Thursday, April 20, 2017

Korea Policy Institute Interviews

The local media coverage of possible conflict on the Korean peninsula seems to be paradoxically vapid and obsessive. It is a constant for the media to cover, as it is a threat to our very life on the island and also something which provides an outlet for US military commanders to speak in strong terms about defense, stability and deterrence. The media seems to adore these moments, just like they love it when there are war games or large-scale training exercises in the region, as you get to play dress up for a day, and take rides in helicopters or an armored transports. When North Korea is saber rattling your average journalist in Guam seems excited to escape the tedium of local news coverage and regurgitate some exciting Department of Defense talking points. But for something that is covered so much, it is fascinating and frustrating, at how little is actually discussed. How little the media actually contributes to people understanding the relationship between Guam, the US and potential conflict in our region. How little the media helps your average person understand the politics of the Korean peninsula itself. We saw similar limitations years ago when the US military buildup was announced and that Marines were to be transferred out of Okinawa and into Guam, and the media did very little to further the community's understanding as to why Marines needed to be moved out of Okinawa.

The Korea Policy Institute is something I have followed closely since I hate the fortune of visiting South Korea seven years ago. I find that their articles and interviews as pasted below, often provide key details about what is happening that goes far beyond the hawkish accounts of your average media outlet.


The Overlooked Past Behind U.S.-North Korea Tensions

The Real
April 12, 2017
Aaron Maté and Christine Hong

AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea are rising. North Korea has warned the U.S. that sending a Navy strike group, including the aircraft carrier Karl Vincent to the Korean Peninsula, could lead to war. North Korea’s official newspaper said its, quote, “nuclear sight is focused on U.S. forces and the U.S. mainland.”A new ballistic missile test last week is said to have prompted the Trump administration’s move, sending a U.S. Navy force into the area. In a Twitter post President Trump said, quote, “North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them. USA.” Joining us is Christine Hong, Associate Professor at UC Santa Cruz. She is on the executive board of the Korea Policy Institute. Welcome, Professor Hong.

CHRISTINE HONG: Thanks, Aaron.

AARON MATÉ: This is not the first time that the U.S. has moved a Navy force into that peninsula, but the first time it’s done so under President Trump. Talk about what’s going on.

CHRISTINE HONG: Well, I mean, you raise a very interesting point. You know, the question is to what degree is Trump’s hawkish, very aggressive, bellicose stance toward North Korea a continuation of the policies of his predecessors? And, in fact, it was Trump the candidate who struck a very different note. If you recall roughly a year ago Trump stated, when he was on the campaign trail, that he would be willing — and this is a very maverick statement — to actually sit down with Kim Jong-un and speak with him. And it was that that represented the possibility of something different. What’s happening right now, unfortunately, is business as usual. And, in point of fact, under President Barack Obama, the policy that was carried out, the U.S. policy that was carried out with regard to Asia and the Pacific, was what he called his “pivot policy.” Under that pivot policy, that was later called the rebalancing policy, the balance of U.S. naval forces went from the Atlantic to the Pacific, so that 60% are concentrated now in the Pacific. Whereas a lot of people are looking at Trump right now and rightly recognizing that his very aggressive language is bringing us to the brink of something very dangerous, we were on the brink during the past presidency, as well.

AARON MATÉ: When North Korea launches a ballistic test, what should the U.S. do?

CHRISTINE HONG: You know, unfortunately right now, we’re in this very lamentable situation in which North Korea’s launching of these tests is a kind of way of communicating with the United States. Much as Trump’s air strike was also meant, as his administration openly admitted, to be a form of communication with North Korea, as well. And so, we have this sort of very dangerous mode of communication where these kinds of bombs, bombs are substituting for actual dialogue. So, I would say that right now Trump is sort of walking a very tried and true regime change-oriented path that many of his predecessors have also walked along. But if there’s any way for Trump the maverick who is willing to sit down with Kim Jong-un, if there’s any possibility of that, I think that that is one of the only ways forward.

AARON MATÉ: There have been talks between the U.S. and North Korea before. There was the agreement in the ’90s between Clinton and the North Korean regime to get North Korea to freeze its plutonium production. These agreements worked for a bit, but then they collapsed. Can you talk about the history of recent U.S.-North Korean engagement and how we got to where we are today?

CHRISTINE HONG: You know, I think that we have to actually look at the long history, and then look at the more recent history. From its very inception as a state, North Korea has been subjected to a policy that we can just broadly call regime change on the part of the United States. You can understand the Korean War as an extensive campaign, an asymmetrical war, that was aimed at regime change. And you can understand more recent policy in that same light. But you’re very right. At the end of the Clinton administration there was the possibility of engagement. And when George W. Bush came into office he adopted what was known as the ABC policy, the All But Clinton policy. And as I’m sure your viewers recall, he nominated North Korea as part of the infamous ‘Axis of Evil’. And also, the other thing that happened during his administration is that, as part of the U.S. nuclear posture review, it listed North Korea among several other states as a likely and possible target of a pre-emptive U.S. nuclear strike. From mid-century onward, the United States has had a very aggressive nuclear policy toward North Korea. It contemplated using nuclear weapons against North Korea and China at mid-century. And, in fact, some of the U.S. strategic planners envisioned a kind of Cobalt Zone where no life could live for hundreds of years. Against the conditions of the Armistice Agreement, which was concluded in July of 1953, the U.S. stationed — and this was illegal — nuclear weapons on the southern part of the Korean Peninsula until the end of the Cold War. Over a dozen times the United States has threatened North Korea with nuclear annihilation. But if you look at this long history you can understand that, from North Korea’s perspective, it’s eminently rational to actually develop a nuclear weapons program as a self-defense measure. And I also do want to say that one thing that very few people in the United States have is a memory of ruin, in terms of its hot wars during the Cold War. Throughout the Cold War the United States waged really destructive hot wars in the Third World, most infamously on the Korean Peninsula and in Vietnam. And, you know, an estimated 4 million people — Koreans — were killed during that asymmetrical war in which the United States unleashed bombs with absolutely no regard for human life. 70% of those who were killed were civilians. Chinese statistics have North Korean casualties at one-third of the total population. And so, when you’re talking about North Korea’s memory, in terms of people who are alive today, there’s not a family that was untouched by the ruination of the Korean War.

AARON MATÉ: Okay. So, you’re saying that this very devastating and long history fuels some of the antagonism that North Korea projects towards the U.S. today. Going back to the devastating Korean War. But what to do now? I mean, people look at the Korean regime and say, you know, this is the worst government in the world. How do we deal with them? What’s your response to that?

CHRISTINE HONG: I just say that the primary ways that we know North Korea are through lenses of war. And so, you know, if there are other ways of engaging with North Korea, and this is the other thing, too, throughout the presidency of Barack Obama there was absolutely no engagement with North Korea. And I think that that is one of those options that, you know, supposedly, the Trump administration has stated that all options are on the table, and that’s meant very ominously. You know, I mean, we’re made to understand that a nuclear first strike is possible. But I hope that one of those options is also engagement.

AARON MATÉ: And what would engagement look like?

CHRISTINE HONG: Engagement would look, it would look like a much more humane policy toward North Korea. Right now, the United States, against the wishes of the South Korean people, is deploying what they call a missile defense system, the THAAD battery, to South Korea. And it accelerated that under Donald Trump. The people in the communities in which these systems will be located have actually really protested against this. And that was also part of the protests against the former South Korean president Park Geun-hye, that you saw those massive, millions of people who went to the streets in South Korea, that was one of the issues that was animating those protests. Another way in which engagement would appear would be — it would be actually North Korea has repeatedly stated that it’s willing to cap its nuclear program — not do away with, but cap its nuclear program — if the United States stops performing war exercises with South Korea. And these are the largest war exercises in the world.

AARON MATÉ: Can there be direct talks now between the Trump administration and North Korea?

CHRISTINE HONG: You know, I think the interesting thing about Trump is if his predecessor, Barack Obama, had a policy of strategic patience toward North Korea, Trump’s has been strategic unpredictability, and strategic opaqueness, with the threat of a nuclear first strike thrown in. I’m not sure what’s possible at this present juncture because things do seem so dire. But it was Trump the candidate who did speak in very unorthodox fashion about being willing to actually sit down with Kim Jong-un. And if that’s at all possible now, I’d say that that’s one of the only pathways forward. The other thing that’s happening is, although the Trump administration is speaking to its conservative counterpart in South Korea, as you well know, the South Korean president was ousted. And all signs suggest that the next administration in South Korea is going to be progressive. And so, that’s a wind of change that’s happening. And in actually, in planning its North Korea policy, the Trump administration can’t but deal with South Korea. And so, we do have change that’s happening there and that actually suggests another sort of possibility of engagement.

AARON MATÉ: Professor Christine Hong of UC Santa Cruz, thanks so much for joining us.

CHRISTINE HONG: Thank you very much.

AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.
To see the video or hear this interview.

Christine Hong is on the Board of the Korea Policy Institute, and a professsor at UC Santa Cruz.


Dialogue with North Korea is the only sensible path
Janine Jackson | April 11, 2017
Originally published on Counterspin / FAIR
An Interview with Hyun Lee of Zoom in Korea.
MP3 Link

Janine Jackson: The Washington Post suggests that people in Seattle and San Francisco “should be worried” about being hit by a ballistic missile from North Korea, citing an analyst who described such an event, a bit cryptically, as “a looming threat but not a current threat.”

If the concern is that the saber-rattling between Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump could indeed have dire consequences, it’s hard to see how such stories help, or maps that show ranges for North Korea’s missiles far greater than any actually tested missiles have gone, or the conflation of nuclear and non-nuclear weaponry. But we’re equally ill-served by a failure to interrogate US policy on the Korean peninsula, and corporate media’s reduction of North Korea to caricature in the time-honored method reserved for official enemies.

As we record this show Trump is meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping, and we’re told North Korea is at the top of the agenda, Trump having declared, “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.” What does that mean, and how has it come to this? We’re joined now by writer and activist Hyun Lee of Zoom in Korea, a project of the Solidarity Committee for Democracy and Peace in Korea. She’s also a Fellow at the Korea Policy Institute. Welcome to CounterSpin, Hyun Lee.

Hyun Lee: Hi. Thanks for having me.

JJ: Well, the Chinese foreign minister just described the US and North Korea as like two accelerating trains coming toward each other with neither side willing to give way, and I think people may well wonder how we got to such a disturbing point. Let’s start with the US. What, historically, have been the US’s intentions or goals with regard to North Korea, and have those changed?

HL: So, many people in the United States don’t realize that the US has maintained the threat of a nuclear attack against North Korea for decades. From 1958 to 1991, the US had hundreds of nuclear weapons in the southern half of the Korean peninsula, in South Korea. So at that time, North Korea’s countermeasure to deter a US nuclear attack was to forward deploy all of its conventional forces near the DMZ.

In 2001, when George W. Bush came to power, many things changed. There were technological advancements, and he also made doctrinal changes, centered around very high-tech, precision-capable weapons that gave the US preemptive strike advantage. He named North Korea part of the “Axis of Evil.” He also listed North Korea as one of seven countries that were potential targets for a US preemptive strike in the US Nuclear Posture Review. So then, in response to that, North Korea had to develop a new kind of deterrent, and that’s when it seriously turned to developing nuclear weapons, and its first nuclear test was in 2006.

Since that time, what the United States has tried to do is stall North Korea’s nuclear development, tying it up through negotiations that basically went nowhere, at the same time constantly threatening to bring about North Korea’s collapse, through sanctions that were crippling its economy, and also military exercises that were very provocative. They simulate war plans that now include the decapitation of the North Korean leadership, and include nuclear first strike.

US/North Korean relations during the Obama administration was a contest between Obama’s policy of “strategic patience,” which is basically waiting and preparing for the eventual collapse of the North Korean regime, and then North Korea’s policy called byungjin, which was making parallel progress in economic development, and also developing its nuclear deterrence capability.

Towards the end of Obama’s presidency, the consensus in Washington was that strategic patience had basically failed. North Korea obviously has not collapsed. On the contrary, many people who have been there recently come back and report that they’ve made progress in their economic development, and now experts are warning that North Korea will soon have, if it doesn’t already have, the capability of launching an ICBM with a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can strike the continental United States. Kim Jong-Un’s New Year’s speech earlier this year contained a message that basically they were ready to test-launch an ICBM.

So that’s basically how we got to this situation. The US and South Korean militaries are now developing and also deploying missile defense capability. The aim of that is basically neutralizing North Korea’s nuclear weapons. So now, in response to that, what North Korea is doing is developing countermeasures that can evade the missile defense system, and that’s what the recent missile tests have been about. So it’s this basic back-and-forth, cat-and-mouse game of US developing nuclear first-strike capabilities, and then North Korea developing deterrence capabilities.

And we’ve become very confused in the United States, because the mainstream media like to exaggerate the North Korean nuclear threat, but we never get news of what the US has been doing over the past decades. And we should be very clear that what this is all about is actually US nuclear first-strike advantage against North Korea, and North Korea reacting to that by developing its deterrence capability.

JJ: Well, yes, reporting is this world where there’s just an unspoken acceptance of the legitimacy of the United States doing things that official enemies are not allowed to do. The very idea of strategic patience—we’re just going to wait until the regime collapses—we can understand why North Koreans might not want to co-sign that as a plan. But it also depends so much about where you start the clock. In the US media, as you’ve said, it’s always North Korea taking the provocative action and the United States responding, and that’s getting it backwards, you think.

HL: You know, there is a double standard in US condemnation of North Korean missile tests, because the US also continuously tests ballistic missiles. In 2015 alone, the US flight-tested the Minuteman 3 ICBM from California, from the Vandenberg Air Force Base, five times in 2015 alone. So, I mean, every country has a sovereign right to test its weapons capability. That’s how you know if it works or not, and that’s precisely what North Korea is doing. So we should also note that there is a double standard there.

JJ: What concerns do you have specifically about what looks like being the Trump administration’s approach? We’ve seen both Trump and Nikki Haley say China has to deal with North Korea, and that’s supposedly the point, or one of the points, of this meeting with Xi Jinping. What do you make of that?

HL: Many experts have noted that it is not a good idea for the United States to outsource its North Korea policy to China. First of all, we should be very clear that the two countries have very different strategic interests in the region. So it is not a good idea, from the US point of view, to rely on China so much to carry out its policy, because it doesn’t make sense.

China has made very clear to the United States that if it wants cooperation in North Korea, it should first reverse its very controversial decision on the deployment of the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea, that is right now in the process of being deployed, and it is a very controversial issue. It probably will be on the agenda of the summit this weekend. China considers the THAAD system, if it’s based in South Korea, a threat to its security, because the radar that comes with the system can be used for surveillance activity on Chinese missiles.

And so far, the Trump administration has been very aggressive in pushing THAAD deployment forward. Meanwhile, people in South Korea have been opposed to it, and are protesting every day outside the deployment site. If the US continues to push that forward it may make it very difficult to get Chinese cooperation on North Korea.

Secondly, China does not want the collapse of the North Korean regime, because that would create a huge refugee crisis at its border, and that’s the last thing that China wants. China also does not want the prospect of a unified Korean peninsula that is led by a pro-US South Korean government right next door as its neighbor.

So for all of these reasons, it’s probably not a good idea for the US to rely on China to carry out its policy, based on its strategic interest. It is more in US interest to negotiate directly with North Korea for North Korea to basically cap its nuclear and missile tests.

JJ: That moves me to the final question, because I’d like to talk about other ways forward. We know media get into saber-rattling mode, and it gets very difficult to hear other voices—and people who seek peace, or an end to conflict, are almost in a parallel conversation. But what possible ways forward do you see for those who seek an end to the conflict?

HL: The only sensible path at this point is dialogue: sitting down with North Korea and coming up with a fundamental solution to the crisis. We should note that last year in July, North Korea basically put out a statement that was not picked up or noticed by the Western media. But it laid out the terms for denuclearization, and all of the conditions that it laid out had to do with removing the threat to its sovereignty that’s posed by US nuclear weapons. That gives an indication that that’s what the North Koreans are fundamentally interested in resolving.

US Navy ships participating in the annual simulation of war against North Korea.

So a fundamental solution in my mind would be, first of all, ending the annual provocative war exercises that the United States military does every year in South Korea, abandoning the US nuclear first-strike prerogative, and then signing a peace treaty that will bring closure to the unended Korean War, eventually leading to the withdrawal of US troops from the Korean peninsula.
And then, in exchange, North Korea should halt its nuclear weapons development—meaning no more tests, no more nuclear tests or no more missile tests, basically capping it—and a commitment to nonproliferation. In my mind, that is the only sensible path to resolve the current situation.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Hyun Lee of Zoom in Korea, online at Thank you very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

HL: Thank you.

Hyun Lee works with Zoom in Korea and is a Korea Policy Fellow.

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