Korean Peninsula News Update

So, I have been traveling for spring break and have had a bunch of homework due, so i have been unable to update.  In light of this, I will post a news update and some analysis of events.  I will vow to post more often on this blog, sorry for not posting for a whole month.

Now, on to the news.  First, sanctions were released by several international entities as a response for the nuclear test in January and the rocket launch in February.  The United States passed the “North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enforcement Act of 2016 on March 2.  This act is the strongest sanctions act to pass the presidents desk.  The act sanctions several entities related to North Korea, cutting several from operation within the United States.  This act was closely followed by the passing of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2270.  Like the bill passed in the United States, UNSCR 2270 is the strongest sanctions act on North Korea passed by the United Nations.  UNSCR 2270 sanctions 16 people, 12 companies, 31 ships as well as adding snowmobiles, aquatic recreational vehicles and luxury watches to the list of sanctioned luxury items.  These two sanctions bills were met with opposition by Pyongyang.  As its symbol of defiance and opposition, Pyongyang fired off several small projectiles into the sea.  The implementation of the sanctions has so far been successful, with both China and the Philippines rejecting and capturing blacklisted ships.  Hopefully this addition to the sanctions regime will assist in bringing Pyongyang to cooperate with the international community, but loopholes are being exploited, as just yesterday North Korea’s sanctioned ambassador to Myanmar was replaced.

This week has seen many developments in North Korea.  The first story of the week was the sentencing of Otto Warmbier.  On Wednesday, Otto was tried before the North Korean high court and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.  Again, as in his confession from a few weeks ago, Otto was in tears and regretful for his actions in stealing the slogan.  (Video of the sentencing can seen at the Daily Mail. )  Recently, North Korean state media has also released video footage of the moment when Warmbier allegedly stole the propaganda slogan.  This footage can be seen at The Blaze.  Warmbier may be released in a year or two, as Kenneth Bay was a few years ago.  Many analysts have argued that Warmbier will be used as political leverage.  Given the rise in tension, I agree with these arguments, but hope the United States and Sweden – Sweden negotiates on behalf of United States in Pyongyang since Washington has no diplomatic relations with North Korea – can bring Warmbier back safely.

The second story this week coincides with the military drills, which ended on March 18.  North Korea, as a response to the drills, fired off two missiles into the East Sea.  One is said to have blown up in flight, but the first was said to have reached its target.  Early reports cite that the missiles were Nodung class missiles, making this the first time that North Korea has fired off medium range missiles in two years.  More information, past the confirmation and early reports has yet to surface – at least I have been unable to find any more information.  The test has been shadowed by the possibility that North Korea may conduct another nuclear test soon.  This report can been seen at 38North.  With tensions raising almost everyday, the possibility of a dangerous rise is as prevalent as possible.

This week has shown a sharp rise in tensions on the peninsula.  In the author’s opinion, the current actions of North Korea are a way for Kim to bolster support before the Worker’s Party Congress in May.  After the congress a warming in relations may occur, as well as a drop in provocative behavior.


Working two Posts

So, since college and research deadlines are things, I have yet to post my review of Kim’s new year speech.  Expect this to come very soon, as I will have enough of a break to get it done.  Also, I am working on a long-read covering the story of American detainees in North Korea, which should be an interesting post.  I will work to keep you all updated with the news and apologize for my slacking.

Earth Observation Launch

Yesterday, or this morning at 9:00am, North Korea launched yet another satellite into orbit.  This launch was the third satellite launch to occur in North Korea, the other two took place in April and December of 2012.  The April launch was unsuccessful, but the December launch put an object into orbit, though no one has verified its contact with North Korean controls.  Yesterday, news of the launch of minimal, with South Korean papers carrying the brunt of reporting, but now everyone has joined the party.  This post will analyze the launch on February 7, 2016 and show a little into the reasoning behind the launch.

Yesterday’s launch had a similar result to the one in December 2012.  Several hours after the launch, North Korean state media released a statement saying that North Korea had successfully launched an Earth Observation satellite into orbit.  So, why is the world concerned about an Earth Observation satellite?

The answer is simple.  North Korea has little evidence to show that this launch was purely peaceful.  Also, a rocket similar to the one launched today is required to carry nuclear weapons.  This compounded with North Korea’s intent to miniturize a nuclear warhead is what is driving the fear in the eyes of foreign countries, and it is doing so rightfully.  International states should worry about North Korea, even more so when it is attempting to create a nuclear warhead capable of striking any country in the world.

Yesterday’s launch has placed the ball in the international court.  With a slow response to the nuclear test last month, it is easy to ratchet up the response to an astronomical level.  This, however, is a deadly game.  Taking the nuclear test and the satellite launch as one is something the international community should not do.  The United Nations, America, South Korea, Japan and all the other nations and entities with interests in the region should conduct a response to each as individual actions and work accordingly.  Yes this may seam like backing down, but it actually is not and can create an international response that address each action appropriately and avoid conflict and future development.

The launch, mixed with the nuclear test, has refueled the THAAD debate in South Korea.  Washington and Seoul have vowed to discuss the deployment of the THAAD defense system in Seoul, citing the growing threat of North Korea.  Deployment of THAAD in Seoul, however, is also being challenged by China and Russia.  China sees THAAD deployment in Seoul, for fear that the system will be used against China as well.  Russia is against the THAAD deployment because it may undermine security in the region.  Wether THAAD will deployed in Seoul or not, the case for the defense continues to grow.  I used to be wary of THAAD deployment, but seeing the North Korean threat accelerate its provocative actions, even I am starting to see the need for some sort of defense system in Seoul.

While the test has major inclinations for the international community, internally it serves an even greater purpose.  The launch, coming one month after a nuclear test, shows the rapid acceleration of North Korea’s missile and defense systems, which it sees as crucial to its survival.  Also, each of the actions this year have come before major holidays in North Korea.  The nuclear test was two days before Kim Jung-Un’s birthday and the satellite launch was about a week before Kim Jung-Il’s birthday.  Also, as I eluded to in my analysis of the nuclear test, the Seventh Congress of the Workers Party is in May this year, which will mark the first congress since Kim Jung-Il was named successor.  Kim Jung-Un authorized the nuclear test and launch to solidify his position as supreme leader, but also to show the people that the defense abilities, and the scientific field have advanced dramatically under his watchful eye.  Therefore, the tests have been more to serve an internal locust of establishing the third Kim as a leader.  This conclusion can also be reached by the fact that Kim has little regard for international condemnation or any fear of sanctions.  Launching the satellite yesterday, while waiting for a round of sanctions following the nuclear test last month, shows – to his people – his fearlessness and his commitment to the advancement of North Korea under all circumstances.  For these reasons, I will argue that the nuclear test and the launch have been mainly to support an internal agenda as its main priority, though there still exists some external locusts for conducting such tests.

I honestly never thought I would be writing this post, at least today.  North Korea has clearly shown its pursuit is to aggravate the status-quo and garner a United States response, as well as an international one.  However, the timing of the two events also shows the internal agenda of the tests.  Kim Jung-Un is out to showcase his muscle before the big day in May, when the congress meets.  He also showing his undying loyalty to his father and grandfather by placing the events around major holidays devoted to the leaders.  A carefully coordinated response to the nuclear test and the satellite launch are necessary in order to not aggravate the North into any more hostile actions.  The internal locusts for these events must also be addressed by the international community, which is still solidifying its response to the nuclear test.  Hopefully, the response will be appropriate to the actions, currently all we can do is wait and see.

Second Provocation This Year (Already)

Today North Korea fired off a “peaceful” satellite.  The rocket burned up to the southwest of Jeju Island, the southern most island of South Korea.  So far only South Korea has acted, calling an emergency meeting of the National Security Council.  Tomorrow, when more news is out about the launch, I will make a post over the launch, which will likely be more of the same.  International condemnation and sanctions, but we shall see.

American Detained In North Korea

News of Otto Warmbier started to surface over the last few days.  Mr. Warmbier, a 21 year old University of Virginia student, was detained in North Korea several weeks ago as he was leaving the country with his travel group.  Warmbier’s detainment marks yet another tough period of negotiation throughout the State Department, which has no arm within North Korea.  So, why exactly was Otto Warmbier detained?  And what does this mean for the United States going forward?  These two questions will be explored throughout this short post.  (In a later investigative analysis, I will try to show the different stories of the many Americans who have been detained within the reclusive country.)

Otto Warmbier traveled to North Korea as a regular tourist.  Young Pioneer Tours, the agency which Warmbier utilized to travel into North Korea, said Warmbier had behaved like a traditional tourist – taking pictures, traveling (with his guides) and enjoying his time in North Korea (Washington Post).  However, there may have been an incident at the Yanggakdo hotel that facilitated his capture by the North Korean authorities.

Reuters first reported the incident in the hotel.   However, no concrete details of the hotel incident have surfaced, except that the KCNA reported that Warmbier had committed an act of hostility against the regime.  The KCNA report also said Warmbier is currently under investigation as he remains in Pyongyang.  Young Pioneer Tours said Warmbier wanted to keep the incident to himself and no one was aware of the actual incident (Reuters; Washington Post).

Thought the details of the hotel incident may never be known, the details of his detainment are known.  On his way through customs, Warmbier was taken aside by an airport official and sat in an immigration office.  Charlotte Guttridge was the only outside witness to Warmbier’s detainment (Reuters).  When Warmbier was stopped at customs, she attempted to stay behind and assist.  However, she was already through customs and unable to leave the plane.  Upon takeoff, she was told that Warmbier had been taken to a hospital (Reuters).  Gareth Johnson, the founder and CEO of Young Pioneer Tours, opted to remain in North Korea after news of Warmbier detention reached him, only departing the country after he realized little would come of his presence in the country.

So, now that I have outlined the details of the detainment, time to explore the elephant in the room.  What does the most recent detainment mean for North Korea – U.S. relations and how will the United States Proceed?  The second half of the question is easier to explain.  Obviously, the United States will work to garner the release of Otto Warmbier, but without a United States embassy, or any form of official entity in Pyongyang, Sweeden will bear the brunt.  Sweeden for years has been the go between for Washington D.C. and Pyongyang, acting as the mediating party for cases such as Otto’s case.  In fact, Sweeden was one of the first entities notified, along with the State Department and the Warmbier family, by Young Pioneer Tours after the detainment.

The first half of the question above is a little more complicated.  North Korea has used the detainment of American citizens before to gain political concessions.  Each person is arrested, most under grounds that can be argued as illegal in North Korea, but then become political hostages.  Otto’s case has a high probability to become one of these cases.  First, the United States is currently looking to adopt more economic sanctions on North Korea.  Warmbier will be used to divert the conversation and the make sure sanctions are not too harmful to the regime.  Warmbier will be used, unfortunetly, as a way to get concessions from the international community, as there is no other was to guarantee his release.

Warmbier’s detainment has resurfaced many different conversations.  The main one is highlighting the risk in traveling to North Korea.  Though you are under constant surveillance, the chance of detainment is ever present.  Time released an article online warning of such possibilities, saying people should not add North Korea to their bucket lists.  While I second the article in highlighting the warnings of traveling to North Korea, there are several reasons why I would say to remove North Korea travel from your bucket list is a little too much.  Many Americans do travel to North Korea, with very few being detained.  So, if you do want to travel to North Korea, what should you do?  One, travel with a reputable agency, examples include Koryo Tours and Young Pioneer Tours.  Two, no matter how alone you think you are, please adhere to all North Korean laws and regulations.  Before you leave, do your homework and figure out exactly what is allowed and what is prohibited in North Korea.  I do think that travel to North Korea, by those willing to take the risks, is probably one of the most rewarding and interesting journeys anyone can take.

Update on the Nuclear Test

So, it has been almost a week since the nuclear test in North Korea.  The issue, however, has started to see diminished coverage in the foreign media, as it has been overshadowed by issues like ISIL/ISIS, gun-control – in America spefically – international terror attacks throughout the world and elections.  In the Korean peninsula, the test has also started to see diminished front page coverage, though many news sources are still covering the test and the fallout.  First, I will give an update for everyone on what is happening in Korea and then point out the symbolism of such a trend in media coverage.

First, the update.  South Korea has responded to the nuclear test, as it resumed loud speaker broadcasts at the DMZ.  South Korea’s broadcasts are critical of Kim Jung-un and also consist of a few select K-Pop songs.  The broadcasts are being resumed after they ceased in August, after a rise in tension along the DMZ.  North Korea responded to the resumption of the loudspeakers by placing loudspeakers on their side of the border.  Broadcasts from the north are critical of Park Guen-hae and the South Korean government in general.  The coverage of North Korea’s broadcasts, however, is low and they are seaming to only drown out the broadcasts from South Korea.

America has also responded, with a physical response.  A few days ago, a B-52 bomber flew low over South Korea.  Its flight was meant to be a show of power by the United States.  Though this was a few days ago, North Korea has yet to respond to the flight, possibly due to it lack of ability to respond such a show of power.  However, a North Korean drone was sent back to North Korea after warning shots were fired by South Korea as it crossed the 38th parallel.  These trends highlight the heightened tension that exists on the peninsula, yet there has not been any diplomatic response as of yet.

Without a quick diplomatic response, North Korea has won.  The inability for the international community to put in place a solution to the nuclear test quickly shows the unprepared nature of the international community, which Kim Jung-un will use for his benefit.  Lack of a quick response do not mean that the international community is not responding, however.  Nations – South Korea, Japan, the United States, Russia and China – are all working to put in place a diplomatic solution with teeth.  Each nation has been analyzing what the test means for their intentions and trying to cooperate with the international community in order to put in place a diplomatic response that will assist everyone.  So far, Japan, South Korea and the United States have entered talks, though we can expect that nations, such as China and Russia, will enter the discussion soon.

What does the trend in media coverage show us?  It shows that life after a North Korean nuclear test has returned to normal.  We were worried for two days, with North Korea making the front page internationally, but now, life will resume as normal for billions and billions of people throughout the world.  The international community showed such response to first three nuclear tests.  After this fourth test, which was most likely of an advanced nuclear weapon, the world must stand up and show that life will not return to normal.  North Korea will always act up if we constantly show them as a small pebble in our shoe.  If we make containing North Korea, by establishing a long term goal for the peninsula, then we can show Kim that the regime is under constant surveillance and we are able to respond to their provocations quickly, damaging the Kim regime, without escalating tension on the peninsula.  The need for a long term goal, from every nation in the world, can not be understated.  A long term containment and unification goals are indispensable when attempting to negotiate with or contain North Korea.

P.S. – If you want to see any of the many articles that I used to gather information on the nuclear test, comment and I will post which articles and information you are interested in.

Book review on North Korea

I just finished the Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot by Blaine Harden and posted a review of the book on my other blog.  Go check it out if you are interested in No Kum Sok’s story, North Korean history or aviation history.  It was worth the read and highly recommended book.



From time to time I will post reviews of books on North Korea and South Korea on this blog, so keep checking in if your interested.  However, that is my book blog, so literally everything that I wish to review will be posted there.  Fair warning.