Small Wars Journal

07/03/2020 News & Commentary – Korea

Fri, 07/03/2020 - 8:39am

News & commentary by Dave Maxwell. Edited and published by Daniel Riggs.

1. Four-term ruling party lawmaker named unification minister, NIS chief as national security director

2. Coming Soon: Another Donald Trump - Kim Jong-Un Summit This Year?

3. Kim Jong-Un says North Korea prevented coronavirus from making inroads

4. U.S. envoy to visit South Korea to discuss stalled North Korea nuclear talks

5. Kim Jong-Un Praises North Korea's "Shining Success" Against COVID-19: Report

6.  Kim Jong Un Scolds North Korea Cadres for Complacency on Virus

7.  Top DPRK leader guides Political Bureau meeting over COVID-19 protection measures

8. Kim Jong-un declares 'maximum alert' of coronavirus despite reporting no cases

9. Pres. Moon should lose obsession to mediate for the North

10. Kim Jong-Un says 'far-sighted leadership' prevented COVID-19 from making inroads

11. Gov't postpones final decision on relocation site of Daegu military airport

12. Bolton says Trump could meet Kim again to help reelection

13. Korea, US to Cancel Another Joint Drill

1. Four-term ruling party lawmaker named unification minister, NIS chief as national security director · by 이치동 · July 3, 2020

President Moon is doubling down on his peace strategy.  His new team is well connected to north Korea.  At least Im Jeong Seok (Lim Jong-suk) was not appointed as the head of the National Intelligence Service. However, he and Chung Eui-yong are now special advisers for diplomatic and security affairs.  This will probably allow I’m to prepare to run for President to replace Moon.

Despite the words to cooperate more closely with the US because it is "our ally," Suh Hoon, the director of national security says he will not neglect communication with our neighbors.  I expect him to reach out to China soon.

I fear further divergence in the alliance.


2. Coming Soon: Another Donald Trump - Kim Jong-un Summit This Year?

The National Interest · by Daniel R. DePetris · July 2, 2020

The only leader who really wants another summit is President Moon who somehow thinks this will jump start intra-Korea relations to support his "peace strategy."

I think it is a wasted effort.  I think there is little chance of it happening. But the more important question is what will it accomplish?  What positive effect will it have?

I think it is unlikely to happen for two reasons:

Frist, while some of Trump's partisan political advisors might think it could be a useful distraction - the professional political advisers know it will not change votes and will only support campaign rhetoric with the base while the opposition will use it to their benefit.  The only way it could have some impact is if a real substantive agreement could be reached but even then given all the other issues in the campaign it will still not have a significant effect and will not change votes in a meaningful way.  In addition, the foreign policy professionals will strongly recommend against a summit but we know Trump marches to the beat of his own drum.

I do not think Kim would agree to a summit for two reasons. First he is upset with Trump because he has provided him with political benefits by promising to halt rests of nuclear weapons and ICBM and he has kept that promise.  This allows Trump to declare a foreign policy win.  Kim has received nothing in return.  His failure to obtain sanctions relief has put him under enormous pressure.

The second reason is related to the first. Unless the US makes a promise to provide sanctions relief in return for a meeting Kim will not likely agree to one.  He cannot attend a fourth meeting and come away with nothing again.

My recommendation is that President Moon and his administration stop pursuing this.  I hope this was the final attempt. It makes him seem desperate. It makes him seem out of touch with the reality of both Kim and Trump and their relationship.  I really do believe that Moon has to completely reassess his strategy to deal with Kim Jong-un as he really is and not as he would wish him to be.  

Unfortunately this is unlikely now with the appointment of Moon's new security team. I expect they will be doubling down on Moon's peace strategy.


3. Kim Jong Un says North Korea prevented coronavirus from making inroads

Reuters · by Sangmi Cha· July 2, 2020

Reading between the lines I think that the use of 'inroads" means that the coronavirus has penetrated the north.  Given the politburo meeting today and the recent report on the paratyphoid fever outbreak in 1st Corps I think they are covering up an outbreak.

There is a lot of reporting on this meeting today.


4. U.S. envoy to visit South Korea to discuss stalled North Korea nuclear talks

Reuters · by Hyonhee Shin, Josh Smith · July 3, 2020

The DEPSECSTATE has his work cut out for him with the Moon Administration's new security team.  I hope he is not walking into a near ambush and all the important behind the scenes work he has done (e.g., strategy working group) is not undone by this new team.


5. Kim Jong-Un Praises North Korea's "Shining Success" Against COVID-19: Report · by Agence France-Presse

He doth "praise" too much. (Apologies to Shakespeare). The only success may be how well they have covered up the outbreaks.  But Kim might learn from the US, it may be too early to take a victory lap.


6.  Kim Jong Un Scolds North Korea Cadres for Complacency on Virus

Bloomberg · by Jeong-Ho Lee · July 3, 2020

Regarding Kim's reappearance after a few weeks: This is an interesting development.  If the report is accurate and if the discussion was about a  COVID-19 response I think it is very likely they have had an outbreak within north Korea or they expect to have one soon.  Although they have implemented draconian population and resources control measures to prevent the spread of the infection it is likely that COVID 19 has penetrated the north's boundaries. We have seen a bit of anecdotal reporting such as the report of a paratyphoid fever outbreak in the 1st Corps area along the eastern part of the DMZ. (  All the frontline corps have been ordered to disinfect everything in their area of operations.  This makes me think perhaps they are having an outbreak of COVID 19 but do not want to admit it either internal or external audiences.  And if there is a breakout within the military it will be especially problematic for the regime if it cannot be contained.  If there is a breakdown in the three chains of control of the military (traditional, political, ands security) we could see serious problems for the regime it is occurs on a widespread basis since the regime is dependent on a coherent military capability and support for the regime in order for Kim Jong-un and the Paektu bloodline to survive.

As to Kim's extended absences it seems like he is working one day and then taking a three day holiday before he comes back to work the next day.  I think we can only speculate on the reason for this.  We have heard the many rumors about his ill health and alleged botched operations but the simplest explanation may be he is quarantining to protect himself from exposure to COVID -19.  He is only making appearances when he has to give orders and direction or if the rumor mill about his health becomes too active.
Despite our inability to know what is happening with any certainty, the ROK/US alliance must remain vigilant, observing for indications and warnings for the full spectrum of conflict and contingencies.  Now is not the time to be distracted with ROK/US alliance "friction" such as the SMA stalemate and OPCON transitions and other alliance issues or President Moon's peace strategy which Kim Jong-un has proved is ineffective and unattainable. The alliance must be focused on the existential threat from the north.


7. Top DPRK leader guides Political Bureau meeting over COVID-19 protection measures

This is a Chinese Communist Party report on the north Korean Politburo meeting.  I like the title.  So Kim Jong-un is the "top DPRK leader."  Would there be any confusion over who is the leader of north Korea? 


8. Kim Jong-un declares 'maximum alert' of coronavirus despite reporting no cases

Express · by Melanie Kaidan · July 3, 2020

The closed borders have been helping of course.  But the conclusion of the article notes the cost of defecting is rising and that to cross the Tumen River (the border with Russia) it costs about 10,000,000 Korean won.  I doubt very much smugglers and brokers are taking Korean won.  They most likely take only foreign currency (which is one reason the regime is trying to gain control of and eliminate the use of it throughout the north). 


9. Pres. Moon should lose obsession to mediate for the North · July 3, 2020

I concur.  Not because the President is not trying as hard as he can but because Kim Jong-un just will not allow such mediation and it is naive to think that he will.  It is also naïve to think he has given up on his objectives, his long con, or his political warfare strategy to dominate the peninsula (by force if necessary and the conditions are right).  Plus it is unseemly when there is the appearance of taking the north Korean side which many if not all his new advisers can be expected to do when dealing with the US.


10. Kim Jong Un says 'far-sighted leadership' prevented COVID-19 from making inroads · Kunal Gaurav· July 3, 2020

I offer this seemingly repetitive report to illustrate the creativity of all these headline editors and their variations on describing the north Korean politburo meeting as well as to emphasize the amount of news this meeting and Kim's reappearance after a few weeks is generating.  Everyone is tracking the question: "Where is Waldo's friend, Kim Jong-un. 


11. Gov't postpones final decision on relocation site of Daegu military airport · by 오석민 · July 3, 2020

I assume this is K2 Air Base.  It has long been a challenge bringing in wide body aircraft to this base especially when E/160th SOAR was based there and we were rotating MH-47s from there to Afghanistan early in OEF Afghanistan (and supporting OEF Philippines early on as well).  I hope this does not turn out to be like Futenma in Okinawa.  But probably not since this is a ROK Air Force base and US units are only tenants for exercises. Then again the local governments and population have a vote which is of course the same problem in Okinawa.


12. Bolton says Trump could meet Kim again to help reelection · by 이해아 · July 3, 2020

I hope everyone knows that such a meeting will have no effect on the election.  It will not change the minds of Democrats, Independents nor of the Trump base.  Yes it will provide a campaign talking point but the opposition will also spin it negatively. I am sure both the campaign team and the national security professionals are advising against this.  And of course Kim Jong-un gets a vote and I just do not see him coming to a meeting without absolute guarantees that he is going to get sanctions relief and we absolutely should do no such thing.


13. Korea, US to Cancel Another Joint Drill

Oh no.  I missed this.  I am afraid we are going to have some readiness challenges at the ROK/US Combined Forces Command.  Yes to be with a thousand of your best friends inside a bunker for two weeks will be a coronavirus petri dish.




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- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America


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From 1776 (On writing the Declaration of Independence)
John Dickinson: Mr. Jefferson, are you seriously suggesting that we publish a paper declaring to all the world that an illegal rebellion is, in reality, a legal one?
Dr. Benjamin Franklin: Oh, Mr. Dickinson, I'm surprised at you. You should know that rebellion is always legal in the first person, such as "our rebellion." It is only in the third person - "their rebellion" - that it is illegal.



Categories: News