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NightWatch 20101213


For the Night of 13 December 2010

The Korea Confrontation

South Korea: For the record. The Seoul government confirmed it executed artillery exercises today at 27 points along the coast, though none from the Offshore Islands. It also announced a nationwide civil defense drill is scheduled Wednesday, 15 December, with citizens taking underground shelter and jets simulating a North Korean air strike.

South Korea-US: South Korean and U.S. senior defense officials formed the Extended Deterrence Policy Committee (EDPC) as a joint task force to make decisions about the Allies' nuclear policy and to improve both countries' ability to deter threats from North Korea's nuclear program and other weapons of mass destruction, according to South Korean Defense Ministry officials.

The new Committee will hold its first meeting in Washington in either February or March 2011.

Comment: US actions appear to be aimed at slow rolling the Korea confrontation. Statements by a US official and a former US head of intelligence appear to be hyping the "risk," which is a judgment about the consequences of Allied intentions and plans.

The North and South have lived with the danger of war since 1953. That is the threat. When Allied officials talk of risk, they are referring to the likelihood that South Korea will attack North Korea, after another provocation, precipitating an escalatory spiral that can lead to general war. That could happen but does not appear likely.

In dealing with North Korea since the tree cutting incident of 1976, NightWatch judges that North Korea and North Koreans are fundamentally risk averse. They bluff a lot because they are so poor and seek to hide it. However, they will defend themselves vigorously and self-righteously, even if they provoke national suicide. That, however, is not their present intention. They would prefer to become prosperous, but know no otherway to achieve prosperity except through their variation of armed extortion.

North Korea: The Communist party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, carried a commentary Monday that condemned U.S.-South Korea military cooperation as "nothing but treachery escalating the tension between the North and the South and bringing the dark clouds of a nuclear war to hang over the Korean Peninsula."

Comment: The commentary was a propaganda reaction to the start of South Korean artillery exercises. In the past, the North never referred to nuclear war in its threats, preferring to dwell on general war to reunify the Peninsula. Open acknowledgement of the threat of nuclear war indicates a judgment that the Allies are not deterred by North Korea's large but obsolescent conventional armed forces.

In short, the only deterrent the North's leaders think they possess is their nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems. This is a use and lose system. That means they can bluff with it, but if the North Koreans ever fired a nuclear weapon, the Allied response would destroy North Korea as a state. Kim Il sung would have no legacy. His progeny would be homeless international criminals, if they survived.

Uranium enrichment program. A South Korean intelligence official told the press on 14 December that North Korea secretly has been enriching uranium for nuclear weapons at three or four undisclosed locations. The facilities are in addition to the one at the main nuclear site at Yongbyon that was shown to a U.S. expert last month and that contained more than 1,000 operational centrifuges.

"The uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon that the North disclosed to U.S. nuclear expert Siegfried Hecker is not among the three or four South Korea and the U.S. have established to be in existence," the unnamed official was quoted as saying by the Chosun Ilbo newspaper.

Comment: No other sources have reported the proliferation of uranium enrichment sites.  Dispersion of multiple small scale industrial sites would ensure continuity of enrichment and avoid creation of a single point of failure iand vulnerability n the system from concentration of all centrifuge cascades in a single location. Nevertheless, it is doubtful that North Korea has the infrastructure to provide stable and consistent electric power -- which are essential for centrifuge operations -- in more than two locations.

North Korea-China: The meeting between China's Senior State Councilor Dai Bangui and North Korean leader Kim Chon Il on 9 December produced no progress towards easing tension on the Korean Peninsula, according to South Korean officials who received a Chinese readout on the results of Dai's trip.

Chinese officials were told by the North that the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island would not have occurred if the United States and South Korea had not held the drills. The North also told China it is willing to hold talks with the United States if it ends its "hostile policies," a Chinese official said, quoting the discussion. "China requested the North to refrain from any further hostility, but it seems to just be paying lip service," a South Korean official stated.

Comment: The Chinese are not trying hard with Kim Chong il, as indicated below. China has no interest in a united Korea which would be a perpetual threat to China. A dependent North Korea that acts as a buffer to the much more successful Allies and serves a source of mineral ores for Chinese industries matches China's cultural view of Koreans.

China: On 30 November Global Times, a newspaper sponsored by The People's Daily, published an editorial that provides insight into Chinese official thinking about the Korea Confrontation. It contained four themes.

The Republic of Korea is far stronger than the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"The ROK is far stronger than the DPRK, and it has the help of US troops on the defense front. Events such as the Yeonpyeong Island artillery attacks have not shaken the greater security of the ROK. The ROK society takes a matter of fact attitude toward the event. The Korean Peninsula now needs to prevent disputes between the north and south. If a conflict arises, efforts must be made to prevent it from escalating."

Comment: A Chinese public admission of South Korean superiority over the North is rare.

China has limited influence but it sincere about trying to ease tension.

"China is not able to help the ROK to "unleash its anger." Yet it is sincerely helping to ease the tensions on the Korean Peninsula and looking at ways to alleviate the north-south friction that pains the ROK. China is not being hasty in its attempt to help the ROK to fulfill its fundamental interests."

Comment: Implicit is China's appreciation of the danger that South Korea might lash out at the North over the Yeonpyeong Island shelling. China has an acute sense of the South Korea impulse for vengeance. The reference to "ROK fundamental interests" is to Korean reunification.

China blames regional unrest on the US.

"Since the United States announced its plan to "return to Asia," the frequency with which crises on the Korean Peninsula occur has been on the rise. The ROK has not given any thought, but it has become more superstitious in its belief that the medicine of the ROK-US military alliance can cure the "100 diseases" plaguing the peninsula. As a matter of fact, however, the medicine has not worked, and so they forcibly added China to the medication. As long as China gets tough on the DPRK, Pyongyang will become obedient. That for the Chinese public is ridiculous logic, but it has unexpectedly been cast by the ROK and the West as something as holy and accurate as the law of gravity.

Comment: China considers the US to be the cause of increased regional instability in 2010, resulting from a flawed diagnosis of the problems in northeast Asia. As an Asian power, China claims superior knowledge and insight about what is good for Asia. It rejects the US mantra that China must get tough on North Korea.

Koreans will not be forced to give in.

'The DPRK and the ROK belong to the same nation. Korean people are aware of their national character of adhering to their own choices and that they do not easily submit to others' persuasion. They are also aware of their pursuit for independence. Regardless of how the ROK views DPRK politics, Pyongyang currently only recognizes the reason of one person. Is not the "gusto" with which they refuse any big country to boss them around precisely another expression of the Korean national character? One can lobby the DPRK, but can it be forced to give in?"

"Let us give up the dream of forcing Pyongyang to give in. Such a fantasy has been troubling Northeast Asia for many years. Issues that should be resolved have been dragging on again and again. The peninsula issue is highly complicated, and the complexity dictates the fact that there is no simple way to resolve it. The view that once China closes its door Pyongyang will surrender deceives oneself as well as other people. It is also an insult to the whole Korean nation."

Comment: China rejects the US premise that China can restrain North Korea. This theme pervades Chinese commentary about North Korea.

The facts of nearly 30 years of US pressure on China to influence North Korea on nuclear issues compel the judgment that China cannot deliver a non-nuclear North Korea without overthrowing the Kim family despotism. The consequences and ripple effects of revolutionary change in Pyongyang, while probably attractive to the Chinese Communists, are so difficult to predict that successive Chinese leaders have decided to accommodate the Kim despotism, as the devil they know.

The threat of war

"If we do not want to see another full-blown war on the Korean Peninsula, and if we do not want iron and blood to reshape the political map of the peninsula in future, the only way to go is for everyone to sit down and voice his own worries and demands, and to make compromises so as to achieve lasting peace on the peninsula. It would be a lie to say there are other ways to bring lasting peace. Now Beijing is setting the table for the six-party talks. Hopefully the ROK will rethink.

Comment: The Chinese think that talks are the only way to avoid another Korean War. They also think a war is possible, but apparently not likely. They also are offended that the Chinese offer to broker another session of six party talks has been rejected by the South Korean government.

Final comment: Commentators have exaggerated the danger of general war and especially nuclear war. North Korean leaders know that nuclear fires are a last resort, not for deterrence, but to avenge the destruction of North Korea as a state by the Allies during a war, which is a certainty.

The likelihood of additional limited provocations is high, especially if anti-North Korean regime propaganda actions recur. In that event, there will be more shooting. The Chinese will not help.

End of NightWatch for 13 December.

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