Breaking News: UN Sanctions

The United Nations unanimously adopted a new round of sanctions Monday, targeting the import of oil and North Korean labor. The resolution, in the words of American Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Hailey, says “the world will never accept a nuclear North Korea,” (Wall Street Journal).

The sanctions adopted targeted a wide variety of industries. They placed a ban on North Korean textiles; limited import of oil to North Korea; and targeted North Korean labor, imposing a “humanitarian” clause for  future labor and letting all workers on contracts beginning before the imposition of the sanctions to continue work. This round is a watered down version of suggestions circulated by America following North Korea’s nuclear test (CNN).

The question, as with all sanctions, is the quality of implementation. The “humanitarian” loophole has caused concern in the past and made implementing sanctions difficult. It is also unclear how cooperative China will be after forcing other states to water down the resolution. Though strong, the overall effectiveness of the sanctions will be a question to follow throughout the next few months.

Advertisements

Breaking News: Artifical Earthquake in North Korea

On Sunday, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck North Korea. It’s point of origin was Pyunggye-ri, North Korea’s nuclear test site, raising fears that North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test. South Korean military is monitoring the situation, as the rest of the world waits for more data surrounding the quake.

More to come.

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.

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.

 

Daily Update – October 25

South Korea

Politics – President Park Geun-hye continues to suffer damaging implications in the Choi Soon-sil scandal which has rocked the ending of her term.  Choi was revealed to have had access to presidential speeches before they became public as well as confidential documents, despite not holding an official position in the Park administration.  Party leaders from both sides of the aisle are calling for her to come clean on the scandal.  Even members of the Saenuri party – the party Park belongs to – have called for Park to step away from the party.  No South Korean president since Lee Myung-bak in 1987 has stayed a member of their party during their time in office.

Economy – Two South Korean electronic companies –LG and Samsung – are looking toward Africa as an expanding market.  LG was the first to tap into the African market and currently has 7 sales corporations and 2 production corporations in South Africa.  As it looks to expand its growth in Africa, LG is embarking on a Localization Strategy in which LG works with the existing technological infrastructure in African nations to develop targeted products.  It is also embarking on several CSR campaigns.  Samsung is looking to develop a similar strategy, as it opens stores in Zimbabwe and South Africa.  The two companies are looking to tap into African growth and prosperity.

Culture – (Photo) Visitors taking a picture at a statue in Yeido by the Han River.  The statue is 80% the size of the Litte Mermaid statue in Copenhagen.  Photo is from The HanKyoreh

147737974093_20161026

North Korea

North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Han Song-ryol and Robert Gallucci, United States State Department Special Envoy on the North Korea Nuclear Issue, concluded behind the scenes talks in Malaysia.  Han called the talks exploratory, where the two delegations – there was five members from each side at the talks – discussed issues of concern as both sides are starting to prepare for a new US president.  Topics discussed were North Korea’s missile and nuclear program, which the two said they made strides on.  South Korea demurred the talks, saying they will continue to enforce strong sanctions with the US if North Korean behavior continued to be provocative.

Chinese residents in the border area are working night shifts to ensure a barbed wire fence is erected quickly to prevent a flood of immigration from North Korea.  Signs in the region have also been erected warning the residents of a 500 RMB fine for assisting defectors.  This rise in activity comes as the government warns about, and hopes to protect against, a possible rise in “livelihood” defectors as living conditions in North Korea are worsening due to the flood from earlier this year.  Many fear an uptick in violence if there is a rise in defectors, which is another motivating factor of residents working on the fence.  (The photo below is from Daily NK depicting a signs in Kaishan Village.  The first warns of the fine, the second warns people to give their possessions quickly if a North Korean comes to rob them.  Pictures are taken from this DailyNK article.)

dnke_1954_295691_1477294067_idnke_1955_295691_1477294222_i

Daily Update – October 18

South Korea

Politics – Hotels are starting to see the effect of the Kim Young-ran Law – an anticorruption law which limits the value of gifts a public servant, educator or journalist can receive to 30,000 won for food, 50,000 won for gifts, and 100,000 won for condolence money – took effect.  Many restaurants are seeing the popularity of items shift to those which cost under 30,000 won, even amongst regular customers.  The number of people who eat lunch at Seoul Garden Hotel’s buffet restaurant rose 50%.  (Other details are in the article.)

South Korea’s ruling Saenuri Party and the United States have agreed to expedite the completion of a three-legged defense system as a response to North Korea’s continually changing threat.  The system was slated to be completed by mid-2020s, but has been expedited to early-2020s, most likely around 2023.  This change would add between 200 and 300 billion won ($176 million-$264 million) per year increase to South Korea’s defense budget.  The Saenuri party is also calling for nuclear-powered submarines.  However, it is unknown if the opposition parties will approve of the advancement.

Economy – In support of those, like myself, who are putting out applications for jobs, here is an image of South Koreans at a presentation for foreign investment firms in COEX Mall.  Source: The Hankyoreh

147677572319_20161019

Despite the low interest rate in South Korea, the four major banks in South Korea – Woori, KB Finacial Group, Shinhan Finacial Group, Hana Finacial Group – have rosy expectations for third quarter projections.  The four combined for around 1.75 trillion won of net profit.  Of the four, Hana Banks profits showed the sharpest rise to 332.8 billion won, up 30.61% on year.  Shinhan Finacial Group, however, will record a profit of 607.7 billion won net profit, down 10.7% from a year earlier.

Culture – Samsung may not experience lasting damage from the fallout of the Galaxy Note 7.  The phone is known to explode, which to a full recall, followed by Samsung pulling the phone from stores.  An article in the Korea Times stresses that the recall of the product shows Samsung’s commitment to the consumer and safety.  The article details a report on the direction the leadership of Samsung is taking to ensure that the Galaxy curfuffle is a time in which the company showed its devotion to the safety of the people.

North Korea

A North Korean expert released a report showing that North Korea may be able to create nearly 80 nuclear weapons by 2020.  Lee Sang-hyun, vice president at the planning division of the Sejong Institute, wrote the assessment based on North Korea currently possessing no more than 50 nuclear weapons.  Lee argued that the regime will stick to its current byeongjin line – promoting economic and nuclear growth – while also arguing the need to pursue strategic persuasion in trying to combat the continued pursuit.  The report was presented to a forum.

38North reports activity occurring at the Sohae Launch facility in North Korea.  Satellite imagery shows small vehicles, trailers or equipment near the standing launch site.  North Korea is also working on building new housing and new support buildings around the site.  Imagery also revealed an environmental shelter which is used in the final stages of preparing an engine for testing.  However, the VIP facility in which Kim Jung-un viewed the last test has been untouched throughout the process.  Developments such as these show that North Korea is working to expand the role and permeate stature of the Sohae launch facility, possibly working to shorten the time required for preparations between launches at the facility.

Breaking News: Falied Missile Launch

On Saturday, North Korea attempted to launch a Musandan missile from a location near the northwestern city of Kusong.  The launch occurred around 12:33pm near the Sohae launch zone.

US Strategic Command is calling the test a failure, with NORAD confirming that the missile appears to be a Musudan Medium Range Balistic Missile, saying it posed no threat to North America.

This test is cause for concern for a variety of reasons: 1) it, obviously, shows North Korean continued push for a successful and robust missile program; and 2) the Musudan missile uses a propulsion system (I am typing on my phone so this may not be the best wording for this) which is similar to what a KN-08/KN-14 does.  This means that even when tests results in failure, North Korea is gaining information which may be useful to constructing an ICBM.