates Korea policies.

Hillary Clinton

  • Hillary will work to assure allies are taken care of
  • She also has advocated for the use of sanctions against North Korea
  • She worked to established a trilateral defense system with Tokyo and Seoul
  • Worked with Obama on Strategic Patience toward North Korea
  • Was pivotal in crafting Obama’s pivot to Asia during her tenure as Secretary of State

Donald Trump

  • Has advocated for a strategic strike on North Korean nuclear facilities (though has since redacted this as a possiblity)
  • Donald would remove troops from South Korea unless Korea pays more for them to be stationed there
  • Has advocated that the international community leave the North Korean issue for China to fix
  • Called to have a talk with Kim over nuclear weapons and one can assume human rights abuses in North Korea as well as other issues (though Trump never said exactly what the talks would entail)
  • Trump also is in favor South Korea possessing nuclear weapons in the future as a deterrent from North Korean attack.

To those who vote today, please vote consciously and choose the candidate you most agree with and who you think could lead America to a more prosperous future. 

Breaking News: Arrest Warrant Issued for Choi Soon-sil

A Seoul court formally issued a warrant for the arrest of Choi Soon-sil, confidant of President Park Geun-hye.  The Seoul Central District Court applied for the warrant, accusing Choi of abuse of power and other charges.  Though Choi does not hold a formal position in the Park government, she can be charged with abuse of power if she, in fact, colluded with the President’s former secretary for policy coordination An Chong-bum to gain donations from companies to Choi’s foundations.  Choi is also being charged with pocketing 700 million won ($609,000) from her foundation K-Sports for two research projects undertaken by Blue-K, a company she owned.  Prosecutors are still looking into the charges of access to classified material and presidential speeches.  (Reporting from Yonhap News).