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.

Conclusions

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.

Notes

+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.

 

North Korea’s Nuclear Test: An Analysis

Friday morning, at 9:30am local time, international organizations recorded at magnitude 5.3 earthquake at the nuclear testing site of Punggye-ri in North Korea.  The earthquake was reported at a depth of 0.0km (USGS).  Artifical origin was quickly speculated; Yonhap ran an article quoting the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff claiming artificial origin within an hour of the test (Yonhap).  All the early information led many in the international community to speculate North Korea had conducted its fifth, and strongest, nuclear test.  Hours passed before North Korea commented on what was happening at the nuclear testing site.

Throughout the day, as the international community sat idle, North Korea refused to comment.  No comment was made during its noon news broadcast (Guardian Live Blog).  A few hours after the test, North Korea did release a statement.  “Scientists and technicians carried out a nuclear explosion test for the judgement of the power of a nuclear warhead newly studied,” the statement opened (KCNA*).  “The standardization of the nuclear warhead will enable the DPRK to produce at will and as many as it wants a variety of smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear warheads,” it continued.  “This has definitely put on a higher level the DPRK’s technology of mounting nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles.”  The statement concluded by saying the test, and the broader nuclear program, are a necessity in deterring the hostile American forces.  Though this rhetoric is nothing new, it is clear North Korea has made drastic advancements in its nuclear program and may be ready to pursue deployment of nuclear-tipped missiles (NY Times*).

South Korea quickly responded to the news of North Korea’s nuclear test.  After news of the earthquake started to circulate, Park Guen-hae, South Korea’s President, held an emergency meeting with aides while Laos and cut her trip short.  She also had strong words of condemnation.  “This clearly reaffirmed the North Korean regime’s reckless and its obsession with nuclear arms” (Korea Herald).  She also called Kim Jung-un “uncontrollable” in comments about the test (Yonhap).  The South Korean government also quickly sprang into action; South Korea’s National Assembly Convened an emergency meeting to discuss the nuclear test, despite the Chusok holiday (Yonhap).  South Korean officials have also vowed to seek, at all costs, stronger sanctions from the United Nations Security Council (Korea Times).

While South Korean politicians are debating the nuclear test and how to best respond, the South Korean public was relatively at ease.  North Korea’s nuclear test did not even crack the top ten most searched terms on Naver (Korea Times).  Many South Koreans do not fear North Korea’s nuclear advancements simply because North Korea already has the ability to cripple South Korea through conventional means.

Though South Korea took strong action, Japan was the first to condemn the test.  In a statement, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “Japan reiterates its strong demand for North Korea to implement the relevant UNSCRs and to take concrete action towards comprehensively resolving outstanding issues of concern, including the abductions, nuclear and missile issues” (Japanese Foreign Ministry).  China also expressed its firm opposition to the test and would lodge a diplomatic protest with North Korea’s Beijing Embassy (Reuters; ABC News).

While Asian leaders expressed grave concern over the test, condemnation of North Korea spread through the world.  The White House released a statement saying “the United States condemns North Korea’s September 9 nuclear test in the strongest possible terms” (White House Statement).  It continued by saying, “the United States does not, and never will, accept North Korea as a nuclear state” (White House Statement).  Other nations, such as France and Pakistan, have strongly opposed North Korea’s fifth nuclear test as well (Radio Free Asia).

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a statement outside of the UN headquarters, said “I condemn in the strongest possible terms the underground nuclear test by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” and also called the test “another brazen breach of resolutions of the Security Council” (UN Office of the Secretary-General).  Later, the UN Security Council strongly condemned the test in an emergency closed-door meeting (ABC News).  Currently, there has only been condemnation from the United Nations, though it is highly possible the Security Council will levy new sanctions on North Korea in the coming months; the international community is calling for stronger sanctions from the UN.

Currently, yesterday’s test is still sinking in.  Strong words of condemnation have come from across the globe, though this is normal following a nuclear test.  North Korea’s fifth test also comes at a time when the politics on and surrounding the peninsula are moving rapidly; North Korea, outside of this test, has shown major advancements in its SLBM and medium range ballistic missile technology and South Korea announced the deployment of THAAD in Seongju Province.  This test will complicate the situation on the peninsula.  For example, China’s strong opposition to THAAD will make it easier for North Korea to act provocatively, but Beijing also strongly opposes North Korea’s nuclear program.  World leaders will also have to examine the complex webs of intentions around the peninsula to ensure the strongest response is enacted as quickly as possible.  New sanctions, in the form of a UNSC resolution, are likely to be levied against the regime, but the world will have to start exploring a new strategy to choke the nuclear program, since sanctions are having, at best, little influence on the regime.

*Due to complications of linking to articles on this site, and because I do not wish for people to visit such sites without proper knowledge of North Korea, I have not included a link to this article.  There are a variety of ways to view this statement if one wishes to read the entire text on their own accord.  The NY Times article is a thorough examination of the statement.

Daily Update – August 10

South Korea

Politics – The United States deployed 3 B-2 stealth bombers to Guam as a response to the recent missile launches.  The bombers will conduct regional and local shorties.  Adm. Cecil D. Haney commented that the deployment helps to stregthen the US commitment to regional security.  Other leaders in the military have commented the deployment also assits to provide an effective detterent force in the region.

Culture – South Korean netizens are in uproar at a North Face world jakcet which was released in 2014.  The netizen citied in the article posted a picture of the jacket with the nomer “Sea of Japan” for the body of water between Korea and Japan.  Koreans refer to this body of water as the East Sea, and the name has been a very heated debate between the two countries for years.  The netizen who posted the picture also said that Koreans should boycott Northface because of the print.  Northface is an American company.

North Korea

On July 15, a little after midnight, a North Korean short wave radio station started to broadcast a numbers broadcast for the first time in several years.  An article published on 38North yesterday examines the broadcast and the implications it has on the Korean peninsula.  North Korean spies, as well as their South Korean counterparts, relied on numbers broadcasts to get information about an assignment, but North Korea’s station has been unused for 16 years, leaving many to speculate the reason for the restart.  The most credible theory is that North Korea is looking to stir up confusion in South Korea.  South Korea has also been using a numbers broadcast to comunicate with spies in North Korea.

North Korean defectors are facing a tougher challenge in China, with Chinese border security stepping up its patrols in the border region.  However, more citizens are also reporting North Koreans who cross the Tumen River, which is also helping increase the number of North Koreans repatriated to North Korea from the border region.  The reason for more indvidual reportings is a rise in monetary incentive, with those reporting North Koreans recieving 1,000 RMB and capturing a live North Korean is rewarded with 2,000 RMB.  Chin ahas also stepped up its fines for assisting North Koreans, as well as smuggling goods across the border.

 

North Korea Leadership Watch Information

So, I am really excited to get this aspect of my blog up and running, but attempting to figure out the logistics has been very time consuming.  Essentially, the Leadership Watch component will examine the movements of the leadership of North Korea, focusing more on reporting, examining where they have been throughout the week.  This feature will have a few permanent fixtures, who will appear every week.  Those will include:

Kim Jung-un

Choe Ryong-hae

O Su-yong

Kim Rak-gyom

Hyon Yong-chol

These five, as well as others in Kim Jung-un’s inner circle not listed, most likely will become common fixtures here.  I hope to have at least two or three people in the update every week, though I can not make any real promises until I get into the grove of publishing this feature.  The first few posts may be very experimental in nature, but I will work with each post to figure out what works best for this feature.  I am looking forward to this, as it will be very interesting to start tracking the leadership for you all.  I hope you enjoy this new little feature.

Note: Every person will have a mini biography the first time they appear on this feature.  I will also have a page with a link to the biographies linked for your ease of use.

Daily Update – July 28

Tonight, Hillary Clinton became the first female to ever accept the nomination of a major political party for the office of President of the United States of America.  Her policies support unity in the face of danger, equality for all, and a more sensible hawkish approach to international relations.  Regardless of politics, this night represents a major stepping stone in the history of the United States.  And now, because I honestly can’t live a day without discussing politics, let’s get into Hillary on the issue of Korea.

South Korea

As Secretary of State, Hillary presided over the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia, which brought more troops and investment to the region.  She also assisted in securing support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, along with a variety of other major policies geared toward Asia.  But if Clinton is elected president, what would her administration do for South Korea?

First, she has advocated against the TPP, saying it takes jobs away from America.  Now, she has not, to my knowledge, said anything against the Korea-US FTA, but I feel the entire gambit of FTAs with Washington will be examined under her administration.  Whether review leads to change and renegotiation, we will have to wait and see.

Her most prominent claim to fame, according to her, is the creation of the trilateral defense system in Asia.  This claim focuses on the intelligence sharing with South Korea, but may bode bigger issues now with THAAD deployment in South Korea.  Clinton could work to strengthen the security bond between Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul by incorporating the Korean THAAD battery into a larger regional defense shield.  China would oppose this stance, and may even undertake actions to protest the inclusion of Korea into such a defense system since it will see the action as hostile to its intentions in the region.  However, this is a strategy which could come with a bright side.  Clinton’s commitment to the defense of Asia, if it does not result in a more robust defense system including South Korea, may strengthen the military bonds between South Korea and the United States, without deploying more troops or seriously damaging ties with China.  In fact, Clinton could work to secure Chinese involvement in the North Korea by not including South Korea in the missile defense system.  This policy could hinder relations with the Saenuri party in South Korea since they see the United States as a key to their defense.  

Clinton’s South Korea policy is walking a fine line which incorporates the relations of many nations in the region.  She does promise to never give up allies in the region, a policy which South Koreans, no matter of political leaning, will find promising.  However, her policy is mere speculation, as she has yet to really address the topic of South Korea beyond promising to never abandon it and other international allies.

North Korea

North Korea is an issue which derails any good aspect of Clinton’s past.  She was a key agent in Strategic Patience, a policy which worsened relations with North Korea since it saw itself as being left out of the world conversation.

Hillary in 2016, however, has a more promising solution.  She has advocated to increase sanctions on the regime if it does not forgo any future nuclear testing and development.  This is not the most promising strategy, as sanctions have thus far failed to constrict resources going to the nuclear program, but it does leave the door open to engagement, which has been proven to relieve tensions on the peninsula, even for a short time.   She has not released a detailed outline of what she would sanction, and currently, several hurdles exist for her policy to be effective.  The first is Kaesong’s closure.  This hurdle limits the positive relationship with South Korea, which in a roundabout way, also hinders relations with Washington; now there is no mutually beneficial ground for the two Koreas on the entire peninsula.  Another hurdle for her North Korea policy is closing loopholes in current North Korean sanctions.  This will include an exhaustive policy review, as well as lengthy discussions with United Nations to ensure that future sanctions work to not only increase the amount of sanctions on North Korea, but also work to increase the effectiveness of sanctions already in place.

There is one really promising figure who will be with her if she takes office, Bill Clinton.  He presided over the Agreed Framework of 1994 with North Korea, orchestrating possibly the best method for denuclearization – had the deal been upheld – in North Korea.  One can hope that he would be involved in crafting a diplomatic solution, similar yet more stringent than the 1994 Framework, which could place the world on the path to denuclearization.

Now, to close I will say that Clinton does not have a perfect Korea policy.  Including Korea on the missile defense system in Asia will hinder relations with China and Russia, and sanctions alone have proven to be unsuccessful in the quest for denuclearization.  However, Hillary has been on the ground, and the sidelines, for many of the most important moments in American relations with the Korean peninsula and thus has a policy which comes from her experience.  I would like to see a more dynamic path to denuclearization, as well as a more robust defense system which would not work to alienate China, but at least her policy is founded in reality and may, even though this is a long shot, work to bring more stability to the peninsula.

Daily Update – July 19

So, this evening, Donald J. Trump was officially announced to the Republican nominee for the Presidency of the United States of America.  Therefore, this post will focus on the nominee’s Korea’s policy, outlining the presumptive candidates views on the Korean peninsula.

South Korea

Donald Trump has long been an advocate of pulling troops from bases around the world, of which he has explicitly mentioned South Korea, where more than 30,000 American troops work to ensure the security of 40,000,000 people from a North Korean attack.  His calls consistently for South Korea to shoulder more of the cost of stationing troops in the country, under the pretense that Seoul pays, in Trump’s own words, peanuts.  This policy prescription is seen, in many eyes, as a way for the United States to ensure that it makes money off defending nations who we consider to close allies.  However, his policy ignores the fact that South Korea, since the early 2010s, has paid over $800 million per year to station American troops in the country.  Another curious factor that Trump has overlooked in this policy prescription is the immeasurable amount of cultural exchange which exists between the two nations.  In order to make this sound less of a critique of Trump, I will say that the American position in South Korea has been effective in deterring Northern aggression, and one can make the argument that South Korea should take control over its own national security.  In short, a Trump in the White House would mean a smaller presence of American military in the world, even in countries regarded as major regional allies, such as South Korea.

Another crucial aspect of the relationship between Seoul and Washington D.C. has been criticised by Trump; the KORUS Free Trade Agreement, which was signed in 2010.  Trump has taken aim at the majority of trade agreements made by the United States, most recently the Trans Pacific Partnership, saying that they take jobs out of America.  Trump has advocated that he would repeal a majority of the current standing free trade agreements in hopes of negotiating a better deal, or, in Donald Trump logic, a way for America to get as much money for as little involvement in the process of trade.  Now, I will stave off from commenting in detail on the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement since I have mostly studied defense and North Korea policy, and am in no way have anything of any contribution to the discussion on the KORUS Free Trade agreement.  However, I will say that I feel the KORUS Free Trade Agreement, as it stands, offers another vessel for cultural and material cooperation and exchange between Seoul and Washington D.C. while also making it easy to promote effective cross-cultural communication by indulging in the cultural products released by the two nations since they are more affordable under the agreement as imports.

North Korea

It is a lot harder to discern Trump’s true policy towards North Korea.  He promotes preemptive strikes, then resigns such callings under the guise of China’s total control over the internal politics in North Korea.  He has also advocated for personal talks with Kim Jung-un in hopes of solving the nuclear issue.  Now, I will not bite your ear off with a step by step, thorough analysis of his policies, but I will discuss them a little here.

The biggest theme running through Trump’s North Korea policy is the myth of Chinese total control over the politics in North Korea.  He, as have many other people, has made this statement without looking at the intricate intentions and goals of the North Korea-China relationship.  China does not enjoy North Korea’s tests, and has even condemned them, urging North Korea to show caution in its testing.  But North Korea continues to test missiles and nuclear weapons in hopes of either driving a wedge in the Beijing-Washington relationship, or to show internally how strong the military is.  China is not even close to be in control of North Korean domestic politics, nor will it ever – so long as Kim Jung-un places his retention of power over his position on the international community.

Finally, talking with Kim Jung-un.  Donald Trump has openly called to met with the sitting leader of North Korea, as the sitting president of the United States.  If this occurs, it would be an unprecedented meeting, since most the diplomatic work between Pyongyang and Washington is done at a ministerial level, which is then reported to the president.  Trump also has not examined how this meeting would be shown in the North Korean state media, which may undermine any attempt to come to negotiations with the upper hand.  Now, this being said, North Korea is more likely to cooperate when it feels that its concerns are being addressed, and North Korea has always responded well when visited by a foreign dignitary; however, these changes rarely create long lasting success in solving any issue, with the security concerns returning within years of such changes.  This is not to say his talks will be unsuccessful.  It is unfair to him to say he would not be able to negotiate a deal with North Korea to solve the nuclear crisis, when he hasn’t even been elected yet.  I will close by saying that this policy idea, discussing the issue with Kim himself, has the most reasonable chance of success in his entire platform.

Other Comments

So, there is an outline of Donald Trump’s policy ideas for the Korean peninsula.  I have tried my best to stay unbiased – a very difficult to task conquer – which I know I have failed at doing, but I hope to have at least raised a few questions in your mind about what Donald Trump means for the Korean peninsula, and what a Trump president would do on the peninsula.  I look forward to getting back into regular daily updates tomorrow, but will promise to do this for Clinton as well.