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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Korea Institute for National Unification Researcher predicts North Korea's Third Nuclear Test in Reaction to Cheonan Situation

Following is an English translation of a piece written by Chon Song-hun, a Senior Fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU).

This piece was printed in Korean and published on the KINU Online Series CO 10-19 in Korean.


North Korea's Position on the Ship Cheonan Incident and Projected Future Attitude

[First part of the paper is about the official statements from South Korea and North Korea on the Cheonan incident, and those passages were not translated.]

North Korea's Projected Future Attitude

The North Korean authorities must have expected that the surprise attack by a small-sized midget submarine would remain a case of permanent unsolved mystery, if not a perfect crime. [They] must have expected that [the South Korean] Government would be at a loss due to its inability to find material evidence despite strong belief, and hoped that it would find itself in a tight dilemma due to criticism of security incapability from the conservative camp and criticism from the progressive camp calling for the withdrawal of the hostile policy toward the North.

Nevertheless, such an expectation proved futile with the announcement of the scientific, objective investigation results by an international joint investigation team. Instead, with the revelation that the sinking of Cheonan was a clear military provocation by North Korea, North Korea finds itself in a tight spot. Whenever a deception tactic to deceive a counterpart failed, North Korea used to choose a path that further deteriorated the circumstance. A case in point is that in the early 1990s when a false report to the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] turned out to be a fact, [the North] severed North-South dialogue and declared the withdrawal from the NPT [Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty]. In view of such an experience, this time, too, North Korea is likely to take an offensive reaction that damages stability on the Korean peninsula while using a strategy of offensive advancement to evade a defensive phase. Under the basic premise that the sinking of Cheonan has nothing to do with North Korea, North Korea will define the nature of all the measures it takes as a reaction in the self-defensive dimension against the international community's pressure on the North.

In the future, North Korea will attempt to incite mistrust and criticism for the [South Korean] government and create conflict among South Koreans by giving a political, economical, psychological blow by means of heightened tension through an offensive strategy toward the South. North Korean ships' infiltration of the NLL [Northern Limit Line] will continue and there is a likelihood that North-South maritime collisions may occur. As a counter offensive to South Korea's reaction, [the North] may fire surface-to-ship missiles against [the South] ships. Regarding the Kaesong Industrial Zone, [the North] would not easily close it in consideration of economic benefits and the domestic, international burdens in the aftermath of closing the zone. For the time being, [the North] will use the tactic of pressuring South Korea with the card of possible hostage-taking of the South side's workers. Nevertheless, in case the situation worsened, [we] cannot rule out the possibility that [the North] would take the measure of closing the zone.

Since strained North-South relations are inevitable for a considerable period, South Korea's internal strategy is likely to be adjusted. It appears that [the North] will promote the power-succession project, which will be concretized with the opening of the door to a powerful state in 2012, with the focus placed on the military aspect. [The North] will actually give up economic assistance from South Korea and try to find a breakthrough of economic losses from the military sector. In other words, it is likely that [the South] will create a semi-war situation with heightened confrontation against South Korea and achieve power succession amid the atmosphere of war. This is to overcome the people's discontent over the poor economy and the three-generation hereditary succession, by creating a threat of war.

In the international stage, including the United Nations, [the North] will unfold diplomatic warfare on the basis of two pillars of "North Korea's non-involvement" and "self-defensive reaction." A method that North Korean may choose to give a strong shock externally is a third nuclear test. It is expected that [the North] is highly likely to conduct a third nuclear test in a period between the conclusion of the eighth NPT evaluation meeting at the end of May and before the November US mid-term election this year.

In connection with this, [we] need to take note of the Rodong Sinmun report dated May 12 that North Korean scientists successfully conducted a nuclear fusion reaction. Nuclear fusion is a technology for manufacturing the H-bomb, which is mightier by tens or hundreds of times than the atomic bomb, whose principle is nuclear fission. [I] view that lurking behind the background of announcing North Korea's success in fusion technology is a calculation to conduct an additional nuclear test. It is expected that by carrying out a third nuclear test, which is much bigger in scale than the previous ones, [the North] will exaggerate its nuclear deterrent, implicitly showing off the fact that it has made a new nuclear warhead relying on the nuclear fusion technology.

The nuclear tests conducted in 2006 and 2009 were small-scale nuclear tests at the level of 1 kiloton and 2 kilotons, respectively. North Korea must have conducted small-scale nuclear tests with some calculation of its own, but with the West's reaction that North Korea's nuclear capabilities are nothing much, it is evaluated that [the North] plans an additional nuclear test that has much larger destructive power. In conclusion, the report of successful nuclear fusion may be a political move, and a prior ground-laying work, to conduct a third nuclear test by taking advantage of a tense atmosphere created by the Cheonan incident.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Kim Jong-Il: Right-Wing Mole?

An interesting piece published on Foreign Policy in Focus World Beat, Vol. 5, No. 20, 25 May 2010.

Kim Jong Il must work for the American Enterprise Institute. Or maybe it's the Heritage Foundation. The North Korean dictator doesn't talk much about his non-resident fellowship at a right-wing U.S. think tank. It might not go over well with the Politburo in Pyongyang.

But actions speak louder than words.

North Korea's sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean ship that went down in March in the Yellow Sea near the maritime border between the two countries, is just what the right-wing doctors have ordered. Japan was looking a little squishy on the Okinawa base issue. China needed some reminders about just how rogue its erstwhile ally really is. And South Korea's conservative President Lee Myung Bak wanted confirmation that his containment approach to the north was justified.

Right on cue, Kim Jong Il torpedoed a South Korean ship, killing 46 sailors. The incident plays so much into the hands of North Korea's adversaries that some analysts have looked for other culprits, including friendly fire from either South Korea or the United States. While such speculation is interesting, it seems rather farfetched. In this age of WikiLeaks, it's hard to imagine a successful cover-up of such friendly fire. And the evidence implicating other actors is circumstantial, to say the least.

Meanwhile, Pyongyang's fingerprints are all over this one. The South Koreans have produced torpedo fragments from dredging the area where the ship sank. There's Korean lettering on the propulsion shaft that matches the font used in another North Korean torpedo the South Koreans have. And the South Koreans also matched traces of propellant to an earlier North Korean torpedo. Skeptics have challenged some of these findings, but the rebuttals in both news outlets and blogs are rather convincing.

Perhaps the South Korean government fabricated the evidence? Maybe. But South Korea was reluctant to point the finger at the north in the first place. A successful North Korean strike embarrasses the South Korean military and casts a shadow over the South Korean economy.

So, it looks as though AEI's overseas fellow is the most logical perp. As a result of his bold move, South Korea is suspending all contact with the North. Forget about trade (about a quarter of a billion dollars a year) and access to South Korean shipping lanes. Washington is backing its South Korean ally 100 percent. The hard right has been pushing for this kind of isolation policy against North Korea for some time.

Even more timely is the role the Cheonan sinking plays in U.S.-Japan relations. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama was wavering on whether or not he should accede to U.S. pressure to build a new base in Okinawa to replace the aging Futenma Marine Corps facility. But, according to a senior U.S. official, the Cheonan incident reminded the Japanese government "that this is still a very dangerous neighborhood and that the U.S.-Japan alliance and the basing arrangements that are part of that are critical to Japan's security."

North Korea, in other words, has managed to torpedo all attempts to break the isolation of the country and reduce military tensions in the region. If the Dear Leader didn't receive under-the-table payments from John Bolton and friends, what on earth motivated such a self-destructive act? Perhaps Kim wanted to rally nationalist sentiment in the country on the eve of his son's succession to the top spot. Perhaps it was simple revenge for South Korea's firing on a North Korean ship that passed into South Korean waters last November. The maritime boundary between the two countries has been long disputed, so trespass is truly in the eyes of the beholder.

Actually, the situation is even more complicated, as Mike Chinoy points out in Forbes. When South Korean president Lee Myung Bak took office, he backtracked on his predecessor's pledge to work with North Korea to build confidence around the disputed maritime boundary. "The North was infuriated by what it saw as a deliberate belittling of accords signed by its all-powerful leader - what one western analyst described as 'sticking a finger in Kim Jong Il's eye,'" writes Chinoy. "So Pyongyang responded in a predictably belligerent fashion - by ratcheting up tensions in the disputed waters."

So, like with the Maine and the Tonkin Gulf incident, are we going to war? Fortunately, no one is calling for military retaliation against North Korea. South Koreans oppose military action by two to one, and they even support the maintenance of the south-managed Kaesong Industrial Complex, which employs 40,000 North Koreans (and would likely cost the south half a billion dollars to close). Even the Heritage Foundation is going only so far as to recommend an economic cutoff, further isolation of North Korea, and a clear condemnation in the Security Council. China remains lukewarm about any major challenge to North Korea and will do its best to throw a wet blanket over the controversy.

Washington will still try as hard as it can to pressure China into taking as hard-line a stance as possible. Other than express legitimate outrage, what would these stepped-up containment efforts achieve? About as much as Lee Myung Bak's initial hard-line posture. The North Korean government doesn't apologize when pushed up against the wall - it's content to fall back on its policy of self-reliance, or juche. And the North Korean people haven't risen up against their rulers when pushed into starvation. As Joel Wit points out in The New York Times, diplomacy remains our most viable strategy: "In the aftermath of the Cheonan sinking, the United States and South Korea must recognize that a return to dialogue would serve our interests. It is the only realistic way to rein in North Korea's objectionable activities."

This isn't a particularly palatable message right now in Seoul. And it probably won't go down very well here in Washington. But after a couple months of denunciations and attempted arm-twisting, it would be best if the countries involved in the Six Party talks take this advice to heart. If we want to prevent any future Cheonans, we need to sit down with North Korea. The last thing we want is a regime with nothing to lose - and plenty of weapons - to go out in a blaze of juche and take as many with them as possible.


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Thursday, May 20, 2010

North Korea denies Involvement in the sinking of the Cheonan – Nothing Really New

A South Korean naval vessel Cheonan sank under mysterious circumstances on the night of March 26, 2010. A South Korean joint civilian-military investigation team (joined by a multinational team of experts) had been investigating the cause of the incident. The anticipation for the investigating team’s official announcement, with indications that a North Korean torpedo is the most likely culprit, had been building for a few weeks.

Throughout the investigation period, North Korea has vigorously denied it had anything to do with the sinking of the Cheonan. It’s first statement of denial was issued on April 17, 2010 (22 days after the actual incident), where North Korea accused South Korean “warmongers” of trying to link the sinking to Pyongyang to build an “international consensus” against it.

May 20, 2010, the South Korean joint civilian-military investigation team officially announced the results of its investigation to determine the cause of the sinking of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan. The joint team concluded a North Korean midget submarine fired torpedo was to blame for the incident and made public torpedo debris salvaged near the site of the sinking.

In a surprising move, North Korean National Defense Commission (NDC) issued a strong protest against the South Korean findings while the results of the joint investigation were still being announced. The NDC stated it will dispatch its own inspection team to South Korea so that it can verify the “material evidence” that links the sinking to North Korea. The NDC also stated it will “promptly react to any ‘punishment’ and ‘retaliation’ and ‘sanctions’ infringing upon” North Korean “interests with various forms of tough measures including an all-out war.”

While the threat of “all-out war” seems to be harsh, such language is not unusual. In March 2008, North Korea threatened South Korea with destruction after Seoul’s top military officer said South Korea would consider attacking the North if it tried to carry out a nuclear attack – “Our military will not sit idle until warmongers launch a pre-emptive strike...everything will be in ashes, not just a sea of fire, if our advanced pre-emptive strike once begins.”

North Korea denying attacks on South Korea is nothing new.

On September 18, 1996, 26 North Korean commandos snuck into South Korean waters on the east coast in a submarine. Five days later, the North argued its submarine went adrift because its engine broke down. Under pressure from South Korea and the United States, the North's Foreign Ministry in December expressed its regrets.

Pyongyang was also in denial mode in November 1987, when two North Korean spies put a time bomb on a Korean Air passenger flight that exploded midair over the Andaman Sea, killing all 115 aboard. A week after the bombing, the North said it had nothing to do with it. In February 1988, Kim Il Sung called the accusation a "conspiracy" by the United States and South Korea.

The North's Rangoon bombing in Burma on October 9, 1983 targeted President Chun Doo Hwan but ended up killing three cabinet ministers and other officials. Three days later, North Korea denied any links and called the Burmese government's accusation of a North Korean assassination attempt "ludicrous."

On January 21, 1968, 31 North Korean armed commandos invaded northern Seoul with the mission to assassinate President Park Chung Hee. Twenty-eight of them were killed but not before they killed two South Korean police officers and five civilians. On January 24, the North hailed the infiltration as "the brave fight by South Korean armed commandos."

But more than four years later, North Korean leader Kim Il Sung apologized to South Korean intelligence chief Lee Hu-rak when Lee visited Pyongyang, and said some radical leftists in North Korea planned the mission.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Serial Number on torpedo propeller matches those used for the North Korean torpedoes - South Korea's Chosun Ilbo reports

Today's front page headline of the Chosun Ilbo (a conservative South Korean daily morning paper) read: Torpedo Serial Number Font Confirmed to be North Korean (어뢰 일련번호, 북한 글자체로 확인).

The report stated, according to a high ranking South Korean official, the joint civilian-military investigation team looking into the sinking of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan has found "conclusive evidence proving" the North Korean torpedo was what caused the sinking of the Cheonan.

The report stated, the joint investigation team reportedly was able to retrieve a pair of torpedo propellers in relatively good shape last week in the mud near the location where the Cheonan went down. After comparing the serial number imprinted on the retrieved propellers to a known North Korean sample, the investigation team reportedly found the font and the imprinting style used in the serial number of the retrieved propeller to be a match to the North Korean sample.

The South Korean official told the Chosun Ilbo that given the torpedo debris recovered in the area, the presence of traces of RDX explosives on the hull of the Cheonan, and the latest discovery about the serial number, there is now conclusive evidence that the North Korea is behind the sinking of the Cheonan. The South Korean official also said the "foreign experts" agrees with the joint investigation team's analysis.

To read the entire Chosun Ilbo report in Korean, please Korean title provided above. If you would like to read the report in English, please read on for the translated version.

* There were some editorial liberties taken with the translation for style and grammar purposes, but not for content. Please let me know if there are parts of the translation that could be worded differently to better reflect the original Korean text.


Torpedo Serial Number Font Confirmed to be North Korean

"The joint investigation team has found conclusive evidence (smoking gun) proving the Cheonan was sunk by a North Korean torpedo," a high-ranking official said on 18 May.

The joint investigation team has recently retrieved torpedo propellers (propulsion device) in relatively good shape. After analyzing the imprinted serial number, investigators discovered that the font and imprinting style match with that of a North Korean torpedo. The official said "after analyzing the serial number, foreign experts (of the joint investigation team) also agreed that the torpedo came from North Korea. Together with the finding of torpedo debris and traces of explosives, this is conclusive evidence", he added.

Another government official said "last weekend, a pair (2) of nearly intact torpedo propellers were found embedded in the mud."

"These propellers can be distinguished as such, even by non-experts," he added.

It was reported that the joint investigation team compared the recovered propellers with the North Korean light torpedo propeller that was obtained seven years ago and concluded that both samples share similar quality of material. Of note, a (North Korean) torpedo propulsion device is composed of two propellers rotating in opposite directions.

A computer simulation run by the joint investigation team has temporarily concluded that it is highly possible that a sound-guided torpedo with a 250kg warhead exploded around 3m underneath the gas turbine room of the Cheonan.

Analysis of the traces of explosives retrieved also revealed that they are similar to those recovered from the seven year-old sample.

Military authorities announced they found the diesel engine (of the Cheonan) which apparently fell apart during the explosion and it was transferred to Second Fleet Command in Pyongtaek, (South Korea), for gunpowder analysis. It was also reported that the (Cheonan’s) gas turbine was located and will soon be salvaged for further analysis.